When it comes to training in general, everybody has their own path that they take. People have different views about how things should be done, and that is no different when it comes to crate training. I have had only one dog that was not crate trained, and that ended up working out OK. The one that was not crate trained was a black lab. I lived in an apartment at the time, was a lot less responsible, and could not deal with the constant crying at night. Like I said though, that one worked out.
Before we brought Darla home, we knew we were going to have to do this right. A German Shepherd, already full of energy, needed to be taught that the crate was a good thing. That it was a place that she could go to be safe, and would not destroy her crate along with everything in it. I did not want to purchase bedding once a week, so we got started on her training early. It’s important to remember that crate training is also a tool to keep your puppy safe and out of harmful items.
Best Steps To Crate Training?
Step 1 – Crate Size
The best way to crate train is to get started on day one. To do that, you’ll need to have the crate prepared before you bring your new family member home. The size of the crate should be just big enough for your puppy to stand up, turn around, and lay down. This is so they do not potty all over their cage when in there for longer periods of time. It is natural instinct for a dog to not soil where they sleep. You can purchase multiple crates as your pup grows out of them.
Or if you prefer, you can get a larger crate, and then just block off half of it so the pup can’t move front to back. This is what we did with Darla since she grows at such a rapid rate. We took thick cardboard to place in the middle of the cage to block her from the back.
Step 2 – Location
Find a location in your home to put the crate. It is better when you have somewhere that is isolated, but not so much to where you can’t peek around the corner if need be. When we started out with Darla, we had her in the basement for a couple of weeks. We eventually moved her up into the dining area of our home which worked out much better. Going up and down the steps was kind of a pain. Plus she was so isolated. She spent the first couple of weeks down there at night until she could make it through the night without barking. Once that happened, we brought the crate upstairs.
When you find your perfect location, be sure that is where you want to keep it. The continuity of leaving your pup in the same location will be helpful and familiar. We also have a blanket over the top of the crate to give it more of a den feeling. She can still see out of a couple of the sides, so she isn’t completely enclosed. If you can tolerate it, then maybe start with the crate in your bedroom, and then eventually moving to a more common area of the home.
Step 3 – Introduction
Find a crate training command that works best for you and your dog. Something like “kennel” or “bed” will do just fine. Once you have your command, grab your pups favorite treat, motion to the crate using that command to encourage the pup to go in. Once the pup goes in, give the treat and A LOT of praise for the job well done.
Some will say to place their food bowl in the crate to get them to go in, but we did not go that route. I don’t feel a puppy should get use to eating where it sleeps, just like we never gave our kids bottles to go to bed. It’s a tough habit to break, plus it increases potty frequency.
Step 4 – The Waiting Game
After you’ve introduced your dog to the new crate training command and their new den with treats and praise, it’s time to start closing the door and playing the waiting game. Once your pup is in the crate, close the door and walk away. You’ll want to start with small increments of time and close proximity. Sit near the crate for a few minutes, and then move on to a different room for another few minutes. After a short time has passed, and the puppy has not whined, let it out and give praise for being so patient while you were away!
Keep building up the time that you are away to get your pup use to being alone. If your pup whines, make sure you don’t go running back in to acknowledge. That will set bad precedence showing that all it has to do is whine for you to come back. Keep repeating the process and increasing the time gradually, and your pup will start to understand.
Step 5 – Time To Leave
The next step in crate training after you’ve built up the time is to start leaving. Leave your pup alone in the crate for periods of time while you’re gone. In one way, this is easier because you won’t get to hear the whining that goes on while you’re not there. On the other hand, it’s that feeling of “oh my gosh I’m abandoning my sweet adorable puppy!”. This time build up is critical to your success with crate training though. It will teach your dog that you will be coming back even after being gone entirely.
Go through the same processes as you have before to get your pup to voluntarily go into the crate, close the door, and leave the home. Even if you don’t have anywhere to go, just take a 10-15 minute walk and come back. Keep on this process and increasing your time gone to get your puppy use to you being gone for longer periods of time. If you have a young puppy, I don’t recommend leaving in the crate longer than 3-4 hours at a time. They will have issues holding their urine regardless if they are in a small enclosure or not. We had a camera setup on Darla we could monitor when we left, and we found that she didn’t whine nearly as much as we thought she might be. Rest assured, your pup will be fine when you leave if you’re taking the proper steps to acclimate.
Tip: If you have a door you normally go in and out of on a daily basis, continue using that door so your dog knows the difference between somebody coming through the garage door and front door.
Step 6 – Crate Training For Bedtime
Step 5 and Step 6 are really one in the same and could likely be 5A and 5B. A lot of people would much rather their puppy be able to sleep where they do. Whether it’s on their own bed or somewhere in the bedroom, they just have to have their pup there. If you are not one of those folks, then you will want to make sure you’re crate training your pup during bedtime as well.
We use to have Darla attached to our bedpost with a 4 foot leash hooked to her harness. This worked well, but we found that every morning, she was getting up at about 5am or so, which is an hour and a half earlier than the alarms go off for the day. It was fine, but was not the desirable outcome we were hoping to achieve with this. So we tried leaving her off the leash confined in our room, and she decided throughout the night that she would get up and begin to wander around the bedroom. This was also not a desirable outcome. Eventually, we started putting her in her cage at night when I would go to bed. This has worked great to this point.
Darla was about 6 months when we consistently left her in the cage all night. From the night that we started leaving her in there, till now, we have had no issues. She has her nice comfy pillow in there, her stuffed “lovey”, and a couple of solid bones to chew on. She seems to be perfectly content. If you choose to go this route, be prepared for whining and letting them out every three to four hours in the beginning.
Crate Training Really Can Be Beneficial
Crate training really is a good thing as it creates that safe space for your puppy to be relaxed. If you go through the easy steps outlined, your puppy should be crate trained in a decent amount of time. It took us a few weeks to get comfortable with keeping Darla in her crate. However, we were lucky that one of us was home at different points of the day to let her out. Not all dogs are going to have the same energy drive as her though. Working up to long periods of time in a crate won’t be as harsh, but make sure you are giving your furry friend plenty of exercise regardless of the breed. There were times where Darla would pee in the crate, and I was close to my wits end, but it got better as she got older.
After it was all said and done, I am extremely pleased with our result that we achieved with Darla. She’s not going to her crate on command alone, but I also don’t have to force her in there. Normally when I throw put one of her toys back in there; she just follows right on in and lies down. It’s still a small work in progress, but she is also still only nine months old. We’ll get there, and I promise that with consistency from the family, you will get there too.