While puppies are obviously precious little things, dog owners know the adorable yips and kisses you get during the day turn into whines and wails at night — which doesn't exactly make for a good night's sleep. So, what can you do? Sleeping with your furry friend is an option once they get older, but if you would rather keep your bed hair-free (and make use of that fancy puppy bed you spent money on), then crate training is the way to go! POPSUGAR talked with several veterinarians to get expert tips on the best way to go about crate training that is effective, efficient, and easy to master (for you and your pup).
What Are the Benefits of Crate Training?
No matter how cuddly and cute your puppy is, no one enjoys cleaning up accidents in the middle of the night. Crate training provides a safe space for your dog when you have to leave them unsupervised, said Jamie Richardson, BVetMed, USDA accredited, medical chief of staff at Small Door Veterinary. This prevents them from getting into any potential dangers (like chewing something hazardous) when they're left alone. Additionally, Dr. Richardson said, "It's comforting for your pet to have a cosy, quiet, safe space that they know belongs to them and that they can retreat to if they're feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or even just tired! It can help to prevent separation anxiety when they're left alone."
Another bonus, according to Maureen Murithi, DVM, registered veterinarian and representative of online pet resource SpiritDogTraining.com, is that crate training can help with house training. "Since dogs don't like soiling where they sleep, it can be good to start crate training before they are fully potty trained."
How Should You Begin Crate Training?
First, pick out the right crate for your puppy, something Dr. Richardson believes should be "cosy, but not claustrophobic." If it's too big, they may be tempted to do their business inside, but you also want to make sure it's big enough for your dog to stand up and turn around in when the door is closed.
From there, set up the crate in a quiet, calm part of your house, like an unused corner or spare bedroom. Then, introduce your dog to the crate with the same command ("Bed" or "Crate," for example) every time. "Do this after an exercise or play session, not when they have a lot of energy," Dr. Richardson said.
Even though your puppy may not like it at first, he or she will get used to the crate quickly. Heather Venkat, DVM, MPH, DACVPM, companion animal veterinarian with VIP Puppies, suggests starting crate training as early as possible. "Begin by opening the crate door and tossing in a treat or a couple pieces of your pup's kibble," Dr. Venkat said. "If they go inside, or even if they look at it, reward them with verbal praise and give them another treat when they are inside. Then, immediately release them. As training progresses, you can practice closing the door and putting a treat or kibble inside, then immediately letting them out. Eventually, you will be able to leave them in the crate for longer periods of time without them getting upset."
Don't be shy with offering your puppy treats, which Dr. Venkat called "a must when crate training." She added, "The overall goal is to make your puppy or dog love their crate so much and associate it with positive things. So rewarding them with treats or kibble when they go in the crate will make it that much easier when you need them to go inside."
How Long Should You Crate Train Each Night?
In order to ease your puppy into crate training, the veterinarians we spoke to agreed that you should gradually increase the times your puppy is left alone in the crate.
Angie Krause, DVM, CVA, CCRT, holistic veterinarian based in Boulder, CO, and representative from holistic pet food brand I and Love and You, said, "Start with the crate in sight of your bed; this way your puppy can see you. In some cases, you may need to temporarily put the crate on your bed. Young puppies need to be taken out to potty during the night but will slowly begin to sleep through the night. Older puppies and adult dogs can be left in their crate for up to eight hours."
Dr. Murithi recommends pet parents sit near the crate for about five to 10 minutes before leaving the room. Over time, extend the period you are away from the crate to allow the dog to get used to being left alone. "Once your dog can stay quiet in his crate for about 30 minutes without you in sight, you extend the time spent in the crate gradually," Dr. Murithi said. "Consistency and patience are key for successful crate training."
Because most puppies will need to go to the bathroom every few hours throughout the night, according to Dr. Richardson, you should take them out before bed at 11 p.m., then let them be your guide as to when they need to go. "They'll wake up on their own and most likely whine or vocalise when they need to go," she explained. From there, as they develop bladder control over time, you can leave them in their crate for longer. Keep in mind that if they are whining and asking to come out of their crate more frequently than every few hours, they probably just want to play. In this case, Dr. Richardson suggests ignoring that bad crate behaviour as to not encourage them.
What Should You Watch For to Know It's Working?
Number one, your puppy goes into the crate without any persuading from you, Dr. Murithi said. Additionally, according to Dr. Venkat, you'll know it's working when your puppy is calm inside the crate, not whining or scratching or trying to escape, and when he doesn't have any accidents in the crate.
Dr. Richardson agreed, adding, "They will often curl up and either engage with a treat or toy or simply go to sleep. If they gently whine for a period of time but then stop, they are also fine. They're just testing you to see if you'll let them out! Your training is working if your dog is slowly able to tolerate longer periods of time in the crate." Keep it up, and they'll be happy in the crate the whole night long!