Help me figure out crate training for my new puppy.
December 29, 2011 12:44 PM   Subscribe

I'm getting a new puppy next week and need some suggestions about crate training. All the overly-long special snowflake details are inside.

A year and a half ago I adopted Eddie my first ever dog. Since he was already a year old and came to us house trained Eddie was never crated. Now we are getting another GSD but this one is just a baby.

Although initially resistant I think that I am sold on the crate idea - I understand that crate training is the fastest, easiest way to house train a puppy; I think having the puppy crated will be a good idea until we are sure that she knows the rules of the house regarding what can and can't be chewed; and to make sure Eddie doesn't constantly harass her to play with him while we are not there to intervene. Basically my understanding of a dog crate is a way to keep a puppy out of trouble until they are properly trained and no longer need the crate - I can get with that idea but what I am not clear on is the execution of it.

1. What size crate should we get? The people at the pet store showed us the giant size $200 crate that has dividers to make it smaller while she is growing which seemed pretty wasteful to me. I envisioned getting a crate that will be big enough for the next five or six months by which point she should be responsible enough to not need to be crated. Travel is not factor for us.

2. What about at night? Eddie sleeps in our bedroom with the door closed, usually he sleeps in the bed with us unless it is too hot in which case he sprawls out directly on the cool tile floor or on a bathmat by the shower. Although bed privileges are something that Eddie earned over time we have come to love having him in the bed with us because he is very polite about waiting for permission to get up, staying at the foot of the bed, not taking up more than his fair share of the bed, and always getting down when asked. Can I just add the puppy to the mix and let her choose where she wants to be in the bedroom or do I have to bring her crate into the bedroom every night? Is there any reason she can't sleep in the bed?

3. Where in the house should the crate be located? Eddie has a "place" with an old blanket under a sideboard between the kitchen and dining room. This is where Eddie hangs out while we are eating and cooking and where he gets sent when we need him to calm down and not be underfoot. Space-wise this would be the most convenient place for a crate. When we are home the living room is where most of our time is spent and Eddie also has a dog bed there, which is the spot he seems to gravitate to when he is ready to just relax and nap. Although I have read that the crate should be somewhere that the puppy can feel included this would make the living room very cramped.

4. Will it be stressful to one or both of the dogs to be able to see and smell each other but not get to one another? There are no plans to crate Eddie but at the minimum the puppy will be crated when we are not home for the next few months.

I know that this question is very long and I thank you if you have read all the way down here. If there are any glaring omissions that you think I need to know about introducing a puppy to a house that already has an awesome well-trained dog in it please let me know. Also if you have a training program that does not involve a crate I am willing to hear about that as well.

I know that I am supposed to post pictures of the new puppy but Yahoo has locked me out of Flikr, so I cry your pardon till I can get that worked out
posted by Bango Skank to Pets & Animals (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
1. A dog needs a crate that is just big enough for him to stand up, turn around, and lie down again. The "constant growing" crates are kind of clever but not necessary. Buy a crate that's a little big, stuff it with blankets, you're fine.

2-3. If you are crate-training, your dog needs to sleep in the crate. Put the crate in another room than your bedroom for sleeping. The crate needs to be in a special place that is not Eddie's place. One day they may cuddle up together but for now for training they need to be separate.

4. It shouldn't be, but to be sure, put a blanket over the crate, and when the humans are away but the dog is home, put the crate in a room and close the door so Eddie can't harrass the caged puppy. Otherwise it becomes more of a cage and less of a safe space.

Your understanding of crate training, though... I have to say that I take exception. Crate training isn't something you do "until your dog is trained" and then abandon it. For many dogs, crate training is a lifestyle. Our dog loves his crate, sleeps in it, it's his territory and his den. When we are not home he goes in there, even if we don't close the door. You may find that the puppy loves being crated.
posted by juniperesque at 12:55 PM on December 29, 2011

1) Get a larger crate, one that will fit a full sized adult German shepherd. Critical - buy a divider for the crate that allows you to give her space as he grows bigger. She should have just enough room to turn around in.

2) Until the puppy is fully house-trained, I'd keep her in the crate at night too. If you keep her in your bedroom, be prepared to the typical cries and whines until she gets used to the crate. Plus - she is around her peeps and she will be happy. Negative - she is around her peeps but not WITH them and she will be unhappy.

3) Everyone is different, but I kept my puppy's crate in my bedroom. He knew that was his "safe" place and had access to it whenever he was tired and wanted peace and quiet.

4) Maybe yes, maybe no. Depends on the puppy's personality.

