By QK Owner Jennifer Broome
To Crate or Not… It should NOT even be a Question!
When I was a young girl and we got our very first dog, a standard poodle pup, and we did not know much about raising or training dogs. My family thought putting a puppy or dog in a cage was cruel, so we simply used puppy gates to lock her in the laundry room. We would come home from work, school or outings only to find a hole chewed in the flat sheetrock which got bigger and bigger each day. When she was athletic enough to scale the gate, she started to chew furniture and wow was she good at it. We had the ugliest orange woven fabric couch and tacky gold chair with ottoman and our puppy went to town on them! Before long she had the end chewed right off. I am unsure that my Mom truly minded because that 70’s style furniture was dreadful, but it was so distressing to experience this pup’s destruction as well as think about her anxiety that had caused her horrible chewing.
Fast forward nearly forty years and my goodness do I have a different outlook. As a professional dog trainer of nearly 25 years you honestly could not PAY me to raise a puppy without a crate! The knowledge and understanding that I have gained over so many years living with, raising and training canines for people has made it so clear that crates are your best friend….and you best friend’s friend! I can argue with some as they have told me how successful they were NEVER crating their dogs and they were just fine. Well, that usually is not the case…but good for them.
Let’s talk about the idea of a crate, or cage. Let’s redefine and think of it as a nook, a bedroom, or a safe hiding spot. If you got your dog from an experienced, reputable breeder that pup was most likely whelped (born) in the safety of a well-built whelping box. This gave the Mom a safe place to have her puppies, with high solid walls and an easy to clean surface. She could jump in and out of the box, or use a door but the puppies were safely contained. At week 1 and 2 pups are often raised on fleece bedding, blankets or comfy soft surfaces. Mom cleans right up after them so there is very little mess. Then week 3 comes the start of weaning and offering food. Here comes the sh&#$@* of mess. At this point breeders may use wood shavings or newspaper because now when pups pee and poop the Mom no longer eats it, and the whelping box gets messy very easily. Here is where a good breeder diligently cleans and disinfects after meals and any time the pups mess. Raising pups is quite a project when done properly. By week 4 and 5 the mess continues. Play, sleep, eat and mess. Clean, feed, clean, feed, repeat. By 5 and 6 weeks pups may start to be athletic enough to jump out of the whelping box and breeders may choose to use a crate, or put up higher walls. The idea of the whelping box all together is to keep pups safe, secure, healthy and clean. At this time pups even learn to go outside on the grass or they can be moved to paper on the floor to mess. Breeder who are diligent about this helps a pup tremendously down the line with housebreaking.
This is honestly one of the COOLEST whelping box designs I have ever seen!
Let’s now think of a puppy mill pet because many new pup owners purchased their pups from a pet store or bought out of a ‘farm’ and had the dog shipped to them. YES this is common as these days many people just buy puppies online like you would buy pretty lamp. It looks really nice in the photo! These pups are often raised in sloppy conditions or in cages where their mess just falls through the metal. These pups are usually still in some sort of cage, but these pups are often caked in feces and urine and they get very acclimated to being messy.
Lastly let’s think about the rescue dog from somewhere. Born under a porch, the Mom still looked for some sort of cave to protect her pups. These pups lived in tough conditions, in the dirt or messy ground, however once they are able, they will typically at least crawl out of the shelter to mess. The den or whelping area is often their sleeping and feeding area for the first weeks of their lives. They can stay there safely while Mom goes off to scavenge for food.
So, all of the above cases still have a common theme…. some sort of nook, cage or enclosure for safety. Some are more ideal than others, but you would never find a dog wanting to give birth to pups in the wide open, without protection, in the middle of chaos and activity.
Ideally when you get a pup at 7 or 8 weeks this is the time to start your crate work right away at home. Putting your new pup in a crate is often one of the first rules you instill. Here is the program that I follow and share with all of my clients, as well as the explanations why I use these techniques.
- Purchase a well-made plastic travel crate such a Vari or Petmate Kennel. It is best to start with a small puppy crate and then graduate to a larger crate as pup approaches 5 to 6 months. This initial investment can help save so much in the long run.
- Why plastic? For its integrity, safety, and security. Not only can pups escape wire crates, how would you feel having 4 glass walls in your bedroom? Wire crates go against the entire premise of security if you always have to watch your back. If you think it is ok to simply throw a cover over a wire crate, remember dogs can still bend, chew and break out of wire crates, AND they love to grab blankets or coverings, pull into the crate and chew which can be deadly.
- How big? Your pup should be able to stand up comfortably and turn around. They should also be able to lie down stretched out. If the crate is too big they may choose the back corner to use the bathroom.
- Crate your pup anytime she is sleeping indoors. This includes all naps.
- If your pup just plops down to nap outside the crate, it is easy enough to watch them peacefully sleep and climb quietly around them to not wake them up…BUT if you are not paying attention and they wake up, the first thing they often do is pee, and you will start to have issues housebreaking this pup. These piddles in the house are not accidents, they are incidents and the pup had to go.
