It is possible to raise your puppy without a crate, but it can be a very useful tool. You can compare it to a crib for a baby: a safe place to sleep. Also, a puppy crate is not necessary, but it can provide a lot of peace of mind by removing the need to have to “play policeman”.
This has become a very comprehensive article. First, I go into the usefulness of the crate and the use of a puppy crate and in the second part I explain how crate training works.
Is a crate and/or puppy pen useful to you?
Most puppies are not good at taking rest.
Exceptions aside, they stay awake so long that they get over sleeping and become hyper with fatigue. Common complaints are that the puppy will bite or bark even more than usual. This is sometimes described as “the pup attacks me out of nowhere and is not distractable”. This is very normal puppy behavior and comes therefore by that overtiredness.
The bench – step-by-step plan for crate training
If your pup does not suffer from this and sleeps by itself enough, then a crate is not necessary. If not, a crate can help your pup to take a rest. In a bench is not so much space, so the pup can not really play. In addition, it is a kind of den, especially if you have a closed bench or a rug over it. Because of this there come less stimuli in, as a result of which your pup scares less rapidly awake.
The “den effect” has the additional advantage that many puppies feel very safe in a bench. If the hustle and bustle in the house becomes too much for them, they have the option of retreating for a while.
Once your puppy can lie in the crate with the door closed, he knows that nothing will happen. That gives peace of mind, because then you don’t have to jump out of your basket every time someone gets up. And that is a good first step for learning to be alone. Because only when your puppy no longer follows you everywhere can he learn that you, after having gone away, always come back.
Finally it is useful to get your puppy used to the bench at a young age. Because if he ever hurts himself so much that the vet recommends resting in a crate, then it’s nice if your dog feels comfortable in it.
The Puppy Cage
Sometimes a crate is used as a playpen, so it can be safely left alone for a longer period of time. A crate is actually too small for that. Even if you buy a very large bench, where your dog can sit and stand. Because he still can’t easily walk around in it and really move around. In this situation a puppy pen is better: This is a large fence that is open at the top. You may recognize it from the breeder, they also often use a run where mother dog and puppies stay.
The run is a safe place where the puppy can play and sniff around without needing constant attention. In the ren you put only stuff of your pup. This way your stuff stays whole and your pup can really do his thing. A puppy run is thus in any case useful if you want the pup can leave alone.
But also people who are usually at home can benefit from a puppy run. Preventing unwanted behavior is often the best solution. By using a puppy run, a puppy cannot start doing naughty things to get your attention, this gives both you and your puppy peace of mind.
How much space should I sacrifice?
The ideal size of a crate depends of course on the size of your dog. For benches you can find on google the ideal sizes for most breeds. The idea is that once fully grown, your dog can lie stretched out in it and sit upright. A larger crate is not better because it is made for sleeping and not for walking around. If your pup is a mix, then guess how big he’s going to be approximately once he’s grown and find the ideal crate size for a breed that’s about the same size.
With a puppy run, the intention is precisely that your dog can walk around nicely. Therefore, I would keep at least four times the size of the ideal crate, more is better. Pay attention to the height of the crate, you don’t want your puppy to be able to jump out of it in a few weeks. It is therefore wise to choose a puppy crate that is higher than your puppy when he is fully grown.
But I don’t want a crate / puppy run forever
It sometimes scares a little, having a large part of your room filled with a puppy run and crate. It is fortunately only a temporary solution, so once your dog by the puberty is gone everything can go out the door.
When this is differs per dog, but with small breeds it is often approximately when they are one year old and with large breed dogs approximately when they are one and a half to two years old.
What exactly do you need and where do you put it
What to look out for when buying a crate
There are three different types of crates: the travel crate, the transport crate and the wire crate. Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages, I describe them here so you can choose which one suits you best.
A travel crate is made of fabric. It is easy to set up and to take with you. Okay, the photo shows a real tent, but admit it, you wouldn’t have wanted to miss this photo. You can find real examples of travel benches here.
These benches can easily be broken, and are therefore not a suitable permanent place for many puppies. I myself have used one to take with me on vacations, when my dog was still a puppy. Lighter and easier to carry you will not find.
A transport box is much sturdier. These benches are made of plastic or metal. As the name suggests, this type of crate is often used to transport an animal. There are variants that are specially designed for the car and variants that are just adapted to be allowed on the plane
These benches are sturdy enough to be used as a fixed bench. Some dogs like it that it is a kind of den, because all sides and the top are almost completely closed. But there are also dogs who find this annoying. And admit it, this type of bench does stand out a lot in your room.
