What is a crate?
A crate is a way of providing a home within your home for your puppy; though not a new training aid, they may seem like a scary, or intimidating ‘cage’ for your puppy, but it’s important to look at them a different way; it’s your puppies bedroom, it’s their safe area that they can rest in, sleep in and go to when they’re feeling unsure or when they need comfort. Providing them with a safe environment will allow them to relax and be happy. Crates can also help immensely with toilet training and will protect your puppy while they’re unsupervised – popping them into their crate means they will be safe and secure.
When selecting the right size crate, you need to ensure your puppy can comfortably sit, stretch, lie down, stand up and turn around in the crate. If you buy a crate that is too big for your puppy, make sure you section it off. If your puppy’s crate is too large, it may hinder toilet training. If you can’t section off the crate you may need to buy a smaller crate for your puppy now and upgrade as they grow.
There are different types of crates available, the three main options are:
Collapsible crate: This crate is made of sturdy wire, often with a metal or plastic base for ease of cleaning. The crate folds down onto itself for easy storage or transport. You can add a divider into this crate, which is helpful if you need a smaller area for a young pup as they grow into a larger space.
Soft crate: These crates are great for travelling. They are made of fabric and are comfortable. These are not suitable for puppies or heavy chewers as they will be easily damaged by teeth or easily spoiled.
Hard Plastic crate: This crate is typically for short-term travel (to the vets) or for airline travel. These are light and easy to manoeuvre but are not suitable for long-term crating.
Things to consider:
- What sort of crate do you need?
- What size crate do you need?
- Will you need to buy a larger crate once your puppy grows up?
Getting your puppy used to their crate
With all training, getting your puppy used to their crate needs to be positive. They shouldn’t be forced in, and it needs to happen on their own time so they don’t begin to associate the crate with anything negative. Placement of the crate is important; place it in a social environment (maybe the living room), but in a quiet corner. This will ensure that your puppy feels included in the family, while being able to rest peacefully.
To encourage your pup to go into their crate, sit next to the crate, and spend time with them near it, so they are happy being close to it. If they sniff or go inside the crate, reward them. Once your puppy is comfortable near their crate, use treats to lure them inside. Do this a few times by putting the treat at the end of the crate so they have to go inside to get it. At this point, don’t shut the door, just use lots of verbal praise and more treats.
Another way to get your pup used to going into their crate is through using crate games. These include putting your puppy in a different room, hiding treats in their crate and letting them find them when they come back into the room; or it could be throwing treats into the crate and when they go in to get them, getting excited so each time they go in the crate it’s a fun adventure for them.
Once your puppy is happy to go in and out of their crate, either with treats or of their own will, begin to close the door of the crate. Do this for short periods of time, slowly increasing the amount of time you have the door shut. Each time you let your puppy out, give them verbal praise and a treat. When your puppy is comfortable being shut in, begin to leave them in the crate – start with small periods of time, and gradually increase the time you’re away from the crate. Over time, your puppy will see the crate as a sanctuary and will love it.
Consider placing a blanket or a crate cover over their crate to help them settle. This helps to eliminate some stimulation and should help calm them. Remember though, that ventilation is still key, so ensure the crate is not fully covered and your puppy still has enough airflow to stay comfortable.
Have your crate set up with a crate mat and a comfy bed (a dry bed is a great option), so your puppy can comfortably sit, rest and relax inside their crate. Depending on your puppy a crate mat may be the only thing needed. Some puppies will destroy a comfy bed and will leave a large mess behind. If they do like to destroy items, only have toys inside that you are confident your puppy cannot damage or that won’t cause injury if left unsupervised. Your pup should also always have access to a water bowl inside their crate so they can drink and stay hydrated.
Toys and treats that you put inside the crate for your puppy should be crate-specific. This means that any toy in the crate should stay in there, and be a special toy reserved for the toy – these should be exciting and unique toys that your pup doesn’t have anywhere else. Treats inside the crate should be special too and of high value to your pup. Remember to keep these puppy-safe and treats that are suitable for an unsupervised pup.
Things to consider:
- Spend time with your puppy near the crate before guiding them inside
- Always use positive reinforcement with your puppy
- Use treats to encourage your puppy to go inside the crate; don’t force them in
- Be patient – don’t rush your puppy, if they need more time to adjust to the crate then give them the time
- Begin with small periods of time in the crate, and gradually increase the period of time they spend in there. Always use positive reinforcement
How to get the most out of the crate
When used correctly, the crate is one of the most valuable tools to help with training, bonding and protecting your puppy. The crate is designed to be a safe-haven for your puppy when you cannot watch over them, when you’re out and during bedtime. Putting your puppy safely in their crate and locking them in will not only protect your puppy, it will also provide you with peace of mind that your puppy will not destroy furniture, toilet where they shouldn’t and prevent them from causing mayhem while unattended.
Your puppy is never too old to learn to use a crate. The younger they learn, the easier it will be, however you can just as readily train an older puppy (even an adult dog) to happily use a crate. Follow the same methods and you will find the same results. Remember repetition is key to ensure you have a happy well-settled puppy in their safe environment.
A good estimate of how long your puppy should spend in their crate is their age in months plus one. This means if you have a three-month old puppy, they should be in there for four hours. Puppies can generally hold on longer during the night, though expecting an 8-week old puppy to hold on throughout the night is a big ask, so you should expect to toilet them once or twice a night as they settle into their routine.
