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YorkieBox University

How to Crate Train Your New Puppy

Don't Fear the Crate

I used to think this was the cruelest sounding thing I had ever heard of - Crate training - how terrible.  Actually it can become one of your dog's safest and most treasured spaces in his world.  It gives your dog a place that he knows is all his own.  His Crate is a place that he can retreat to when his normal environment has gotten too hectic.

Jasper, our Yorkshire Terrier, sleeps with me in "The Big Bed".  My day starts about 5:45 in the morning.  I get up and take him outside to do his business and then back to the room we go.  I get in the shower and he usually sacks out on the bed while I get myself ready for work.  If he's real energetic, he may play with a cat or two, but usually not.

After I've gotten dressed, we head out to the kitchen where I take my vitamins and pack my lunch.  He pretty much knows the routine.  He knows that at some point I'm going to pick up my keys and pocket change.  He's already sitting on go - all I have to do is say, "Let's go see George" (a nickname it has acquired because of George the stuffed monkey that used to sleep with him), and swoosh - he makes a beeline to his crate, where he sits and waits for me to give him a treat, tell him goodbye, and shut his door.  That's about 6:45 AM, and he will stay in there, content as can be, until my wife wakes up a few hours later.  Sometimes, she just has to open his door and go about her business, because he's not ready to come out yet.  He loves his crate.

How to Start Crate Training

The easiest time to start crate training is when your puppy is young.  The younger the better, 7 weeks, 8 weeks - perfect.  When they're this young, you can begin killing several birds with one stone: housebreaking, crate training, and sleeping through the night.  All are pluses in my book.

If your puppy is anything like ours, you will soon discover that they sleep a lot, play a lot, pee a lot, and when they're awake, they hate to be alone.  A new puppy can wear you out, but thank God for one thing; they take frequent naps.  This is where you begin the training.

Small Pet CarrierMake sure that the crate you get is a good quality crate.  When puppies are little we have found that the best crate to use is actually one of those small ones for a cat.  Not the flexible ones made out of Nylon, but one of the plastic ones with the metal wire door.  Wal-Mart sells the ASPCA Pet Taxi, Small.  This is the perfect size for him as long as he is still a little puppy.  It has just enough room for him to get up and stretch his legs and move around.

Baby BlanketMake sure it is comfortable for him inside.  My wife lines it with several layers on those soft infant receiving blankets.  You will probably want to put a little stuffed animal in there for him to cuddle up with, too.  Remember, you are trying to make it a place that he wants to go to - to feel safe and be happy in.

Puppies are like infants and young children.  They play hard and then they sleep.  So, for the most part, you can let this God designed feature run it's course.  Play with your puppy.  Play, play, play.  Sooner or later he's going to get tired.  When that time comes, take him outside to relieve himself, then bring him back inside.  Wrap your puppy up in one of those little soft infant blankets and put him in your lap.  Once he's fallen asleep, simply slip him into the crate, snuggle him up next to his little stuffed animal and then securely close the crate's door.  You may want to cover the crate with another baby blanket just to keep the light out.  Next, sit down and do something you haven't done in a while - relax - he'll be down for 1 to 3 hours.

Remember he's just a puppy, and just like children, they need their sleep whether they want it or not.  And, just like little children, they're not going to like it, but they need it.  This isn't just a "because I said so" kind of thing, this is actually a needed thing.  They need their sleep to keep them healthy and growing the way they should.  You need to pick certain times throughout the day to put your puppy down for a nap.  Usually this is not a problem while they are still young.  Most of the time you can wrap him in his little blanket and rub his shoulders, or his chest, and before you know it he'll be out like a light.

However, just like little children, the time will come when he's just not going to want to take a nap.  In that case, all you can do is be sweet and understanding.  Tuck him in real good, close the door, cover the crate, then - and this is important, put your ear plugs in, relax and wait him out.  One thing though, he needs to know that you are responsive.  Give him the first couple of yelps and whines for him to signify that he might need to go to the bathroom.  So, when he starts with all the noise, sweetly get him out and take him to his usual spot.  Then back to the crate we go.

But What About Nighttime?

Nighttime can be a little bit of a challenge.  It will take some patience and stamina on your part.  There is nothing worse than putting your puppy down for the night, settling in to bed yourself and then hearing that constant barking, yelping, and whining.  It's just something that you can't seem to ignore.  Many times, frustrated dog owners wind up screaming at the dog, or hitting him, or worse.  None of that nurtures a healthy relationship.

