What You Need
- A crate that is as small as your dog. The puppy or dog should only be able to walk into the crate and turn around. More space is not better unless your dog is house-broken already. If you have a house trained dog, then the more space the better.
- Puppy pee pads or some other disposable, absorbent and safe liner for “accidents”.
A big blanket to drape over the crate. This will make the crate feel dark and safe and secure and more like a cozy bedroom.
Imagine you’re in a bed in a strange house, in a strange room, all alone. The room is pitch black. The space is open and huge to you. Do you feel secure?
Now imagine that instead of being in a bed in the corner of the room you’re instead inside a cozy little tent. Feels more secure to have the walls solid and close to you. Outside the tent may feel scary but inside the tent is secure, safe and cozy.
- A puppy to put in the crate.
- As an optional extra you can have a white noise machine or a fan to whir in the area where the puppy is sleeping at night. This can be pretty calming and nice. You may want a white noise machine or fan next to your bed too those first few nights. Ha!
What You Do Not Need
You do not need a crate mat, pad or blanket. It isn’t that we don’t want our puppy to be comfortable but your puppy is teething and that means she will likely destroy and ingest anything you put in there. She may even tear up the pee pad or newspaper you put in. Which will mean you have to remove that too. Skip the crate pad until your puppy is reliably dry in the crate during naps and over night AND until about 12 mos of age when your puppy is all done teething and destroying stuff.
Once your puppy is dry overnight reliably you can put in a fleece blanket if you like. Fleece lacks threats so little toes and toenails and teeth won’t get wrapped around the threads and injured. Any fleece fabric or blanket works. You can cut a large blanket down to size too. Fleece doesn’t fray so cut away and no sewing required.
If your puppy starts pooping and burying it in the fleece then remove the blanket for another month or so.
No toys in the crate unless your puppy is awake and intends to stay awake and you’re supervising your puppy. Look you just don’t want your puppy to choke to death. Don’t give her things to have in the crate or a playpen unsupervised unless it is a toy that you can really trust to be tough and stuffing free and safe. You can find these toys at pet stores and they’re usually about $20 a pop. But please don’t give your puppy anything else. And skip the toys for naptime and bedtime. You want your puppy sleeping. Not playing. And if your puppy poops he will be quite upset if it messes up his toy.
No chews except for bully sticks and only when your puppy needs some time awake in the crate (possibly to cool down from a chewing-on-people episode). Bully sticks are safe chews. Skip anything else except bully sticks, jerky and other fully digestible chews that don’t pose a risk of breaking off in chunks and choking your dog to death.
So How Do We Do This?
Some things are taught here with my new litters of puppies such as: “howling is not cool, guys. Shhh.” and the puppies learn really fast for the most part. Puppies learn pretty quickly not to make such a fuss once I start working with them individually (when I get the chance).
However, puppies are not dumb (especially not my puppies)! They, like children, will test their boundaries with their new families. So just because something is corrected here does not mean your baby won’t give it a go with his new people. Sort of the way children do when they are with a new caregiver. You must set and enforce your boundaries and expectations (whatever they are for your family, everyone is different and no set is “right” or “wrong” per se) from the very first day because puppies don’t understand exceptions and will continue to do something if there is a potential for a reward in it for them. If they learn they might get what they want because it happened once then they’ll keep trying to win that lottery again.
Why the Puppy Tears?
Why is crate training sooooooooooo hard?
Because it is. In case you didn’t know. It is really, really difficult and frustrating and exhausting for both you and your puppy. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I’ve talked people through some long nights on the phone. Shared messages for days and days with dog owners all over the world trying to help them get their little one to settle in a crate and sleep through the night. And I’ve had more than one person over the years tearfully tell me that they didn’t think they could handle it anymore and that they thought they may want to return the puppy (although I have been blessed enough to help those owners prevail and go on to have very happy relationships with their pups).
The more tender-hearted and loving the owner typically the harder the crate training is on the owner emotionally. So if you have a hard time ever telling children “no” or putting your foot down for anything or the sound of whimpering is going to bring you to your knees then I suggest you save up and pay for the crate training or ask someone else to be responsible for the first week at home during the nighttime.
The very best thing possible for all puppies would be to have crate training done at the breeder’s place before going home. Solitary crate exposure in a familiar environment is definitely easier on the puppy. And frankly you’d be saving yourself 3-5 very long nights of howling, crying and sad, sad puppy noises.