Wire cage – most used cage for dogs
A wire crate is the most popular option. This is because it is the most flexible to use. It is, in fact, sturdy; a puppy can’t just chew through it. But most wire benches are foldable, allowing you to take them with you when needed.
A wire crate looks more airy, both for you and your dog. And if your dog still likes a den, you can put a rug over it. So you’re looking for a crate for the home that you can take with you occasionally when you go away for the weekend. Then this is probably your best option. A wire cage is for sale in most large pet stores, or online, for example at Brekz or bol.com.
What to look for when buying a puppy pen
The puppy pen is still less well known in the Australia. If you googled it you can find a few, but the choice is limited. You already have more choice if you search for “ground box”, then you will find models that are officially made for children, but often can be used just as well for a puppy. Or you can get one from abroad, for example via amazon.de and then search for playpen.
As previously said you want a puppy run that is so high, that your pup can not just jump out. In addition, you must ensure that the material is not easy to chew. A wooden puppy run is very nice to begin with, but then you must not mind if puppy teeth get into it. The advantage of heavier material is that it doesn’t shift easily when your dog steps on it.
Also pay attention to the type of door: If your run is so high that you can’t easily step over it, then you will want a door that you can easily get through to your pup.
If you are handy you can make your own puppy run, for example from elements made for a fence in the front yard. Or plasticized chicken wire in a slatted frame for a budget-friendly option.
If you choose a crate, it’s nice for your pup if he doesn’t have to lie on a hard surface, even in a puppy run, a place to lie is convenient. But a cushion can sometimes explode. A good alternative is a vetbed; this is a thick, washable rug that looks a bit like high pile carpet. See here. This is a lot sturdier and less fun to demolish than a pillow. It is better to buy that nice pillow or that cute basket when your puppy is a little older and has forgotten his puppy and adolescent habits.
It is nice for your puppy if he always has water available. Especially with warm weather such a little one otherwise runs the risk of drying out. But a water bowl in a small space with a puppy is often not so useful. Many puppies use it then namely to go in bath. You can also buy trays that you can hang on the bench. Or even more convenient, for the real wild animals, a drinking bottle that you can hang in the bench. It’s kind of like a big guinea pig bottle, but designed for dogs.
Chew toy in the bench
In addition, provide suitable chew material in the crate and chew and play material in the puppy run. Toys that make your pup busy, for example with squeaking noises, are more suitable to give in the run than in a closed bench. Then you prevent your pup from getting frustrated because he wants to run but can’t.
Chewing is soothing to dogs, so that’s a better use of time in a crate. For example, the Kong is a very popular chew toy. Just make sure that your pup can’t tear and eat pieces of the chew toy. Some puppies are stronger and more destructive than others and therefore there are separate toys for cautious and for strong chewers.
Chewy snacks may of course be eaten, but also here goes, know your puppy: There are slokops who like a heron try “the prey” in one go, without him in small pieces to chew. This causes choking and constipation hazards. It’s better to offer these pups things that even they can see won’t fit in one go. Also, these snacks get smaller by chewing, so before they can cause swallowing danger you swap them again.
Where to put the crate and run
Some people have a crate and a puppy run in the house. Ideally the crate should be attached to the run as in the picture below. Or the bench is in the run. Because if your puppy does realize that he is tired, he can come to his crate and go to sleep.
The ideal place is in the part of the house where you are most present, somewhere where the whole room can be overlooked but not constantly walked by.
Especially the latter is important if you only place a bench, because then the chance that your puppy every time awakened is the smallest.
A puppy run is obviously quite large, so just choose a place where it fits and also keep in mind the ideal shape when buying. You have octagonal runs, as I have drawn in the picture, but also rectangular and even flexible ones that can be set up in an L-shape.
Crate training: how to use a crate
So you have decided that you want to use a crate, purchased one and now it is in the room waiting for your pup to use it. This is something your pup will have to learn and I recommend a step-by-step approach. There are of course ‘success stories’ where the pup from day 1 during the day with a closed door was in the bench. But there are also pups who run with a big bow around the bench to prevent that they suddenly ‘locked up’.
I will give you a step-by-step plan, with which you can teach your pup in about a week to stay in the crate with the door closed. First, here are a few tips to increase your chances of success.
