A major part of pet ownership is “housebreaking” a pup. A crate can act as an invaluable tool in teaching a dog how to become part of a home and family.
Crates come in all sizes. Some are open-wired; others are more solid. Find one your dog prefers. Make sure your dog can stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably while crated. The crate should become the dog’s den — a “safe haven” from rambunctious youngsters, excessive noise, or a household of unfamiliar guests.
According to the ASPCA’s Complete Guide to Dogs, when starting, you should not put bedding into the crate because the pup may have an accident and foul his place. Dogs naturally prefer a clean area. If the crate is too large, they may go to the bathroom in one end and sleep in the other. That defeats your purpose. The Guide suggests adding a thin sheet or toweling after one week of successful crating without accidents. Later, you can add plusher bedding. You can also use a “partition” in a too-large crate so it can be adapted to your pup’s growth.
We have just adopted a young pup, guessed to be 4 or 5 months old, and we are practicing what the books teach. We are teaching Howie that his crate is his sanctuary, a very nice place to be.
During the day, I leave the door open and put a piece of dog food inside (about every hour) so the pup goes to check it out frequently and at will. When I am practicing longer crating periods, I put food in a puzzle toy in the back of the crate so he needs to go fully inside to get his “reward.” I close the door while he is involved with his treat for about 15-20 minutes. If he is quiet, I let him rest longer, but if he gets fussy, I tell him “It’s quiet time,” and I only let him out when he is being calm, not while he is excited or whining.
In the afternoon, he gets a safe Kong toy filled with just a light touch of peanut butter. Our vet, Dr. John Prange, a practicing vet for 42 years, told us not to overdo the “treats” or he will gain weight too quickly. I cover the sides and back of the crate with a blanket for a quieting effect from outside lights and for slightly muffling outside sounds.
I put the toy in the back of the crate for his afternoon naptime. Once he goes in and begins to chew on the toy, I keep the TV on low as “white noise” to override outdoor and household sounds, and I close the crate door. He can see me through the front while I watch TV, but then I walk away to the kitchen or laundry so he knows he is alone for a few minutes.
The ASPCA Guide recommends feeding the dog his meals in the crate. Dr. Prange suggested measuring his full amount of food into a cup in the morning and then dividing it into two or three meals per day – allowing for the extra treats and peanut butter snacks along with his high-quality food.
After his first week, I leave the room for longer periods, about ½ hour to 45 minutes. We are working up to him being crated for 4 hours when we need to go away. While he is calm and quiet, I go and let him out. No fuss. Do not reinforce him “leaving” the crate; the point is for him to enjoy it. The Guide suggests letting a young pup out every two hours — after waking, eating, drinking, or a bout of play.
We take him out every hour and give him a couple pieces of kibble for “performing” his duty outdoors. On the fourth day, he learned to go sit facing the back door to go out. Our adoption guide from the Quakertown “Last Chance Ranch” suggests putting a bell on the exit door, which the pup will hear every time he goes out. He will soon learn to ring the bell himself. The LCR says you must let the dog out every time the bell rings. (Since we often use the door ourselves, we haven’t tried that.)
The ASPCA’S Guide suggests placing a safe stuffed toy or knotted large towel in the crate for comfort, which acts like a substitute for littermates. They also emphasize not to take the puppy into your bed.He must first learn his place in the family pack, and he must learn to stand on his own four feet to avoid future episodes of separation anxiety. If you always allow the dog to depend on your presence, you will create problems with him developing independence.
Bedtime: Take up his water about 2 hours before bedtime. After a walk around the block and using his outdoor bathroom, I give him another light spread of peanut butter in the Kong, put it in his crate and close the door behind him. I put a light cover over the front to block out my reading light or flickering TV lights, but I leave a small gap so he can see me. When he is done with his Kong, he usually cries a bit; I tell him “It’s sleep time.” Usually he quiets down. If he cries again, I say, “Time to sleep,” and I turn out the light. He quiets down immediately.
Within one week, he has learned that his crate is a very nice place to be. In fact, when he sees the red Kong, he runs into his room and into the crate and waits for his night-time treat.
According to veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Nicholas Dodman, in his book, The Dog Who Loved Too Much, he says a dog, in general, “can only hold its urine for the number of hours that corresponds to its age in months plus one. By the time a dog has reached young adulthood, it can go 8 -10 hours without having to go out, depending on the amount of water it has consumed.”
Dr. Dodman says you should not put a dog with severe separation anxiety into a crate. If it shows signs of stress by drooling excessively, looking fearful, and chewing frantically at the crate, it could injure itself; and using the crate as a tool will create bigger problems than it solves.
Never keep a dog crated all day (8-10 hours) while you’re at work. An adult dog might be able to handle it without messing its crate, but if it is forced to foul its “den,” you could lose all the training you gained. Get a dog walker or go home for lunch and take a walk together to break up the day.
Children should be taught never to bother a sleeping, crated dog or put their fingers into his personal space. That is his den, and he should actually enjoy his private area and go to it when asked.
In 8 days, our pup has only had two accidents in the house. He happily eliminates outdoors and looks to us for his “treat,” but now only receives praise, “Good boy” instead of food, to keep his weight gain under control.
A final word from Dr. Dodman: “Sadly, a large number of the hundreds of thousands of dogs that meet their untimely demise at the hands of the authorities each month have inappropriate-elimination problems underlying their surrender to the pound or shelter. Many of these dogs have owners who love them but can no longer take the pressure of cohabiting with a house-soiling pet.”
By using a crate for control and teaching a dog to go outside on a schedule, you will have a much better house pet and a much happier family. It’s worth taking the time to do it right.
ASPCA Complete Guide to Dogs: Everything You Need to Know About Choosing and Caring for Your Pet. Sheldon L. Gerstenfeld, V.M.D. with Jacque Lynn Schultz. Chronicle Books, 1999. “Introducing a Puppy to a Crate.”
Dr. Nicholas Dodman. The Dog Who Loved Too Much: Tales, Treatments, and the Psychology of Dogs. Chapter 14: “To Pee or Not to Pee.” A Bantam Book, 1996.
Dr. John Prange, D.V.M. practicing vet for 42 years, personal vet. Alburtis Animal Hospital, Alburtis, PA 18011.