But paying for training isn’t always an option and so you might have your new puppy at home with only minimal crate exposure (or none if you brought your new puppy home from a different breeder). All my puppies are exposed to crates frequently and in a positive manner but they are not exposed to being in a crate all alone. Being with siblings makes scary stuff not nearly so scary.
So if you are bringing your puppy home from my place then you can rest assured that your puppy is not actually afraid of the crate. Your puppy just doesn’t like being alone.
If you’re bringing your puppy home from a different breeder’s house or a shelter, rescue etc. then you need to help your puppy feel like the crate is a safe and positive place to be. To accomplish this, I recommend you give your puppy several treats in the crate and feed your puppy 1-2 meals a day in the crate the first few days you have your baby at home. Same should be done for non-crate-trained adult dogs. Take the dog out of the crate promptly after eating. You’re keeping the crate experience pleasant for him/her during these feeding or treating times.
The first day home with your new puppy is going to be full of goodness. And it’s easy to focus on potty training to the exclusion of everything else. But you do need to focus more on scheduling your puppy, “sit for please” and crate training more than anything else. Potty training is going to take you a couple of weeks. But these other things you need hammered out solidly in the first 5-7 days at home.
During the daytime your puppy is going to nap a lot. Whenever your puppy falls asleep for a nap pick him/her up and place him/her in the crate but don’t shut the door. She will probably wake up and may even be annoyed with you and will probably promptly walk out of the crate.
If your puppy falls asleep in your arms or lap you may let him/her sleep on you. This is very bonding for your puppy and you should not lose any bonding opportunities. Sleeping together is one huge way that dogs bond with their family members (canine and human alike). But if your puppy is not napping in your arms then you need to get her into the crate for her naps.
If your puppy is napping in your arms all day long you do not need to sacrifice any of those naps for a crate nap. Not until you’re ready (which will probably come eventually. Just maybe not for a few days or so). And if you’re never ready then enjoy your cockapoo lap-naps forever. And no, you will not be “spoiling” your puppy by letting him or her sleep most of her naps in your arms. The only thing you are at risk of doing is having a puppy that feels loved and secure. Just like the garbage you’ll sometimes hear people say about holding a human infant or child too much. It’s an absurd old wives’ tale. You can’t snuggle a puppy too much. You just can’t. It’s not possible. You also cannot snuggle a human infant “too much”. Loving and being affectionate on any (social) mammal cannot ever be harmful (when that affection is wanted and readily accepted). So love it up.
Ok so most of you will not have the puppy in your arms every single nap. Puppies sleep a surprisingly huge amount. So when the puppy zonks out during non-snuggle moments then you must stick that little fluff ball right into her crate. You can leave the door open and let the puppy walk out if she wants to for the first 3 days you have her at home. After the first 3 days you should begin to lock her into the crate during naps. When she wakes up from her nap let her out immediately.
The first three days the puppy is going to fall asleep somewhere not in her crate. You’re going to wake her up and put her in the crate and many times she will walk out of the crate and decide she wasn’t really all that tired and she wants to play.
If she “wakes up” and comes out of the crate to play take her straight out for a potty trip because she’ll likely need to pee.
If she keeps coming out and doesn’t nap, then she will be really extra tired at night and that will make your nighttime locked-in crate training that much easier. Try not to let your puppy take any naps within about 3 hours of bedtime. That helps too. So as annoying as it is to have to keep putting your sleepy puppy in her crate just to have her wake up and insist on coming out just stick with it.
Think of your puppy crate as your fur-baby’s crib. That is what it is. And we are “crib training” your furry baby. So if you’ve had a human child and you had to crib train or “sleep train” your little one at some point this is pretty much my version of crib training for puppies. My “I have had 5 babies and countless puppies so I have the experience part covered” version of crib training for puppies”.
So start locking your puppy into her crate at naptime after the first several days of doing this. She may object at first but if you know it is naptime and she is absolutely sleepy then let her fuss and cry in there until she falls asleep. This may take a good 15 minutes of pathetic puppy crying. But let the puppy cry. She’ll fall asleep.
Locking your puppy in for naptime helps significantly with potty training too because as soon as your puppy wakes up from a nap she will need to pee. This prevents her from waking up and sneaking off and peeing secretly in a corner somewhere before you notice. So you can take her straight from nap (and dry crate) to potty break. Good stuff.
Do this crate-napping thing consistently all day long the first 3 days you have your new puppy home. If you want your puppy to be exhausted enough to sleep through the night and also to associate the crate with sleep then this is the fastest way to do it. After this you will do mandatory crate-napping until your puppy is very reliably potty trained. After that your puppy will be a young dog and can sleep wherever she chooses unless it works better for you to crate during naps still.
