You’ve decided to crate-train Fido, and you’ve acquired the correct crate. There is no one correct method for every dog, but there are guidelines, depending upon whether you have a young pup (8-16 weeks) or an adolescent/adult dog. Young pups are the most impressionable between 8-10 weeks of age, so positive experiences (crate and otherwise!) introduced during this time will be of great benefit to you both. An adult dog may or may not have had previous experience with a crate (depending on its past), so it may take a bit longer to acclimate him. With any age of dog, crate introduction must involve patience on your part, a positive attitude and manner about the crate, and lots of rewards for good behaviors. The Atlanta Humane Society has a detailed instruction booklet that can assist you with puppies or adults; email me at email@example.com to request one by mail.
Young pups are physically unable to control their elimination functions until they are four months old, so you must be diligent to make sure that they get outside in plenty of time to “go” and be amply rewarded. As a rule, a pup can “hold it” for as many hours as he is months old, plus one (a three-month-old pup can hold it approx. four hours). Having a reliable person come in during the day to let him eliminate is an important part of using a crate for housebreaking.
Proper housetraining is all about building good habits. Confine the dog when you are not supervising him (no chance for accidents to happen), and make sure he has lots of chances to succeed, i.e., to eliminate outside and be amply rewarded. Praise him happily just as he is finishing his business. Do not punish him for his mistakes! Simply clean the area thoroughly with an odor neutralizer such as Nature’s Miracle and make a mental note that he needs to be diligently watched. If the dog has an accident, it is the human’s fault—not the dog’s.
Some general rules to keep in mind:
Mailey’s dog Whirling Dervish runs to get in her crate in anticipation of something wonderful.
Introduce your dog gently to the crate; do not force. Use positive reinforcement techniques to make Fido WANT to be in or around the crate. Be patient. Begin crate training at the start of a long weekend for best results. If you do it right, soon your dog will love his crate!
A crate is not a replacement for responsible parenting. Quality time with your dog is an integral part of a good relationship. The crate should only be a tool to keep the dog and the house safe when you are away or busy, NOT a baby-sitter for an unruly dog. Time spent in the crate should be carefully balanced with proper exercise, training, and socialization.
Never release the dog if he is whining or barking! This only serves to reward those actions. You will have to put up with some noise for a while when you start using the crate, because your pooch wants to be with you. Be firm. Stand at the door until he is calm, then release. You want your dog to associate “door opening” (REWARD) with “quiet” (HIS BEHAVIOR).
Plan on using the crate even after housebreaking is finished. It’s a great help with obedience training, and has many other uses. Properly-crate-trained dogs are generally more balanced, easier to train, and less stressed. They also do better at boarding kennels (you never know when you might need one), traveling (a crate in the car is the safest way for your dog to ride), and during times of stress in the home. The idea is that you wean the dog out of needing the crate so much as he gets trained, but you still use it a little every day to keep his training balanced.
For more explicit instructions (from housebreaking to adult dog safety) regarding the crate, contact the Behavior Department at (404) 974-2899, or firstname.lastname@example.org