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Does your dog act out? Why and how to crate train your dog or puppy.

During the first several months of  life, a dog must learn to feel secure in his environment. An insecure dog can develop problems that will negatively impact his ability to house train, cause cowering, digging, chewing and incessant barking. Adult dog behavior is shaped during the early stages of puppyhood. Many of the dogs that are placed in shelters or end up on the streets are a result of poor training on the owner’s part. Most problems with dogs can be prevented if proper direction is taken from the beginning. Invest a little of your time now, and  it will result in a much happier life for you and your canine companion.

Dogs are pack animals by nature and prefer a dark, small, den-like atmosphere as opposed to a huge open room that we humans would enjoy. Dog crates are simply a rectangular structure just big enough for the dog to lay down in. They should NOT be large enough for the dog to play in. The natural tendency to stay clean is a basic instinct. The crate becomes the den that humans took away when we domesticated dogs thousands of years ago.

Crates are primarily used for house-breaking puppies. But may also be used to train/retrain adult dogs as well. Crates are not cruel by any stretch of the imagination. It’s like an indoor den for you companion. Crates should NOT be used for long term confinement. More than 10 hours for any dog is too long to remain in a crate without being able to relieve his or herself. Once a schedule is set, dogs usually have an admirable ability to “hold it.” This time period must be gradually increased from puppyhood with proper training.

The First Steps:
When you bring your new puppy home, you should already have his/her crate set up with newspapers or a soft rug or towel. If your new puppy is younger than ten weeks old when you bring him home, I suggest placing an exercise pen around the crate. This will give him the advantage of not being shut up in the crate at an early stage for long periods of time. Puppies urinate immediately after waking up from a nap and defecate after every meal. This is EVERY time! Once they begin to mature (after 10-14 weeks of age), the length of time between urges “to go” becomes longer. At this stage they become ready to stay in their crates all day while you are at work and all night while you sleep. I will keep a toy or two in the crate but I don’t keep food or water as this will create a huge mess. As soon as they eat and drink they will need “to go” and if you are not home to let them out you’ll be very sorry and they will be very upset. It will also inadvertently teach them “to go” in the crate.

Puppies learn quickly not to relieve themselves in their den/crate. I keep thick layers of newspapers in the crate for the first month or so. Depending on how young the puppy is, it will more than likely urinate in the crate because he just can’t “hold it” as long as an older dog. If the puppy is fed and watered and taken outside before being crated you will have a much cleaner and happier puppy when you return home. Puppies grow very fast and usually within a month you can remove the papers from the crate and replace it with a soft rug or towel.

I usually have two crates per new puppy. One in the family room and one in my bedroom. Puppies should NOT be isolated just because they are in a crate. During the day when you can’t watch every move the new puppy makes he can be in the crate in the family room. But at night he will want to be with you for a secure feeling. And when he awakes in the night and needs to go out you will hear him if he’s in your bedroom.

When you sleep, your puppy should be in his crate with the door closed. He will wake you when the urge strikes. You need to take him out right then and there to further the crate training purpose. Your puppy will learn what you teach him. If you ignore the persistent crying to go out to relieve himself you will defeat the purpose of crating your puppy altogether. Puppies mature quickly and he will not have to get up in the middle of the night forever.

NEVER scold your puppy for soiling his crate. He counts on you to listen to him when he’s telling you he needs “to go.” Again, dogs are clean by nature and, left to their own devices, would leave the den to relieve themselves. ALWAYS praise your puppy EVERY time he “goes” outside. IF he does soil the crate, just get the puppy outside to finish his business, give him LOTS of praise, clean the crate, put the puppy back in the crate and go back to sleep.

Once your puppy has matured and is past the house-breaking period you may start to leave him out for longer periods. But you will want to continue the crating when you are away or cannot watch everything your puppy is doing for a while longer. Teething can be dangerous as well as costly if the puppy is allowed to be loose all the time. My new puppies are crated until they are totally trustworthy and understand what is allowed and what is not. This might be 6 months or it might be 2 years. Each dog is an individual and requires individual training. Once I am SURE the dog is trustworthy, I then start leaving them out when I am away for short periods of time. As long as everything is intact when I return, the next time will be a little longer. Eventually your dog will be able to be loose in the house all the time if you so desire.

It’s your responsibility to train your new pet with kindness, but firmness. NEVER spank your puppy. Remember–scolding or yelling at your puppy teaches it to fear you, causing it to act out with bad behavior. The rewards will be great once your well-behaved and trained puppy grows up, giving you years of enjoyment and companionship.

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