Making sure the crate is fun for the pup
The more your pup likes the crate, the easier it will go into it when you ask it to.
Be careful with using it as a “punishment seat”. You can put your puppy in the crate if you are completely finished with him because he is exhausted and tries to destroy your house, just try not to let him know how you feel. So first take a deep breath, escort him to the crate and sit quietly with him while he chews himself to sleep with a bone. If this still doesn’t work, then solve it differently this time and start practicing with your pup so that you can use the crate in the future.
Not too long
Make sure your pup is not in the crate for too long. You may really see it as a bed. When your pup is “really” awake, because he has slept enough, then it is time to let him out of the crate. This way your pup learns that a crate is a nice place to sleep.
It’s also handy to instruct everyone, including children, to leave your pup alone when he’s in his crate. This also applies to any basket.
A “little den”
Some pups really like burrows. If your pup has this you will notice it automatically. For example, my dog when she was a puppy liked to lie under the curtain. Other ‘holes’ can be under the couch or under chairs. Such a at the growth purchased bare bench can feel too open for your puppy. You can make the bench more dense by placing rugs over it and reducing the size with sturdy cardboard boxes. Reducing the size of the crate is another trick that often works when your pup has frequent accidents in the crate. Of course, you still need to let him out regularly enough to pee in the right place. But the smaller the crate, the less your pup will move and thus the less pressure there will be on the bladder
Now we start the real crate training
Building up to staying in the crate
Before we start building up the crate step by step it is good to know that there is a big difference between being in the crate during the day and at night. Where many pups want to be in the bench at night without much problems, most pups find this difficult during the day. That is if you think about it also logical. At night it is much easier for a pup to see that it is time to sleep. It is quiet, dark and there are far less interesting things happening than during the day. The bench is a very useful tool to teach your pup to take his rest during the day, but more than a tool it is not. You must still help your pup to learn to appreciate this.
Every pup is different and that you will also notice at the benchtraining. I give a step-by-step plan in which the pup learns in one week to lie in the bench with the door closed, but some pups will already be able to do this in one day and others need several weeks for it. This variation is nothing to worry about. The experiences that your pup has had at the breeder and its character play a role in the learning process. For example, a quiet pup who is used to a bench at the breeder will naturally want to go into his new home faster than an energetic pup who always had the whole house at his disposal.
Choose carefully the moments when you will practice with the crate. Make sure your pup has lost his worst energy, so he does not feel the need to run while you ask him to lie down. But don’t overtired him either, because puppies still easily get over their sleep and become hyper.
Just before you start training, give your pup a chance to pee and poop, so you know for sure that this does not bother him. This way you know for sure that your pup will only “complain” if you try to go through the steps too quickly.
Does your pup squeal, or do you otherwise notice that he doesn’t like it in the crate. Then let him out and repeat the previous step a few more times. Often you will get the best results by daring to go back now and then.
The step-by-step plan
From the first day: place the bench with the door open in the room. Sometimes hide some kibble in the crate, so your pup will be rewarded if he happens to look in the crate. Note that you do not need to lure him into the crate. Your pup will choose for himself whether he goes in or not.
About the 2nd day, may be later: As soon as your pup sometimes chooses to go into the crate himself you may start giving him all his food in the crate. Stay there while your puppy eats and leave the door open.
About the 3rd day: If your pup eats its food quietly, without behaving differently than it would in another place, proceed to the next step. As previously stated, each puppy follows its own pace, so if this is earlier or later than the 3rd day for you, it does not matter at all. You may now move the door back and forth while your pup is eating. Keep the movements so small that your pup does not bother and continues eating.
Approximately the 4th and 5th day: Once you can freely move the door, while your pup is eating, follows the step that for most puppies is the hardest. You will, in fact, close the door for a short time. Do the door always a short time closed and then open again. In the beginning you can do this therefore several times while your pup eats. You leave the door closed for a longer time in succession. Until you have the door the whole time that your pup spends on the emptying of its food bowl can leave closed.
In this step, the door is always open again before your puppy has emptied his bowl. If you notice that your puppy stops eating, or otherwise indicates that he finds it exciting, then you leave the door closed for a shorter time, or you go back to moving without closing it.
