Monday, January 10, 2011

Crate training your puppy: It's not cruel, it's wonderful!

Liam the puppy outside of his dog crate
A friend of mine recently got a new puppy, and mentioned that he was having difficulty teaching the dog to go outside to urinate, and that the puppy spent a lot of time crying at night. I suggested crate training. He looked at me like I was suggesting torture.

Why does crate training have such a bad reputation?

A crate is a natural environment for a dog. Small puppies like having their own "den" to retreat to when they're feeling worried or insecure.

Puppies also will not urinate in their dens. By taking a puppy out of his crate and taking him immediately outside to urinate, and lavishing the pup with praise when he does urinate outside, you're reinforcing positive behavior. By yelling at the pup when he pees in the house, you're simply instilling fear.

I used a crate with Liam. It helped with his potty training, and it helped me ensure that he was not doing anything dangerous when I was not home, such as chewing on electrical cords or snacking out of the cat box. Liam became so fond of his crate that I had to prop the door open when I was home, and he would often sleep within the crate when I was home but not paying direct attention to him.

This website contains good information on how to begin crate training (although it does have some unfortunate formatting). It's important to note that small puppies should be let out frequently to urinate, and they should not be left in a crate for an entire day. If you're gone from home for a significant portion of the day, you'll have to provide a place for your pup to eliminate. Use a baby gate to keep the pup in the bathroom, for example. I would recommend keeping the crate in that bathroom with the door to the crate open, so the pup can still hang out in the crate.

And as a final note, if you cannot commit to letting the pup out frequently, and you don't want to come home to deal with messes on your floors, do not get a puppy. There are several adult dogs in shelters who need good homes. Many of these dogs are already crate- and potty-trained.