The problem is that the little fellow misses you - terribly.  All he wants is to know is that you're there.  Sometimes you can get by with placing a stuffed animal in there with him.  Others have tried putting ticking clocks in there with the pup.  I think I have found the best way to handle this phase of the training.  You may think I'm crazy, but believe me, this has worked every time for me, and for those that I have shared it with.  Put the crate up in the bed with you, open the door enough to stick your hand in there with him, make the room real dark, and he'll go right to sleep.  All you have to do is stay awake longer than him.  It won't take long.  Once he's asleep, just ease your hand out.  But remember to shut the door, so he doesn't wake up and wander out after you've fallen asleep.  That would not be safe for him at all.

Some times it may it may take more than your hand.  The best thing to do then is to wrap him up in his blanket and let him fall asleep on your chest.  This works well quite often - he feels your warmth, he hears your heartbeat, the room is dark - before you know it, he's asleep.  Then just put the whole little sleeping bundle into the crate and shut the door.

Sometimes they will sleep all night long, praise God, but most of the time they won't.  When he whimpers once, just be real still and quite.  He may go right back to sleep.  If he persists, then he probably needs to go to the bathroom.  As I mentioned before, he needs to know you'll respond.  He's trying to tell you something.  Maybe it's that he's lonely, or maybe it's that he's got to go to the bathroom. When they're young, they can't hold it long.  You don't want to miss your que.  You just need to settle in to the fact that this is your job right now.  Get up and take him out - praise him when he's through, then back to bed with the same process that worked before - hand in the crate - wrapped up on your chest - whatever works.

It's going to take effort and sacrifice on your part, so if your not willing to go this far, then you might want to reconsider owning a little house breed, and get you a bird dog you can leave outside in a kennel instead.  But, if you are willing, all this work will pay off in big dividends with a dog that loves and trusts you.

It's Inevitable - He will get Bigger

Large Pet CarrierIt's a part of life.  That puppy's going to get bigger and will out grow that little cat sized crate.  The little crate has served it's purpose well.  It was the perfect size to put up in the bed with you, and it was good for the house breaking portion of the training also (see our Housebreaking article for details), but now it is time to move up to his permanent crate.

For the Yorkie sized dog we use the ASPCA Pet Taxi, Large. It is just the right size.  It has plenty of room for him, a pillow, a blanket, medium sized stuffed animal, and sometimes a cat (though we would never leave them in there together alone).  Whatever size your dog is, make sure that the crate is large enough for him.  He needs to be able to stand up and move around.  He needs to be able to stretch out comfortably.  Give some room for a stuffed animal and a pillow it you choose.  Use common sense.  You wouldn't want to spend 4 hours in a hall closet, or a phone booth would you?  Well, neither does he.

Make it Personal - Make it His Home

If you want the crate training to be a big success, you need this to be a place that he likes.  He may not always want to go there at your beckoned whim, but he does need to like it.  The best thing to do is call it something.  Give the action of going to the crate a nickname.  You can say "let's go to your Room", or something like that.  Each time you take him there give him a treat.  Be careful that you don't give him too much, just enough to make it a reward.  After he's in there, give him the treat and pat him on the head.  Tell him goodbye (or whatever), and then shut the door.

Don't ever leave him until you're sure he has finished the treat and you haven't left him choking on it.  Never leave anything in there that he can chew on and get choked - no rawhides - no toys with things he can chew off.  We have to be careful what stuffed animals we leave in there with Jasper.  We thought everything was fine and then one day he decided that he had a thing for the plastic eyes on his stuffed monkey, George.  They're just like little children and you have to stay one step ahead of them.

When you first start crating him, use short intervals of time.  Start with 30 minutes, then move up to an hour.  I would do this at routine times of the day.  Go about your normal business and then let him out.  When you let him out, hug him and love on him.  Make him think you're glad to see him.  Always take him straight from the crate to the bathroom.  Remember though, if he's young, his bladder is little, and he won't be able to hold it long.  So, don't over do the time.  Jasper is now 2 years old and he has done several 5 to 7 hour sessions.  He has held it every time.  I don't know how - I could never do that!

You need to make sure that he's gone to the bathroom (or been given the opportunity) before you put him up, and maybe restrict the amount of water he's had before hand if he's going to be in there for a while.  Be consistent, and be considerate.  A 2 to 4 hour stay should be no problem for an 8 month old, but you should never scold him for any mistakes he may make in there.  He doesn't like it anymore than you do.  Let him know it's alright, and that it was your fault for letting him get in that predicament.  But that's part of a housebreaking issue.  Click here for more information on that subject and our housebreaking method.

Avoid Negative Imagery

Remember, you are trying to make the crate, and crate training a good thing in the dog's mind.  For that reason, you should never use the crate as a place for punishment.  If you scold the dog and then put him in his crate, it won't be long before he starts to associate negative feeling and memories about the crate.  Then the crate becomes a source of fear and unpleasantness - you will completely undo the work you set out to accomplish in the first place.

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