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Ask A Vet: How Do I Crate-Train My New Puppy?

Puppy in a crate

Photo via basykes on Flickr

Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on 7x7.com. Dr. Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB is a board certified veterinary behaviorist who counsels guardians whose pets’ issues are beyond the scope of training. Think of her as a pet shrink…at your service. Ask your own questions in the comments

Q: I got a new puppy, and a friend told me I should crate-train my puppy now–is that true? What crate should I get, and how should I get started?

A: A crate is a terrific investment for a number of reasons. A crate can help you with:

House training.
Teaches your puppy to keep the home clean.
Chew training. Stops your puppy from chewing anything except legitimate chew toys.
Settling. Encourages your puppy to settle down when he's alone.
Kennelling. Your puppy may need to stay in a crate during travel or a hospital visit.

Get a crate large enough for your puppy to stand up, lie down, and turn around in, but no larger. Otherwise, he might be tempted to use one end as a bathroom and the other as a bed.

Before you start using the crate, give your puppy a chance to get used to it. Don't just throw him in there and hope he adjusts; that would be traumatic. The crate needs to be a comfy, safe place your puppy loves to spend time in. First, throw tiny, yummy treats into the crate. When your puppy goes in to get them, praise him. After a few treats, your puppy will happily venture into the crate to find more treats or toys–then begin gradually closing the door for a few seconds while giving him treats him through the opening, or when he is busy chewing a longer-lasting treat or Kong. Then let him right back out.

For several days continue to stuff a puppy Kong with extra-special goodies. Put the Kong in the crate and close the door behind your puppy as he goes to eat it. Go about your business in the house, then let your puppy back out after five minutes. If your puppy has already learned to sit, it is a good idea to have your puppy sit in the crate before you open the door. Try to ignore your puppy if he whines or barks a little, and let him out when he is being quiet for at least a few seconds. Over the next few sessions, gradually extend the duration in the crate. Go from one minute to five minutes to 10, 15, or 30, depending on your puppy's age (see below). Vary your absences; always throw in some shorter ones.

A time guide to crating puppies:
8-10 weeks              up to one hour
11-12 weeks             up to two hours
13-16 weeks             up to three hours
Over four months        up to four hours

Tip: Never leave dogs at any age in the crate longer than three to four hours at a time, except for bedtime. Never force your puppy in the crate or use the crate for punishment. If your puppy cries or tries to escape and might be hurting itself do not use the crate–get professional help. The crate should always be a good, happy place.