I am not shy to admit that dog training or behavior is not particularly high on my lists of interests or something I am especially good at. However, having recently been unexpectedly convinced to rescue a Labrador Retriever puppy (not that it took much arm twisting), I am in the midst of house training a young puppy. While it is a lot of work as anyone who has raised a puppy well knows, there is a training method that has withstood the test of time as the single best method to house train: crate training. If applied consistently and correctly, it will minimize frustration on the part of both owners and puppies and ultimately set the stage for a great furry family member for years to come.
Crate training takes advantage of an instinctive canine trait that they resist eliminating in a space they have to lay in. Thus, when one cannot pay direct attention to the puppy to recognize the signs that they need to be run out the door to go potty (circular sniffing behavior, just waking from a nap, urge to defecate shortly or even immediately following a meal, etc.), the puppy should be placed in the crate. Not paying direct attention applies to any period of non-direct supervision. Not being home or sleeping are obvious ones, but this also includes: on the phone, working on the computer, eating dinner, cleaning the house, etc… Below are helpful tips to follow when crate training your puppy to maximize its benefit:
- The puppy will bark, yelp and cry when placed in there at first – do not give in!
- Letting them out as the result of carrying on reinforces their tendency to vocalize when they are put there.
- Do no yell at them to shut up! This gives them attention, albeit negative attention, it is still attention nonetheless.
- Certainly do not kick the crate or shake it, again negative attention, but this is psychologically damaging to the puppy and inappropriate.
- Do not try to talk to them in a soothing tone to make them less upset. Tough love is the key, just ignore them. Use ear plugs or leave the home if you have to the first few times.
- Do NOT use bark shock collars! These are cruel from my perspective and instill fear to the puppy while in the crate. These are awful training devices.
- When leaving the home or going to bed, do not make a spectacle of putting the puppy in the crate. Instead, put her in 30 minutes before leaving or going to sleep so that she can settle in and not get worked up. Go not say goodbye or goodnight. Conversely, when returning to the home or waking in the morning, do not go right to letting the puppy out, wait 15 or 20 minutes and only let her out when she is quiet.
- Keep safe chew toys in the the crate to help create a pleasant environment in the crate for the puppy.
- Feed the puppy in the crate so that she associates it with her favorite activity: eating. Our 3 month puppy is already trained to enter her crate, sit and wait a few seconds before we give her the bowl of food.
- To prevent future table begging behavior, put the puppy in the crate during family meals. This instills in the puppy that when the family eats, she is not to be hovering.
- In our little Stella’s case, the condition for which we ended up rescuing her as a special needs puppy, her condition is a rare gluten sensitive one that could mean danger for her if she were to snap up human grade food items with gluten in them, so not hovering around the table also reduces her risk.
- Purchase a crate that you can section off to adjust as the puppy grows. Back in the day, we either had to purchase increasingly larger crates to accommodate growth (which got costly), or buy a crate large enough for the approximate future size of the puppy and get creative sectioning with cardboard. Now, many crates come with dividers that adjust the size of the crate as the puppy grows. You want the crate to be large enough so that they can readily turn around and sprawl out when sleeping, but not so large that they can urinate/defecate on one end while comfortably sleeping on another; this defeats the main purpose of the crate.
- Do not leave the puppy in the crate too long! Puppies can only hold their urine and stool for about one hour for every month of age. For example, in Stella’s case at now 3 months of age, we must let her out at least once every 3 hours. We are are not to be home for longer than that, we make arrangements for someone to come by to let her out.
Done correctly and consistently, crate training a puppy takes away a lot of the frustration that accompanies house training a puppy, while giving the puppy a safe place they can call their own. Most actually come to like it and will use it in the future even after being house broken as their Snoopy like dog house in the home (of course, laying inside of of it, not on top of it). In the case of puppies and young dog breeds like the Labrador Retrievers that are prone to chewing electrical cords, shoes, holiday ornaments, or just about anything; these items pose a danger to the puppy, so crating them when not supervised helps to keep them safe as well.
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a globally recognized expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.