By Sherry Benoit

There are several reasons why you might like to crate train your new puppy:

  1. As a house training aid.
  2. To confine your dog when you are unable to supervise him, i.e. if he is destructive when you are not at home.
  3. To confine your dog when traveling.
  4. To accustom him to being confined while he is at the groomer's, the veterinarian's or while at a dog show, etc.

Not everyone will agree with crate training for dogs, however I feel that it can serve a useful purpose for most dog owners. Although dogs are domesticated animals, they still possess a great deal of natural instinct, and they were originally den dwelling animals. You can take advantage of this in housebreaking your dog because den dwelling animals are naturally clean, which means they do not usually like to foul the area where they have to eat and sleep. The den is also a safe place for them to go when they feel frightened or are tired.

Crates are available in two styles: the wire collapsible type or the more rigid plastic or aluminum crate. Either type is suitable, the type that you prefer will depend upon your needs. The collapsible wire crates are more portable and are usually less expensive but they are not suitable for shipping. If you plan to attend a lot of dog shows or do a lot of traveling, then the rigid crates are more suitable as they are accepted by most airlines. Buy a size that will be suitable for the size of the your dog when it is full grown. A proper sized crate will allow the animal to lie down, turn around or stand up easily. If you are purchasing a wire crate, check to see that the bars are spaced close enough together that it is not possible for the animal to get its teeth or jaws hooked between the wires. The wire crate should also come with a bottom pan to contain any accidents.

Try to have all of your dog supplies, including the crate, before you bring your new puppy home. Ideally, dogs are not an impulse purchase, so you should have plenty of time to prepare everything in advance. If you are living close to the breeder of your puppy, they may allow you to bring the crate and a blanket or a couple of toys over ahead of time. This way the puppy will have a chance to get used to it beforehand. Then when the puppy goes home with you, he has the familiar smells of his litter mates on his blanket etc. so that it will be less stressful for him.

If you have room in your vehicle, you should consider taking the crate with you when you go to pick up your puppy. Then you can place the puppy in his crate for the ride home. Puppies and dogs should be confined in any vehicle to prevent them from interfering with the driver and to protect them in case of an accident or sudden stop. Remember that it is very difficult to hold onto several pounds of wiggling puppy, plus if the puppy becomes carsick or has an accident, it is much easier to clean up the crate than it is to shampoo your car's upholstery.

Select a spot for the crate that is close to the center of activity in your home (for example, the kitchen) as small puppies like to be around others. You might also like to place the crate in your bedroom at bedtime. It might reassure the puppy.

Hopefully you have arranged to pick up your puppy earlier in the day at the start of a weekend, as this will give it a chance to become more familiar with you and with its new surroundings before nighttime. Well before bedtime, place the puppy into its crate with a few treats or a toy. You might also like to feed the first few meals while it is inside the crate. Firmly close the door and leave the room but remain within earshot of the crated puppy so you can monitor its reaction. If the puppy makes a fuss, give a firm verbal correction (such as "No" or "Quiet") but do not go to the crate or let the puppy out. Either of these will make it more difficult for you to get the puppy accustomed to being crated because the puppy will learn that if he creates a fuss, he will get what he wants (freedom or your attention). After the puppy has been quiet for 5 or 10 minutes praise him, then release him. If you praise after you release the puppy, he may associate the praise with his release, which may act to increase his desire to leave the crate. You want the puppy to associate the praise with his being quiet, not his release.

If you use a wire crate you may want to drape a blanket over the crate so that only one side is left uncovered, as this will give the puppy more privacy so it can rest undisturbed. Leashes and collars should also be removed while the puppy is in the crate so that it does not become tangled up in them.

The next step is up to you; you may wish to gradually increase the length of time that the puppy will spend in the crate, or you may prefer to attempt to leave the puppy in the crate overnight initially. Either method will work, but do not give in if the puppy creates a fuss. As soon as you awake in the morning, or if you hear the puppy start to stir, then you should take it outside to the area where you want it to relieve itself. Most puppies are hardy enough by the time that they are ready for their new homes, that they can be taken outside to relieve themselves, even during our cold winters.

Puppies usually have to relieve themselves when they first awaken (whether it be after a short nap or first thing each morning), after they are fed, and before and after each play session (when they are excited and active). If you are using the crate as a house-breaking tool then start by taking the puppy outside when these situations occur. Take the puppy to the area that you have set aside for this purpose and stay with it until it relieves itself, then praise it as if it has just done the greatest thing in the world. Remember that each time that it goes outside, it is one less mess for you to clean up in the house! Show him that you appreciate it. Use the same area each time, as the odor that is left on the ground will remind the puppy what it is expected to do. If you wish to teach the puppy to go on command, use the phrase that you have chosen right from the start. This can make it easier if you travel and take your dog with you, or if you are planning to show your dog. Then you can use the phrase to prompt the dog whenever you take it for an exercise run. This way, you can also teach your dog to "do its business" before you take it for a walk in the neighborhood. Of course, you will be a responsible dog owner and you will clean up after your dog if it does have an accident on your walk.

House breaking your puppy will also be easier if you do not feed free choice (where food is available at all times), but instead feed 2 or 3 small feedings throughout the day. As the puppy gets older you can increase the amount fed at each feeding and reduce the frequency of feeding. Dogs that are fed free choice may be more inclined to overeat, plus it will be more difficult for you to predict when the puppy will need to go outside for relief. If you follow a routine, it is easier to increase the time period between exercise breaks, and build up the puppy's bowel and bladder control.

If your puppy has an accident inside the house, it is your fault as well as his. Gently scold him if you catch him in the act and then take him outside to the designated area. This will remind him that he is to go outside. If you do not catch him in the act then it is usually useless to scold as the puppy won't know what it has done wrong. It will know that you are upset with it, but it won't know why. If you are unable to supervise the puppy then it should be placed in its crate. Remember that they don't like to foul their sleeping area.

Accident areas should be cleaned up with vinegar and water or with the special products that are available. Try not to use ammonia based products as urine contains ammonia and the residual odor left on the spot may encourage the puppy to do an encore. Be patient, and persevere; puppies vary widely in the time required for them to accept being crated. Some may accept it after 5 or 10 minutes while some may fuss for hours.

The puppy that is crate trained will not develop the habit of messing in the house and you will gradually be able to give him access to a greater area without any problems. He will also learn to accept being confined while in a vehicle, or while at a dog show. Hotels that accept pets usually require them to be crated to prevent damage to hotel property. You will be considered a much more desirable guest if your dog is crate trained, as it will not howl and disturb the other guests. The number of hotels and motels accepting pets is gradually decreasing in number because not all pet owners are responsible. lease don't add to the problem.

Puppies that have been crate trained will also seek out their crate as a refuge and as a sleeping area. If you have children, you should teach them that the crate is the puppy's "safe area" and that they shouldn't bother it if it is in the crate, and that the crate belongs to the puppy and is not meant for them to play in. If you have visitors that dislike dogs, or if hey have young children that like to tease, then you can confine your pet and relax knowing that it is safe from harm and not causing problems.

You can also crate a dog that becomes destructive when it is left unattended. This way your dog can't get into the garbage or chew up the furniture. However, do not leave your dog confined for more than 5 to 6 hours preferably, or 8 hours maximum.

Hopefully these hints will help to make your pet a welcome member of your family, and not a burden. Animals that become destructive end up being candidates for the local animal shelter, usually because their owners did not properly train the animals, and they find that they can no longer cope with the misbehavior.

Reprinted from The Wonderful World Of Bouviers, Edition 4.