Last time we were all here, I was blathering on and on about why I believe it’s important to crate train your puppy when you bring him home. Dogs are den animals in the wild; they like to hole up in close , protected spaces. They like to sleep there, they take shelter there, and when it’s time, mamas like to whelp their pups in a protected, close space. It just feels safe to them.
When puppies first come home, everything is new. That’s part of the reason puppies are so much fun! Grass is likely new. Toys are new. The rooms in your home are new. So are electrical cords, lighters, swimming pools…you get where I’m going with this. Puppies need to be protected from themselves, and it’s our responsibility to do it. A crate is the perfect space to keep your pup safe and out of trouble. Soon, it becomes his safe space, and his place to unplug and de-stress.
Of course, it’s smart to let your pup sleep in a crate at night, as well. He feels safe. You know where he is while you’re asleep, and house training is much easier that way. If your crate is not too big, he will let you know when he has to potty, because dogs will not go to the bathroom where they sleep (if they have a choice in the matter). Bottom line: stick to your guns. He’ll cry at first, because his new safe crate is unfamiliar to him. It doesn’t feel like your lap or that soft, comfy dog bed that your older dog sleeps on. But soon, it will become his space, so hang in there. If you know he’s pottied and isn’t hungry, let him cry for a bit at first. He’ll stop. Whatever you do, do NOT give in to the crying and whining. Dogs are very smart, and they learn quickly that crying WORKS. Don’t teach him that. When he is quiet and relaxes, talk to him using praise, “Good boy, Theo,” when he’s resting quietly in his crate, is all he needs to hear.
Ease him into becoming familiar with his crate. First, make it a comfortable place for him. You can find dog beds made especially for crates. I got Theo’s at TJ Maxx; they have a fabulous pet section in my local store. Put in a soft toy or two. Next, play with him on the floor, near the crate. If he happens to wander in, even a step or two, praise him and toss a treat inside the crate (note: if you have a crate with two openings, even better, let him walk in and out both openings, praising him and rewarding him when he does). Doing this lets him know that his crate is a good place, a safe place, and it pleases you when he goes inside.
Next, tell him to go in his crate (or kennel, whichever you prefer), and close the door for a minute or two, talking to him soothingly as you do so. After a minute or two, open the door and let him out. Praise him again. Do this throughout the day, extending the length of time you leave the door closed by a few minutes each time. Stay in the room while he’s in there with the door closed, and then leave the room for a few minutes with the door closed. Do this throughout the day, too. He will learn that you are coming back, that it’s OK.
It’s OK to let him sleep in his crate from Day One of being in your home. He might cry – pitifully, I might add – for several minutes, but if you KNOW he’s pottied and isn’t ravenous, let him cry. It’s harder on you than it is him. The soft toy(s) you placed in his crate will help him comfort himself. He’ll go to sleep, and he’ll wake you when he has to go outside to relieve himself.
You will both live through this.
Now, there are some basic commands that every dog should know well. “Come” and “Sit” are two, and they are the two I will teach Theo first. Actually, he got “sit” in one day, and he continues to “sit” on command. Basically, I got him alone (we have 4 dogs – don’t judge), made eye contact, and said “sit,” pointing with my index finger at the same time (you use whatever hand signal you prefer). Then I held his head up while gently pressing his bottom into a sitting position. I then praised him and rewarded him with his favorite treat while he was sitting. Repeat this 5 or 6 times (remember, Theo was 9 weeks old when we did this, and a puppy has a slightly longer attention span than a gnat. Don’t try to hold long, drawn-out sessions; he’ll get bored and you’ll get frustrated). As he gets older, so will his attention span increase. For right now, keep it short and fun. Once your pup seems to have gotten the concept of “sit,” have him do it several times throughout every day, always rewarding with praise and a small training treat (Theo’s favorites are Blue Buffalo training treats, the soft ones).
As always, NEVER hit or in any way be abusive with your pup while you’re training him. He wants to please you more than you want him to obey, if you can imagine. Frightening or hurting him will only make him fear you and compromise trust. Remember, all of this is new to him. It’s up to you to teach him. It’s a great way to spend time with your new forever friend, and bond with him, which is so important.
Carole Townsend is an author, journalist, and columnist living in metropolitan Atlanta. She and her husband have been married for nearly 20 years, and during that time, they have raised their children and now delight in doting on their granddaughter. Through those 20 years, they have brought 6 dogs into their home and family, and they have loved every one of them well and thoroughly. When she’s not writing, gardening, cooking, or training Theo, Carole travels throughout the southeastern United States, talking to women’s and civic groups about being a woman, loving a family, and writing. Visit her at www.caroletownsend.com, Carole Townsend – Author (Facebook), @caroletownsend (Twitter), and @carole.w.riter (Instagram).