Crate Training Puppies

Crate training is an easy, natural way to train a puppy to both sleep soundly at night and to be housebroken. Crate training requires a high level of commitment from the owner--you can't expect your puppy to learn from an erratic routine. Instead, it is necessary to follow your own rules quite strictly until the puppy has developed the correct behavior patterns. Once fully crate trained, the door to the crate can be removed and you have a life-long safe place for your dog to sleep. When traveling or entertaining guests, the door can be closed and your dog will feel safe and secure. It is important to note that your dog's crate should never be viewed by him as a punishment, only as a secure den. Some puppies will cry in a crate because they are unused to sleeping alone. Don't let your puppy out when he cries, but do let him know that you are nearby and that he is all right.

1. Buy your crate. A crate should be big enough for your puppy to stand up, turn around, and lie down, but not to walk from end to end. A puppy in an overlarge crate may not be housebroken because he can easily move away from his messes. On the other hand, if a puppy can't make a mess in his crate without sitting in it, he will try his very hardest to hold his bowel and bladder movements until he is released. If you have a puppy who will grow into a large dog, resist the urge to get a crate for his future size. Instead, you may have to buy more than one crate as he grows. Crates can be any material from a pre-made dog kennel, available at any pet supply store, to a homemade box made of wooden slats. Some metal crates can be adjusted in size as your puppy grows older.

2. Introduce your puppy to his crate. First, fill your crate with strips of soft cloth or blankets that can be easily removed and dumped into the washer. Never force your puppy into his crate! Some dogs take some time to get used to this new confined space. Give him a bone or a special treat inside the crate. Praise him when he goes inside. You can pick him up and place him inside, and encourage him gently to remain inside, but let him come out on his own if he is frightened. Try to get him in and out of the crate several times so that he feels comfortable with the process.

3. Begin the housebreaking cycle. Since he will try not to soil his sleeping area, your puppy should usually have to relieve himself immediately upon being released from the crate. Put him in his crate for ten minutes. He will probably cry. Do not stand at the door of the crate and fuss over him, or he will get more and more frantic. You can be near him and try to comfort him, but do not let him out of the crate. Instead, do something calm nearby, where he can see you. After ten minutes have passed, say your elimination catchphrase, such as "time to go potty!" Open the crate, pick your puppy up, and carry him outside. Once he is on grass you can put him down and repeat, "go potty!" or whatever your catchphrase will be. (Eventually he will be trained to eliminate on command using this catchphrase.)

4. Play! Your puppy will probably eliminate outside. If he doesn't, put him back in the crate for another ten minutes and try again. If he does, praise him! Repeat your catchphrase in a positive tone: "Good go potty!" Play with him, make much of him, and get him excited. He did what you asked, and now it's time to play! You can keep him outside and roughhouse, or you can bring him inside to explore. Since he has eliminated outside, chances are your floors are safe for at least 15 minutes. (Just be sure to keep an eye on any suspicious behavior such as sniffing or circling, which could indicate that he needs to go outside to eliminate again.) Get your puppy nice and tired, and let him know how happy with him you are.

5. Crate your puppy. After he's played, it's time to go back in the crate for a while. Puppies, like babies, need a lot of sleep, both at night and during the day. Don't feel guilty about your puppy spending a lot of time in his crate initially. For the rest of your time crate training, your pattern will be crate time, elimination outside (with lots of praise), then play time either inside or outside, then crate time. Start slow, with 20 to 30 minutes in the crate at a time. When you release your puppy from his crate, the first thing he must do is go outside and empty his bowels and bladder. After he's done this, you can continue the cycle with play time, etc. As your puppy grows, his ability to hold his bowels and bladder will improve, and you can leave him in his crate for long periods of time if necessary. Every time you put him in his crate, say a catchphrase such as "kennel!" and "Good kennel!" if he enters on his own. He should be able to spend a few hours in his crate at a time after only a couple days of crate training. (Size is a factor. Big puppies can hold out longer, and small breeds need to eliminate more often.)

6. Put him to bed at night. At night, after his last meal and play session, he will be ready to bed down for the night. Most puppies can sleep from 10 to 12 hours a night, but they may need intermittent potty breaks. Put his crate near you at night, even where you can twine your fingers through the bars and comfort him. If he's separated from you, he might cry all night. Do not release him from the crate, no matter how pathetic he is! Some puppies cry initially, so you might want to invest in some ear plugs. Eventually he will grow comfortable with his crate. If he wakes in the night crying, he may need to eliminate. Take him out of his crate and immediately carry him outside. Once he has eliminated, he goes right back in his kennel, unless you love midnight play sessions. He will quickly learn that whining gets him a trip outside, but very little else.

7. Repeat. Crate training is almost always successful in housebreaking a puppy, but your dog's temperament and breed can have a lot to do with how long it takes. Some puppies can be completely crate trained in three days. If you've been using catchphrases, and your puppy seems like he needs to relieve himself, ask, "do you need to go potty?" and his response should tell you if he needs to go outside. On the other hand, some puppies can take as long as six months to be completely housebroken. Small breeds such as Miniature Pinschers, Yorkies, and Chihuahuas can take a notoriously long time. It is crucial to maintain your pattern of crate training and not to break your own rules. The more consistent you are, the more likely your puppy will be completely trained quickly. If your puppy accidentally eliminates in the house, look at your rules. Did you forget about him? Did you leave him alone too long? Does he need to spend more time in the crate? Was he overly excited? If you made a mistake just put him back in the crate and start the cycle again. While it can be hard to maintain the routine at first, it will ultimately be worth it to have a crate trained dog.

Bruno is blogging about rottweiler and golden retriever dogs at

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