Crates: Uses and Training

Assuming you have your new puppy, and have purchased the right size of crate, (that is one that is not big enough for him to make a bedroom at one end and a bathroom at the other end of it) you are ready for serious training.

Equipment Placement
First, where to place the crate? Ideally it will be in the kitchen area because that's usually the hub of family activity, and also the most likely to have an easily cleaned floor - not carpet!. The best set-up is to have a separate piece of vinyl flooring about 3' x 5' on which you place an exercise pen (6 panels of 24" high, with gate) and place the crate inside. The extra piece of vinyl protects your floor and can be thrown away when training is complete. The use of both the crate and the exercise pen as a unit allows safe play space when the puppy cannot be left to run around loose.

Getting Comfortable with the Crate
Start by placing washable bedding in the crate, such as a medium sized towel. Then, with a tiny treat, entice him to go in. Keep in mind it is better to use a piece of the puppy kibble he gets as his regular food, rather than commercially prepared treats which are generally too salty. Say the word ‘crate' as he goes in after the treats. As he comes out, say his name and the word ‘come' and give another treat. Play this little game several times a day. He'll find it fun, and soon you will be able to say ‘crate' and he will dive in. Also, never underestimate the power of meals as a training tool. At every meal time, when you have the food prepared, call his name and ‘come', even if he's underfoot, then put the food into the crate saying ‘crate' as he enters. Later on you can use the meals to train the ‘sit', ‘down' and ‘wait' etc.

Closing the Crate Door
After a few days, you will likely find that not only is puppy hopping into the crate as soon as he sees you preparing his meals, but he also chooses to nap there. This behaviour indicates that he is accepting the crate as a safe and good place to be. Each day, try closing the crate door while he is eating his meals, but watch so that you can open the door before he whines or becomes frantic. If you open the door regularly when he is whining and fussing you are actually training him to think that the whine is the signal for the door to open. The goal is to have a quiet dog until you are ready to open the crate door. This is achieved by very slowly increasing the closed-door time by seconds, then minutes, to work up to five to ten minutes in a couple of weeks.

In the Crate Overnight
A puppy can be trained to sleep the night in his crate. This has advantages to you not only knowing he is safe in an easily located spot, but that any clean-up of sick tummy etc. can be neatly done. The easiest way to train this is to put it on a little routine. He goes ‘out before bed' and when he comes in he gets ‘bed cookies' in the crate - door closed, lights out. ‘Night night Toby'. Such words and actions repeated each day are soon learned. The bedtime routine will be accepted as a matter of course and crying, if any, will stop in a few days. If the puppy cries in the middle of the night, get up and take him out, on leash, to his ‘spot'. After he has done any business take him straight back to his crate. Some pups can't hold it all night at first. The dog will learn that if he cries at night, it only means go outside to pee. It doesn't mean cuddling and play time.

Potty Training
Your crate training becomes an integral part of the potty training process, but the scheduling of food and trips outside is essential to 

It works like this:
1. First and foremost- NO punishment, NO scolding etc. as these will increase the dog's anxiety and make your training more difficult.

2. Feed the dog all his meals in the crate, door shut, and let him out immediately after eating. Schedule his meals - divide his daily food into two parts, feed one in the morning, one in the evening, according to the time best suited to your daily schedule. This will help the dog's body regulate itself as to eliminations. There should be no feeding between meals except for the tiny treats to reward desired behaviors like going outside or into his crate when asked to. Water must be available at all times.

3. Select a small area in your back yard where you want him to eliminate, and take him there on- leash at regular times: first thing in the 
morning, after each meal, after play and naps. It works out to be every two to three hours, and the last thing before bed. Work out the exact timing to fit your schedule. Have tiny treats in your pocket and profusely reward with praise and treats every time he pees and poops in the right place.

4. If you catch him ‘in the act' in the house, say nothing, just get him outside at once, and if he finishes his business outside, praise and 
reward. Each mistake made in the house must be cleaned up thoroughly and immediately. A dog can smell much more than a human can, so wash and disinfect all hard surface flooring. Replace small mats if you can't get the smell out, and have large area carpets professionally cleaned if they smell. If you work away from home, leave him confined in an easily cleaned up area such as an exercise pen, or bathroom or laundry room. Kiddy-gates work well for closing off bathrooms, laundry rooms etc without closing the door and making the dog feel isolated or trapped.

Dogs five months and older can stay in their crates up to four hours if properly trained. If you have to be away longer, have someone come in and let him out. This process will take planning, commitment, and the cooperation of the whole family, but it will pay off.

Crate for Travel
Because the crate is a safe, easy to use means of transporting the dog to the Vet , or when on vacation, or when visiting, the dog must be got used to its being moved. To feel oneself being picked up and being moved around on a tilting surface while in a box can be frightening. Therefore, start small and slowly by first just lifting the crate a few inches off the floor and setting it back down. Treat and praise the dog and let him out. After a few of these trials, carry the crated dog to another room, then up and down stairs. The first car trip should be short - even just around the block. If there is no evidence of whining or panic, you have done the job right. If the dog does show signs of distress, start at the beginning, and proceed more slowly. When using a crate in a car, be sure it is fastened down with straps, or a seat belt. Dogs are generally good car travellers if introduced to it gradually. The crate keeps both the dog and human passengers safe in sudden stops or accidents. If you are considering air travel for the dog, consult your airline first. Regulations must be followed, and some airlines are in process of updating their regulations, resulting in confusion for travellers, and limitations on ‘when', ‘where to ‘ or ‘if at all' you may send/take your dog on a plane.

Although the previous paragraphs have dealt with various aspects of crate training, you will find they fit together so you may be teaching all aspects simultaneously. Dogs are capable of learning more than one thing at a time if you keep the instructions for each aspect of the training simple, and use the same words, signals and routine in each training session. If your dog is not fully crate trained within a month, you need to look closely at which aspect of the training he is having trouble with, and start over again on that part. What seems simple to us can be misunderstood by the dog, leading to his confusion as to what is expected. The cause of his difficulty is usually human error in giving the instruction and signals, or going too fast. Using the crate correctly, and training with consistency and positive reinforcement will lead to your success.

Author: Anne Matheson