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Four years ago, when my husband and I brought home Bala, our then 8-week-old yellow lab puppy, we were ecstatic. We were completely prepared with a cream cheese-packed puppy Kong, liver-flavored doggie treats and the requisite hard crate. Or so we thought. The next morning at 5:30, drowning in puppy yelps and a pile of urine-soaked paper towels, we looked at each other with abject terror. Months later, we realized our big mistake: not using our dog crate.
Crate-training is a simple way to prevent your dog from developing bad doggy manners, including peeing on your brand-new kitchen floors, according to Lisa Collins, a 10-year veteran of the dog-training world and owner of Chicago-based Collins Canine. While most commonly used for housebreaking pups of all ages, crate training also helps prevent a variety of unwanted behaviors, from excessive barking to separation anxiety to gnawing on your favorite sneakers. Here are Collins’ top tips for getting started.
Remember: your “baby” is not a baby
As first time dog-owners, my husband and I initially thought it was cruel to hem in our “little one.” This is a common misconception, Collins says; comparisons to children aside, dogs are not just “furry humans.” In truth, many dogs intrinsically seek out the den-like space that crates offer. Eventually, your pup’s crate will serve as a calm respite during, say, your lively dinner parties.
Pick the right crate
Crates come in all shapes, sizes and price points, but don’t pamper your pooch with a luxuriously big one. Crates should be large enough for a dog to stand up, turn around and lie down – and no larger, particularly if you’re housetraining. Otherwise, “the dog may eliminate on one side and sit on the other,” Collins says. Always choose hard crates over soft crates, the trainer recommends, unless you need an on-the-go option. Soft crates are much less durable, especially for overactive chewers.
“Most people that I've worked with that say their dog has issues with the crate will tell me, ‘I couldn't even leave them in there for five minutes.' Five minutes is way too long” in the beginning, says Collins. Instead, start by allowing your dog to walk in and out of the crate freely; you can lure him in with a treat. As your dog gets more comfortable, place a treat in the crate and close the door for one second. Each time, gradually increase the amount of time with the door closed.
If treats aren’t cutting it, start serving your dog’s meals in the crate. This way, he’ll associate positive experiences with the space. Is Poochie still stressed? Try DAP, a pheromone that’s naturally calming to dogs and available at Petco or on Amazon. Similarly, Collins swears that classical music will literally calm wild beasts or at least a nervous dog; play some while your dog is crated.
Crates are not tattoos
Hard plastic and metal needn’t be a permanent part of your bestie’s life. About one year for puppies and three months for a newly adopted adult dog is enough time to crate train, Collins says. After that, gradually start granting your pooch more freedom -- building up from a minute in a dog-proofed room to more substantial time alone in your apartment.
Ashley Phillips is a firm believer in the transformative power of a stuffed Kong. Follow her on Twitter.