Dogs are highly social animals who make wonderful pets. They can be effective as watchdogs, are excellent companions for play and exercise, and are sources of affection and comfort. However, with the lifestyle and schedule of the majority of families, dogs must learn to spend a portion of the day at home, while their human family is away for school, work, shopping, or recreational activities. During the times you are unavailable to supervise, the pet may still feel the need to chew, play, explore, eat, or eliminate waste.
Preventing such inappropriate behaviors when you are absent involves both scheduling and preventive techniques. Proper scheduling requires ensuring the pet has had the opportunity to play, eat, and eliminate before you leave it in a confinement area or crate. Prevention involves keeping the pet in a confined area where it is secure, safe, and can do no damage to itself or your possessions.
Depending on the structure of your home, it may be possible to dog-proof the house by closing a few doors or putting up some child gates or barricades. The dog can then be allowed access to the remaining areas of the house. If this dog-proofing is not possible when you must leave, confine the dog to a single room, pen, or crate. This smaller confinement area provides a safe environment for the dog and helps protect the home from damage; it also provides a means of teaching the dog what it is supposed to chew and where it is supposed to eliminate.
Crate training uses a dog’s natural instincts as a den animal. A wild dog’s den is his home—a place to sleep, hide from danger, and raise a family. The crate becomes your puppy’s den, an ideal spot to snooze or take refuge during a thunderstorm.
A pet crate can offer important benefits when training your puppy:
- The primary use for a crate is house training. Dogs don’t like to soil their dens.
- The crate can limit access to the rest of the house while your puppy learns other rules, like not to chew on furniture.
- Crates are a safe way to transport your dog in the car.
Isn't crate training cruel?
What are the benefits of crate training?
Will cage confinement help with house training?
Crate training can also help teach the dog to develop control over its elimination. As soon as your dog is released from its crate, take it to the designated area and reward elimination at acceptable locations. Since the crate prevents chewing, digging, and elimination on the owner’s home and property, owners of crate-trained dogs have fewer behavior concerns. The dog also receives far less discipline and punishment, and the overall relationship between pet and owner can be dramatically improved.
Will the crate provoke barking?
What type of crate or confinement area works best?
Where should the cage be located?
How can crating or confinement become a positive experience?
A radio or television playing in the background may help calm the dog when it’s alone in its crate, especially during the daytime. These may also help mask environmental noises, which can stimulate the dog to vocalize. The crate should never be used as punishment.
How do I crate train my new puppy?
- Introduce the crate as soon as you bring the puppy home and as early in the day as possible. Place a variety of treats in the crate throughout the day, encouraging the puppy to enter voluntarily. Offering your puppy food, water, toys, and bedding when the crate is open is also effective.
- Choose a location outdoors for the puppy to eliminate. Take the puppy to the location, wait until it eliminates, and reward it lavishly with praise or food. After some additional play and exercise, place the puppy in its crate with water, a toy, and a treat before closing the door.
- If the puppy is tired and calm, it may take a nap shortly after being placed in its crate.
- Leave the room but remain close enough to hear the puppy. Escape behavior and vocalization are expected when a dog is first placed in a crate. If the “complaints” are short or mild, ignore the dog until the crying stops. Never release the puppy unless it is quiet. This teaches that quiet behavior, not crying, will be rewarded. Release the puppy after a few minutes of quiet or a short nap.
- Punishment may be useful to deter crying if it does not subside on its own. A shaker can (a sealed can filled with coins or marbles) can be tossed at the crate when the pup barks. Other methods include water sprayers or alarms (audible or ultrasonic). The owner should remain out of sight. By plugging in an alarm, tape recorder, water pik, or hair dryer beside the crate and turning it on with a remote control switch each time the dog barks, the dog can be taught that barking leads to punishment whether the owner is present or not. When the barking ceases, the punishment is stopped. Bark collars and alarms or water sprayers that are activated by the barking are also available for persistent problems. Punishment must always be used with caution, since it can exacerbate the vocalization problem of a very anxious pet.
- Repeat the crate-and-release procedure a few more times during the day before bedtime. Place the puppy in its crate a few times before the end of the day. Each time, increase the time that the dog must stay in the crate before letting it out. Always give the puppy exercise and a chance to eliminate before locking it in the crate.
- At bedtime, the dog should be exercised, locked in its crate, and left for the night. Do not go to the dog if it cries. Remote punishment can be used to deter crying. Alternately, the crate can be kept in the bedroom.
- If the pup sleeps in one end of its crate and eliminates in the other, a divider can be installed to keep the puppy in a smaller area.
- Never leave the puppy in its crate for longer than it can control itself, as it may be forced to eliminate in the crate.
- If the pup must be left for long periods during which it might eliminate, it should be confined to a larger area such as a dog-proof room or pen, with paper left down for elimination. As the puppy gets older, its control increases, and it can be left longer in its crate.
- Although there is a great deal of individual variability, many puppies can control themselves through the night by 3 months of age. During the daytime, once the puppy has relieved itself, a 2-month-old puppy may have up to 3 hours of control, a 3-month-old puppy up to 4 hours, and a 4-month-old puppy up to 5 hours.
- A crate is not an excuse to ignore the dog!