Leave your crate in a place the puppy can get to during the daytime and leave the door open. You may find that sooner than you think your puppy will crate herself to take naps. The puppy can be crated in a different location during the day from the nighttime routine. The crate is mobile and its location does not need to be static. It’s the crate that is the safe space, not where it is located.
Every single time you put the puppy into the crate you need to say “go to bed” nice and loud. You can say something different if you prefer like “crate”. But you want your puppy to associate some word or phrase with going into the crate. That way when the dog is older you’ll be able to point to the crate from across a room or from a totally different room and say “go to bed” and your dog will put herself in her crate. She may give you a sad look before crating herself (and you’ll have to say “go on. Go to bed”). It is a very useful command.
Just say it as you put the pup in. Don’t say it and expect the puppy to understand or comply for probably about 3-6 weeks or so.
Cry it Out?
If you know me as a mom, then you’d know that I would never let a baby cry in a crib for more than it takes me to get to said sad baby. But I definitely don’t take the same approach with my puppies. Unless you are bringing your puppy into a bed with you from day one (and this is not a huge no-no as many people believe. It is impractical or unwanted for most people though) you need to crate train and get it over and done with during the huge transition to their new home.
Remember your puppy is not afraid. She is lonesome. But she is not alone forever and she is just going to have to learn to accept this temporary separation.
If a puppy is fully fed, watered, played with, exercised, has relieved himself, he is well loved and all around perfectly healthy but is setting up a fuss over being separated from you (usually by crying in the crate) then you are not wrong to allow them to cry for a little while.
It is ok to let them cry and fuss a little. They’ll be ok. There is a difference between a little pathetic crying (or in some cases a surprisingly loud pathetic crying) and a panicked sound. So pay attention. Do not ignore a panicked puppy or anyone that sounds like they’re in pain or might legitimately need something (like to use the potty).
Does this mean you should leave a crying puppy in a crate for hours and hours with no one paying attention to their cries until they settle down? No. Definitely not. This is not a “set it and forget it” kind of operation. I hate to let any babies cry (puppy, human, it doesn’t matter). This is all about:
You want your puppy to know that you are there to meet his/her needs and to respond to his/her communication. You want your puppy to feel that you are reliable and trustworthy and a source of never ending love, tenderness and patience. You also want your puppy to know that you are not a giant push-over and you do not want your puppy to think that he/she is, in fact, the one running the show. If you have ever parented a human toddler then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Puppies are not much different from 2 year old children. Most importantly you want your puppy to learn that the crate is necessary for sleeping or for hanging out when that is what you need her to do. No one likes to be restricted or confined. Puppies are no different. But its just something the pup is going to have to learn to tolerate. Same as accepting a leash. They don’t like it but they get over it fairly quickly when you’re firm, consistent and loving with them and their other needs are being consistently met.
So let the puppy cry and follow your gut instincts. If the puppy sounds like he/she needs something other than cuddles then listen to her. She has to be silent long enough to take a breath between yelps, right? Leap in during that golden moment of silence and get the puppy out (thereby attempting to reward silence). The puppy need not be silent for minutes on end to be taken from the crate.
Good animal training is all about timing. Anyone can be a phenomenal dog trainer if they have impeccable timing.
No matter what you do, do not let your puppy out of the crate while they are making a fuss (unless their fuss is for a really legitimate reason and it is an emergency to get them out). Wait with your back to the crate or hiding behind a closed door until there is a break in the noise. You can even stand there silently, looking directly at the puppy. Don’t say a word. Just wait. No response is made until the puppy quiets down (even for a couple seconds).
Here is where timing comes into play. A very upset puppy can still be let out within a few minutes if you employ good timing. Wait and then pounce during a silent moment and let the puppy out.
The very second the puppy is quiet hurry up and get that puppy out! Reward the silence and not the crying and you’ll have a quiet and crate-trained puppy in no time (and by no time I mean a few days to a week). As soon as the puppy gets quiet for just a second you can begin with bright, cheerful, happy voice and get the pup out quick before they set up a racket again.
I often stand and look at the puppy. The puppy knows I am there, I am responding to his call, but I am not letting him out. This will frustrate the puppy as he tries to communicate to me “let.me.out” but I stand there. The puppy, a thinking being, wants to figure out this puzzle. He wants to know how to train me to let him out of his crate. 😉 When the puppy takes a breath and sits down, licking his lips usually (which have dried out from his fuss) and trying hard to figure out how to get me to let him out – that is when I jump forward and respond verbally immediately. As soon as the tushy of a quiet puppy hits the floor I leap to with cheers of praise and let the puppy out of his crate.
