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Crate training a puppy has many benefits for you as a dog new owner.
It can be used as a powerful tool for potty training. It can help eliminate other common behavior problems, such as separation anxiety.
It can help you move your puppy around more easily, giving her a place to rest on long car trips.
And it can also be useful for socializing your pup or dealing with fear problems.
But despite all these benefits, a lot of owners have problems with crate training a puppy.
There is a very specific set of steps you need to follow to get your puppy used to the crate and encourage her to view it as a happy, comfortable space – rather than a ‘cage.’
If you go about this the wrong way, the dog will likely develop a dislike of the crate, seeing it as a scary place where she feels trapped.
The way you introduce her to the crate will decide how she feels about it – so make sure you follow the tips below to turn the crate into a useful, powerful tool.
Introducing the Crate
The instinct for most puppy owners is to lock their puppy in the crate and leave her there for hours hoping she will ‘get used to it’ quickly that way.
Big mistake! This is not the right method for crate training a puppy.
The key to creating a positive view of the crate in your puppy’s eyes is to introduce it slowly and get her to associate positive things with it, so she sees it as a safe place – a place she actually wants to go to sleep or just relax.
The first rule of crate training a puppy is that at first, the crate door needs to stay open.
The pup should not be locked in – she needs to be able to come in and out of the crate as she pleases, until she is comfortable there.
So how do you get the puppy to go inside the crate in the first place? You use the same motivation you would use for virtually any other type of training: food!
Extending Time Periods
Whenever you are introducing your puppy to something unfamiliar, it is best to do this in small doses.
Too much exposure to something that might be strange, or frightening can cause your puppy to get distressed, and that can lead to some long-lasting negative associations.
You do not want your pup to develop a negative view of the crate – that will make all the other problem behaviors and training issues covered below much harder for you.
Crate training a puppy is linked to successfully training your pup in a bunch of other areas, so it is very important that this part is done right.
Once your puppy gets used to being inside the crate, you can start locking her in. But even then, you need to keep a close eye on her and make sure she does not get anxious.
Keep time periods very short at first – less than five minutes – and let her out before she starts to get panicky.
We have covered the bare basics of crate training a puppy here, but there is a lot more essential information you will need to know to carry out the process quickly and smoothly.
Using the Crate for Potty Training
Alright, so now we have covered the essentials of introducing the crate.
Let us now talk about some practical uses for the crate when it comes to training your pup and dealing with problem behaviors.
If you are like most new pup owners, the most important use for the crate will be in finally solving your puppy’s potty-training problems.
It is quite possible to potty train a puppy without a crate – however, the crate will make life much easier, especially if your puppy has problems with having accidents while you’re out of the house or during the night.
Think of the crate as your ‘insurance’ against house training accidents when you cannot be there to supervise your puppy.
The key to this process is training your puppy to see the crate as her ‘den.’
This is actually the key to why crate training in general works, and it’s the reason why people who say the crate is ‘cruel’ are wrong (as long as you do crate training properly).
In the wild, a dog’s den is a safe place – the place the dog sleeps or hides from danger.
You want her to look at her crate the same way. When you understand this, saying the crate is ‘cruel’ is a little bit silly – that is like saying taking a wild dog back to her den – her home – is cruel.
The crate isn’t cruel, but leaving a puppy in there when she hasn’t been introduced to it properly can be cruel – there is an importance difference there, which, again, is why the crate introduction process is so important.
Using the Crate for Travel
Transporting a puppy long distance can be a bit of a problem without a crate.
Some pups insist on crawling all over the whole car, including the driver’s lap, which can be very dangerous.
Obviously, you can get a passenger to hold onto the puppy, but that is not always practical for long trips – and besides, what if you are traveling alone?
The crate solves this problem by keeping your puppy confined in a comfortable place for the whole trip.
In some cases, the crate can even help calm down a dog that does not normally like car travel.
There is another form of travel where proper crate training will come in handy: air travel.
Most dogs will never have to go on a plane, but if you find yourself moving to a new city or country, you are going to want to take pup with you.
Believe me, she is going to be a lot more comfortable going on a long plane flight if she is already used to her crate and sees it as a safe place.
If she is not used to the crate, that can make a scary trip even scarier.
Using the Crate for Separation Anxiety
One common behavior problem many puppy owners must deal with is separation anxiety – where the puppy gets anxious every time she is away from her human owners.
This can be both distressing and annoying for you as the owner, as one classic symptom of separation anxiety is an unpleasant ‘whining.’
Given everything we have been talking about with regards to training the puppy to see her crate as a safe place, you may already have some idea of why it is useful for crate training.
Separation anxiety crops up because when the puppy is left alone, she thinks she is being abandoned.
Now you may think, ‘I’m only leaving her alone for half an hour!’ But there are two problems with that.
One, the puppy has no idea how long you are going for!
And two, puppies are virtually never on their own in the wild. They have developed very strong instincts which tell them: ‘Stay with the pack at all times!’
Staying with the pack means staying with their mother – who is their source of food at an early age and, as a result, their key to survival.
So now you can see why being left alone would cause such a panic!
When the puppy comes to see the crate as her safe place, a lot of this panic will go away when you leave her alone.
However, it is not always that simple.
Sometimes, by the time you get around to crate training, separation anxiety has already caused your puppy to develop some pretty bad habits.
In this case, you can employ a few techniques using the crate to slowly build up her confidence to the point where she can be left alone for long periods without getting stressed out.
Using the Crate for Socialization
Socialization is a type of training many new puppy owners do not understand or overlook.
It is about getting your puppy comfortable around all types of different people, animals, sounds and environments.
You do this by introducing your puppy to all those things – slowly, under controlled conditions, to make sure she does not have any bad experiences.
The crate is very useful for creating those ‘controlled conditions.’
Think about this scenario: your puppy is going to grow up living with a cat, so you want to get her used to being around cats.
So, you decide to introduce them to each other – but if you just let them roam around together in the same room, a lot could go wrong.
The cat could swipe at the pup and scare her. The pup’s instincts could kick in and drive her to attack the cat.
In either scenario, this is not a good start – and this experience alone could lead to the puppy having a problem with cats for a long, long time.
So, the simple solution is to use a crate!
Just put the puppy in her crate every time you want to introduce her to something, and you are not sure how she is going to react.
While she is inside her crate, she will know she is safe and you can get an idea for how she (or the other animal) is going to react, before you try introducing them without the crate.