In this blog I’m going to tell you how to crate train your puppy the gentle way. No hours of barking or heartbreaking howling. Just a happy pup who loves their crate…..
When we first decided to get our puppy, Gertie, I knew that she would have to be crate trained.
It was a matter of necessity. Poppy is 13 and has been top dog all her life! I was well aware that both girls would need their own space.
Getting them used to living together was going to be enough of a challenge and I needed to ensure that they both had their own ‘safe’ place. Somewhere they could relax and feel at ease, away from eachother.
When Poppy was a pup, crate training wasn’t in vogue. However, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that providing a ‘den’ for dogs is extremely beneficial. It promotes confidence and independence, something that Claire from Usen Behaviour Referrals talks about in the her fabulous and informative webinar about Inpendence Training.
I only have to think of bonfire night, thunder storms or times when she’s anxious and I can guarantee Pops will hide under our bed. She regards this as her sanctuary.
Poppy has always had free run of the house. She has never been confined just to one room. As a human, this may sound ideal, but over the years I’ve come to realise that it’s actually caused her much (unintentional) anxiety.
So, when Gertie arrived on the scene, I was determined to create a safe environment for her. A ‘den’ in which she would feel secure. But where to start……?
How to begin crate training your puppy
Like most things in my life I’m curious about, Google is my best friend! Frantically scouring the internet for ‘How to Crate Train a Puppy,’ a lot of the search results seemed quite brutal! The advice was very much that you should leave your puppy to bark and cry.
After just 5 minutes of trying this technique, my heart strings were in tatters. Gertie had never been confined to a crate at her breeders and just letting her howl seemed cruel.
Gertie’s first evening at home resulted in meltdown! We had an 8 week old puppy who was crate bound and distressed, and a 13 year old pampered pooch cowering under the bed upstairs! What had we done?
So how did we get from complete chaos, to a puppy who now loves her crate and even goes to bed before us every night?!
In this blog, I’m going to tell you what worked for us, and provide you with a step by step guide to humane crate training. It takes time, patience and commitment.
Starting with the basics – Choosing the right crate
You want to choose a crate that is the right size for your puppy. Too big and it won’t feel snuggly and welcoming. Too small and they won’t be able to stretch out and feel comfortable.
Make the crate as inviting as possible with a cozy blanket, a soft comfy bed and some toys to play with. Remember you want your puppy to see it as their space, a retreat from the rest of the world.
Covering the crate will make it feel more homely and den-like. I knew our crate was going to reside in our living room, so I wanted it to look nice as well as serve a purpose. Therefore I treated myself to a rather lovely crate cover from my friend Lottie at The Cosy Canine Company.
Made from a wipe clean oil cloth material, it comes complete with a front cover that you can tie back for convenience. (If you fancy treating yourself, you can use ‘Dotty4Paws’ to save 15% at The Cosy Canine Company)
Decide where the crate is going to live
It’s up to you whether you want your puppy to sleep with you in your bedroom, or in a separate room. It was always my intention that Gertie would sleep downstairs in the utility room. [Like that was ever going to happen in reality!]
In the end we’ve ended up with two crates for Gertie. One upstairs which is her bed, and another downstairs which serves as her ‘time out’ crate! (More about that later)
Introducing your puppy to their crate
I’m not going to lie, Mr T was a hero when it came to crate training Gertie. I found the first week really tough. Pops and I have such a strong bond, and the last thing I wanted to do was put her nose out of joint.
Not one of these inquisitive puppies, keen to explore her new crate, Gertie gave it a wide berth!
After coaxing her in, Rob would lie by Gertie’s crate, with the door closed and just talk to her and calm her until she fell asleep. Even then, he didn’t move away, but would stay by her so that she could feel his presence.
Crate Training your puppy at night
I don’t know about you, but I love my sleep. I’ve heard of so many new puppy parents having restless nights for months on end! A good night-time routine was something I was determined to crack!
For the first few weeks, Rob slept on the sofa with Gertie in her crate right next to him. [I know, he takes his marriage vows seriously – in sickness, in health, and in dog – the latter being the most important!]
This calmed her and made her feel safe. Every time she stirred or whimpered he would put his hand by the crate and let her know he was still there.
For the first few nights he would let her out for regular comfort breaks, (see my blog How to Toilet Train Your Puppy in Just A Few Weeks) but soon she was sleeping right through until about 5.30 am.
