Generations ago your puppy’s wild ancestors would have chosen a dark place like a cave, burrow or even a shady spot under a tree to create a safe den to sleep in and raise their families. These enclosed spaces help them to feel safe and secure and these instincts are still very strong in our domesticated dogs.
The modern equivalent of offering your dog a cave is to supply a dog crate. Many people refer to them as cages but this is a human perception and the majority of dogs benefit enormously from being trained to accept a crate as their bed and den.
The best place to position your dog’s crate is in the corner of a room which is well used but not right in the centre of activities. The corner of the kitchen or in the hallway between the kitchen and main living room can be good spots.
The ideal size for a dog crate is big enough for your puppy to turn around and stand up in but not big enough to walk around in. Dogs usually try very hard not to soil their beds so you will be helping your puppy if you fill the crate with his bedding so he is not encouraged to use one end as a toilet. Some crates are supplied with an extra wire panel so that as he grows, the crate can be expanded. Alternatively you could fill one end with cardboard or other partition. More information on housetraining is available in the F.I.D.O. Puppy Information Pack ©.
When your new puppy arrives in your home she will be feeling very insecure and possibly frightened. After showing her where she is allowed to go in your home, take her to her crate and invite her to go in by giving her something delicious to chew inside the crate.
Every time she appears to be sleepy, put her in the crate to rest, leaving the door open to begin with. If you want to entertain her, especially if she fancies chewing things she shouldn’t, put her in the crate with something to chew that will take her some time.
It is a good idea to offer her all her meals from a stuff toy in her crate, for the first few weeks of her life with you. In this way she will build a really positive association with it and be very happy to go there at any time. This means she will be having lots of small meals each day, but that is fine. It will help you if you weigh out her food in the morning and stuff several toys, putting them in the fridge or even the freezer, to be brought out when you need them.
Once she is happy with the crate you can then start offering her meals from a bowl.
At night time, take her to her crate, give her something to chew, close the door and walk away without comment. She is likely to whine at first but will soon settle if you are firm. Leave her with something that smells of her littermates or maybe a warm hot water bottle covered with cloth to help her to feel more secure. N.B. Except for sleeping overnight, never leave your puppy alone in her crate for more than an hour or two.
The principle of using a crate is useful for many aspects of training and behaviour modification.
When your puppy is young, the best ways to correct unwanted behaviour are to distract her with something you are happy for her to do, or to ignore her completely. However, ignoring a jumping, nipping puppy is hard and it’s almost impossible not to talk to her, push her off or otherwise interact with her. Therefore, if your puppy is being a nuisance, the best solution is to take her to her crate for ‘time out’ and once again give her something to chew. If she always expects something to be there she will not interpret this as a reward and will settle down happily. We don’t want to punish her either as she is only doing what comes naturally, so this distraction is a great way to re-educate her.
Once you put your puppy into her crate and close the door, it is very important not to open the door again until she is calmly lying down and has accepted that she must stay there. Whatever state of mind she is in when you open the door is the state of mind you will be reinforcing, so it’s really important that she is not reinforced for whining and barking.
A crate is a valuable training aid for many situations at home. For example, you can use it to calm your puppy when visitors come, and for that matter, to stop the visitors encouraging her to jump! Leave her in her crate when they arrive until she relaxes and then bring her out once your guests are settled.
A crate is also useful for supporting your puppy in learning not to develop separation anxiety. It is wonderful to have your puppy with you, but she also needs to learn that being on her own is not a problem. When you leave the room, sometimes put her in her crate, again with a long-lasting treat, so she is happily occupied until you return. This also means she won’t be getting into mischief if you leave her alone in a room!
Puppies must learn that you control access to the rooms in the house and that they are only allowed in certain rooms with your permission and for as long as you choose. For example, invite your puppy into where you are sitting in the evening for periods of about 10 minutes at a time and then ask her to leave. If she is unwilling to go, accompany her to her crate and tell her to stay there. Access to rooms in your house is a privilege not a right.
If you follow these guidelines from the start, when your puppy comes to live with you, you should find you have a happily trained and secure pet within a few weeks.