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7 steps to crate training your puppy

Plus 5 crate training no-no's

Written by vet Dr. Steph Wenban

May 2, 2019

You’ve spent hours picking out the ideal dog crate and furnishing it to perfection. Now it’s time for the tricky part: persuading your puppy to use it!

Bringing your pawed pal around to the idea of spending their downtime - or anytime for that matter - behind bars is no small feat. Chances are, you yourself are having reservations about it.

But the reality is, a dog crate has the potential to provide your pup with a wonderfully soothing sanctuary away from the craziness of the world around them - that’s assuming you introduce it correctly.

Yes, training your puppy to love their portable boudoir is ‘a process’. But knowing what to do, and what not to do, will make that process a whole lot easier. On that note, I present my 7 steps for crate training your puppy!

7 steps for crate training your puppy

Remember, the key to success is patience. There’s no need to rush the steps below. Take them nice and slow, ideally over a period of a few weeks.

Step 1: Choose the right crate

Dog crates come in all shapes and sizes, from soft-sided carriers all the way through to heavy-duty cages.

But don’t let the abundance of options confuse you. As long as you choose a crate that will be large enough for your puppy to stand, sleep and stretch in once they reach full size, you can be confident going with whichever style takes you or your pawed pal’s fancy.

Step 2: Introduce your puppy to their new private oasis

Position your puppy’s crate in your living room and give them plenty of time to sniff it out. Don’t force them into it just yet. These first few hours are for your pup to inspect and explore at their own leisure.

Step 3: Lure them inside

Slowly encourage your puppy into their crate by hiding some treats deep inside it. If they don’t take the bait right away - don’t fret.

Just repeat this process over the course of several days until they build the courage to venture inside.

Step 4: Integrate meals into the mix

Start increasing the time that your puppy spends inside their crate by leaving each of their meals inside it.

If your pup isn’t keen on this new feeding system, you may need to takes things extra slow by placing their food at the entrance of their crate and gradually moving it deeper inside with each meal.

Step 5: Close the door while they dine

When your puppy is happy to take their meals inside their crate, step things up a notch by closing the crate door while they chow down. This may be unsettling for some pups at the beginning. So the first few times you try it, always be sure to remain close by and to let your puppy out as soon as they’re done dining.

Once they’ve gotten the hang of things, start extending the time that you leave the door closed.

Step 6: Train your puppy to be alone in their crate

Next, it’s time to start putting some distance between you and your pawed pal. Begin by closing them in their crate and leaving the room for 30 seconds. Once they’re comfortable being inside their petit palace without you by their side, start increasing the time you spend away.

Hot tip: To help keep your puppy distracted while you make your getaway, give them a long-lasting treat like a chew toy or peanut butter-laced kong.

Step 7: Train your puppy to be alone at home

First of all, congrats on making it to the final phase of your puppy’s crate training journey! Just like you did with the previous step, close your puppy in their crate and step away. Only this time, instead of stepping out of the room, step out of the house. As always, be sure to take things super slow. Start by leaving them alone for 30 seconds and gradually build up from there.

Once your puppy is comfortable being at home alone in their crate for up to 1 hour, you can consider your puppy’s crate training complete! Give yourself a pat on the back, and your pup a scratch on the belly.

5 crate training no-no's

1. Don't use your puppy's crate to punish them

Never lock your puppy in their crate as a form of punishment. Confining them in this way could cause them to develop negative associations with their crate and it may even lead to behavioural problems further down the track. Your puppy’s crate should always be treated as a safe haven, not a solitary confinement cell.

2. Don't leave your puppy in their crate for too long

Puppies have tiny bladders that require frequent relieving. So frequent that you’ll need to let them out of their crate to wee and poo at least every hour during the day, and every 2-3 hours during the night for the first month that they’re with you. The last thing your puppy wants to do is make a mess in their ‘safe place’. It’s up to you to help them avoid this by not leaving them crated for too long.

For more information on this, don’t forget to check out my lesson on puppy toilet training.

3. Don't make a fuss when coming and going

This is a tough one. But try not to make too much of a fuss when saying goodbye to your puppy or when arriving home. This will only draw more attention to your comings and goings and it may nudge your pup’s anxiety into overdrive.

4. Don't ignore signs of distress

If your puppy is crying or whining while they’re inside their crate, avoid doing anything that will add to their stress (like shouting at them or walking away). Instead, remain calm and provide them with some kibble or a treat to take their mind off things.

If, however, your puppy becomes frantic (by barking or clawing to get out of their crate), it’s probably a sign that their crate training is moving too fast. In this case, go back to basics. Only leave your puppy alone for a few seconds at a time and very slowly build your way back up from there.

5. Don't reward barking

While you should never ignore your puppy’s vocal displays of distress, you shouldn’t be too quick to respond to them either. If your puppy starts barking while they’re inside their crate, wait until they’ve stopped (even if it’s just a brief pause) before letting them out. Releasing them anytime they vocalise could teach them that if they just bark long enough, they’ll eventually be let out.

My top tips for crate training success

  1. Always position your puppy's crate away from any direct sunlight and chilly draughts

  2. Turn your puppy's crate into a place where they'll actually want to hang out. With comfy bedding, toys and a breathable blanket to drape over the top during nap time.

  3. Always make sure your puppy is fed, exercised and has been to the loo before leaving them alone in their crate.

  4. A fresh bowl of water should be a key feature of any dog crate. If you're worried about your pawed pal knocking theirs over, you can always buy a bowl that clips onto the crate bars instead.

The takeaway

Providing your puppy with a place where they feel safe and secure is one of the best gifts you can give them. But it’s only going to work if they understand what this space is and how they’re supposed to use it - a process that takes time. But with a little patience and perseverance, the benefits of this bumpy road with soon pay off in the form of a super confident, self-assured puppy.

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