Crate training is a valuable tool for housebreaking as well as managing your puppy or adult dog. Most dogs quickly learn to view their crate positively and many dogs continue to seek out their crates for resting long after they are needed as a training tool.
Introducing the crate:
Ideally, the crate would be introduced slowly when there isn’t a need to crate the dog and leave for any period of time (such as over the weekend after getting a new puppy on Friday). Leave the crate door open and allow the puppy to investigate. Toss goodies and treats near the door of the crate to encourage the puppy to approach and enter the crate. Do not shut the door the first several times the puppy enters the crate.
When the puppy is comfortable going in and out of the crate, close the door and pass the puppy a treat through the bars before opening the door and letting him come right back out. Gradually increase the amount of time that the door is closed but do not leave the room.
It helps to have a stuffed treat toy like a Kong or a stuffed marrow bone the first couple of times that you leave the room. Encourage the puppy to enter the crate using a treat, once he’s in the crate – give him the stuffed toy and leave the room for a couple of minutes. Come back before the puppy is done with his treat, open the door and let him out. Your goal is to make your dog think, “Hey I’m not done yet, go away and come back later!” Gradually increase the length of time that you are out of the room.
Once your puppy is comfortable going in and out of the crate, add a cue such as “crate up” which you will say each time you put the pup in the crate. Say your cue then lead your dog to his crate and throw a treat in the back. Practice telling your dog to “crate up” frequently when you don’t need to crate him so he learns that going to the crate doesn’t just mean that you are going to close him in and leave him.
Making the crate rewarding:
Initially, make sure that every good thing that happens to your dog happens in the crate. Feed him in his crate. Give him his goodies, treats and chew toys in his crate. Soon he will look forward to going to his crate.
Set clear boundaries for the people in the household. If the dog is in his crate, children should not be allowed to try to pet, play with or tease the dog. They certainly should not be allowed to try to call into the crate whether the dog is in the crate or not. The crate is the one place in the house that belongs to the dog and he should be allowed to feel comfortable there. (If your dog guards resources, including his bed or crate, please speak to me in person.)
Setting up the crate:
Do not initially put bedding in the crate with a puppy. Many puppies will chew up bedding and some are more likely to mess in the crate if there is bedding.
Choose a crate size that is large enough for the adult dog to comfortably stand up, turn around and stretch out. Most crates come with a divider so you can temporarily make the crate small enough that the puppy will not soil in it. Do not give the puppy too much space in an effort to make him comfortable since it may encourage him to soil in the crate which will make housebreaking much more difficult.
Have several sturdy, safe chew toys that you can rotate in the crate. Tough rubber Kong toys or something similar are preferable to rawhide bones which can pose choking hazards.
When not to crate:
Do not crate a small puppy longer than he can physically “hold it”. A good rule of thumb is to take the puppy’s age in months, add one and you have the maximum number of hours that the puppy can go without eliminating. That means an eight week old puppy should not be left longer than three hours without the opportunity to go out and eliminate. A five month old puppy should be able to hold it for about 6 hours. By seven or eight months a puppy should be able to hold it for most of an eight hour work day. These are just guidelines though and tiny or toy breeds often cannot hold it as long as larger breeds.
If you work, consider having someone come by to let the puppy out to go potty (make sure they know where your potty spot is!) or run home at lunch to let him out yourself.
If you have to leave your puppy for a longer period of time than he can physically hold it, do not shut him in his crate and force him to soil there. Instead, put him in a kitchen or other easy-to-clean area and put down puppy pads or paper for him to go on. Alternatively, put an exercise pen in front of his crate with papers in it so he can rest in the crate but go out of the crate to eliminate.
The crate can be used to give you and your puppy a time-out but don’t misuse this opportunity. Be quiet and calm when you crate your puppy, don’t shove him and shut to door. Just a couple of minutes in the crate is an effective time out, when the puppy settles down, release him from the crate.