How can crating or confinement become a positive experience?

Most dogs quickly choose a small area, such as a corner of a room, in a dog bed, or on or under a couch, where they go to relax. If your puppy has just recently been adopted, crate training should be relatively easy since your puppy is likely already accustomed to sleeping in a pen or crate.

The key to making the crate your dog’s favourite retreat and sleeping area is to associate the crate with as many positive and relaxing experiences as possible (treats, chew toys, bedding) and to place the dog in their cage when playing with new toys during scheduled rest and sleep periods or even as a feeding area.

You must plan and be aware of your puppies needs including their need for exploration, play, food, and toilet so that the dog is only placed in their cage when each of these needs is fulfilled.

A radio or television playing in the background may help to calm the dog when they are alone in their cage, especially during the daytime. These may also help to mask environmental noises that can stimulate the dog to vocalize. The crate should never be used for punishment, remember it is a meant to be a positive place.

How do I crate-train my new puppy?

Crate training is a very popular way of keeping puppies safe when unsupervised and is a highly effective tool to fast track toilet training as it encourages them to hold their bladder/bowels (puppies usually don’t like to toilet where they sleep). When used correctly, a crate can become the puppy’s favourite place for sleeping and safe quiet time. If you wish to start crate training your puppy it is best to do it the first night you get them home or as soon as possible. It should be done correctly, as leaving them in the crate for too long a period of time can also inadvertently encourage them to toilet where they sleep and increase the potential for anxiety problems.

When introducing your puppy to their crate it is very important to take it slow and don’t rush. You want your puppy to learn a positive association with the crate. First, introduce your puppy to the crate by leaving the door open so they can freely walk in and out to investigate as they please. Make the crate inviting by placing a comfy bed inside with their favourite toys. Encourage your puppy to voluntarily go into the crate by placing tasty treats or chews inside.

To help encourage your puppy to stay in the crate whilst the door is open, stay close by and try using a Kong filled with soft puppy food or some other eating activity such as a pig’s ear or bull chew. This creates a positive association with the crate, as the puppy realises that good things happen when they are in the crate. Once your puppy is choosing to go into the crate on their own without encouragement, you can begin to close the door but only for a few seconds at a time. Gradually build up the duration as long as your puppy is relaxed, remembering to continue using your Kong and chews whilst the puppy is in the crate and the door is closed.  Once your puppy is happily settled in the crate with their Kong or chew with the door closed, you can start to increase the distance between you and the crate. If the puppy begins to whine, decrease the distance and wait a few seconds until the puppy is quiet, then let them out. If your puppy whines or cries they are telling you that they are not ready for that distance between you so you will need to take a few steps back to the distance where the puppy doesn’t react. Over time your puppy will be quite happy to go settle in the crate by themself and you can start to pair a cue each time your puppy goes into the crate such as “in your crate” or “go to bed”. This builds up an association between the cue and the action of walking into the crate.  Not all puppies adjust well to being confined so if you are having trouble getting your puppy to accept it, try an enclosed pen or baby gates to help puppy proof your home.

When using the crate for toilet training never leave the puppy in the crate for too long. Successful toilet training requires consistency so give your puppy plenty of opportunities to toilet outside every 2-3 hours including during the night. It will obviously help if the crate is located within earshot during the night as you will be able to hear them crying when they need to go to the toilet. As your puppy grows, you will find you don’t need to take them out as often. As a general rule, puppies at rest can hold themselves for up to one hour for every month of age, however, play/excitement can reduce this time.

Unsupervised puppies inside should be in the crate but only for a long as your puppy can cope with. This will depend on the individual puppy but it will ensure there are no accidents on undesired surfaces.

What type of crate or confinement area works best?

A metal, collapsible crate with a tray floor works well, as long as the crate is large enough for the dog to stand, turn, and stretch out. Some dogs feel more secure if a blanket is draped over the crate. A plastic travelling crate or a homemade crate can also be used. Playpens or barricades may also be successful as long as they are indestructible and escape-proof.

Where should the cage be located?

Because dogs are social animals, an ideal location for the crate is a room where the family spends time such as a kitchen, den, or in a bedroom where the dog might sleep at night.

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