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Crate training is one of the most effective and positive methods of housetraining a puppy, but it does take planning, attention and involvement of the owner. Crate training uses a puppy's natural cleanliness as well as the lessons that the mother taught the puppy regarding moving away from the den or living area to go to the bathroom. Crate training makes the crate the den or home of the puppy, which he or she will try very hard not to mess up by soiling.
Getting the right sized crate
Getting the right sized crate is important for several reasons. The crate must be large enough to accommodate the puppy without being too small or uncomfortable for the dog. However, if the crate is too large for the puppy he or she may decide to make one area the living space and one area the bathroom, which is very counterproductive. Since owners may not want to buy more than one crate, especially for medium or large sized dogs, consider getting a crate with a sliding inside panel or divider that can be used to make the crate floor area smaller when the puppy is small and then can be moved down to the end of the crate as the puppy grows.
There are several different options for crates including plastic crates that can double as travel crates for the puppy or the dog or wire crates that are more open and allow the puppy to see what is going on around them. For some puppies the more enclosed space is a safe retreat to calm down and relax, whereas other puppies prefer being able to see everything that is going on around them. Typically the puppy will adapt to whatever crate style you prefer provided if it is used in the fashion it is intended, as a place the puppy can feel safe, secure and protected.
Choose a crate that is free from any sharp edges or areas that may be easily chewed or damaged. Plastic shards or splinters can be swallowed by the puppy leading to serious and even fatal perforations of the intestines and stomach. Wire crates should be well made and strong with no wire edges where they may cut, injure or scratch the puppy.
What the crate is NOT to be used for
The crate needs to be a den and place of refuge for the puppy. It is a safe, pleasant place to be, not a punishment area. As soon as the puppy starts to equate being in the crate with being punished, he or she will stop wanting to go into the crate and will begin whining, barking and chewing to get out.
The crate is not the bad puppy time out area. It should be comfortable with soft, washable bedding, some favorite chew toys and should be located in a quiet but not isolated area of the house. Often a low traffic area of the room that that the family spends most of the time in is the best option as the puppy can still see people while in their own little area.
The first step in crate training is to help your puppy understand the purpose of the crate. Start by playing with the puppy around the crate and allowing the puppy to explore the inside without closing the door or forcing the puppy into the crate. If they don't go on their own try tossing a small puppy treat just inside, then gradually moving them further back. Reward the puppy for going in by saying "Good Fido, into the crate" or whatever command you wish to use. Again, don't force the puppy or try to close them in, but also don't reward or praise them when they come out. All the rewards and praise are provided on the action of entering the crate.
Start keeping a few favorite chew toys in the crate and allowing the puppy to play with them in the crate. When he or she is calm and willing to walk in, close the door for a minute and then open it up, allowing the puppy to stay in or come out. Only praise on the going in, ignore on the exit. Gradually increase the amount of time the door stays closed. If you overestimate and the puppy starts to whine or bark, ignore the behavior but don't open the crate door until the puppy is quiet, even if only for a second. If you open when they are whining or barking, what they will learn is to whine and bark to get out, just because they want too.
Once you can leave the puppy inside for about 5-10 minutes with the door closed it is time to start crate training. For most puppies this initial learning about the crate only takes a few days. To start crate training follow these general guidelines:
Feed your puppy on a schedule and record when they normally make a bowel movement or urinate. For most young puppies this is 5-15 minutes after eating, drinking or playing.
Feed the puppy and then place them in the crate. A few minutes before you know that the puppy is ready to go to the bathroom, based on your information, take them to the yard where you want them to go. Put them on the ground and wait for a few minutes without playing with or talking to the puppy. If he or she is preparing to go to the bathroom, give them a minute and let them find the right spot. Reward with lots of praise and a return to the house to run free.
If they do not go to the bathroom, simply pick them up and return them to the crate with no positive or negative comments or interactions. In approximately 5 minutes repeat the process and continue to do so until the puppy uses the right area to go to the bathroom. Be sure to give lots of praise and a small reward to let them know that they did exactly the right thing.
If the puppy mistakenly goes to the bathroom in the crate that was the owners fault, not the puppy's. Clean and wash out the crate and wash the bedding to eliminate the scent. Never punish the puppy as this will just make them hate the crate. Start over at the next meal, ensuring you take the puppy out prior to the time you did the last time.
Most puppies can be successfully crate trained in two to three weeks. Puppies have very small bladders and poor overall control so expect accidents and adjust plans accordingly. Never keep the puppy in the crate for prolonged periods of time or they will have no option but to mess in their den and this can establish a bad habit.
If you are following the suggestions and your puppy doesn't seem to be able to control their bladder or bowels be sure to seek immediate veterinarian assistance as this can be a sign of several different diseases and conditions often seen in puppies, some which can be effectively treated if diagnosed soon enough.
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