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 he will be feeling very insecure and possibly frightened. After showing him where he is allowed to go in your home, take him to his crate and invite him to go in by giving him something delicious to chew inside the crate.
Every time he appears to be sleepy, put him in the crate to rest, leaving the door open to begin with. If you want to entertain him, especially if he fancies chewing things he shouldn’t, put him in the crate with something to chew that will take him some time.
It is a good idea to offer him all his meals from a stuff toy in his crate, for the first few weeks of his life with you. In this way he will build a really positive association with it and be very happy to go there at any time. This means he will be having lots of small meals each day, but that is fine. It will help you if you weigh out his 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 he is happy with the crate you can then start offering him meals from a bowl.
At night time, take him to his crate, give him something to chew, close the door and walk away without comment. He is likely to whine at first but will soon settle if you are firm. Leave him with something that smells of his littermates or maybe a warm hot water bottle covered with cloth to help him to feel more secure. N.B. Except for sleeping overnight, never leave your puppy alone in his 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 him with something you are happy for him to do, or to ignore him completely. However, ignoring a jumping, nipping puppy is hard and it’s almost impossible not to talk to him, push him off or otherwise interact with him. Therefore, if your puppy is being a nuisance, the best solution is to take him to his crate for ‘time out’ and once again give him something to chew. If he always expects something to be there he will not interpret this as a reward and will settle down happily. We don’t want to punish him either as he is only doing what comes naturally, so this distraction is a great way to re-educate him and keep him feeling secure.
Once you put your puppy into his crate and close the door, it is very important not to open the door again until he is calmly lying down and has accepted that he must stay there. Whatever state of mind he is in when you open the door is the state of mind you will be reinforcing, so it’s really important that he 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 him to jump! Leave him in his crate when they arrive until he relaxes and then bring him 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 he also needs to learn that being on his own is not a problem. When you leave the room, sometimes put him in his crate, again with a long-lasting treat, so he is happily occupied until you return. This also means he won’t be getting into mischief if you leave him 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 him to leave. If he is unwilling to go, accompany him to his crate and tell him 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.