Should I use a crate for my puppy?
What to consider when buying a dog crate?
A dog crate can be a very useful thing to have when training a puppy. They are available to buy at most pet stores and online. Most are made of a metal wire frame with a plastic washable tray base for your pets comfy bedding. All crates should fold up flat to enable you to carry them easily to another location.
When choosing a crate you will need one large enough to accommodate your dog standing up, turning around and laying out full length. You should have a good idea of how large your puppy will become when adult and buy one this size, unless you want to upgrade later. Puppies and dogs should always have enough space to turn around easily and not be cramped.
Crates are very useful for:
A safe, secure place to sleep.
To prevent a dog chewing and scratching household items.
To recover from medical issues.
What is a dog crate good for?
The crate should never be used as a punishment. If a puppy is overexcited maybe it’s useful for downtime, but the crate should always be considered a positive thing and somewhere your puppy likes to go. The crate can represent the safe cave or den that doggy ancestors would have needed for survival. Somewhere safe, dark and warm where puppies would have been born and raised, away from predators and danger.
It’s a safe place for your dog.
It’s your dog’s den.
Often a sense of nostalgia as many puppies are born in crates.
It can be used for down time.
Getting your puppy used to the crate.
Sometimes your puppy will arrive already used to the crate. This is great! Our first puppy arrived used to a crate and with a blanket laid on by the mother and siblings, the familiar smell helped the puppy settle in. We had no trouble from then on with whining at night or wet floors. I know we were very fortunate in that respect.
But if your puppy has never seen a crate before it is a good idea to:
Introduce puppy gradually to the crate.
Reward with treats when puppy willingly goes inside.
Feed or give the puppy a chew inside the crate to make it a good place to be.
Place toys in the crate and sit with the puppy initially.
Tire puppy out and encourage them to settle for a sleep.
Make sure your puppy is happy with their crate.
Make sure the puppy is happy being in the crate and encourage with rewards and a happy voice. Check that your puppy doesn’t need the toilet and has exercised before shutting the crate door. Dogs don’t want to soil their bed so a crate helps with toilet training as long as the puppy is let out frequently to go to the toilet and exercise, otherwise the puppy will become very distressed! But when comfortable hopefully the puppy will just settle down content in their own safe place. It is good to do this during the day for a few short times first before trying a whole night time. You can expect a puppy to last for about 2-6 hours overnight without needing the toilet, but this is of course depends on the age and the variability of your own dog. Puppies who have just arrived at their new home at 8 weeks old can only hold their bladder for about 2 hours. Rule of thumb is a puppy can go an extra half hour per month of age.
Whining at night.
If puppy cries when you’re out of sight wait until they stop then go back to reassure. Don’t let the puppy think that whining means they get their own way and they are let out immediately. When they are quiet, release them for a cuddle. That way you can build up the amount of time they stay in their crate and their confidence in the fact that you are coming back to them.
At night time ensure your dog has been ‘last times’ (click here to read about toilet training) and has not eaten recently. Hopefully it has had a walk and is tired and ready to settle. It is a good idea to cover the top of the crate with a blanket to make the crate darker and eliminate draughts. Then it will instinctively seem like that safe, secure cave we were talking about. Reassure your dog and settle them in for the night.
If they do whine, try and ignore it for a short while. If they don’t settle come down and let them outside to see if they need the toilet. No playing or chatting, this is bedtime not playtime. Be matter of fact and put puppy back in the crate with kind reassurance and try again. For very fretful puppies who don’t settle you can try placing the crate in your bedroom where puppy can sense your presence. Not the first choice but you can gradually move the crate out as puppy matures. Indeed, ultimately you may not want to use a crate at all and find that your dog settles on an open dog bed throughout the night.
My puppy doesn’t like a crate.
Crate training your puppy has a lot of benefits as you can see, but some pups instinctively don’t get on with a crate. I know this from experience… Our Springer Spaniel never liked the crate or being left alone at night, building up to become very anxious about bed time. If this is the case with your puppy, the best reassurance and comfort they can have is you. As said in the above paragraph, move the crate to a place where your pup can see you (often in the bedroom). Not ideal, but you’re likely to see an instant difference in your pups behaviour and they will settle quickly. With this you need to train your pup that the crate is a safe place and their den. Once they understand that and start to like their crate again, slowly move it out of the bedroom and to the place you want them to sleep. It’s a slower process, but we found success with it.
Can I leave my puppy in a crate during the day?
During the day, once your puppy is happy being left in the crate for short times, you can lengthen the period a little. A puppy does need frequent toilet breaks and companionship but can eventually be left in the crate for a maximum of 3 hours, and an adult dog 4 hours if you need to. But longer than this is not advised and your puppy will need to build up to that length of time. Start with a quick trip to the local shop and slowly build the time up. If you are working you will need to enlist the help of friends and family or employ a dog walker to break the time up.
When leaving your pet in a crate remember to leave them a small amount of water in a bowl. Too much and they will need the toilet again, but it is necessary to leave a little. There are clip on metal bowls which are very handy for this purpose. You can leave a chew or toy with your dog but remember that lots of toys are easily destroyed and eaten!
Using a crate is very beneficial to a lot of dogs and their owners. Not everyone will choose to use one as they think of it as confining their dog. However, if thought of as a safe, secure substitute den it is a very natural place to be. It also helps with training and adjusting negative behaviour and as such can be a very positive aid. Many dogs go on to have the free run of a room like the kitchen but still return to their open-door crate to sleep as it is their own special place.