Crates! Most of us invest in a crate when we are planning to bring our puppy home. We hear good things about them, possibly know someone who has advised us to get one, we know it’s a wise idea to have a ‘safe space’ for us to put our pups. However, when our pups come home they are largely unsure, confused, and somewhat aghast at being put into this confined space, what can we do??
Habituating a puppy to a crate is essential. If you are lucky, your breeder will have already started the process and you will hopefully have a pup who is quite happy to be shut/confined in a crate. However, this is not always the case, far from it. I have had many puppy owners asking me how to make sure their puppy is happy and content, in a crate. Maybe, somewhat naively, we believe a puppy will simply ‘accept’ the crate, this is definitely not true as you may well find out! Vocalising, destructive behaviours, agitating at the crate door, all of these are sure signs that your puppy has not been habituated to the crate up until this point.
So, what can we do?? Here’s some top tips to acclimatise your little pup to not only the environment of a crate and being confined, but also to enjoy the process, too.
1. Size – make sure you have the right size crate for your puppy. If you have a breed which is likely to grow at a fast rate, and to a big size, consider long term what size crate the puppy will need. You can buy dividers, and as your puppy grows gradually increase the space in the crate. Alternatively, you can just buy a second bigger crate as your pup grows! Ideally, you need your puppy to be able to stand, turn, lay down and stretch out, with ease.
2. Bedding – consider soft, warm and comfortable. Soft blankets or throws are a great idea, easily washable. Ensure you cover the base of the crate with either puppy pads, or something easily washable just in case of accidents!
3. Calming aids – I have said before there is no scientific evidence to prove the efficacy of such products, however we all know someone who has had success with these! An Adaptil Plug-In Diffuser, for example.
4. Heat – there are various products on the market, for example self-heating pet pads.
5. Covers – dependent on your pup, consider putting a throw/blanket over the crate to block the view from the sides/back, this may help a puppy to settle.
6. Toys/chews – be prepared with all manner of interactive feeders such as kongs, chews and games. All of these will help to acclimatise your puppy to their crate.
7. Know your puppy! – the first day or two with your pup will be very much a case of getting to know each other, know your pup and his needs/temperament and work with that.
Try and remember you will need to start habituating your puppy to the crate immediately. For your puppy to get into the routine and build up positive associations with the crate, it must be a priority initially. If you feel your puppy doesn’t like the crate in those early days, put in huge amounts of work to show your puppy the positives of the crate, don’t be tempted to keep your puppy out and ‘hope for the best’, work through it. It will be much harder further down the line to try and introduce a crate if your puppy has not been using one, so start early! Puppies are not stupid, if they know they will get let out when they bark, they will bark. If this happens once, do not let it happen again. Never push your puppy to the point of vocalisation, set yourself a training plan and get to work on building value to that crate so your puppy sees no need or desire to firstly be let out, or secondly vocalise. If night-times are difficult, keep the crate next to your bed for the first couple of nights, you can put your fingers through the bars to soothe a worried puppy and your presence/voice will help to settle him.
It can help to have a ‘settle mat’, which is used primarily for any settling behaviours in varying environments. This can be used initially outside the crate, and be gradually moved closer to the crate and inside. If you have a puppy who is particularly struggling with the crate, this may be an option for you.
Crate training will help hugely with toilet training and will provide your puppy with a safe space, this in turn will help with minimising those undesirable behaviours and help you to reinforce the behaviours you like! It’s not difficult to reliably have your puppy going into the crate, but it is essential you spend time building value to the crate very early on. Start immediately, make it positive and fun, and be consistent.
If you need help with showing your puppy how great the crate is, get in touch about the 1-2-1’s I offer. Remember, immediate → positive → consistent.
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