It usually only takes once or twice until the puppy realizes exactly what he must do to get his way. Be quiet and sit down. This helps get the puppy quiet in your presence but it doesn’t help prevent a puppy from throwing a fit when you aren’t in the room.
Back to Crying it Out
This is where you stretch the time out between responding to puppy’s cries. Remind yourself that you know your puppy is safe, fed, clean and perfectly ok. Nothing is wrong with him. It is bedtime or nap time or time for you to leave the house and he needs to be in that crate for his own safety. He can’t get himself seriously hurt in there and you cannot supervise him right now. Let him cry a bit before you respond to him and let him out. Stretch out the minutes between responding to him. Start out with whatever interval you’re comfortable with. Whether it is 5 minutes or 25 minutes that is up to you. But stretch each interval out by at least 5 minutes before you give in and get him.
You can get him (following silent-only-puppy procedures outlined above) and take him outside to potty. Do not engage in any playtime. You can snuggle for a minute after he goes potty. If he doesn’t potty after 5 minutes he goes back into the crate. If he does potty then cuddle him for a minute or two and put him back in the crate. And start your timer all over again and ensure you’re waiting longer this time before giving in and taking Mr. Lonesome out of his crate.
If you are one of the lucky that can kiss your puppy and leave him for the night then good for you. You know he is fine. I know he is fine. There is nothing wrong with letting him fuss, provided he never sounds panicked or genuinely fearful or in any kind of pain.
Your dog is a vocal animal. He is going to use noises as well as body language to communicate with you. We don’t want to teach the dog that we don’t want him to communicate with us. We are teaching the dog “I hear you. I know what you want (to come out of the crate because you don’t feel like being in here) but I need you to stay in there”.
If your puppy needs to potty and its first thing in the morning and you’re getting some good whimpers of excitement or minor vocalizations that is totally good and well and you just take that puppy out of the crate with no delay. Same for post naptime or after any long stretch of time in a crate. That is because your puppy (at these times) is not vocalizing “this stinks. I want to get out of here” but instead is communicating to you “I’m so happy to see you!” and also “I really need to go potty”.
You want your puppy to communicate with you. The lesson isn’t “you must always be silent”. The lesson is “you’re going to hang out in here so get used to it. If it is time to come out of the crate then I’ll take you out and if you need to potty then let me know and I will take you out”.
This ensures that when your silent and crate trained puppy suddenly starts crying you will know it is likely for a good reason and can attend to him/her promptly. We want communication. Just not unnecessary and constant communication when the answer is “no”. It is sort of like ignoring a nagging child or asking them to please cease and desist the nags. We don’t want our child to be quiet. We just want him to stop nagging and whining for something he can’t have at that moment.
If the puppy starts whining a bit just as you’re taking him/her out of the crate and you know the puppy isn’t crying for a legitimate reason (like “I need to potty!”) then you have to immediately stand up, turn away from the crying puppy and start waiting all over again. Even if it means walking out of the room until you hear silence.
If the puppy begins to cry a bit but has a good reason for crying then go ahead and continue taking the puppy out as quickly as possible. You rewarded the quiet and calm behavior once already and remember that we aren’t trying to eliminate all forms of communication from your dog. You’re not teaching the puppy that telling you he needs something is wrong. You’re just teaching the puppy that throwing a fit because he doesn’t want to be crated isn’t going to get him anywhere with you. Temper tantrums are handled the same with people babies, too. Wait them out. Ignore them. Don’t cater to them. Try to ensure you’re anticipating their needs so as not to set them up to be in a position to throw a tantrum.
Ignore a whining puppy when you know the whining is because they are throwing a little puppy tantrum (I want in your lap and you’re ignoring me! or I want to sleep in your bed with you, not in this crate!)
This is how I teach puppies that crying-tantrums are not responded to here. They learn quickly that I ignore them completely when they whine out of the crate as well, such as when they want me to pick them up for a cuddle. But when they are quiet I spin around and pick them up and snuggle and play with them. Reward desirable behavior and ignore undesirable behavior (unless it is dangerous or destructive).
Your puppy is smart. He/she will learn what works. And if you reward the right behavior consistently (silence, in this case) then you’ll have an alert, silent puppy waiting eagerly for you in the crate each morning and after nap-time. And when you do hear your reliable, crate-trained dog making a fuss in his crate you’ll be assured it is for a good reason and will be able to attend to him/her right away. All it takes is patience and love and a little bit of time to crate train your newbie.