How to Crate Train a Puppy

How to crate train a puppy

I am not a dog expert and don't pretend to be. We've had our fair share of ups and downs with Bosun. This blog post is just to share with you how we crate trained our Labrador puppy. There are many things that in hind sight I'd do differently, but the way we crate trained went really well and I am 100% happy with it!
When we got Bosun in October 2015, one of the things Rick and I both agreed on was the use of a crate. We have both experienced that awful feeling in the pit of your stomach through friends/family’s dogs where you come home after a couple of hours out and the dog has helped himself to something off the worktop, or chewed up the remote control or widdled on an electric socket.
This is really something that we did not want to happen to us. For one, it puts you in a bad mood and your puppy will associate you coming home with being angry. You cannot tell a puppy off for chewing something unless you catch him in the act. There is literally no point in telling him off for chewing your slippers 3 hours later because he will have no idea what it is he’s being told off for. Something that I use in all aspects of dog training with Bosun is not to set him up for a fail. He doesn't get the opportunity to chew expensive items, therefore he doesn't get told off for it.
Another reason for crate training, is that it really, REALLY assists with toilet training. You see, a puppy’s instinct is not to toilet in his bed. Therefore, if he can't get out of his bed, as long as you don't leave him in there until he's bursting, he won't toilet in there. See what I'm aiming at here? If you want to read more about toilet training specifically, you can read my blog post on that here.
A crate gives your puppy a place of his own, a constant place of stability. It's where he can feel safe. Now, when we travel with Bosun, we take his crate with us and he settles for the night with very little fuss. I find that when travelling with dogs, if they don't have something familiar then it can take a lot longer for them to settle.
And do you know what else? Vets will love you for it. Bosun has been to the vet for an operation and the nurses pointed out that they knew he'd been crate trained because when they left him in the individual crates that they use while the dogs are waiting for their operations, he just went to sleep. Dogs that are not crate trained will often freak out at being left in these crates at the vets and bark and howl and just generally make the nurses jobs just that much harder. Not Bosun, he was as good as gold.
And my final point, and possibly the most important, is for his own safety. According to a recent  article from the Express, some of the more unusual things according to vets that have been extracted from dogs’ stomachs include a barbie’s head, a needle and thread, carpet and a riding crop. I'm assuming those dogs were fine, but the owners could probably have done without the vets bills…and it all could have been solved by ensuring the dog wasn't able to get to those things in the first place…yeah…in a crate!
So, what follows is a list of tips and tricks for helping your puppy transition and getting the best out of your crate.


Choosing a crate...
So this will depend on the breed of dog you have and your budget. There are millions of different crates out there. Look at the reviews before you buy, and buy the best your budget will allow. If you buy a cheap crate and you have a high energy dog, it's possible they could bend the crate and end up hurting themselves.
At first, buy a smaller crate that is taken up entirely by his bed. As I keep mentioning, his instinct is not to toilet in his bed. If you have a massive crate with a bed up one end and play space at the other, it leaves space for him to toilet at one end. And this will not help with toilet training at all! With Bosun, we bought a small puppy crate for him when he was little, and then upgraded to a big boys crate when he got older. I appreciate that this isn't practical for everybody money-wise, so what you can also do is buy an adult crate straight away, and then use a divider to partition off one end, and then remove it as he grows. A dog should be able to comfortably stand up, and turn around in his crate space.
Make sure the bottom is solid plastic, this makes it 100 times easier to clean if there are any accidents. I've seen some crates with wire bottoms…well…I can only imagine what would happen in the event of a number two explosion...
A lot of crates give the option of buying a bed that fits the size of the crate. I can highly recommend this. I would recommend buying two, with zip off covers. That way, you can wash one and have the other one in there. I would also recommend buying a roll of vet bed for emergencies, in case you wash both beds and need something else to put down quickly. Whether your dog messes in the crate or not, I'd recommend washing his bed once a week anyway to keep everything smelling fresh.
Your puppy needs access to water 24/7. Some people recommend taking their water bowl up after a certain time to aid with toilet training, but I think this is terrible practice. If you're doing toilet training right, you shouldn't need to restrict fluid. Choose a heavy based water bowl for in the crate, if it's a light, flimsy bowl then the puppy will easily tip it over and get his bed wet, which isn't nice for him. I also don't recommend those bowls that clip onto the side of the crate as I've heard horror stories of dogs getting their faces stuck in the clips. I'm sure it's unlikely to happen…but you never know. We use a non-spill travel bowl for in Bosun’s crate and it works a treat.

When you bring your puppy home…

Have the crate already set up where you intend for your puppy to sleep. Choose a quiet corner somewhere that’s not too drafty and not next to a radiator. You don't want the crate to be somewhere that’s high traffic with people constantly walking past, kids playing near it or the front door nearby. Peace and quiet are essential for this process. As much as possible.
Be sure not to have the crate near anything that can be pulled in and chewed, such as curtains, electric cables, shoelaces etc.
When you first bring your puppy home, you shouldn't allow him to explore the whole house at first anyway as it can be a bit overwhelming. Better to have one or two rooms for him to explore first, one of which will have his crate in it. Have the crate door open and make the place inviting. Have a soft squishy bed in there, have a bowl of water and a few toys. Once he's done his own exploring, do some interaction with him around the crate, teaching him how amazing this new place is. Chuck a few treats in there for him to find, throw a toy in there.

