The use of a crate can be invaluable when bringing a puppy into your home. Many people say to me "oh but isn't that cruel"? The answer to that very common question is no, unless it is abused i.e. dog/puppy left in the crate for long periods. To begin with, do not leave puppy longer than an hour in the crate at any given time during the day. As puppy gets bigger and you have progress with the toileting, you can extend the time to an hour and a half. I would not advise longer than 2 hours at any given time during the day for a dog of any age. The crate door should be kept closed through the night though.
If approached correctly, crate training is by far one of the most effective tools you can use to form good dog behaviour. It can be a lifesaver not only for the owner, but gives respite for the puppy and other pets too. Many puppies are given to shelters and rescue centres, because owners cannot cope with the distruction and toiletting problems that can occur, in the early months of puppy ownership.
If you look upon the crate as a “den”, rather than a cage, your puppy will also perceive it in this way. To be successful when crate training, here are a few tips on how dogs see things.
Dogs do not:
- do things on purpose to annoy you, or bear grudges! (as humans do).
- Know that they have done wrong, they respond to a change in our body language and tone of voice. For example: Puppy re-arranges your lounge, you arrive home, see the destruction and begin shouting at puppy. He then offers appeasing body language in an endevour to stop you, (you interpret this as guilt) and hold a grudge for the rest of the day! What has puppy learned? Beware of humans when they come home, they can‘t always be trusted!!!!!
- Dogs do not understand our language, unless it is paired consistently with something meaningful to them.
- We frighten dogs when we show anger; it is confusing to them, some dogs may respond aggressively when they feel threatened by our actions. One example is the use of a water bottle squirted at the dog for unwanted behaviour; one reason may be for excessive barking. This might seem a mild punisher to us, but some dogs may feel so threatened that they end up biting!
- The dogs learning process can be hindered as a result of anger and frustration, a little stress enables learning, too much results in total shut down! Humans also are no different in this respect.
- Dogs and puppies respond better to positive incentives than punishment.
The crate must be large enough to house your puppy as an adult, i.e. If you have for example a Labrador puppy, then the crate must be large enough to allow an adult dog, room to lie down comfortably, stand up fully, and to enable him to turn around, also room for water and food bowls. Initially you can reduce the space inside the crate whilst your puppy is very small, by sectioning off part of it until he gets bigger. Some suppliers include a divider free when you purchase a crate.
When you bring your puppy home, make sure his bed (one of 3 pieces of vet bed), something to chew on, and a bowl of water is already in his crate. Encourage him to go inside by throwing in a food treat; you can also play a game with a toy. Our aim is to show puppy that this is a nice place to be. NEVER use the crate as a punishment! When you are ready to give puppy his first meal, show him the food and put it inside the crate, close the door while he is eating. It is crucial that puppy gets no attention until he is quiet; the door only opens when he is calm and quiet. Get him used to going in the crate frequently throughout the day (using toys and treats). If he falls asleep outside the crate gently pick him up and place in his bed (do not make a fuss of him at this time).
an example cage
Close the door and put the kettle on! You can now take a break for a while until he wakes up.As soon as puppy is awake (quiet/sitting), open the door and take puppy immediately outside (no fussing or stroking at this point). Stay with puppy until he eliminates, saying the word you want to use as he does it! Give a high grade treat like sausage (only give this treat for toileting) the reward must arrive immediately the act has occurred, do not go inside to get a treat as you will have missed the opportunity to pair the behaviour with the reward! Show puppy you are thrilled with him when he gets it right.
Make a diary jotting down when your puppy is fed and when he eliminates; this will give you a better idea of when puppy may need to go out. Do not leave the back door open and expect him to be able to differentiate between inside and outside, this is the worse thing you can do. Puppies up to approximately 14 weeks will need to go out hourly, usually after eating, drinking, play and sleep. As puppy gets older he will be able to hang on longer.
Look out for the signs: These are; sniffing the ground and turning in circles. You must NEVER smack, shout at, or rub your puppy's nose in his mistake! You will have to continue going out with your puppy when he toilets (so you can make
sure he does it, and you can reinforce with treat) for some time! It is no good putting puppy out and closing the door on him, how will you know he has eliminated? He may well come in and perform inside! The more mistakes he is allowed inside, the longer it will take for him to get the message. The more he gets it right outside, the quicker the process will be. I believe that putting newspaper or puppy pads down for him to toilet on is condoning elimination inside; it is much preferable (and quicker) to follow the above routine. Remember, if puppy come's back inside and messes, he won't have done it on purpose to annoy you, he's a dog, and is not capable of being devious!
Location of the crate is important. Put it in a room that you spend the most time in. Situate it close to a door; this will enable you to encourage him to go immediately outside (to toilete) as soon as the crate door opens. He will soon get used to the routine.
If your puppy messes in his crate while you are out, or over night, do not punish him as he will be pleased to see you, ignore the mess and take him outside immediately. Clean up the mess with no fuss, use a pet odour neutralizer. Do not use ammonia-based products as this may well encourage your puppy to go back to the same place, alternateivly You can use Biological washing detergent, then when dry, clean with surgical spirit (spot test carpets and soft furnishings first).