Because I know quite a few lucky families that got new puppies over the holidays, for the next few weeks I am going to write about all the aspects of using crate training as a foundation of puppy training. Crate training teaches a puppy where to eliminate — the first thing he has to learn in order to share your home — and also how to handle being alone for periods of time, which is a reality for our pets.
Dog trainers agree that the most humane, clear and effective way to teach a dog not to relieve himself in the house is to keep the puppy in a crate between the times that he’s playing with you, eating or relieving himself. The theory behind using a crate is that a dog instinctively does not want to dirty the area where he sleeps and eats, so confinement in a correctly-sized crate — along with your careful eye on the puppy and on the clock — should basically do the house-training work for you!
This week I’ll write about choosing and placing a crate. Crates can be pricey, so if you want to keep the cost down, check local classified ads, penny-savers and garage sales. The collapsible wire box with a metal (or plastic) tray in the bottom is generally the most cost effective. Metal mesh cages are good for puppy training because the mesh all the way around allows the youngster to see everything going on around him. He is not isolated or cut off from the sights and sounds of daily life. However, at night or for quiet times you will want to throw a big cover over the top and sides of the cage so the puppy has a cozier “den” and less outside stimulation.
To determine what size crate you need, you don’t want one that’s too big, because then it won’t feel secure and den-like. One consideration is that if you want to include a crate in your dog’s life once you have used it to house-train him, it should be big enough for the puppy to grow into. That means you’ll want it to be big enough for him when he is fully grown to eventually stand up, turn around and stretch out in. Basically, it should be snug: just long enough for a dog to lie down comfortably, just wide enough for him to turn around and just high enough for him to stand. When the puppy is still small, you can place a barrier or panel inside the crate to make it smaller. This way, you won’t run into the problem of a crate so much larger than the puppy that he views one part of it as a bedroom and one part as a bathroom. If you have a friend who can loan you a smaller crate while the puppy is growing, so much the better — or if you envision using the crate only for puppy training to teach him to go to the bathroom outdoors, then you can buy a crate small enough to suit your pup for just a few months.
The crate should be kept in a nice central location — in the kitchen if it fits — since in most homes that’s the hub of household activity. The puppy should never be isolated or feel as if he is being shut away — it is important for him to see and hear everything about the daily activity of your home from his crate. He can soak in that homey atmosphere from the safety of his “den.” Later on, once the pup has bladder control and understands the concept of house-training, he’ll be right there in the center of the household action, accustomed to the sights and sounds. The puppy should sleep in a crate near your bed, or at least in your bedroom because sleeping near you helps the pup bond to his human family. Also, the proximity to your bed in the early weeks ensures that you will wake up if he gets restless or whines to be taken out.
If you only want one crate and can manage to move it to your bedroom at nighttime, great. If it’s too big and bulky to move, however, consider whether you could borrow one from a friend or buy a cheaper one just for overnight use in your bedroom.
Next week in Part Two of Crate Training a Puppy, I’ll write about preparing the crate for the puppy so that he finds it inviting — which means you’d better get in a stash of Halo Liv-a-Little biscuits and freeze-dried protein treats, because you need to be prepared to offer him a goody every time he goes into the crate to make it a positive experience.