Crate Training

What is a crate?
A crate is a rectangular enclosure with a top and a door.  The two most commonly used, commercially available crates are an open metal design and a solid plastic construction with a metal front door.  Each has their advantages.  Metal crates allow your puppy to see more of her surroundings, are usually collapsible, and are cooler for thick coated dogs.  Molded plastic crates tend to be warmer, are acceptable for air travel, and give your puppy a stronger sense of security, particularly during transport.                              
What is crate training and what are the benefits?
Crate training is the housetraining method used most frequently and most successfully.  It involves keeping your puppy in a small, confined area when she can’t be supervised.  The theory behind crate training is that a dog has a natural desire to not go to the bathroom where she sleeps or eats.  Therefore, if your puppy is kept in a small, confined area, she is unlikely to eliminate.  This encourages her to develop conscious muscle control by holding her elimination until she is in an appropriate place, away from her confined area. 

There are several additional benefits to crate training.  Puppies and young adults investigate their surroundings with their mouths and tend to chew on objects.  When not supervised, your puppy could chew on and possibly swallow an inappropriate, potentially harmful item.  The crate protects your puppy and your house from her natural, but dangerous, desire to chew. 

A crate can also help your puppy adapt to new environments, making it easier to vacation or move with her.  New surroundings can be stressful to your puppy.  Having the security of a familiar crate can decrease this anxiety.    

Motion, noises, and vibrations during travel can be worrisome for your puppy.  The crate provides security, as well as safety during travel.  Being crated prevents your puppy from getting knocked around during transport and, when in a vehicle, prevents her from becoming a distraction that may cause an accident. 

If your puppy is unable to accompany you on vacation, being comfortable with the crate will help her be more at ease with the situation of boarding.   

What size crate do I need?
Buy a crate that will fit your puppy as an adult.  If your puppy is a purebred, you can use the average adult size for her breed to choose the appropriate sized crate.  For mixed breed puppies, this becomes more difficult.  For a rough estimate of her adult size, you can measure your puppy when she’s standing, from the bottom of her front foot to the top of her head and from the tip of her nose to the base of her tail.  Then add about 12 inches to each of these two measurements.  Look for a crate that’s approximately this size, keeping in mind it’s always better to have her crate a little too big than a little too small. 

Initially, you will want to make the crate smaller to prevent accidents.  Crates with dividers are available, or you can block off a portion of the crate with a cardboard box or plastic container.  Your puppy should have enough room to stand up without hitting her head and stretch out completely, but not enough space to go to the bathroom in one corner and move away from it.  When your puppy is no longer having accidents in the crate, you can gradually move the divider or decrease the size of the box or container, allowing her more space. 

What do I put in the crate with my puppy?
Always remove any collar from around your puppy’s neck before putting her in the crate.  The collar could become entangled with the crate, causing her to seriously harm herself.

For most puppies, a washable blanket or towel, a safe toy (see Appendix D for suggestions), and a small bowl of water can be placed in the crate.  Do not leave plush toys or any other destructible item in the crate with your puppy.  Keep in mind, towels and blankets can also be shred or eaten, so use caution with these items if your puppy tends to be destructive. 

Some puppies will also spill or play in their water bowl.  To prevent this, freeze the bowl of water and put it in the crate with her to lick throughout the day as the ice melts. 

You can place a blanket over half of the crate to create a more secure feeling for your puppy.  However, watch that your puppy doesn’t pull the blanket into the crate or shred it. 

If you must leave for a long period of time before your puppy is housetrained, enlarge her allowed space and leave a training pad or blue “pee pad” in the crate with her.  I only recommend this if you’re going to be gone for an unusually long period of time.  Regular use of the “pee pad” in the crate will be confusing for your puppy and should only be used in an exceptional situation.

Where should I keep the crate?
It’s best to have your puppy’s crate in a bedroom at night and in a living space such as a family room or kitchen, during the day when you’re home.  Dogs are social creatures and should not be left in the basement, garage, laundry room, or other isolated area.  You are now your puppy’s “pack” and she wants to be with you.  She’s likely to object more to being in the crate if she’s left in an area away from you and your family.  The crate should be located away from drafts and direct heat sources.  Also, make sure to “puppy proof” the area around her crate.  Many puppies will reach out and pull objects into the crate from their surroundings, potentially destroying or ingesting them. 

How do I use the crate with my puppy the first time?
Make sure your puppy has been well exercised and has eliminated before placing her in the crate.  With a toy and a treat, place your puppy in the crate and close the door.  Leave the room but stay close enough to hear her.  It’s not uncommon for a puppy to have some distress being apart from her family the first few times she’s in the crate.  This is normal.  Never go to her to calm her or let her out of the crate when she’s whining or fussing.  Remember, all her needs have been satisfied.  Ignore her until she’s quiet- no matter how long it takes, and then let her out.  Start with short periods of quiet time and gradually increase the length of time she’s left alone. 
Additional topics found in the book include:

  • housetraining
  • crate training (more information)
  • basic commands
  • vaccinations
  • internal parasites
  • external parasites
  • toothbrushing
  • emergency care
  • and much more
The following is an excerpt from the book Dr. Van Tassel wrote for puppy owners.  Hope you find it helpful.
Woodridge Animal Hospital
(630) 985-3101
2009 W. 75th Street, Woodridge, IL  60517
                      dr.amy@woodridgeanimalhospital.com