- Feed your pup in their crate.
- This helps to define the crate as a good place. It becomes their dining room and bedroom. Pups often do not want to mess where they eat and sleep.
- Feeding in their crate helps to keep a pup focused on their food. They cannot chase dust bunnies across the floor, get distracted, eat your other dog’s food (no puppy should ever have to compete for food, this can cause food aggression), it keeps other dogs away from the pups food, and it creates good eating practices in general. Pups should be left alone to eat in peace. Kids especially should leave pups alone when they are crated and when they are eating. If pup does not consume food within 15 minutes, remove food and re-offer for the next feeding.
- Pup will soon learn to race into their crates to be fed. At this time overlay the word ‘Kennel’ as they go into the crate. Close the door!
- Do not leave the door open when feeding or napping. The idea here is confinement. If while pup is just out playing and chooses to go lie down in his crate to sleep, shut the door so that you can control what happens when she wakes up so you can let her outside right away.
- For pups 7 weeks to about 4 months you can often use thick fleece mats. Fleece is one of my favorite beds to use in a crate because pups do not tend to chew and you can bleach them to keep them very clean. We sell awesome fleece mats at QK and can custom cut to your crate size. Keep one in the crate and an extra on top if they mess.
- Use Simple Green to clean the crate. It is nontoxic. Clean and disinfect anytime the pup messes and replace with a fresh bed IF using bedding.
- Do NOT use towels as pups can end up chewing and each terry cloth loop can end up being feet upon feet of deadly thread for them to ingest or choke on.
- Do not use bedding with foam, stuffing or zippers as pups often like to chews these.
- IF at anytime pup starts to chew their bedding, then remove the bedding. What is more uncomfortable, sleeping on the hard plastic or getting soft comfy bed removed during intestinal surgery after pup consumed it!?
- IF pup keeps messing on their beds consistently, I also typically remove the bedding in general. Pups tend to think twice about messing in their crates if they actually have to sit in it.
- Anytime a pup messes in their crate I make sure to clean the crate, supply fresh bedding and clean the pup often with a bath. The cleaner environment you keep, the pups tend to get the idea!
- Have pup always travel in her crate safely in your vehicle.
- Do you wear a seatbelt? Kids in a car seat? Puppy too should be securely fastened in a crate.
- A puppy loose in a car is dangerous. If you get into an accident they can become a projectile crashing out of the window. They can cause distracted driving. They can climb out a window. They can chew and destroy your seats, seat belts and more.
- A puppy left loose in a car is more apt to develop car sickness. They can feel insecure and unsafe. They bounce back and forth from window to window. They learn to own the car and later that turns into barking at everything they see out the windows.
- Create a schedule and routine! Keep pup well exercised.
- A tired puppy is a happy puppy is a happy owner! A typical puppy sleeps 18 hours a day. This means you can utilize 18 hours in the crate mostly broken up into an 8 hour night and then various nap times throughout the day. The remaining 6 hours can be spent outside, walking, exercising, socializing, playing and cuddling all broken up into intervals.
- Give pup a safe toy while in their crate. A non-supervised toy is one that they cannot choke on, destroy or eat. My favorite is to give them a frozen marrow bone. This high value bone helps to encourage chewing. All puppies want to chew, so let’s give them something to help clean their teeth and satiate their primal need to chew. Yak chews are also great and less messy. We carry them at QK. By giving a pup something to keep them busy, they further learn that the crate is a rewarding place and they learn to keep busy while safely contained.
- EVERYTIME you let pup out of their crate immediately take them outside to pee and or poop. Overlay a command such as ‘hurry hurry’ while they go potty and soon they learn to go on command. Trust me this may be your favorite command throughout your dog’s life!
- Watch them! Walk on leash if needed. Walk for only about 5 or 10 minutes. If they do not pee, then they go right back into their crates. This consistency is the easiest way to create a pup that understands use the bathroom outside and go right away.
If you follow these strict rules, guidelines and practices you will help to raise a puppy that willingly, politely and calmly accepts confinement. This pup learns how to be patient and practice relaxation. The overall goal is to be able to trust the pup once he becomes and adult at about 2 or 3 years old he can be trusted loose in the house unattended. Some pups may be trusted earlier but some also may need to be crated any time they are left alone. It depends on the energy level of the individual dog.
The greatest issue that I am hearing about these 2020 COVID pups is that family members are all home so much that they engage, stimulate and entertain their new puppies nonstop. If they use a crate at all, it may only be at nighttime. These pups are becoming overly dependent on nonstop human interaction and they are lacking patience, they develop anxiety when suddenly left alone (if not practiced at an early age) and they seem to be a bit crazed overall because they do not have enough enforced rest and confinement time while people are home.
I hope that this article helped to understand why we crate dogs! Exercise, training, crating and love time is the recipe to success.
A Tired, Trained Dog Is A Happy Dog!