My dog LOVES his crate. It is his sanctuary, his den, his favorite place other than someone's lap. Crate-training gives both human and dog peace of mind and done correctly, is not just a house-breaking tool.
posted by HeyAllie at 1:01 PM on December 29, 2011

1. You want a crate just bigger than the dog. Big enough for them to get up and turn around in and stretch but not so big that they think they can pee in one end. Get one for what you expect the final size of the dog to be and like juniperesque suggested sort of block off one end with.

2. Get the dog to sleep in the crate, where you put it is up to you. We have 2 dogs, one sleeps on the bed one gets to sleep on it as a special treat but gets sent to his bed most nights. They have no problem with that. The higher ranked of the two dogs should get the most bed privileges if you decide to go that way, or you can mess up the doggy dynamics and the higher ranked one might try and show they are the boss other ways. We found this super important with our 2 desexed male dogs who otherwise share everything with no worries including food. The dog made to sleep on the floor or crate won't mind as long at it is kept consistent from day one.

3. Don't put the new dogs crate too near Eddies spots. If later on they choose to share spots that's great but don't force them too.

4. Keep the puppy in a separate room if possible when crated. Dogs don't mind being treated differently and the puppy will feel like the lower ranked dog coming in so won't mind the "boss" dog getting special treats but they need to feel their crate is their safe place that is theirs.

You don't have to keep up crating your dog once they are older and trained, but a lot of dogs do come to think of their crates as their special homes and if you leave the door open will hide out there for some alone time.

I was vehemently anti crating until we got a rescue that had been crated a lot, and he really did feel much better with a crate to go to at first, we eventually put a high sided cosy dog bed in there and slowly pulled the crate down around him over a month or so so he felt that the bed was his safe spot. Mostly we did this for room in a very small bedroom and if we'd had the space would have probably kept the crate up for him.
posted by wwax at 1:06 PM on December 29, 2011

Our experience with two dogs is that, once crate-trained, they can never be fully trusted alone in the rest of the house. They won't soil their crate, but everywhere else is "outside" in their view. I'm not sure I would do it again. OTOH, they are very mellow and hang out in their crate all the time (note: they came as a set, it wasn't an older/younger thing like your situation).

you can easily upload images to imgur without having to create an account
posted by desjardins at 1:59 PM on December 29, 2011

1. What size crate should we get? One just big enough for your puppy. Watch Craigslist; I sold our outgrown puppy crate there.

2. What about at night? Well, if your new pup isn't housetrained you don't want her sleeping in your bed because she will likely pee on it. Crate your pup at night until the housetraining is done, then use your discretion about how much to trust her.

3. Where in the house should the crate be located? If you can manage the crate in the living room, that might be best. No dog wants to be off away from the family when she can hear activity.

4. Will it be stressful to one or both of the dogs? Eh, not really. There might be some sniffing through the bars but I don't think it will cause a problem. Dogs do have a hardwired sense of fairness but I don't think crating one and not the other will be perceived as unfair.

The hardest thing about crate training for us was the whining. When our dog [oblig. puppy pic] wanted out, she'd whine. It was so hard to ignore the piteous whining of an incredibly cute animal, but DO NOT EVER REWARD WHINING. Wait until the puppy stops whining, even for a moment, before letting her out.

I do not share desjardins' experience with crate trained dogs being untrustworthy outside their crates. Our Kenda has had complete run of the house since she was about eight months old; we still have a crate for emergencies but it stays stored in the garage. She is completely trustworthy.
posted by workerant at 2:23 PM on December 29, 2011

I would add to #1 that if you get a bigger crate for her to grow into you just need to fill up the extra space enough that she doesn't feel like she can eliminate in one end and move to the other side. I am not sure what these dividers look like but we just left a plastic tub in one side to make it a little more snug.

I agree that you should assume this is a lifelong safe place for the puppy and expect to have the crate for a while. My dog stopped going into her crate and has perfect house manners so her crate is put away but we have had dogs before that would go into their crate when stressed and it would be their safe place. Also, unless you have full confidence in your ability to handle the dog, it is probably a good idea to have a crate in case of some emergency like an evacuation or something.

One of the wonderful things about crate training is you can really eliminate so many bad behaviors by controlling their environment. If a dog goes through the puppy years without going in the garbage or eating things that are not theirs, you are set.

I also don't agree with desjardins. If you always bring the dog directly from the crate to the spot you want her to go, she will get it. I think this is kind of the point.

I hear Workerant about the puppy crying. Tesla [another oblig. puppy pic] would make the worst crying noises! I remember waiting for what seemed like forever for her to stop for even a moment so we could let her out when she wasn't making noises. We got through this by having her in a different room while we sleep. Now she is an under the covers kind of dog.
posted by JayNolan at 3:33 PM on December 29, 2011

Our experience with two dogs is that, once crate-trained, they can never be fully trusted alone in the rest of the house. They won't soil their crate, but everywhere else is "outside" in their view.

