Q. My 11-week-old Boxer puppy is not taking to her crate at all. Despite our efforts to get her accustomed to it with treats, etc., she is still crying at bedtime and even worse, is urinating in the crate just about every night. I have a feeling the urinating is not happening out of necessity but just because she is getting so worked up about being in her crate. Regardless, she doesn’t seem to have that instinct to keep her “den” clean that I keep reading about. She’s doing so well with everything else. She’s a smart, sweet, adorable dog. But the nights at this point are terrible and giving her a bath every morning is getting to be too much. Do you have any suggestions?
A. Instead of crating her at night, since it’s become a big issue for her and a big cleanup chore for you, either puppy-proof your bathroom or set up a folding exercise pen (well-anchored to something immovable) in either the bathroom or kitchen or other easy-clean-floor room and let her sleep there. Set up a bed area at one end and a papered potty area at the other. It’ll be less claustrophobic for her and she won’t have to sleep in her own pee, so the every-morning baths won’t be necessary.
As for crate training her, skip that phase of training entirely for a period of two or three weeks. Use the ex-pen or the puppy-proof room for her home-alone place and just use her crate as a “treasurechest” for that time (with the door tied or bungeed open so it won’t close accidentally) — use it as her toybox and toss some treats in there along with her toys, so she’ll be motivated to rummage through it for goodies and won’t tend to use it as a litterbox. That’ll change her emotional state about the crate and change her mental association with it.
After that period, when she’s freely exploring the crate to get toys out and find yummies, then untie the door so it can move. Sometimes it will start to close when she’s getting toys out, but she’ll learn that’s no big deal because it will swing open again. She’ll also sometimes have to open it herself (or with a little help from you) to get into it to get her toys. No-Big-Deal training.
When that’s going well and she’s not scared any more, then start using the crate as her feeding place. Dump out the toys, put her food dish in the crate, make sure the door is open and sit nearby while she eats (read a magazine or e-mail, so you’re “there but absent”). After she eats, take her dish out and toss a few of her favorite chew toys back into the crate, so she’ll be motivated to get them for after-dinner chew time.
When she’s become calm about eating meals there and runs right in at mealtime and maybe even starts to lounge and chew toys in her crate, close the door just while she’s eating her meals and open it again as soon as she’s finished. (You’re still nearby, reading or whatever, so you’ll notice when she’s finished.)
When that’s going well, change it a bit. Only give her half her meal at first, then open the crate when she finishes eating that and put the rest of her meal in the dish and close the crate again.
When that’s going well (no freakouts or escape attempts while you dish out the second half of her meals), switch to giving the full meal again, then when she’s finished eating it, open the crate and give her a food puzzle toy or a nice meaty bone to chew for dessert in the crate.
All this will change her attitude about the crate. It will no longer be a prison cell, it will be a treasure cave instead.
I used to do a lot of crating with young pups, but now I’ve changed what I do (and what I recommend to other dog owners). To “store” my pups at night and when I leave them during the day, I use a puppy-proofed area with a potty space separated from the bed-food-water space. I mostly only use the crate in the car when they’re young. And I make sure most of the car rides are to fun places, so they learn that being in the crate usually leads to fun. I also use the crate at home to give them chew toys and bones, so they enjoy crate time.