There are two main reasons to put your dog in a crate; to assist in speedy housetraining and to avoid destructive chewing. For owners of multiple dogs, there are other reasons to keep using a crate, which this post will not address. Deciding to give your dog freedom in the house when you are not home can cause a lot of worry. Here are some pointers to help you succeed.
When should you let go of the crate? My preference is to allow your dog to sleep out of a crate around 4-5 months and to be free completely before a year. Your dog should be housetrained; which means you know how long your dog can hold his bladder and he knows how to ask to go outside to go. Your dog should know the difference between household/human items and things that he is allowed to chew. And lastly, your dog should be ok when left alone.
I like dogs to be housetrained completely by 4 months -any longer and you are creating a problem. Dogs can be “chew toy trained” at the same time that you housetrain. Your dog is housetrained when he/she has not had an accident for at least 3 weeks and knows how to communicate to you that he/she needs to go outside. This is a rigorous schedule for some, but in the long run, a little more work in the beginning means a lot less work later. Puppies need a lot of attention and supervision or they make mistakes. Mistakes teach them the wrong information. Setting your puppy up to succeed is the key!
The two most important tenants of housetraining are very simple: 1) Get your puppy outside when it needs to go and reward it heavily when it does. 2) Prevent your puppy from going inside. How you do this is up to you -but that’s all you really need to know.
The fastest way to chew toy train your dog is to feed him all his food from toys and from your hand for good behavior. My favorite toys are: Kong, Kibble Nibble, Squirrel Dude, and a muffin tin with 24 holes and 24 tennis balls. I also use food tossed in the grass, along the toe-kicks in the kitchen to prevent counter surfing, and from my hand for lots and lots of reinforcement to tell the pup what I like and will pay him for doing. I also provide many other ways to chew: Bully Sticks, Tail Teaser, chasing any toy that I toss, raw real meat bones, cow hooves, Virbac chews and Whimzees. If you feed your dog his meals from toys 2-3 times a day, reward him throughout the day for good behavior and occupy him mentally and physically, you teach him what to do each day. You also prevent him from learning fun things on his own and from making mistakes.
All young dogs need at least 3 periods of exercise per day that is at least 20 minutes and structured -which means, he isn’t just put outside and not monitored, but you are with him, actually making sure he is exercising for at least 20 minutes, 3 times a day. This can be a walk, playing fetch, in a field off-leash, playing with another dog, using a Tail Teaser or Tether Tug, etc. Keep in mind, this is a minimum amount. Most dogs benefit greatly from a lot more exercise! Take your dog to trails on a long leash and let him sniff to his heart’s content on the weekends. Find an empty baseball field or tennis courts and play fetch until he can’t go anymore. Dogs need this! They need freedom and to drain their energy.
The last piece of feeling confident when leaving your dog alone in your house is knowing you’ve taught him how to feel secure when you are not around. This is easily accomplished by not spoiling your dog and giving into his every desire and demand. Ignore you dog when you need to and don’t feel bad about it! If he asks rudely for your attention by pawing at you or barking, do not reward this with talking and petting. Set rules and boundaries and enforce them. This makes a secure and confident dog. Make your comings and goings very nonchalant. Reward your dog for calm behaviors rather than getting all excited with him.
If you’ve missed my chosen times for training, you can still get there, but you’ll need help and a commitment to your dog. Dogs do what we teach them or what they are allowed to do.