Once she was settled into a routine, we let her sleep in her crate upstairs in our bedroom.
It’s a running joke now, as every night she goes up to bed before us and snuggles in her crate ready for me to say goodnight and give her a kiss! Her crate really is her haven, she loves it.
How to get your puppy to stop crying in their crate
Even though the night-time routine was quickly established and working well, leaving Gertie in her crate during waking hours was a different matter.
She was fine if she could see us and we were in the room with her, but as soon as we walked away, she would howl!
Your puppy needs to know you are not abandoning them. Ordinarily your puppy would follow you to find out where you’re going, but obviously when confined to a crate they’re unable to do this.
It’s all about baby steps. Little and often. You have to prepare yourself for some level of distress, but it’s all about keeping it to a minimum. It’s no good getting frustrated, you have to give it time.
To get Gertie used to being left in her crate, I would go out of sight, but keep talking to her the whole time. At first this would just be for a minute or so. When she made a fuss, I would calm her simply by talking to her. The sound of my voice reassured her and stopped her panicking.
I built this up over a period of a few days. Leaving her for 2 minutes, 5 minutes, then 10 minutes at a time.
There are some daily routines that are unavoidable. Even taking a shower became quite traumatic for a few weeks! I would make sure that her crate was within ear shot, so she could hear me talking to her. [I must have sounded a right nut case to anyone listening!]
It took about 4 weeks, but she got there in the end. Now she’ll even fall asleep in her crate while she’s waiting for me to finish getting ready in the morning! [Which, let me tell you, is never a quick process!]
Using your puppy crate for ‘time out’
Now all the experts will tell you not to use your puppy’s crate as a form of punishment and I totally agree with that. It’s their safe place remember.
However, there are times when your puppy will just need some ‘time out.’ Maybe they’re persistently biting you, trying to steal your dinner, or they are just over tired and need to calm down for a few minutes.
We use Gertie’s bigger crate in our living room for this very purpose! It gives her somewhere to go where she can ‘reflect.’ [Almost the equivalent of a naughty step for children who misbehave!]
It really works, a few minutes in her crate and she comes out a different dog! One who is well mannered and not over-excited and crazy! Interestingly, she’ll often choose to go and sleep in there of her own accord, if she’s feeling tired during the day.
Leaving your puppy in their crate when you go out
Okay, so this is the hard part. You want to leave your puppy in their crate when you go out. However, the last thing you want is for them to bark the neighbourhood down!
I must admit, I was very nervous about leaving Gertie. To begin with I left her for just 5 minutes and built it up gradually. If you can, I would avoid leaving them alone until they are happy with being in their crate. Every puppy is individual, so only you’ll know when they are ready to be left.
Before leaving the house, I give Gertie a Kong filled with Primula or liver paste. (I tend to freeze it in advance so that it keeps her occupied for longer).
Dogs find licking very therapeutic, and it can help promote a sense of calm. The frozen Kong keeps her going for a good 10 minutes and helps to relieve any anxiety.
I also leave the radio on for her – something relaxing like Classic FM. Alternatively, ask Alexa to play ‘Music for Dogs!’
A few years ago I was gifted a Furbo Dog Camera*, which I have to admit I’ve rarely used with Pops, but it’s been perfect for this purpose. (You can read more about the Furbo in my blog Furbo Dog Camera Review).
It’s a two way camera that allows you to communicate with your dog. It links to your mobile phone via an app and it means that I can see and hear exactly what Gertie is doing when I’m out.
It also allows me to talk to her and calm down her should I need to. I have to be honest though, it’s amazing just how quickly she falls asleep! She probably enjoys the peace and quiet whilst everyone’s out!
Why I’d Highly Recommend Crate Training Your Puppy
Gertie is now 20 weeks old, and she absolutely loves her crate. To anyone who has just got a new puppy, I would highly recommend crate training them. It means your puppy feels safe and it gives you piece of mind that your sofas, slippers and sideboards will remain intact when you’re out.
Take it from someone who knows! Poppy chowed her way through 3 leather sofas by the time she was 18 months old! [Good job she’s worth it!]
I hope you find my blog useful. I was so nervous about crate training Gertie and wanted to share with you my experience in the hope it will help others. If you have any hints and tips that have worked from you, I would love the hear them.
Woofs and Wags
Kate, Pops and Gertie