I believe a crate is actually one of the most important purchases you can make as a dog owner.
We’ve tried a number of different ways to crate train puppies, but after the success in recent times, we’ve now got the formula that works a treat for us. I’m not professing to have found the ‘correct’ way of crate training, nor is it ‘the only’ way to crate train your puppy. However, I will let you know what has worked so well for us.
The most important thing for dogs is routine & repetition, so everything needs to be done lots of times to instil it into his brain. So for each of these parts below, it needs to become habit for the dog & therefore requires lots of repetition & positive reinforcement. Everything you do when teaching your dog anything, should be fun!
The Crate Set Up
We now have a few crates in varying sizes for the dogs, & I understand that because of what we do, we are perhaps lucky to own a range of different items we use for dog training. We have a 30” crate, 42” crate & a 48” crate – the latter being more than big enough to eventually house a fully grown GSD.
|Varying sizes of crates now available|
We initially just used the 48” crate right from day one with our puppies. We set up a little section covered in newspaper, a water dish, & then the other half of the crate had a plastic bed in there. Almost like his very own puppy house – bathroom, kitchen and bedroom!
Whilst the results were OK, they were no one near a good as what we are now achieving, in addition we no longer have to get up to dirty newspaper which needs removing & the crate disinfecting constantly.
So, we now use the smallest crate we have, which is the 30” & an ideal size for a puppy. I would argue that with sites like Ebay, it’s relatively cost effective to buy a small cage, resell it & buy a larger cage as your dog grows.
The aim of the crate is to create a safe ‘den’ for the puppy – somewhere he feels secure & comfortable, & somewhere which is away from the hustle & bustle of everyday homes. We put our crate into the dining room area, so that it’s slightly out of the way but also still in the vicinity of people. You don’t want the crate completely isolated, but somewhere in between.
We’ve found that because the 30” is a lot smaller, compared to the 48” crate, the ‘den’ is now a lot cosier & feels more secure for the puppy. Hence the better results.
We cover the crate with a crate cover so that it is dark, & inside we have a nice 'mattress' for the pup. The other benefit of covering the crate is to make it slightly more pleasing on the eye!
There’s nothing more unwelcoming than seeing a metal barred crate in the corner of your room.
We use a pet mattress in the bottom, with a fleece blanket covering the mattress – making it as cosy, warm & secure as possible. I also put in an old T shirt or jumper that I have worn, so that your scent is also in the crate.
An absolutely vital inclusion into the crate is something which has come from your puppy’s breeder & carries the scent of his litter mates & mum. Every single reputable breeder will happily do this for, without question & they won’t think that you are mad for asking.
The most important thing for everyone to understand is that the crate is not cruel. It is not used as a punishment per say. Everything associated with the crate should be fun, exiting & happy for the puppy to be around. You want the dog to feel safe, secure & cosy in the crate – not like he’s in prison!
We set the crate up & introduce the puppy to it slowly. One thing which makes a huge difference, is getting your puppy home as early in the morning as possible. That way, you have a completely full day to get the puppy used to his new surroundings.
For the very first few times, I encourage the puppy into the cage with food whilst giving the command (IN YOUR BED). As soon as he steps foot inside the cage, give him a treat!
I leave the door open & let him wonder in & out freely. Let him explore the cage in his own free time & of his own free will. Every time he goes into his crate say IN YOUR BED & give him the food.
|Cage set up prior to the nice cage cover|
Now & again while he’s in there I’ll shut the door & feed him a few treats through the bars in the door. It’s all positive & nice experiences for the puppy whilst he’s in the crate.
Every time he enters his crate, he should get lots of fuss, tell him he's a good boy & give him little treats.
The crate then becomes fully integrated in his new surroundings & is somewhere where the dog learns that he gets nice positive rewards for being in there.
A key benefit to a crate is the ability it has to help you toilet train. After introducing the puppy to the crate, the next step is to create a feeding schedule for him - each time feeding him in his crate. We tend to feed our puppies 3 times per day.
After feeding, keep the puppy occupied for 10-15 minutes – don’t let him stop or wonder around the house. Some gentle interaction - nothing too excited or playful as he's just eaten. But some stimulation to keep him occupied.
You need to create a ’toilet area’ for your puppy – somewhere the dog will use for his toilet duties forever. Dogs tend to toilet in the same area, so once the scent is down keep reinforcing the area.
