When you bring a new puppy home, among the really important things to focus on is helping your puppy feel safe and comfortable in that strange unfamiliar environment. While you are at it, teaching your little friend that a crate is a nice play to lay down and relax in is also a helpful lesson.
After all, your puppy is going to be needing a lot of sleep. And your puppy is getting used to newness anyway, this is a time—when done carefully so as to avoid causing more stress—that you can begin the process of creating a positive emotional association with that space.
The benefits are huge
A crate is a fantastic management tool during your puppy training phase. Crated puppies do not have access to lots of stuff to get into, chew up, or potty on.
Crated puppies can get the rest they need.
And, down the road, you never know when your dog may need to spend time in a crate, even if you do not use it at home.
Teaching your puppy
While games are ways to build fun, positive feelings about crates; I also really like to focus on teaching puppies (and dogs) more calm associations. For my own little boy, because of the early work I did teaching him the crate is a safe zone where he can rest and sleep, that is still what happens when he goes into his. With some exceptions, when I start walking back toward this crate, he is running behind me and into it quickly.
To set it up, I made it extra cozy with soft blankets and a puppy heartbeat stuffed animal that was rubbed on his mother.
I began by putting small pieces of food in his crate. He went in and got them, and then I encourage him to exit. Treats happened in his crate. Soon, he kept wanting to go right back inside once I got him out.
Since he needed lots of naps, I encouraged nap time to be in his crate. When I knew he was tired (which was about every hour or two), I practiced calmly giving him treats in the crate. My treat delivery was low to encourage him to lay down. I sat beside the crate talking softly to him as he dozed off.
I did also smear some salmon on a lickity mat hung to the inside of this crate a couple of times a day, so he also spent time in there for that activity.
Really it didn’t take all that long before he was choosing to go inside the crate and laying down with relaxed muscles. Then I started practicing closing the crate door – watching his body carefully. If he remained relaxed I fed him some little pieces of salmon through the bars. Then I’d open it and encourage him to exit. If he chose to stay inside, he got some more salmon.
More and more, he wanted to remain in the crate. I sat beside the crate in the beginning. Over time, I was able to begin moving around the room. My criteria for moving forward was his continued loose muscles. When it came time to move outside of the room, and even outside my house, I used a webcam to be able to continue watching him.
In Dawson’s first few nights with me, his crate was near my bed to be comforted with my presence (and so that I could hear him stir if he needed to potty). However, the work that I did in teaching him to relax in the crate made it seamless to transition him from sleeping in my room to sleeping in a crate that was in my living room.
Today I also use a crate in the back of my car. And as soon as the door opens, he jumps in on his own.
I’m glad I took the time upfront to teach him that lesson.
Lisa Desatnik, CPDT-KA, CPBC, is a certified dog trainer (and certified parrot behavior consultant) with So Much PETential who uses and teaches the most positive strategies for changing pet behaviors. She offers individualized dog and puppy training for manners and problem issues. Learn more about her at www.SoMuchPETential.com.