One of the most challenging aspects when you get a new puppy is toilet training, our third post in the blog series is written by Nick Benger, a professional dog trainer and podcast host. He writes about Crate training and everything you need to know from teaching your puppy on how to be let out to teaching them to stay in the crate. Enjoy!
When I first got involved in dog training crates were all the rage. They were mostly used as a tool to toilet train dogs, get them to sleep overnight and travel safely. Over the last few years the topic of crates has become more divisive as some people have spoken out against confining dogs to them and there have been some terrible abuse cases where people have misused them.
I’ve worked with hundreds of puppies and coached people through this process countless times. I want to share with you the most effective and humane way to use crates to get the maximum benefits without the downsides.
Toilet Training with Crates
Letting your puppy run around the house sounds like a great idea until you have to work from home, watch your favourite Netflix show or just realise you don’t appreciate Cockapoo turds on your bed! Then it starts to become obvious that some kind of confinement is necessary at least some of the time just to hold onto your sanity through puppyhood.
Whilst you’re able to supervise this might just mean closing a few doors to keep them in sight but when you’re too busy to watch them we need something to fall back on. I like to use a puppy pen connected to a crate. Think of the penned area as the games room and the crate as the bed.
You’re going to want to make the ‘games room’ interesting and enjoyable for them to be in so that they actually want to spend time in there like a kid in an arcade. This would be a great time to use your K9 Connectables to make it a fun place to be. The crate is a place to crash when the sleepiness hits them so make sure to keep the door open so they can go in and out.
Whilst you’re toilet training them you’re going to want to get them outside as regularly as possible every 45 minutes in the beginning is a good goal. Reward them with treats for going outside so they start to get the idea that this is the best place to go. Once they realise they can cash in their pee for food why on earth would they want to waste it inside!
Accidents inside should just be cleaned up. Punishment for going inside is far too risky as many dogs become confused and avoid going to the toilet in front of their owners for fear of being told off. This causes way more problems than it solves.
Teaching Puppies How to Ask To Be Let Out:
One problem that can often materialise from using crates and pens is dogs that whine to be let out. I like to teach dogs how to ask to be let out by sitting near the gate so this problem never develops. Don’t worry, it’s fairly easy to do provided you’re consistent and patient…
When your puppy has been in the pen for a little while and wants to get out (preferably before they start whining) walk up to the pen. Now without saying anything wait for your puppy to sit. As soon as they do, open the door so they can come out if they want to.
What they’re learning here is sitting at the door is their equivalent of open sesame or melon if you’re Gandalf.. the point is it’s how they ask for the door to be opened. It’s also a way more tolerable way of asking than sitting at the door and crying loudly.
Often they will sit quickly if you’re willing to wait quietly for 20 – 30 seconds the first few times. It’s important to let them figure out the right answer, provided they’re not getting frustrated or losing interest this is really valuable.
What’s the answer to 26 + 213, it’s 239… see if I give you the answer right away I rob you of the opportunity to practice. If your puppy does start to become frustrated then that’s a different story, help them out by asking them to sit and then open the door when they do.
Eventually what will happen is your puppy will sit at the gate when they want to be let out. This gives you two options;
1. Let them out
2. Make their ‘games room’ more appealing so that they want to stay in (get your k9connectables out)
You can use the same puppy pen and crate set up to help get your puppy used to sleeping overnight without crying the house down. It’s totally normal for puppies to cry and get stressed out overnight in the beginning. They’ve been taken away from their mum and all their mates, that’s pretty scary for a pup. We need to do what we can to make them comfortable and help them adapt to that radical change.
I suggest you either put the crate and pen in your room next to your bed so they aren’t alone for the first few days or leave their crate and pen where you want them to sleep as an adult and you yourself sleep next to them on a camp bed.
Then as they start to get more accustomed to the change you can gradually move further away from them until you’re sleeping arrangements are as you like them. If you choose option one this means moving their crate and pen gradually away or in option two moving your camp bed.
Travel is one of the only times you should have to close the crate door which of course presents it’s own challenges as many dogs don’t like being locked in. If you’ve been following the rest of the article your puppy should be happily sleeping in the crate which gives us a great foundation to move forwards with this. Now we need to break this up into two tasks. Firstly we’ll teach them to get into the crate, then we’ll get them used to staying in it for longer periods of time.
Teaching Your Puppy to get into the Crate:
Start off by throwing a treat into the back of the crate so your puppy runs in. Then as soon as they eat the treat at the back of the crate praise them and throw another on the ground outside the crate so they have to leave to get it. Repeat this five or six times so your puppy is running in and out of the crate like a little looney.
Now act as if you’re going to throw a treat into the back of the crate and when they run in say “Crate” and throw the treat in. Here we’ve made the switch from luring them in to rewarding them for going in. We’re also adding our word which we’ll use in future.
You can do the opposite to get them out. Perhaps choose a word like “OK”. Act as if you’re going to throw a treat out, when they run out of the crate say “OK” and reward them. Continue to get them going in and out using your new words subtly using less hand motions as they improve and start to understand the meaning of “Crate” and “OK”.
Have fun with this. Dog training should be fun for both of you! Make running in and out of the crate a game, get creative with it.
Teaching Them to Stay In the Crate:
Once you’ve got your puppy going in and out of the crate when you ask them to it’s time to get them used to staying in there. This is a case of building up duration gradually. Start really easy, ask them to go in and then close the door for a few seconds. Then open it and reward them.
Increase the time you leave them in the crate gradually starting with seconds moving on to minutes. You’ll also need to gradually get them used to you being out of sight. If your puppy starts whining at any point then this is a sign that you’ve pushed them too far too soon. Make it easier next time by keeping them in there for less time or remaining in sight and then begin to progress again.
Pro Tip: build up a good length of duration with you in sight first. If you start moving out of their vision early on and they whine or become uncomfortable with it it can be hard to tell if they’re uncomfortable with you being out of sight or the duration that they’re in the crate for. Working on duration in sight first gives you a solid starting place for out of sight crate training.
Travelling in the car:
Once you’ve trained them to get into the crate and made them comfortable with staying in there you can begin putting the crate in the car for them to travel in. Make sure it’s secure and safe so it doesn’t move and scare or hurt them. You can also use K9 Connectables to keep them occupied in their crate in the beginning and this will also help build a positive association.
“Crates aren’t so bad, I get this cool food toy every time I get in!” You can use them to help your puppy get used to staying in the crate on the previous step too to good effect.
About the Author: Nick Benger is a professional dog trainer and podcast host at NickBenger.com. He also runs Bark Play Teach Dog Training near Bristol, England and has a degree in Canine Behaviour and Training with the University of Hull.