The most important tools to help you build a solid relationship with a new dog (puppy or adult), and save your house from devastation (and your life from major frustration) are basic obedience training and a sturdy dog crate.
Contrary to what some people think, using a dog crate properly is not cruel. Giving your new pooch too much freedom in the house before he is properly trained is harmful to the relationship you must develop with him, and could lead to disastrous results. Non-housebroken, destructive dogs do not make good pets, and often end up in animal shelters, or worse. Proper use of a dog crate will strengthen your bond, keep your dog safe, create a well-balanced pooch, and allow you quality time with a pet you will want to have around. Plus, it is simply the easiest way to train and housebreak your dog.
There are two basic types of crates available for training a dog. Wire crates come with a sliding pan floor for easy cleaning, are collapsible for travel, allow the dog visual access to you, and allow air to circulate freely. The heavy plastic type crates (often airline approved) are not as easy to clean but have more of a cozy “den” feel that many dogs seem to prefer, typically keep dogs safer, and may help to give shy dogs a sense of security. The crate should be large enough to allow the dog to lie down comfortably but not so big that a puppy can eliminate in one corner and escape his mess. A larger crate can be effectively partitioned for puppy housebreaking purposes, negating the need to purchase another crate later. The idea is to create a “safe space” for your dog that he can use even as an adult, so plan on relying on the crate throughout the dog’s lifetime, and buy the best you can afford.
Until he is completely housebroken and trustworthy around your personal belongings, he should be crated whenever you are not actively watching him, but this does NOT mean he should stay in the crate for more hours than he can handle.
PUPPIES can “hold it” for the number of hours they are months old, plus one (e.g., 3 month-old pup=about 4 hours). They should not be crated for longer periods than this.
ADULT dogs, especially housebroken ones, can generally be safely crated for the length of a workday, but a lot depends on the dog and your schedule. If you acquire an adult who is not yet housebroken, use the puppy rule until he is.
Once he is reliably housetrained (this can take anywhere from 2 weeks to several months), has shown he will not resort to destructive chewing, is not suffering from separation issues, and is doing well with his obedience commands, you will use the crate less. Use it as a place to put him safely away when company is coming, workmen are in the home, simple “just because” time-outs, or you are taking a car trip. It can remain in place with the door left open , and he may seek it out from time to time. As long as you don’t use the crate as a “babysitter,” your dog should be comfortable in it.
For more explicit instructions on how to use the crate properly, call the Behavior Department of the Atlanta Humane Society for free literature at (404) 974-2899.
Next time: Getting the dog used to the crate, and more!
by Mailey E. McLaughlin, M.Ed., Certified Dog Trainer
Behavior & Training Manager
Atlanta Humane Society