I have learned that training puppies must begin from Day One. I have also learned that crate training a puppy is one of the best, kindest favors you can do for him (and for yourself, your home, and other dogs). While some puppies can be extremely resistant to the crate, with patience, persistence and consistency, even the toughest cases will come around.
First, why crate training? Dogs like a den, a place that feels secure and comfortable, a place to relax and “unwind.” So while it can be excruciating to train him to spend time in his crate, eventually sleep there and go there voluntarily for quiet time, it’s time and effort well spent.
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I am a softie when it comes to my dogs. I’m not sure why that is; I was the disciplinarian in our home when the kids were still here. But when it comes to our dogs, I have historically made the mistake of humanizing them, or applying human emotions to a creature who doesn’t experience or understand them. What dogs crave more than anything else (besides our love and care for a lifetime) is a leader, someone whose behavior lets them know that somebody’s in charge. If a dog doesn’t pick up on that in your home, then he steps into the role of leader. That, my friends, is a recipe for disaster and misery.
Therefore, while it goes against everything in my being to treat a living creature (especially a dog) like this, I have learned that I must give permission for my dogs to eat, to drink, to walk into this room or that and to stay out of others. They NEED those boundaries, and they NEED a leader who enforces them consistently. I daresay consistency is the key.
The first few nights we had Theo home, I kept his crate downstairs, and I slept on the sofa near him. I’d start him out every evening in his crate, and in the daytime I’d praise him for walking inside it, and toss in a treat every now and then to reinforce that the crate was a good thing, that it was a comfortable, safe place. Now as I said, I’d start him out every night in his crate, but about an hour into “sleepytime,” he’d begin to cry, then howl and bark. My nerves would get so jangled, I’d get him out of the crate and let him sleep on the sofa with me. I felt that I was being mean and cruel. Big mistake. It’s just like giving in to a child’s cries at night, allowing her to climb into bed with you when her cries and pleas get to be too much. I believe people call that being “spoiled.” We can spoil our dogs too, believe me.
Still, I read everything I could get my hands on about crate training, and everything I read said that it’s a mistake to reward the crying and howling by letting the pup out of the crate (provided you’re sure the he doesn’t need to potty). Instead, wait until he stops crying and barking and, and speaking in calm, even tones, praise him for being in his crate and for being a “big boy.” After 4 nights of sleeping on our uncomfortable sofa, away from my husband and three other dogs, I moved Theo’s crate into our bedroom. That evening, at bedtime, I took him upstairs (he’s still too little to scale the stairs in our house), told him to get in his crate – using the word “crate” several times as I coaxed him into his kennel, then closed the door easily and quietly.
Of course, he began to whine and cry, but when he’d get quiet, I’d toss in a treat and tell him “good boy.” Oh, I dreaded the night. Much to my surprise, he whined for a minute or two, then settled down and went to sleep. He only woke me up twice that night, to go potty. I’d wait until he was calm and quiet, open the door and say, “Let’s go potty.” We’d go straight outside, I’d let him do his business, praise him in a calm voice and give him a training treat, and when we walked back into the house, we went straight back upstairs to the crate, repeating the same process as when we first went to bed. He cried for maybe a minute, then went to sleep. I was so happy and relieved, and I realized once again that it was I who had been the weak link when training Theo or any of our other 3 dogs. All I had to do was stick to my guns.
So, the takeaway from today’s blog post? First, when housetraining or doing any type of training with your dog, consistency is critical. Use the same process, preferably using the same steps in the same order. Use a calm, firm voice. And when training your puppy to sleep in the crate at night, be sure to take him out to potty, let him do his business, then take him straight back inside to the crate. Don’t allow him to stop to eat, drink or play. Remember, you’re not being mean or cruel. You are giving your puppy what he needs – leadership and clear rules.
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).