Crate training is fundamental in helping your dog develop into a well-balanced canine companion!
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Second night with us. Already toilet trained. He only woke us up 1-2x per night to be let out for toileting.
Why use a crate or pen?
Crate training is important and extremely useful for many situations in your dog’s life:
Having a safe-haven your dog loves to rest in
Managing behaviour when you can’t watch over them
Preparing for future vet clinic stays
Preparing for future kennel stays
Traveling in a car or plane
Providing you with a mobile “safe place” for your dog
Giving your dog predictability and security in their daily routine
Giving you a management tool to use when visitors arrive to avoid your puppy learning overexcited behaviours e.g. jumping or calmness for visior arrival
How to train your pet to use a crate or pen
It is very important that your dog never has negative experiences with the crate or pen. So, please, never carry or force your dog into a crate.
The aim is for your dog to learn to love the crate in the same way as a wild dog likes its den. Instinctively, dogs like a cosy dark place to rest or hide. Using a step-by-step crate training process, you can teach your dog to love its crate and want to use it almost anywhere. Ultimately, this gives them a secure den and gives you the flexibility of choosing the location.
All other behavioural training will then gradually fall into place based on your dog’s previous experiences, learning ability and most importantly your consistency.
Your dog is an individual and your family situation is unique. Learning is a dynamic process. Things will change as you go along. Remember these fundamental principles so that you can adapt to the changes that come along.
Our general guide to safe and gradual crate training is as follows:
Stage 1: THE SET UP:
Purchase a crate and play pen, (2 crates or 2 play pens would suffice but one of each is best.) Ideally buy these before you even get your puppy. The crate should be big enough for your puppy to be able to stand and turn around in comfortably, but not too big as to allow them to sleep at one end and toilet at the other. No dog wants to sleep where they toilet.
Initially, all pups will benefit from being in a crate surrounded by a pen (see pictures of Finn and Max below).
Decide where in the home you would like your dog to learn to rest in the future. This could be in your bedroom, in the spare room, in a quiet corner of the living room, or somewhere outside near doorways. Place the crates or pens in these areas, for example, one in the bedroom (as Obi is in picture on the left) and one in the living room (as Obi is in the picture on the right). Although you don’t need to have two crates for crate training, it makes the process more convenient as you won’t have to move one crate around to different locations in the house.
If you are using a pen (with or without a crate) for a young puppy, always cover the whole surface of the pen with newspaper or puppy training pads. If you provide only one pad, they may not toilet on it, as they may not have learned to toilet on that surface yet.
Next, pin or tie the door of the crate open. This is important for skittish or sensitive puppies to avoid them knocking the door and the sound giving them a fright.
Place the only comfortable beds they have in there. For example, our puppy “Obi” got spoilt with memory foam beds to make his crates a more desirable place to rest than our own beds or the couch. Remember, dogs can be drawn to couches or our beds simply because they are super comfortable.
Stage 2: The Early Conditioning Training
Classical conditioning is a subconscious learning process where your dog does not have to do anything to earn a treat. It is simply about pairing two things within one second of each other, so that the brain links the emotions. Food is the most powerful primary reinforcer we have in our tool box to communicate with dogs. If the food’s value (to the dog) is higher than the potential fear of the crate, we can utilise it to build a positive emotional experience with the new crate.
Note: If your dog has ever been locked in a confined space, such as a vet clinic cage or a carry crate and panicked to get out, the crate-training process should be monitored carefully by one of our qualified Behavioural Trainers (contact us).
Start by tossing some cooked chicken (or another very high value food) near the crate and then gradually progress to tossing it inside the crate. Your puppy might be a bit apprehensive initially. Give them time to process the situation and make the bold move to step inside. Once they are inside, continue giving them the high-value food in there to help them feel comfortable inside the crate. Let them come out on their own whenever they choose to.
Tip: Avoid picking your puppy up and placing it in the pen or crate or pulling them out. This will hinder the processes of learning and gaining confidence..