For this reason it’s also good to chose an area, where the smell of urine won’t affect too much i.e it’s not a good idea to create the toilet area right outside your back door. Every time you open the door you’ll get a waft of (well you can guess what!) coming inside your house!
15/30 minutes or so after eating, take your puppy outside to the chosen ‘toilet area’, & wait there until he toilets. I always use the words WEE WEE whilst waiting for him to go. As soon as he relieves himself, reward him with lots of praise & a treat. This teaches the dog 2 things – where the ‘toilet area’ is & also the command WEE WEE. Eventually your dog will be trained to toilet on command!
Once he’s done his toilet duties, bring him back inside & carry on his stimulation.
In the early days your puppy will usually need to toilet every 30-45 minutes, so you need to repeat this process at these intervals whilst the puppy is out of his crate. Puppies don’t have very good bladder control at a young age, so it’s important to remember to put your puppy in the toilet area regularly.
In addition, every time your puppy has been in his crate, immediately after letting him out take him to his toilet area. Having been in his crate for a while, he will need to go to the toilet. Again, the benefit of the crate is your ability to manage his bladder for him – until he’s old enough to control it himself.
You will always experience the odd accident here & there with toilet training. If this does happen, try to remain calm, but quickly pick the puppy up and tell him NO firmly. Take him immediately outside to his ‘toilet area’ and repeat the WEE WEE command until he goes. Again plenty of praise & a treat once he does go - you may need to wait a while before he goes this time.
Be sure to thoroughly clean & disinfect the area he has just toileted on inside the house. As with your toilet area outside, by toileting inside he has inadvertently created a toilet area INSIDE. So be sure to clean it quickly & thoroughly to remove the odour. If not, he will regularly use this newly created toilet area inside the house.
Trust me, old fashion wives tales of ‘rubbing the dog’s nose in it’ do not really work. The dog really doesn't understand what you’re doing. So a short, sharp & firm NO will suffice.
This is the bit everyone (well I certainly do!) dreads with puppies – the potential lack of sleep!!
Unfortunately there is no quick fix & a lot depends on the characteristics of the puppy as to how quickly they ‘get it’. However since changing our crate down to the smaller size, we’ve noticed a remarkable improvement in the puppy’s sleeping. I’m sure our neighbours have too! In fact our latest puppy Sear has slept all through the night from day 1!
|Sear in his crate fast asleep|
Under no circumstances do I ever let him out if he is whining immediately after going into the crate.
Once he’s been in there asleep he will naturally wake up, this could be after 10 minutes or an hour. As soon as he wakes up, open the cage with lots of praise, fussing, excitement & a treat. He’s been a good boy! Try to build up the picture of how long he sleeps for etc so that you are prepared for his awakening.
You’ll then need to immediately take him out to his toilet area.
When it comes to bed time I always try & keep the puppy as active as possible for a few hours before we go to bed. I try to go to bed as late as possible (within reason!). I don’t really let the puppy sleep in the last few hours before bed, so that he is tired.
After keeping him active, when we’re ready for bed I take the puppy out to his toilet area, wait for him to do his business & then bring him back inside. I’ll play with him for 5-10 minutes, take him out to the toilet area again, then come inside & put him in his crate for the night. Again I always wait for a few minutes next to the crate until he settles down & goes to sleep.
Now here’s the part which requires patience!
After a few hours the puppy is likely to wake up – as he’ll need the toilet. As soon as you hear him whine you’ll need to go & let him out. However, this time, instead of lots of praise & excitement when he gets out, simply open the cage – pick him up – & take him to his toilet area. No words, no stimulation, nothing.
Once he’s toileted, praise him like you would do before & treat him, before taking him back into his crate. Again just as you did when you went to bed, wait a while comforting him until he stops whining & he settles back down to sleep & then get yourself back into bed.
Depending on the dog you may have to do this a couple of times throughout the night.
Eventually all of the above actions will become the natural instinct for the dog, & your involvement as owners will be removed. The dog will learn to control his bladder, toilet in the right place & sleep through the night. He will also feel like the crate is his safe place, so you should never let children play or mess inside his crate.
Most importantly, if you’ve just brought a puppy home or you're thinking of having a new addition . . . . . . GOOD LUCK!!