Some of you may have welcomed a new family member home, in the form of a puppy, this Christmas season. In order for him to become a well-behaved and, hopefully, permanent family member, it is imperative that he learn basic manners. One of the first things you want to teach your puppy is to not eliminate in the house. After all, there are few things as disagreeable as stepping in freshly laid puppy poop. Am I right? Crate training is a proven way to housebreak a puppy. Start by teaching your puppy to enjoy crate time. Puppies enjoy the safety of small spaces, so this will not take long if done correctly. Puppies should want to get into their crates; it must be a positive experience. As such, remember to never use a crate as punishment.
Pick your puppy up and put him in his crate. Give him a treat and say good “kennel” (or whatever you want to call it) then close the door. Keep it closed for only a brief few seconds, then open it. Ensure the puppy doesn’t step out of the crate by quickly putting your hand in the crate and giving him another treat and close the door again. Repeat this step a few times to cement the crate-reward connection. Now open the door and, before he exits, give him a treat. Allow him to exit while speaking a release word of your choosing. I like to use the word “free,” but you should use whatever works for you. Use the word anytime you want to release your puppy from a previous command and use it consistently. If your puppy doesn’t readily exit his crate, walk away and encourage him to follow you. Don’t make a big deal of your puppy exiting the crate. (The value should be in entering, not exiting.) Nor should you release him when he’s making a fuss, that will create anxiety. He may decide to stay inside after you open the door, which is fine. Just end the training session there. Do a few sessions a day, slowly increasing the amount of time you have the door closed. Each training session should be short, especially when dealing with younger puppies.
At some point, right after coming out of the crate, your puppy will turn around and go back into the crate without being asked to. Give him a treat immediately and praise him profusely. This is a clear indication that he is understanding how rewarding being in the crate is. When not using the crate, make sure to leave the door open so he can enter if he desires. It would behoove you to capture the moments when he enters on his own and give him a treat as you praise him. Then remember to release him with your release word.
Crate training is not only useful for housebreaking, it also comes in handy when little Skittles is getting into trouble, and you need a break. Remember, it’s not a punishment, so give him a treat and toys to play with while inside. Crates are also a safe place to put your puppy when you can’t watch him but don’t leave him in there for hours on end. A quiet place to rest in, a warm bed and toys? Yes, please!