This very much concerns me and makes me doubt the whole idea of crate training. I see that workerant and JayNolan have had different experiences - would anyone else like to take one side or another?

I definitely am not married to the idea of crate training - my house is tile throughout, we do not have any rugs and Eddie's brief chewing phase taught us to be careful about what we leave around so puppy proofing the house and allowing free range from day one is not off the table. My big concern with that tactic though is although Eddie has gotten along well with every dog he has ever met he is very much PLAY! PLAY! PLAY! pretty much constantly whenever there is another dog present and it makes me worry that he will overwhelm an eight week old puppy. The dogs will be alone 4-5 hours a day monday to friday, my yard is large but regrettably unfenced so the dogs are not allowed outside without supervision, and the area that I live does not have any professional dog walking services. That being the case is not having a crate a tenable option?

I understand that some dogs fall in love with their crates and if that becomes the case I would not take it away from her but I always envisioned it as something that we could wean her off of as she got older. A german shepherd sized crate is a fairly large piece of furniture to add to an already furnished 1,400sf house.
posted by Bango Skank at 3:45 PM on December 29, 2011

I did not have an experience where my dog cannot be trusted alone in the rest of the house, since you're asking for more input. He is crate trained, and now when we leave, we sometimes put him in the crate and close the door but more often don't, and when we get home we find that he's been in his crate the whole time, hangin' out. I think dogs that consider anything outside the crate as "outside" and thus open to soiling were possibly not fully housetrained.

Ours has never had an accident in the house after he was housetrained. We do make a point to go on a potty break as soon as we wake up, so it's typical that we get up, open the crate, slip on his leash, and out the door we go, no passing go or collecting $200.

Puppies will change, anatomically, as they grow. His bladder will get bigger and the muscles around it stronger. Housetraining is a learned behavior. He can learn not to soil inside the house, if you teach him, and as he grows, he will get better and better at figuring out his own body.

Don't worry too much about Eddie overwhelming him. Eddie will have an adjustment period - don't forget that - and will need to figure out the reconfigured household pecking order. If he bullies the puppy, he's asserting dominance, and that's ok. Let the dogs be dogs.
posted by juniperesque at 3:53 PM on December 29, 2011

I used to be really meh on crates until I moved somewhere that has fires and earthquakes and our trainer pointed out that we cannot take the dogs to evacuation shelters here without a crate. So consider that there are many reasons a dog should be able to be crated as needed, and you will need a crate already on hand for many of those situations.

I've never known crated dogs to be any worse in the house, so long as they were actively housebroken (instead of being put in a crate specifically to force them to hold it longer than they would naturally, which is not housebreaking). I've had dogs who were never crate trained who were mad housepoopers, so I don't think there's a direct correlation there.

I personally prefer putting dogs in a larger-than-crate area where there are the least amount of things they can kill themselves with or destroy, but there's good reason to be able to get them in a crate when necessary.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:56 PM on December 29, 2011

We crate trained one puppy and did a half-assed job crate training the second puppy. We are totally regretting not doing a better job crate-training the second puppy. He is about a year old and loves to destroy stuff. The other dog who we crate trained properly is totally trustworthy in the house. She got the run of the house at about 6 months old because she was so well behaved. Not a single potty accident after about a couple weeks of properly crate training. The other non-crated puppy took a little longer to potty train but he got it. Both still have their crates in the bedroom and sleep in them at night. Neither one has any potty issues in our house ever.

The crate is a housetraining tool probably above all else. Check out this article from Ian Dunbar about Errorless Housetraining. In this one he also explains the use of a puppy playroom and a crate. I have to say, when we followed Ian Dunbar's training advice, our puppy learned the rules really quickly. And for the second one when we thought we would just "work it out" because we had been through it once, things did not go as well!

As for your original questions:
1. the crate should be just big enough for the dog to stand and turn. As I said, our dogs still like to sleep in theirs and we bought crates that we could block off and expand as they grew.
2. Doggy should sleep in the crate. When doggy is unsupervised, they should be in the crate. We put them in the bedroom because it made the dogs calm and when they were tiny I could hear them if they needed to go out in the middle of the night.
3. The bedroom worked for us. I have read some people move the crate around the house but we lived in a super tiny apartment so we were always close to the bedroom anyway.
4. We currently crate the younger dog in the morning when I go to work and before my boyfriend wakes up. The older dog is left uncrated and we do not have any issues.

Good luck!
posted by rachums at 4:12 PM on December 29, 2011

Thanks to the heads up from desjardins here is a photo of the puppy.

