The Do’s and Don’ts of crate training

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When using a crate with a puppy, it is imperative that you use it correctly in order to build the best possible association with the crate for your dog.  So, first, here are some DO’s and DON’Ts of crate training.

DON’T use your crate as a substitute for supervision.  If you are home, your pup should be tethered to you or in your direct supervision at all times.  Bonding occurs this way, and you become intimately familiar with your pup’s routine and way of indicating when he needs to “go!”

DON’T use a crate that’s too large – your pup will have room to eliminate (go potty) in one end and still escape the deed in the other.  If you have purchased a crate that is large enough to suit him when he is grown, install a crate divider to decrease the size.  The crate area should be just big enough to stand comfortably and turn around easily.

DON’T overuse the crate.  The rule of thumb for leaving a pup alone is his age in months plus one (hours).  So a two-month-old pup can’t be expected to be alone in his crate for more than three hours during the day.  Nighttime body chemistry allows for one to two hours more.  So early on, let your pup out as late as possible, and expect to get up once in the night to let him out.

DON’T use the crate as punishment or time-out.  The crate is a tool, not a punishment.  If you use it this way, your pup will soon learn to take off whenever he sees you getting ready to leave and you will be doing the “shove the dog in the crate” thing.  Not pretty.

DO make the crate attractive to your pup.  Have a few toys that are designated crate toys, and a level better than anything you give on the outside.  Try a stuffed Kong, a marrow bone, a tough soft toy or even an interactive food dispensing toy for older dogs.

DO spend time teaching your dog “IN” and “OUT” (or words of your choice) and use the words every time you put him in.  Reward him for going in, then invite him back out again.  Vary the amount of time that you ask him to wait before coming out.

DO make sure that pup has eliminated before going into the crate for any extended period of time.  Having accidents in the crate can have a very negative effect on all housebreaking efforts.  When this happens on a regular basis, your pup will learn that it is acceptable to “go” where he sleeps.

DO make sure that you have given your pup adequate exercise if you expect him to settle in for the night.  This will mean several periods of active play during the day.  A short leash walk may work for your elderly Lab, but a puppy will need more activity during the day. Let him settle down before you put him in for the night.

Once you are sure that you have followed all the “rules” of the crate, you may be tested by your pup.  Naturally, if he sees you coming and going, he will want to be out with you.  Even at the tender age of two months, pups can easily learn how to manipulate the people in their lives.  If he barks, whines, scratches, etc., and you eventually give in and let him out, he will remember. After all, if you go take him out, you have rewarded his behavior, which in turn will reinforce repetition of that behavior the next day and the next.  And he will bark, whine and scratch harder the next time, since it already worked for him.  So, always make sure that he is quiet and calm before you invite him out.  If he is whiny, wait for a full two minutes of silence and then you may let him out.  During the first few nights, this can be difficult.   We are programmed to check on our “kids” when they cry.  If you know that you have done everything to ensure his comfort, take a deep breath and wait.  It only takes a couple nights of consistency on your part for your pup to understand that once he is in, he stays there until invited back out.

Proper crate training in the beginning can ensure a lifetime of easy crating, should you decide that you would like that.  And with positive experiences, your dog will never see the crate as the enemy!

Cynthia Gordon CPDT-KA is a Victoria Stilwell-Approved Positively Trainer. Check out her website: Gentle Touch Dog Training. Gordon is an AKC Canine Good Citizen Evaluator, APDT Professional Member, Tellington TTouch Practitioner Apprentice Examiner and member of the American Temperament Testing Society.

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