Do you want to prevent destruction, prevent separation anxiety, housetrain your puppy faster, train your dog faster and lessen overall frustration? Use a crate! There are so many statements, misconceptions and questions about crate training that I hear all the time that I wanted to help clear up some of the confusion.
."I feel guilty about using the crate, it looks like doggy jail." One of the important strategies for acclimating a puppy to your environment is teaching her to be comfortable with your schedule. If you are able to be with your puppy 24 hours per day and are never going to leave your puppy alone then don’t worry about using a crate. But, this is not realistic. The crate provides a safe, humane place to keep your puppy safe and prevent some of the big issues like separation anxiety and destruction. Learn how to prevent separation anxiety.
"Since I am at work all day, I never use the crate when I am home because I want to be with my puppy." Puppies need to learn how to be in the crate in any situation they might be exposed to. What happens if you never teach your puppy to be in the crate when you are home and then have a few guests over for dinner? If your puppy is not comfortable in the crate your only options are to keep her out for the entire time or have a puppy barking and disrupting everyone the entire evening if she isn't comfortable in the crate or another room. This may not be a problem when puppies are young and sleep a lot, but flash forward to an older puppy that is running around, chewing and getting into mischief when you want to visit with your guests. As long as you are actively training and exercising your puppy when she is out of the crate, there is a good chance she will be tired and sleeping in the crate when she is in there.
All dogs need the appropriate physical and mental exercise and the crate should not be used in lieu of providing your puppy with her needs. Read about how much exercise to give to a dog. A rough rule of thumb for 7-12 week old puppies is to provide 60 minutes of training and exercise after going potty and then using the crate for 2-3 hours. Puppies can generally hold their bladders one hour per month of age, so you can adjust these numbers based on your puppy’s age. If you play and train your puppy for a period after going potty and then use the crate until the next potty break, this ensures that you are using the crate sufficiently.
As your puppy gets older, she might be out of the crate for 2 hours and then in the crate for 2-3 hours. Eventually as her bladder gets stronger you can adjust these numbers accordingly. Want to know how to transition a puppy out of a crate? Read how old a puppy should be before he gets run of the house.
"I never use the crate as a punishment; I don’t want my puppy to have a bad association." This is a very common statement I hear, and there is no basis to this. A timeout is used to teach a dog that the behavior that she did resulted in her getting taken away from where she wants to be. If you put her in the crate for a timeout, do so for a short period of time immediately following the inappropriate behavior, such as jumping on you, biting, or chewing on furniture. Then, take her out after 5-30 seconds as long as she is calm and then reward her for anything but the offending behavior.
If she performs the inappropriate behavior again say, “Timeout” and repeat. As long as you make sure to reward good behavior and use a timeout for inappropriate behavior, she will learn not to do the inappropriate behavior because it doesn’t benefit her. She won’t hate the crate itself, she will not like the fact that she was put in there and taken away from all the fun. That is an important distinction. The only caveat to this rule is that dogs that already have separation anxiety often do not like being in crates and can have a panic attack. These dogs are not good candidates for using this timeout strategy. Learn about timeouts and teaching a dog to stop certain behaviors.
Other Crate Tips
- For housetraining, the crate should be just big enough so your puppy can walk in, stretch and lay down
- Move the crate around your house, if possible, to provide different scenery for your puppy. This will help her get accustomed to being at different houses and being kenneled when you are away.
- Do not take your puppy out of the crate if she is scratching, whining, barking, digging or jumping on the side of the crate. You don’t want your puppy to think these behaviors get rewarded or she might do these behaviors for extended periods of time when alone and possibly acquire separation anxiety.
- Use stuffed Kongs or other stuffed toys to keep your puppy occupied and happy in the crate.