About the 6th and 7th day: The door now also stays closed for a while after your puppy has finished eating. Do this a little longer after each meal but still stay with it. At this stage, in some cases, it is better to practice with a snack where your dog takes a long time than with a meal. Because you can give the snack at the time you think it is “bedtime” and a meal might just fall at an active moment of your puppy.
About the 8th day: If your puppy really calms down when the door is closed you can carefully walk away. Stay in sight at first, then go longer and longer out of sight until you can just walk away. Make sure that you only leave the pup in there for a longer time when it is really time to go to sleep. Now you may also start helping your pup to go to its bench when you feel that it could sleep.
What if my puppy starts squealing during one of the steps?
If your puppy starts squealing in the crate you may let him out immediately.
Usually one of the following two reasons is the cause of the squealing. Either you are trying to leave your puppy in the crate for too long too soon. Then it is better to take a step back and leave your puppy locked up just a little shorter next time. This way you avoid the squeaking and the bench remains a nice place.
Or your puppy indicates that he needs to go to the toilet, then of course you want to give him the opportunity to do this in the right place.
Giving in once will not necessarily teach him to squeak, but will prevent your puppy from finding the crate annoying.
If your puppy really doesn’t want to go into the crate
One puppy will get used to a crate faster than the other. But sometimes you really seem to get no further. Then you can check whether one of the points below is the cause and immediately read the corresponding solution.
Are you not getting past the step of “the 1st day” because your pup won’t go into the crate by itself?
Many puppies are curious and will explore the whole house and therefore also the bench of their own accord. But of course ‘many’ is not the same as ‘all’. Does your pup not have such an urge to explore and he will therefore not accidentally come in the bench where you have hidden the cookies…. Then you can first take a rug out of the crate and make it fun by rewarding him on it. Take the blanket away after a short time. As soon as your puppy gets enthusiastic at the sight of the rug, place the rug in the crate. Chances are that this is just the push your puppy needed, so he will lie/play on the rug again, but in the crate!
Is the bench too big or too small?
A cage is big enough when your pup can lie down and sit upright in it. Is the bench too small for that, then you want to buy a bigger one. Otherwise your pup will not lie comfortably and then of course you will not easily fall asleep. Because puppies grow very fast in the beginning a young puppy will ‘swim’ in a bench that will fit nicely in his puberty. A bench that is too large does not stimulate you to lie quietly and if you’re already busy, then you’d prefer to dash across the room. If your puppy may be bothered by the fact that the crate is still too large, you can temporarily make it smaller by using sturdy cardboard boxes.
Has your pup had any bad experiences in the crate?
For example because the bench has been used as a place of punishment in the past. Or because your pup has been frightened very badly while he was in the bench. Then it is easier to buy another crate and build it up quietly, rather than trying to train the fear out of it. A wire crate is best replaced by a transport box and vice versa.
Does your puppy react very much to stimuli from outside the crate, for example people passing by or certain noises?
Then look again critically at the place where the bench is. If possible, move it to a place where your pup can still see the room, but where you don’t have to walk directly past the crate when you want to go somewhere. In other words, to a quiet corner of the room. Sometimes it helps to cover the bench with a rug, so that your pup absorbs less stimuli from his surroundings. Also quiet music as background noise can help to ‘unexpected’ sounds a bit to muffle.
Does the dog possibly have separation anxiety?
Some puppies find it a terrifying idea when you go out of sight. If you leave these pups as soon as they are in the crate, they will associate this with each other. The effect is that they will find the bench scary, because they think you will “leave” them. If this seems to be the case with your pup you will treat it as two separate training goals. Then you practice crate training without leaving the room. In addition you will work on separation anxiety by walking away and coming back before your puppy gets scared, as soon as benchtraining is not completed you will do this without him being in his crate. Ultimately the bench is a good tool for dogs with separation anxiety, so once your puppy is happy in the bench you can go back to using it for training. Make sure that you do not always leave when your puppy is in his crate, but sometimes stay with him.
Puppy pees / poops in the bench
Many puppies will try to keep their sleeping place, i.e. their crate, clean. If your puppy does pee or poop in the crate, try to make the crate smaller temporarily. This can be done by putting cardboard boxes or large stuffed animals in it.
Don’t forget to clean all the rugs and the bench. You can buy special cleaning products in the pet store. A puppy smells better than we do, and fecal odor encourages them to go back to that place. And try to prevent future accidents by taking your puppy out of the crate as soon as he becomes restless and give him a chance to do his business.