Repeat Step 1 several times a day for a week or so. The more consistent you are with encouraging them to go in the crate with the use of high-value foods, treats or chews, the faster they will create a positive association with the crate.
Depending on how comfortable your puppy is with being in the crate, start offering them their main meals in enrichment feeders (Classic Kong, Kong Wobbler, Slow feeding bowls, cardboard boxes, toilet paper rolls etc.) in the crate. You can also scatter their dry food meals over the bed in the crate.
Once they are comfortable lying in the crate, you are ready to progress to the next stage. It is very important to advance through the next steps based on how your dog is feeling. Remember to read – and respond to – their body language. Refer to the Body Language guide so you can recognise subtle signs of stress.
Tip: If you see your dog show some signs of subtle stress or frustration, make sure you stop and review the training process. Dogs will often be stressed if we move too fast with training. It can also be helpful to have someone else watch to objectively lend a hand to the process. This could be a family member, a friend or a qualified behavioural trainer.
Stage 3: The Active Learning Process
Have a handful of tiny pieces of your dog’s favourite treats ready. For some dogs, this might even need to be tiny pieces of cooked meat, cheese pieces or kabana to get them motivated! Remember that these special high value treats are only used initially to help your dog link a positive emotion with the cues. Once they become more comfortable and adapt to the task, you can slowly wean them off the higher value treats.
Note: As a veterinarian giving this advice, the caveat is that you ensure you do not use any foods which may cause your dog digestive upset. Therefore, if your dog has a history of pancreatitis, IBD or food allergy, please contact your vet before selecting training treats. Equally, avoid feeding any raw meats or bones of any kind due to the risk of food poisoning and obstruction.
Prepare a few treats inside your hand and place it directly in front of your dog’s nose. While keeping your hand close your dog’s nose, slowly move your hand towards the crate. Your dog should follow your hand. This is called luring.
As soon as they take a couple of steps, release a small treat for them to eat. This is important to ensure we’re building trust and confidence. Continue luring and dispensing a small treat every few steps until they get into the crate with all 4 feet inside. Praise them calmly and scatter more treats on the bed in the crate. Let your puppy come out of its own accord.
Tip: For more timid pups or dogs, this process might take some time. Work on a few short sessions (1-2 minutes each) several times per day, rather than doing one long session of 10 minutes. If you mentally exhaust your dog with insisting you get them in the crate on the first go, you could risk breaking their confidence and making them suspicious of the crate.
As your dog starts to follow your luring-treat-hand into the crate more freely, you can start to add in the cue such as “in your bed/crate”. It’s very important that you only say the cue once all 4 feet are in the crate. Remember, they do not know this cue yet. We are only conditioning the hand signal and the word to the location. It will take their brain time to tie it all together.
When they are inside the crate and relaxed, close the door for 20 seconds and stay by the crate. Then open the door and throw a piece of food outside the crate. As your dog starts to move outside add a release cue such as “OK”. Having a clear ‘release’ cue is very helpful in preparation for teaching them other behaviours like “wait” or “stay”.
Repeat step 4 while gradually increasing the time the door is closed. For example: you may close it for 1 minute, then 3 minutes, then 5 minutes, then 10 minutes. Always give a long-lasting chew or enrichment toy.
Tip: If your puppy whines or shows other stress signs at any point while it is in the crate, then it is likely that you have moved through the steps too fast for your particular dog. Make note of the time your puppy was closed in the crate and when it wined. Avoid eye contact or talking to them while they are whining. Once they stop whining, count three seconds and then open the door to let them out. Then, If your puppy whined after being in the crate for five minutes, next time go back a step. Put them in for four minutes then let them out. Always aim to avoid causing any amount of stress, frustration or uncertainty. Remember, we never want them to have a negative experience or trigger suspicion or fear of confinement.
Continue practicing closing the door when your dog is in there having their chew or meals in variable enrichment options. While they are busy eating, start moving away from the crate, but remain in view.