Before your puppy is put into their crate, ensure they have gone toilet and that they are not excited or worked-up immediately before going in. If they are excited, this can cause them to stress when put into the crate, rather than to relax. When you return to your puppy after they have been in the crate for a period of time, take them immediately to their appropriate toilet area. This will help to reinforce the routine that once they are out of the crate, now is the appropriate time to go toilet. Remember, if your puppy isn’t quite used to the crate, go back to small time increments; leave them in there for 10 minutes, then let them out. Slowly build up the time your puppy spends in the crate until they’re comfortable. To learn more about toilet training, check out our article here.
The crate is also great for travelling – if you go on holiday and your puppy comes with you, take their crate with you. This becomes their home away from home. Having their crate in a new environment will help them to settle and feel more relaxed in a strange environment, similar to how a favourite soft-toy or blanket would for a child. If you are looking to travel within New Zealand or overseas, make sure you check the requirements for travel with the airline you are travelling with as a custom crate might need to be built to suit your pup.
The important thing to remember with the crate is that it shouldn’t be used for punishment. They should want to go in their crate and enjoy their time in it. If you want to give your pup a little more room, you can also get playpens to attach to the crate. This allows them a little more space while still ensuring they are in a confined and safe area.
Things to consider:
- Take them toilet as soon as they come out of the crate
- Remember to only use the crate as a safe environment
- The crate should never be used as a form of punishment
Crate training is an important training tool for keeping your puppy safe and happy. There are a few times that your puppy may do things in the crate that you’re not sure how to handle. We address a few concerns below, however if you are still unsure or have any further concerns, get in touch with your local qualified trainer for their help.
My puppy pees in their crate
This is your puppy telling you something is wrong: this could be that they have been in their crate for too long, or maybe they didn’t go toilet before they were put away. Remember, toileting your puppy every time before they go into their crate is important – if they go in with an empty bladder it’s going to take a lot longer for them to need to go again.
Otherwise, if you think your puppy was in the crate for too long, then readjust how long you are leaving them in the crate for – remember they’re young and learning. Positive reinforcement, patience and working with your puppy’s capabilities as they grow is important.
If you don’t think your pup was in there for too long, and they went toilet beforehand, they may need a visit to the vet to rule out any illnesses. If the vet gives them the all clear and they keep having accidents despite your best efforts, we suggest getting in touch with a dog trainer. There could be other behavioural issues affecting your pup.
My puppy cries in their crate
A crying puppy in a crate isn’t uncommon, identifying the reason why can be tricky. Common reasons for a crying puppy could be: loneliness, toilet, discomfort, boredom, or over-stimulation. For each, we identify the cause and how to handle it:
Toilet: Your puppy should whine when they need to go toilet. Simply let them out of their crate and take them straight to their toilet spot. Remember to give them lots of verbal praise after all they didn’t go toilet in their crate, and they told you they needed to go. That’s awesome! If your puppy doesn’t go toilet but you’re sure this is the reason they were crying, put them back into their crate. Letting them run around after they’ve been in their crate and not going toilet is a recipe for an accident inside and acts as a reward for crying, so they may continue to do it just to be able to cry.
Discomfort: Your puppy may cry if they’re not feeling comfortable. This could be if they haven’t had enough training to get used to the crate. Spend more time training them with the crate and how to be comfortable in the environment. Patience is key here, and the longer you spend with your pup to ensure they’re happy the better they’ll be.
Boredom: Without enough stimulation in the crate, your puppy may easily bore. Ensure you have exciting toys in the crate to keep your puppy occupied; a mixture of cuddle (if appropriate for your puppy), teething and boredom-buster toys will ensure your pup has plenty to keep them busy.
Loneliness: Where is your puppy’s crate situated? Is it in a social environment? If your puppy feels like they’re missing out they will cry and whine for attention. Consider moving their crate to a more people-centric room. Alternatively, it could be the other way around, your puppy could be over-stimulated.
Over-stimulation: Do you have a lot of people over? Or is the TV louder than usual? Your puppy may be over-stimulated. In this situation, consider covering their crate with a blanket or a towel; remember to ensure there is adequate ventilation so there is air flow for your pup.
A puppy shouldn’t be left to cry in their crate. They’re trying to tell you that there’s something wrong and they need your help to fix the situation. If the tips above don’t help, we suggest contacting a dog trainer who will be able to give you some more in depth advice on how to settle your pup in.
My puppy chews/destroys things
If your puppy chews or destroys things in their crate they could be bored. The hours that they’re not in their crate you need to ensure you provide enough stimulation to keep them active. This could be mental stimulation in the form of training, or physical stimulation, such as walks, runs or fetch. If you aren’t providing enough stimulation for your pup they will find other outlets for their energy which could be destruction in their crate. The other reason they could be bored is if their selection of toys is not exciting. Consider mixing up the selection of toys in their crate. Leave a range of toys in there one week, then switch them out the next week with another lot. Rotating the toys and keeping them exciting will mean your pup will be entertained. To read more about toys that are suitable for puppies, check out our article here – and remember to dispose of any broken toys!
If you are still experiencing crate training issues with your puppy, or dog, and a vet has ruled out any illnesses, please contact a dog trainer. There could be other behavioural issues at play that will need addressing.
Crates are a great tool for both you and your puppy. They’re a safe environment for your puppy to go into when they’re unattended, whether it’s during the day, for bedtime or while you’re making dinner, which will help them keep safe and aid in toilet training. Your puppy will also benefit from a crate, as it’s their bedroom, their comfortable space and somewhere they can go if they need to feel safe.
Spending the time to train your puppy how to be comfortable and happy in their crate will set you and them up for success – so you can both get the most out of the crate.
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