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Getting your puppy used to a crate

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Despite the rather unfriendly name, a crate can be a real friend to both you and your puppy.  It’s something that needs to be thought about and bought before your puppy comes home and with a little forethought and the right approach to set up and familiarisation, can be a useful, positive and safe space for your pup to retreat to when they need to rest and relax.  They can also provide you with peace of mind that your puppy is secure if you have to leave him or her alone for a short while.  Finally, crates can also be very useful if your dog needs ‘crate rest’ for any illness or injury that they might experience. 

Advantages of using a crate

  • Familiar space for your puppy to feel secure in 
  • Safe and secure place if you do need to leave your puppy for a short time 
  • ‘Puppy only’ space when they need time to rest 
  • Useful if your dog needs to rest after illness or injury 

Our dog supply manager, Vicky Mark, says: “What’s very important about crates is that your dog associates with theirs in a positive way; they should never be used as punishment or to shut your dog away for any reason.  Dogs are sentient beings with curious minds and puppies especially need to learn about the world by exploring – not by being shut in a crate for hours while their human goes to work.  If you are away from your home a lot, it’s best to be realistic about how a dog is going to fit into your life.” 

Creating a child-free zone

Another important point to note is that the crate is for your dog, not humans.  Children (or adults!) should never encroach on this space by getting into the crate, too.  Vicky says, “A crate can be an enticing, den-like space and little children will naturally want to be everywhere that their puppy is.  But it’s important to explain, right from the beginning, that their puppy needs a space to call their own when they’re tired, overwhelmed and need to rest.”  You could: 

  • explain that the crate is their puppy’s ‘bedroom’ to reinforce the idea that it’s a place for rest, sleeping and quiet 
  • get the children to make a ‘Do Not Disturb – Puppy Sleeping’ sign to put onto the crate 
  • create puppy-themed games that the children can play while their pup snoozes – e.g. drawing pictures of sleepy puppies, what they’re dreaming of etc. 
  • set up a ‘puppy knowledge’ quiz to play with them including questions about how long puppies need to sleep every day, why their rest time is important, what dogs do while they sleep etc. 
  • set up a similar ‘den-space for your children where they can safely ‘copy’ their dog 

What’s the right size crate for your dog? 

Spoiler alert… Your little puppy is going to grow so it’s worth bearing this in mind when you go crate shopping.  Once fully grown, your dog should still have room to stand, turn around, lie down, stretch out and generally be comfortable in his or her crate.  This means that in some cases, a very large crate will be required!  If in doubt, have a chat with your local pet supply shop or vet who will be able to guide you. 

What’s the best place to put your puppy’s crate? 

Where you put your dog’s crate should be thought about, too.  Make sure it’s not in full sun or in a cold draft, not too close to a radiator or in a busy hallway or in a place where it’s going to get knocked or create an obstruction. 

How to get your puppy used to their crate 

  1. First off, fill the crate with lots of positive items to transform it from a basic metal structure into a lovely cosy space for your pup.  Make it interesting and they will come!  Put in some comfy bedding, a water bowl, some safe toys and chews etc.  
  2. Vicky says: “When you’re first introducing your puppy to their crate, make sure that you don’t close the door behind them.  Sit down by the side of the crate and throw a tasty treat or a toy around the crate as well as in it so that they know it’s a positive place. Let them come and go freely and encourage them verbally with lots of happy voice praise. 
  3. Keep sessions short and sweet and build up the duration gradually.  If your pup is hesitant or worried, don’t feel you have to keep going. 
  4. End the sessions with a positive reward and come back to it again another time.  You can start feeding their meals in the crate, initially leaving the door open so you don’t scare them.  When they’re comfortable, you can start gently closing the door but as soon as they’ve finished eating, calmly open the door for them.  In addition, during quieter times of the day, give them a filled KONG to chew on in their crate so they can build up their crate time gradually and positively.   

Using the crate in your daily routine

Once they’re more familiar with the crate, you can look to encourage them to relax in there with a view to closing the door. 

“But it’s important to only close the door when your puppy is sat or laid down and relaxed,” says Vicky.  “Another important point to mention is that when you let your puppy out, make sure that you keep really calm and don’t get super-excited about it because doing so can raise your puppy’s anticipation around exiting the crate. And if you make exciting super-exciting, they’ll naturally want to be out of their crate and not in it.  And, by raising their anticipation, you can also raise their frustration so when they’re not let out, you may end up with a stressed pup who doesn’t want to stay in their crate.  So, once you’ve opened the crate, walk away and let your puppy just step out and follow you away.   

It’s sensible to not leave your puppy in their crate for more than four hours at a time to begin with but eventually, you’re going to want your puppy to stay in their crate overnight. If you’re still toilet training, make sure that you place some newspaper as far away from their bedding as possible.  The first few full nights can be a challenge for some puppies (and humans) but if you’re prepared to set your puppy up for success, a good night’s sleep is eminently achievable. 

What if my puppy barks or whines to be let out of the crate? 

You know your puppy best.  Try to determine whether they’re barking with frustration or whether it’s genuine distress.  If it’s the latter, you should of course let them out and then go back to building up the length of time they spend in the crate again.  You could also try bringing the crate nearer to your bedroom and see if simply being close to you helps them to settle.  Or, if you’re happy for them to sleep on your bed or on their bed in your room, give it a try! 

If they bark or whine during the night with frustration, wait a few minutes before going to them and see if they settle themselves.  But if not, wait until they’re quiet and then reinforce their calm behaviour by giving them calm verbal praise such as a ‘good boy/girl’ and perhaps drop in a couple of treats before leaving them to settle again. 

My puppy hates the crate – what do I do? 

No matter how patient you are or how much positive familiarisation work you do, for some puppies, crates will be a big no-no.  But fear not, there are other alternatives you can try which will offer a similar experience of safety and rest for your pup. 

Depending on the layout of your home, baby gates can offer an alternative and relatively inexpensive solution.  They can be used in a similar way to a crate if you have a room or an area where your dog can be left unsupervised. 

Utility rooms can also be a great place of rest and relaxation for a puppy.  As they tend to double up as coats/shoe storage or laundry spaces, it’s worth making sure that enticing shoes and socks are well out of reach and also that your puppy is familiarised to the sound of a washing machine on full spin. 

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