From personal experience I would highly recommend cage training a puppy. It makes the job of housetraining and securing the puppy much easier for both the puppy and members of the household. If you speak to dog owners that chose to cage train their puppy then you would be hard pressed to find one that doesn't recommend this technique!
Why cage train?
When you first saw a dog cage you might have viewed it as looking a bit like a doggy 'prison'? For those who have never used one the mixture of wires and confined space can almost seem cruel. The good news is that your dog will not see it like this!
Introduced correctly to its cage your dog will come to see it as its own private den in which it can escape for some peace and quiet. I have lost count of the times I have found Harley lying, playing and sleeping in his cage without any coercion to go into it. This is the result you will be trying to achieve and I will provide tips in the 'how to' section of this article.
My main concern when I bought Harley home was toilet training him. Throughout the day this wasn't too difficult as I could take him out every couple of hours. However, the nights were a different story! Prior to me purchasing a cage I would often find Harley in the mornings having relieved himself all over the floor and chewing some of the furniture. Something had to change!
I was introduced to dog cages by a friend and have never looked back since. It made the job of house training Harley much easier. Within a couple of months, Harley was trained to sleep in his cage overnight and the 'accidents' stopped all together. I could finally sleep in peace!
Hopefully the above points will be enough to convince you (should you need it!) that cage training your puppy is the way to go. We'll now explore how to introduce your dog to its cage so it feels comfortable being in there.
It goes without saying that there is no 'perfect' way to cage train your puppy. There are numerous articles on the internet on this topic, each of which will tell you something different. All I can say is that I've tried all the techniques I am recommending and they worked for me. As a dog owner I can give these the thumbs up!
The first thing you need to do is purchase the correct size of cage. There are two things you need to take into consideration when doing this. The first thing is that you need a cage that is large enough for your dog to stand up and turn around in. It also needs a bit of extra room for lying down. Anything smaller I would consider as cruel but, be careful of buying a cage that is too big. We'll get to why this should be avoided later in the article.
If you are yet to purchase a dog cage then I would like to make a recommendation. I made the mistake of purchasing a small dog cage for Harley when he was a puppy and then another for his full adult size less than nine months later. In the future I would buy a cage for the dog's adult size and buy a divider panel that fits inside the cage. These allow you to divide the cage into sections and increase the space inside as your puppy grows. This will save you a lot of money!
Now you have your cage there are a few other steps I would take before introducing you dog to it. The cage needs to be put into a cool location out of direct sunlight and temperature extremes. I have a blanket placed over the top and sides of my dog cage. This not only provides shade for Harley but it also has the advantage of making the cage more private for him. Taking these steps ensures that your dog is comfortable and more importantly, safe when you eventually leave him unattended in the cage for a couple of hours.
When you have decided where to put the cage you should put a blanket inside it to make it more comfortable for your dog to lay in. Now comes the big part.....getting your dog to willingly go inside the cage. You need to make your dog to start feeling comfortable being inside the cage and start to see the cage as its own private space. The best way I found of getting Harley to do this was to feed him his meals in the cage and close him inside. Once he had finished I would leave the door shut for a set amount of time before opening it again.
Deciding how long to close the door for is something you will need to consider. I would recommend closing the door for five minutes to start with then, increase the duration of this by one minute every day. You will eventually be able to leave your dog in there for an extended period of time without causing him any anxiety. Make sure you are not within the dog's sight when it is initially closed inside its cage as the idea is to get him feeling comfortable inside it without you being around. Initially, the dog may whine when it is in the cage but I found it was best to ignore this unless Harley sounded like he was in severe distress and then I would have let him out. Thankfully, Harley didn't show any stress signs so I never had to resort to releasing him early.
Placing safe toys (ones that can't be destroyed or swallowed) and treats inside the dog cage will also encourage your dog to use it.
I wouldn't recommend sleeping your dog overnight in the cage for the first month at least. You need to give the dog time to adjust to his new home so it would be counter-productive to close him in there before it becomes comfortable. When your dog is ready to sleep overnight in the cage then there are a couple of methods you can try;
Method one would be to sleep the dog in the cage where it is normally positioned. And, whilst the dog may whine initially it should calm down within a couple of minutes. This is the approach I took with Harley and it worked.
I would have taken this second approach had Harley made a fuss for a continued period of time. When the dog is taking a break between his whining (you don't want him to know that's why it's getting the attention!) I would move the cage into the bedroom and sleep the dog in there so it can see its master asleep. This should calm the dog. I would then move the cage one foot per night towards the door until it is out of the bedroom. When the dog has finally learned to sleep overnight in the cage it should then be safe to move the cage back to your desired location.
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the dog cage is an invaluable tool in toilet training your puppy. As a natural instinct dogs do not like to soil their dens so a caged dog will try to hold off going to the toilet until you release him. A younger puppy will obviously wake you a couple of times during the night as they are unable to control themselves as well as an older dog. However, if it's a choice between a couple of trips to the garden during the night or having to clean dog mess in the morning I know which option I would choose! It is important that the cage is not too large for your puppy. If it is then you may find that the puppy chooses a corner in which to soil without leaving the rest of the cage disturbed. For this reason I would recommend the use of a cage divider as mentioned above.
Once your dog is sleeping overnight in its cage it is important to place a water bowl inside it. This can be done by placing the bowl on the floor of the cage or, if your dog is prone to knocking it over there are bowls you can buy that screw onto the sides of the cage. This is particularly important during the summer months as dogs sweat through their mouths and need the water to cool them down.
Never leave the dog unattended in the cage for long periods without prior testing. When you feel the dog is ready, have a couple of test runs by leaving it in the cage for the desired time without leaving the house (although try to make it sound like you have gone away!). This will enable you to see if your dog can be left alone in the cage without experiencing any stress. It is always good to be around initially in case there are any problems you need to attend to.
Your dog should never be left in its cage for too long as it may start to become distressed. Harley spends a maximum of eight hours in his cage and this has taken fifteen months of training. I would never leave him any longer than this in the cage and not even this long when he was a young puppy. It is a gradual process and, if you follow your instincts everything should be okay!
And one final point, never use the cage as an obvious punishment for your dog. You want your dog to enjoy being in there so if it starts to get a negative impression of the cage then this will not happen. It has been tempting to put Harley in there when he's been naughty but I usually resist it. If I do need him out of the way I find the best approach is to remain calm and ask him to go into his bed (i.e. cage). He follows my command without being aware that it is actually a punishment!
Introduced correctly, your dog will learn to love its cage and will often make its own way there for a sleep. For this reason, I would leave the cage door open at all times during the day so your puppy can go inside whenever it wishes to. If you keep the dog in a routine of setting into its cage with a given command it will eventually go there and learn to settle until you are ready to open it up.