She is six weeks old in this photo. She is not curious in that photo unfortunately that is the way that she always carries her head. The breeder that we are getting her from could not find a buyer because of the head tilt and was planning on dumping her on our already severely over worked Humane Society. Luckily a vet tech at her vet knew me and knew that I love GSDs so I was able to convince the breeder to let the puppy stay with mom until she is eight weeks old then she is giving me her.

All reports are that she runs and plays and eats as well as her litter mates but she just does it at a 90degree angle.
posted by Bango Skank at 5:23 PM on December 29, 2011

I have used crates with every dog I've owned, except one (shelter dog, panicky, possibly abused). Love the crate. It makes life much easier. My current dog Riley, a Boxer, was mine from the get-go - not a family dog, or one I had as a child - and here's what I did with her.

They're terrifically useful, for one thing. As Lyn Never says, they're crucial if you have to evacuate, but that's not the only use. I live in Hurricane Land, so for me it was a safety issue - more and more shelters will accept confined animals. Travel is easier with a crate-trained dog: pop them in the crate, let them chill, and off you go. Being kept overnight at the vet is easier too, because the small observation cages they use are about crate sized, and a dog already accustomed to crates won't panic at confinement.

Get a crate that will fit your pup when she's a full-grown dog. If you don't want to spring for the one with a divider panel, you can use plastic tubs or other things to block off the spare space. You want it big enough for the dog to stand, turn, and lie comfortably. Lying comfortably doesn't mean a tight little ball, either; if they want to lie on their side and sprawl their feet out, there needs to be enough room for that. Go for the wire kind that breaks down flat, so you can store it easily. Coated wire means that if it gets messy, you drag it outside, hose it down, and leave it to dry. If at all possible, get a metal pan on the bottom instead of plastic. Riley isn't a chewer, but she has adamantium claws, and managed to gouge holes in the damn thing.

Dogs will accept things that seem weird and arbitrary to us, as long as you're consistent about it. If you establish straight away that Pup's place is in the crate at times, then she'll go. She might cry the first few nights, but that's normal. Nighttime, definitely, crate. If you can't supervise her for a few hours, into the crate. Running to the shop? In the crate. Fit it out with cozy blankets and bedding, and give her a toy or three that are only crate toys. She'll take to it quickly. Dogs like to know their place, and this is just doing it literally.

As for Eddie, he'll adapt probably better than you expect. All dogs have a hard-wired 'puppy license,' so to speak, which means they tolerate pups' shenanigans. That goes away at about six months of age, so you might see a bit more friction then, until they get the pack order settled. If there's a way for a human to dictate that, I don't know it, but at the same time, consistency: B dog can accept that C dog gets special people-privileges. When Riley was young, she fell in second in the dog hierarchy; ten-pound Piglet ruled the roost, and then beagle-sized Buster was submissive to everybody. But Pig and Riley accepted that Buster got universal bed and lap privileges while they had to ask or be crated. It takes some time to establish these things and there might be a bit of fuss, but it's completely doable.

(A side note about sleeping with puppies: it gets old fast. You'll do it sometimes. You can't help it. The little bugs fall asleep all instant and trusting. But then they wake you up at a quarter to five because it is PLAY TIME RIGHT NOW and they're standing on your back giving your hair the death-shake. It is very good to be able to wake up, put the pup in the crate, and have everyone go back to sleep.)
posted by cmyk at 5:56 PM on December 29, 2011

I only have one dog so I have no experience dealing with two at the same time. I used the crate for house training. I only used the crate when I wasn't at home and at night. When I was home, the puppy was hanging out with me. (There were accidents but if you're diligent with your timing, it works out. Be sure to teach your dog a potty command, when he squats give the potty command several times, mine was "go potty" and when he finishes give him a treat and lots of praise. When he starts turning around looking for the treat when he goes, he's catching on. Some people give a command for peeing and pooping but I only use one.) Once he was house trained, he never went in the house again. (Diarrhea when he had an upset stomach being the exception. He has never, ever peed in the house since being house trained. I have a large dog and size does matter.)

I used the crate some in the beginning (4-12 months old) when I needed to contain him, to keep him from being a pest when company came over or when I needed him out of the way - workmen, deliveries, carpet cleaning. He's never been that fond of the crate and I've only used it in the last 3 years, he's almost 4, for travel. Now, I just close him in a bedroom. My guy was never destructive after he got past his puppy chewing stage. When he got something he wasn't supposed to, I always replaced it immediately with an appropriate chew. I also made sure he had nylabones and bully sticks while he was teething.

My brother's dogs always treated their crates like their dens and would go inside to sleep or be left alone. My dog never had any interest in going into his crate on his own. He didn't resist going in but it was never his hangout spot. He likes his big giant pillow, one in the living room and one in the bedroom. He has never slept with me or gotten on my couch.
posted by shoesietart at 6:39 PM on December 29, 2011

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