Crate training is beneficial to a puppy's life in that it provides a safe means to prevent inappropriate elimination in the house, a place where the puppy can go to escape excessive handling by small children, and a way to prevent destructive and potentially dangerous behaviors in the house when you are away. In addition, the crate can be used in teaching independence by preparing the puppy to be calm when left alone. This independence is important in the prevention of separation anxiety.
- Pick a crate – select one that has dimensions large enough in which your pup can sit, stand, turn around, and lay down comfortably on her side. She should not have enough room to eliminate in one corner and rest in another. If you have a small puppy that will one day be a big dog, you can still have a larger crate, just block off most of it so that she does not have the entire space.
- Make it a happy place – put the crate in an area of the house where your family spends a lot of time. A DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) diffuser can be plugged in near by for extra comfort. Toss delicious treats and toys inside and allow the puppy to go into the crate on her own. Let her walk in and out with the door open several times with treats before you leave her inside with the door closed. You can then start feeding her meals and food-stuffed toys inside her crate and eventually close the door when she is eating comfortably.
- Bedtime – have your puppy sleep in her crate. If you can afford a second crate or can move the crate to your bedroom, your puppy will settle easier if she can sleep with you; you can also hear if she becomes restless and begins to whimper during the night, signaling that she may need to go out to relieve herself. She will also be able to acclimate to the crate easier at night, while she is mostly sleeping, than during the day, with all of its distractions. Make sure that each night she gets a special treat in her crate at bedtime.
- Gradually increase the time periods – have your puppy start spending more time in the crate with food stuffed toy or a chew toy that takes longer to eat. Be sure your dog is relaxed and calm and begin to leave the room for short periods of time while she is occupied by food in her crate. As long as she remains calm, you may keep increasing the time she spends in the crate, until she is able to remain comfortably in her crate while you leave for longer periods of time.
- Try not to respond to cries or whines in the crate – if you experience this problem, the training may be going too quickly for your pup. The most successful training is that which is stress-free. Set your pup up for success, by setting up practice sessions that end before any stress begins. An easy way to accomplish this, is to end the session before she finishes the treats you've placed in the crate. Monitor for signs of anxiety during training, such as panting, yawning, and salivation. You may need to start from the beginning or even consult a behavior specialist should these problems arise – they could be early signs of separation anxiety. If you accidently push your pup beyond her comfort level, and she does vocalize in the crate, you should try not to let her out until she quiets. Never punish her for this behavior. If you let her out when she cries, she may learn that crying gets your attention, and may cry every time you shut the door. Try walking away and wait until she is quiet before letting her out. This process may take some time and the behavior may become worse before it gets better. There is a difference between a "protesting" and a "panicking" puppy. If your pup is becoming frantic in the crate, instead of winding down, please stop the session right away and call for help. Most likely you will need to slow down the training and start at a level where your pup is comfortable.
- Never confine your puppy longer than she can realistically be expected to hold her urine and feces. How often she needs to go out depends on her age. Even young puppies can be expected to "hold it" for at least a short period of time. As a general rule, that can translate to one hour for each month of age, give or take an hour. For example, your 3-month old puppy might easily resist urination for three to four hours. If you need to confine your puppy for extended periods of time, consider the use of an exercise pen or a baby gate to confine her to a slightly larger area, such as the kitchen, bath, or laundry room. This will still allow her to maintain a natural cleanliness because she can eat and sleep away from the areas where she has soiled. Alternatively, you can hire a dog walker or have a neighbor take your puppy out as needed during the work week or whenever you are unavailable to do it yourself.
The key to successful crate training is consistency and making the crate a positive experience. NEVER use a crate as punishment!