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Crate training your puppy

Dogs are den animals and innately feel secure in a den. The crate is your puppy’s den. A dog that is crate trained will always have a place to go where it feels safe and secure. It is important to have any puppy or dog crate trained as you never know what will happen in the future when the puppy must be confined and this will alleviate any stress at those times.

Our puppies are in their crate at night, and for nearly all their meals. During the day they spend short periods of time in their crate. Your puppy is very young and still learning. The most reliable way to teach a dog anything is to reinforce it. So if he whines and you let him out, then you have taught him that whining makes you let him out. So, if he whines and cries do not let him out as that will teach him to cry when he doesn’t want to be in the crate. It’s hard to wait until he is quiet, but if you follow through with this he will learn to be quiet and enjoy crate time.

You have to allow him the opportunity to complain a little, then he should be able to self-soothe. If you don’t give him the opportunity to go through this process, then you are not allowing him to learn to self-sooth and calm himself when overstimulated or he’s not getting what he wants.

Using the crate as a training aid will make housebreaking easier. Place your puppy in the crate for naps, when you can’t keep an eye on him, and when you will be gone for short periods of time. When he gets up, and is quiet, immediately take him outside. If he doesn’t relieve himself put him back in the crate and wait 10 minutes and take him out again. He will learn the system and this will make housebreaking easier for her and you.

Put some treats in the crate. This reinforces how wonderful it is to go into a crate. Also put in a chew toy, or a Kong type toy with peanut butter (no xylitol) a bully stick, anything to occupy some of his time and help alleviate boredom. He might like a soft stuffed animal to sleep with since he will miss the comfort of his litter mates. Make sure whatever you leave in the crate is safe for puppies to chew while not under supervision.

We have found that young puppies prefer wire crates, and can easily be transitioned to hard-sided plastic crates once they get a little older.

When your puppy first gets home, remember that even though you are his family, you are new to him and this is the first time he has been away from the people he is used to and his littermates and the adult dogs he was raised with.

He should sleep in a room with people for at least the first few months. The first few nights, if he cries in his crate, raise his crate on an ottoman or nightstand so he can see you. Even better is if you can get him close enough so you can put your fingers in his crate to comfort him with your physical presence.

When you first get your puppy home, he has no idea what’s inside, what’s outside, or where each of these start and end. Because of this, if you let him out of his crate, he may just piddle on the spot, thinking he is outside. So for the first week (or however long it takes), carry him outside until he learns where to go. Some puppies may not be able to hold it from the crate to the yard, depending on the individual puppy, the distance, and how long he was in the crate. In these instances, you may need to carry him out in the mornings for a few weeks or even a month or two.

Some puppies may cry when you put them in their crate. Some may scream like someone is sawing off their leg. If this happens, and you are sure they don’t need a potty break, DO NOTHING.

An exception to the do nothing rule of crate training is to get some Adaptil or other pheromone spray. Adaptil is based on mothers’ pheromones and sends “comfort messages” to your puppy. It’s not going to turn your wound-up puppy into a zen master, but it usually takes the edge off. You can get Adaptil online on Amazon, Chewy, or other sites or at just about any pet store.

They are trying to get you to come over and let them out (obviously). If you let them out, you are reinforcing this behavior and it will NEVER go away. So if you don’t want your dog screaming in a crate for the next 15 years, tough it out.

Don’t talk to them don’t coddle them. Get earplugs and send roses to the neighbors if you need to.

Extinction bursts

Beware the extinction burst. An extinction burst is the puppy’s last ditch effort just before it gives up. So if she’s been crying for five minutes (and it will seem like three hours) like someone has been sawing off her leg, then just before she stops she may sound like someone is swing off all four legs. If you give in at this point, you have not only reinforced crate crying, but you have reinforced excessively loud and panicked crate crying and that’s what you will have for the next 15 years.

There’s a delicate point here. At some point crying, and even a heck of an extinction burst can be on the line of separation anxiety. This can be a hard call if you don’t know what separation anxiety looks like, and you don’t want to trigger separation anxiety. So if you aren’t sure, please call us. We can help you figure it out and help you find ways to be more sane around a puppy crying. But please don’t wait more than a few days, the next morning if possible. This is a highly reinforced behavior and every single day counts.

Covering crates

Some puppies prefer their crates covered and will settle down much more quickly in a covered crate. A simple sheet or large towel works. There are also some fashionable pre-made crate covers available online (etsy, amazon, ebay), but your dog won’t notice the difference. If he pulls the cover into his crate and chew on it, saturate the cover with bitter apple for a few nights to discourage the behavior and give him something in his crate he can chew on instead, like a bully stick.

Time-out crate covering

Crate covering works well at night. When your puppy is hanging out with you during the day, you might not want to leave it covered for the parts of the day she’s in there. So you can use the time-out cover method.

If your puppy doesn’t settle down in her crate during the day within 15 minutes, cover the crate and give her a time-out. While you are covering it, don’t talk to her, don’t pet her, do nothing but cover the crate. Give her 5-15 minutes to settle down. Once she settles down, wait an additional 5 minutes past that point then flip up one side of the crate cover, leaving the rest covered. In another 5 minutes, if she’s quiet, repeat with another side, and continue like that until she’s uncovered. If she gets more rambunctious cover her back up and start over.

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