One of the very first things new puppy owners add to their shopping lists is a crate to crate train their puppy!
It’s for good reason. Crate training can be an incredibly effective tool when it comes to housetraining your puppy. However, there is still plenty of misinformation floating around out there when it comes to crate training your dog.
If you’re looking for an in-depth guide on housetraining, and you wouldn’t mind a full rundown of teaching all your basic behaviors and preventing problem behaviors, you might want to take a look at our Dog Savvy Training Course!
Before we dive into all of the details of crate training your puppy, it’s important to understand what the crate is and what it isn’t when crate training a puppy.
What Crate Training is, and What it Isn’t
When you’re crate training your dog, it has the benefit of helping you keep your pup out of trouble at the same time. However, a crate is not a permanent way to dog or puppy proof your house. Nor is a crate a way to fix a problem dog that tries to destroy things when you are gone or when your back is turned.
Essentially, you shouldn’t be trying to use your crate as more than a housetraining tool. Don’t use it as a crutch for other more serious behavioral issues like destruction and separation anxiety. If your dog is destroying things or getting into trouble, you need to address the issue behaviorally, not by simply sticking your dog in a crate and hoping for the best.
The crate is simply a confined space that your dog views as a “den” or a bed/home. Though this isn’t always the case, most dogs don’t want to potty where they sleep. Some dogs are strange and absolutely don’t care and will urinate and then just lie right down in it… in that case you really should get some extra help directly from our trainer.
However, in most cases dogs don’t want to potty where they sleep, so if you provide them with a small space that they regularly sleep in they won’t wont to potty in it and you can use it for housebreaking.
Choosing a Crate
What Type of Crate Should You Use?
Even the cutest little bitty Maltese can chew a hole in the side of a soft crate if they are motivated enough. Use soft crates (and playpens at that) at your own risk. You should supervise your dog to ensure they will not chew the crate and potentially ingest anything dangerous to them.
Because of the chewing factor, we typically recommend a nice sturdy wire crate for housetraining purposes. This doesn’t mean a wire crate is necessarily incredibly safe either. You should always remove your dog’s collar before putting them in the crate to protect against strangulation.
Additionally, dogs with separation anxiety (or just plain Houdini complex) can absolutely break out of a seemingly secure wire crate. They can also injure themselves in the process. Proceed with caution and move forward based on your individual dog. Whining and barking is normal, screaming and howling for three hours straight is not.
If your dog shows signs of separation anxiety, please reach out to us via email or use our Ask The Trainer program for additional help.
How Do I Make Sure It’s The Right Size?
Size is the next important factor in crate training a puppy. We mentioned before that dogs don’t like to potty where they sleep… well that only works if the dog doesn’t have so much room that they can pee in one corner and sleep in the other comfortably. Your crate needs to be small enough that your dog will not have accidents inside.
Essentially, your dog should have just enough room to lie down and turn about comfortably, but not so much room that they have an accident. If they do have an accident in the crate, you might need to reduce the size a bit. However, that doesn’t mean you need to buy six different crates. Simply purchase a crate that is a few sizes too large for your pup and make sure it includes a divider.
If you plan on letting your dog keep their crate to sleep in it as they grow, you can buy a crate that should fit your dog as an adult and use the divider to make it small enough for them while they are a puppy.
How to Use Your Crate
It’s all fine and dandy to buy a crate and size it, but that doesn’t mean your dog will magically become housebroken. It really just means your dog won’t potty while they’re in the crate! To housetrain your dog using crate training, you will use the crate as a safe space to keep your dog when you can’t supervise them.
The vast majority of housetraining accidents happen when the owner isn’t supervising their pet closely enough. The number one comment I hear as a dog trainer is “I just turned my back for one minute and she had an accident!” That’s a huge part of where your crate comes in.
The crate is a way for you to keep your dog safe and confined when you can’t supervise them so that you can make sure they won’t have an accident in the house.
However, housetraining is a bit more complex than simply tossing your dog in a crate for an entire day. Simply tossing your dog in a crate and forgetting about them can create all kinds of other behavioral problems.
It’s important to balance your crate training with other housetraining principles. If you need additional help understanding how to housetrain your dog, our Dog Savvy course covers housebreaking in depth so that you can housetrain your pet completely, whether you use a crate or not.