CRATE TRAINING: How To Do It and Why It Is Important

The easiest way to accomplish that important house training of your new puppy is to use a crate . By following the steps described here, success will be assured and your puppy will be accident free much faster than with any other method. What is even more important is that he will be a happier and safer puppy because he is accustomed to being crated some of the time.

Using a crate is gentle and humane and dogs, being den animals, like their crates because it is “home”. The most important rule in house training is consistency. Set up a schedule and stick with it for as long as it takes (and a week or two longer, just to be sure). The puppy is to be in his crate at all times unless he is (a) out for a brief playtime or (b) being exercised. Only after he has urinated and/or had a bowel movement outside can he be let out to play and then only for a brief period. Puppies like to eat and sleep so they really don’t need to be out for long periods. They should always be crated at night and when you are away from home. This protects both the puppy and your furniture and carpets.

The key to training the puppy (or adult that has not been crated before) is to make going into the crate a treat and not a punishment. Keep a container of puppy kibble nearby and each time the pup is put into his crate, a single piece of kibble goes in first. He goes in to get his treat and the door is closed. Inside the crate will be a small sized toy , one that cannot be swallowed or destroyed by chewing. If the pup fusses, he is spoken to and calmed. Once he is quiet, he can be removed from the crate for cuddling – but never while he is being vocal. Not all pups can have a towel in the crate, if they are chewers, but bedding also adds to the level of contentment.

It is important that there be playtime before putting him in the crate so that he is tired and ready for a nap. Keeping the crate near your chair is good because he feels your closeness and you can always stick a finger or two through the grate to let him lick and to reassure him that he is not alone. Once he stirs and is awake from his nap, take him outside, praise him to the hilt when he does his business and bring him in for a drink and more play-time.

Now about his house training:

  1. Puppies should be able to sleep all night in their crates without an accident by 3 months of age. He is to go outside immediately when he wakes up. Stay with him until he goes, praise him to the extreme and give him a small treat (piece of kibble, cheerio or bit of dog biscuit), then bring him back inside.
  2. Use a high pitched voice for praise and a low pitch for scolding – but Bichons do much better for praise than for scolding! Only scold if you are present when the accident occurs. To scold him, pick him up and look him in the eye, then take him outside.
  3. Feed the puppy when you bring him in and then take him back outside within 15-20 minutes after his meal. His crate is a good place for him to eat without the cat or the baby getting into his food. Continue to take him outside at least every two hours until you determine his schedule for relieving himself. This may involve all members of the household keeping a chart so that you can understand how often he needs to be outside. Obviously he must go out just before bedtime.
  4. Anytime during the day when you cannot give the puppy your full attention, he should be in his crate. This means when you are on the phone, cooking, cleaning, dressing, playing, eating, sleeping, ad infinitum. If you are to be successful, you must be able to watch him when he is not crated. If you must leave the puppy longer and do not want to crate him, use a small confined area free of dangerous electrical cords or anything that can be chewed. Leave his crate with the door open for easy access. However, crating is the better method for housetraining and should be done as much as possible.

What about paper training?  This is a decision you must make early on. If it is a male, he probably should never be paper trained. Females can learn to go outside as well as on papers and this can be useful in parts of the country with bad winters. The papers must – from the start – only be placed in an area where they will continue to be permissible, usually a laundry room. The earlier a male is neutered, the less likely he is to lift his leg so do this around 6 months of age.

Portable exercise pens can be purchased from dog supply vendors or online and are useful if you do not have a fenced yard. This is both a safety feature and a sanitary one. If your Bichon is a jumper or a digger, do not leave him unattended in either a yard or a fence. Electric fences are not good for Bichons, in part because it offers them no protection from stray dogs, dog nappers or other unsafe conditions. There are products on the market that can serve as aids in house training , such as scented papers or sprays. Use those as directed but continue to follow the above schedule.

Occasionally there will be a male that is exceptionally hard to housetrain. Neutering him will help. When he is out of his crate, you can “diaper” the male with a fabric strip that is secured around his body to cover his penis. By placing a sanitory napkin inside this diaper (also called a belly band ), the urine can be absorbed instead dripping onto the floor or furniture. However, aim for complete house training and not for the remedy! Any dog that has continuing accidents or relapse after training should be checked for a bladder infection or stones.

Bichons are bred to be companion animals and do not like being left at home alone for hours at a time. Consider this trait when buying your pet and make arrangements for someone to walk him when you are away. Crating the dog without an opportunity to relieve himself for many hours is asking for soiling and formation of other bad habits.

Is crate training important to the dog’s health? First there is the safety issue. A lonely puppy looks for entertainment and that can be chewing electrical wires, children’s toys, the drapes or furniture or anything small that is dropped on the floor. A crated puppy cannot reach these forbidden objects. A puppy in a home with children needs a safe and quiet retreat from overly affectionate children. The children should understand that when he goes into his house he is saying, “I’m tired and need to rest” and they should leave him alone.

A crate can insure adequate rest. A puppy is still fragile and too much exercise can harm his young muscles and bones. A Bichon pup can have adequate exercise inside the house or brief supervised play-time outside in a restricted area. Bichons are fast runners and one can be in the street in the blink of an eye so lead training is also important.

Even adults can be fed in the crate. This is to keep one pet from eating the other’s food and the same theory would apply in a dog-cat household. An obese dog is unhealthy, as is one eating cat food on a regular basis. Even in a one animal home, the crate should be his dining room because he eats quickly, rather than loitering over his meal. No one likes to have a picky eater. The water bowl sits nearby and is frequently washed and refilled because Bichons need fresh water available all the time.

Every dog has his day and some of those are sick days. Here is where his crate is his comfort zone. It also means no accidents on the rug, if it is that kind of illness. Postoperatively, the crate becomes the recovery room.

Two of the biggest safety factors making it advisable to use a crate are ones some pet owners never think of. A crated dog in an automobile has a much better chance of surviving an accident and a zero chance of causing an accident. He will also be welcome at hotels and in homes you visit if he is crated.

The dog that is crated when the family is away or during the night can be quickly picked up and moved away from danger in the event of a house fire, tornado or other tragic event. You don’t have to know where to find him if he is always in the same location and that room should have apet locator sign on the window nearest his crate. You should also let neighbors know where he will be, just as you would want them to know where to find your child in event of a fire.

These are just some of the ways that the crated dog has a better chance for a healthy, happy and safe life. As adults the crate door can be left open and you will find that this is still a favorite retreat for naps or to escape the crowd. (Needless to say, no dog wants to be crated 24-7.) It is obvious to any owner of a crate-trained dog that he does not feel it is his prison if the crate is used properly. Now if we can only convince reluctant owners to understand that!