The first night…
So I will tell you this now, the first night will be HELLISH. You will not get enough sleep and you will be driven to despair. That puppy will cry his little heart out. First off, you need to understand why he's doing that. This is more than likely the first time he will have been by himself ever in his life. He was born and brought up with his litter mates, and then brought home where he spent the day with you and possibly your family, then he's suddenly by himself in the dark. He thinks he's been abandoned by his pack, and he is scared. The best thing you can do in this situation is start as you mean to go on. So here's what you're going to do…
Just before your bed time, take him out into the garden for a wee. He won't have learnt his toileting routine yet so you'll need to stand out there with him for a good 5/10 minutes until he goes to the toilet (remember big praise!). After a few weeks, he will have this toilet routine down and know that this is his last opportunity for a wee for a while.
Give him a last snuggle and encourage him into his crate. And it's very important that he learns to take himself into his crate. We have never, not even once, ever placed Bosun in his crate. He had to learn to do it himself, and how did we do this? Treats. The way to a Labrador’s (and most dogs) heart is through his stomach. Throw a treat in his crate and use a consistent command. We use “in your bed” in a happy, upbeat voice. When he's in, tell him what a good boy he is and shut the door. Turn the lights out, and go to bed. This is when the crying will begin.
How long will your puppy cry when you leave him? Every dog is completely different. Bosun only cried for about half an hour for the first few nights and then it reduced. You have to ignore it. It will break your heart, but it's important as it teaches him stability. If you go down stairs to comfort him because you think “oh, just a little snuggle to comfort him won’t hurt, then your puppy learns that you come running when he cries, in a very similar fashion to trying to get your four year old to stay in their own bed. I won't mention any names, but someone I know ended up with a German shepherd with extreme separation anxiety because, and I quote, “she just wouldn't settle at night, unless she slept in the bed with us”. Yuh huh. Start as you mean to go on. It will help in the future.
So this point sort of ties in with the toilet training element of things, but remember at this stage he's already programmed not to toilet in his bed so you want to use that instinct. For the first few nights, only leave him for two-three hours at a time because he still has a tiny bladder and won't be able to hold it for the full eight hours. If you leave him for so long that he's forced to wee in his bed because he can't hold it, then it's all downhill from there. Once the smell of urine is somewhere, he will always see it as a place that’s acceptable to urinate. (Dogs noses are a lot more sensitive than ours so even after many washes and scrubs, they will still be able to smell it).
Set your alarm for 2am, 4 am and 6am roughly and spent 5/10 minutes outside so he can wee. Remember big fuss, then back indoors “in your bed” and lights out. More crying probably, then asleep. After a few days, you can start to leave a longer and longer gap at night until he's sleeping all the way through. But if he ever has an accident, go back a step and start doing more toilet breaks in the night.
If you've been asleep for a few hours, and then your puppy starts crying out of the blue, this may well be a signal that he needs a wee so don't ignore this. If he is telling you that he needs to go to the toilet then that is fantastic so hurry downstairs and take him outside!
I can very proudly tell you that using this method, Bosun has not had a single accident in his crate to this day, ever. He was sick one time…but that's irrelevant.

When should you use a crate?
At night, when everyone is asleep.
When you go out, although a young puppy should not be left by himself for more than a couple of hours.
When they're really young, you should use it whenever they are unsupervised. If you're going for a shower etc. As they get older, you'll be able to leave them on their own unsupervised without the crate  for certain periods of time. And then as they get to adult stage, you may well want to do away with the crate completely. But this is completely down to the individual. Basically now, if we go out Bosun takes himself into his crate and doesn't feel right if he's not in his crate when we’re not here. So…yeah…

So that's the basics of it really, some puppies take longer than others to get the hang of it but it's a case of waiting it out usually. I will now write a general list of hints and tips for crate training that didn't really fall into a category but are really important and you need to know anyway.

Never use the crate as a punishment. It could be very easy to get angry when your dog has done something, scream and shout and force him into his crate in anger. This is a very bad thing. His crate is his safe, happy place and you do not want him to associate his crate with bad energy. Also, it will make crate training really hard if he doesn't want to go in there because he thinks he's been naughty.
Make sure any children in the family know not to wake the puppy up when he's in his crate. New puppies are exciting and fun. Children want to play with them, and that's great. But puppies need a lot of sleep, and the puppy should hopefully learn that his crate is a safe place that he can go to sleep away from the noise and energy of the rest of the house. It will unsettle him if every time he's sleeping, a child comes along, wakes him up and forces him to play. It's also not very healthy for the puppy. This is also a good way to teach your child some boundaries.
Do regular maintenance on the crate, check the hinges etc. Sweep out and disinfect the bottom tray. Check for rust.
This is personal preference, but when they're young I personally wouldn't leave any soft toys in the crate with them as there is a choking risk (they do rip soft toys apart, it's unavoidable). You can leave hard rubber Kong toys in there, or something that Bosun absolutely LOVES are these deer antler chew toys from Stagler. They last forever and are really good for their teeth.
Once your dog is toilet trained, depending on the breed and space available you might be able to set up a play pen to keep them contained while you’re out if you want them to be able to have some space but don't want to risk them chewing stuff. Or you can use those toddler stair gate things to separate out parts of the house. Really it’s all about keeping your dog safe, stable and happy.

When all is said and done, remember that all dogs are different and everyone’s lifestyle is different too. You know your dog, and you will know if there’s anything amiss. Just keep assessing the situation and remember that nobody is perfect…but you can give it a damn good go!

Do you have any stories/questions/advice about crate training? Leave me a message in the comments.

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