The next step is to continue to increase the time your dog is in the crate, with the door closed, while you duck around to the bathroom or kitchen briefly. This will help your dog learn that you moving out of their sight is not a big deal and that they do not have to follow you everywhere. Teaching independence is important for all dogs, but crucial for those who show any signs of separation distress.
Training sessions should be short and sweet! Always focus on ending on a good note =) We want to aim for your dog to love going in the crate because it predicts getting praise, treats and meals in there.
Toilet Training with Pens and/or Crates
Night-timeIf you are using a crate for a puppy without a surrounding pen and pads, then at night it is best to move the crate into a laundry or bathroom where the floor can be easily cleaned. Ensure the crate door is open as they will likely toilet somewhere outside the crate overnight. This behaviour will reduce over time as their bladder control improves.
The alternative to moving the crate is that you keep your puppy closed in their crate in your bedroom. You will then need to get up several times a night to take them out of their crate to an appropriate toileting place. Even if they are not fully crate trained during the day time, most puppies do well being confined at night so long as they are near their family.
Day-timeOnce they are comfortable with being in their crate for short periods (this should take you less than a week), the next step is to focus on toilet training during the day.
To prevent accidents happening and bad habits forming, puppies should never be allowed to roam free in the house until they have toileted in their designated area. Having them confined in a pen or crate for up to two hours at a time (depending on their age) will allow you train them to hold their bladder between toileting trips.
OPTION 1: If you are using a crate only, it is very important you are diligent with taking them out frequently. For baby puppies, gently and slowly pick them up and carry them outside to prevent them toileting on their way out. For older pups who have been on a lead, clip the lead on before letting them out of the crate. Then use food luring in your hand to guide them outside.
Note: If an accident happens along the way, ignore it! They have no conscious control over their bladder or bowl movements (just like babies! It’s the reason babies wear nappies!) Just clean up the accident and aim to take them out sooner next time.
Initially take them out hourly, then over a few weeks stretch it out to one and half hourly or two hourly.
Extending the time gradually will avoid them learning to soil their own bed or become distressed in their crate or pen.
If they whine around the time they need to be taken out to the toilet, wait for the short break between whines (3-5 seconds) before you go to them and take them out.
Once you’re outside, ignore your puppy until they do they toilet. This may take a while, be patient. Once they do their business, reward them with treats, play or cuddles!
OPTION 2: If you are using a crate inside a pen (whose floor area is covered with newspaper or pads) and your goal is to have your puppy learn to use pads for apartment living, then follow these steps:
When you see your puppy toilet on any part of the pen on the paper or pads praise them or give them a treat straight away.
When you note they are toileting consistently in one area of the pen, start gradually removing one newspaper spread or pad at a time. Start from the end opposite to their preferred toileting area.
Progress over several days or weeks to having only the one pad they are using left in the pen.
If you live in an apartment, your puppy is now pad trained and you can move the pad gradually out of the pen and to the desired area. Do not move it too fast as your puppy might not find it and could have accidents.
OPTION 3: If you are using a crate inside a pen (whose floor area is covered with newspaper or pads) and your goal is to have your puppy learn to toilet outside, then follow these steps:
Follow the same instructions as for Option 1 during the day time.
Follow the instructions for Option 2 for overnight or longer periods they are in the pen and need to use the newspaper or pads.
The final goal!
Once your puppy is fully “crate trained” you will be able to move the crate wherever you want to. This might be into a car, to a friend’s home or the vet. Whenever you wish to teach your puppy to be calm and safe in new situations without constant supervision, they should be in a crate with their favourite long-lasting chew or toy. This helps them learn to be calm in new or overstimulating situations. It also avoids having to “tell them off” (which we know doesn’t work anyway) for jumping, licking, biting, destroying things or learning to be hyperactive when visitors arrive by managing the situation and helping your puppy or dog learn how to be calmer.
For help with crate training, please contact our Behavioural Trainer team here.
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