A crate is your dog’s own personal den where he or she can escape from the goings on of the household and feel safe and secure (and not shred your house when you are not watching!) Crate training uses a dog’s natural instincts as a den animal. The main use for a crate initially is housetraining. Dogs don’t like to soil their dens. The crate can limit access to the rest of the house while he learns other rules too, like not to chew on furniture. Never use the crate as a punishment. Your dog will come to fear it and refuse to enter it.
Young puppies shouldn’t stay in a crate for more than three or four hours at a time as they can’t control their bladders and bowels for longer. Crate your puppy only until you can trust him not to destroy the house and mess inside. After that, it should be a place he goes voluntarily and the door can be left open.
Choosing a Crate
Crates can be collapsible metal or moulded plastic. The metal crates offer better ventilation and are easy to carry around. The plastic crates are cozier but not as portable. Choose a size large enough for your puppy to stand and turn around in as an adult. Block off the extra crate space to prevent him using the other end as a toilet while he or she is little.
Make a comfortable bed in the crate and place it in a spot where your puppy can see you come and go. Play with your puppy outside, make sure he has been to the toilet, then put him in the crate with a chew and close the door. Walk away and ignore any crying or whining. After a short while your puppy will fall asleep. Listen for signs that he is waking up and immediately pick him up and take him outside. If you just open the crate door and allow him to walk out, he will wee just outside the door of the crate. You can put your puppy in the crate whenever you cannot watch him as long as you have taken him outside first.
For the first few weeks, your puppy can quite safely stay in his crate or on a lead attached to you while inside the house. In this way, your puppy will bond with you and not get a chance to mess in the house or destroy anything. You can put the crate next to your bed and have your puppy sleep in it at night. As soon as you hear him stirring during the night, take him outside to make a wee and put him straight back into the crate afterwards. (Remember to carry him)
As your puppy matures and gets used to his crate, you can leave him in the crate for short periods when you need to go out. Don’t have a long drawn out goodbye; just pop him in the crate and leave. When you come back, act very matter of fact, don’t have a big reunion, just take him straight outside to the loo. If you make a big fuss you will increase his anxiety about being left alone.
If you work during the day and have to leave your puppy for long periods, put his crate in an enclosed area e.g. a cordoned off part of the kitchen, an enclosed yard or a bathroom. Leave the door open and cover the rest of the area with newspaper. Your puppy will go into his crate to sleep.
If you are vigilant, your puppy should never make a mess in the crate. To reduce the risk of an accident, make sure that:
- The crate is not too big for your puppy. (he should not be able to make a mess and get away from it)
- You take him outside before you put him in the crate and make sure he relieved himself.
- You do not put a water bowl in the crate.
If your puppy should have an accident, do not punish him just clean out the crate with non ammonia based cleaner.
My own Experience
I have crate trained my last two GSD puppies and have found the crate to be the single most useful training tool I have ever used. I take my pups to work with me so I found it best to have a crate next to my desk at work and another next to my bed at home. If your house is large or double storied, you can have crates in more than one location. The fold up metal crates are quick to fold up and can be carried from room to room. They are also perfect to transport your puppy in the car. Within a week, I found my pups would happily go into their crate whenever they wanted to snooze or when they knew I was on my way out. By the time our pups were 10 weeks old, we could leave them for a few hours to go out in the evening. We would come back to find them fast asleep. No messes in the house, ever. Whenever my pups were outside the crate, they were on lead. After a few weeks, the lead was left trialing. Only once the pups were 5 months, did I remove the lead. I “turfed” my older dog out of his crate at the age of 2 when the next puppy came along. I no longer use the crate once my pups grew up (although some dogs will happily sleep in them for their whole lives with the door left open.) When left alone, my dogs don’t mess in the house, destroy anything, howl or bark. They happily get into the cage at the vet and while in the car, they don’t pace or bark, just lie down or sit quietly. All of this great behaviour I put down to crate training.