By: Doreen Malone
One of the first things owners teach their puppy is not to eliminate in the house. One very effective method – the one used by most breeders and trainers – is crate training. Not only can you housetrain a puppy using a crate, but when used correctly, the dog naturally learns to look upon it as his den. He will seek out the crate when he wishes to rest undisturbed.
The crate’s success as a housetraining tool is simple: Puppies will not soil their sleeping area if they can possibly avoid it. But remember that a puppy needs time to play. Use the crate when you can’t watch your puppy, but don’t overuse it.
Crates come in different styles and sizes. Choose one that will be large enough for an adult dog of your puppy’s breed to lay down, stand up and turn around in without difficulty.
Many breeders use fiberglass airline crates. Avoid those with zinc nuts and bolts – they can poison a dog is he should swallow them. Wire crates work well and are fairly portable.
Put the crate in a location close to other family members, to lessen the puppy’s anxieties. Move it from the kitchen or family room to the bedroom at night so your puppy will always feel a part of his new family.
Remove the puppy’s collar before he goes into his crate. Then be prepared for his first experience with crate training – he will probably cry or whine. Offer him a treat and close the door. Leave the room, but remain nearby. At the first sign of a separation response, such as barking, whining or howling, intervene with a sharp “No!” Your puppy should associate the reprimand with his actions and stop. It may take four or five tries, but he will eventually settle down.
Once he is quiet, keep him in his crate for 30 – 45 minutes. If he begins to cry, take him outside to relieve himself. When he has accomplished that, praise him, take him back inside and allow him free time outside his crate. If he starts chewing on something other than his toys, respond with a sharp “No” and take the object away, replacing it with a toy.
After 15 – 20 minutes of free play time, put him back in his crate for a nap. If he cries, correct him. He is learning through association, so consistency should help your puppy accept being in his crate after only a few tries. When he’s been quiet for an hour or so, repeat the process.
Be aware that your puppy will need to eliminate directly upon waking and shortly after eating or playing. Also, a very young puppy will not be able to hold his urine all night, so be prepared to take him out during the night.
Put your puppy on his leash immediately after letting him out of the crate. Rush him to the door or carry him if he’s small so he can avoid an accident. Be sure he relieves himself once he’s outside.
Never place newspapers on the bottom of his crate, as these will only encourage him to eliminate there. After you are sure your puppy isn’t wetting his bed, you can give him a towel or blanket, though he may be more comfortable without one.
Gradually lengthen the amount of time your puppy’s allowed to play. By the time he’s five or six months old, he should be able to control himself for an hour or so between trips outside.
The crate also aids in curbing destructive behavior, such as uncontrolled chewing. As your puppy matures and shows he can be left loose in the house, give him that privilege.
The crate itself cannot stop your puppy’s need to chew when he is teething, so provide him with safe chewable toys and nylon or rawhide bones. If he continues to chew beyond the teething stage (about eight months), he is probably just bored, so try to spend more time with him.
By the time he is eight months old (a bit older for giant breeds), he should be able to walk around the house for most of the day once he has been taken outside to relieve himself. By one year of age, he should be mature enough to be trusted all night in the house. But keep his crate set up with the door open anyway. He will become attached to his own private “den” and will look for his crate.