Part I: First Nights Home and Crate Training
Congratulations! You have added or are wanting to add a puppy to your family. Maybe it’s your first puppy, or maybe it’s not? Either way, chances are that at some point in the next 6 months, you’re going to experience some type of frustration. I’m going to refer to that frustration as a Puppy Predicament. Simply put, Puppy Predicaments are when our growing puppies surprise, and even overwhelm, us with perfectly normal development that goes against our thoughts and ideas of what puppies should do. Even professional dog trainers experience this conflict in one area or another when raising a new puppy. This happens because no matter how many puppies we raise, the undeniable truth is that each pup is an individual. It’s an important truth to always keep on the forefront of our minds when raising any living being.
Some of the most common areas people encounter a Puppy Predicament include: settling for bedtime the first few nights home, sleeping through the night, potty training, crate training, biting and chewing.
Let’s take a brief look at these common scenarios, and do some pre-emptive trouble shooting to avoid these predicaments from the start.
1) Settling for Bedtime the First Few Nights Home:
The plan is to leave puppy in a crate in a laundry room, kitchen, basement or living room while everyone heads to their bedrooms throughout the house for bedtime. The hope is that puppy will calmly settle in their crate, go to sleep, and only noisily awake for one potty break during the night followed by quickly returning to sweet slumber until a reasonable waking hour.
The first night home puppy is so exhausted from their big rehoming day, they settle down quickly in their isolated crate. Parents shed a sigh of relief thinking how good their puppy is and go to bed. Puppy sleeps soundly a bit until potty time. When they awake for their late night/early morning potty time, then the predicament begins if it didn’t already. Puppy often won’t settle and the crying, whimpering, barking, and screeching make it impossible for everyone to sleep. Now, parents become exasperated and worry that puppy has crate issues, won’t ever sleep again, or is not the good puppy they thought he was. Finger pointing begins and the new family feels duped assuming the breeder or rescue was dishonest about their efforts in crate training.
What can be done to avoid this predicament?
Plan to crate your new puppy near you for the first few days, weeks or months. Puppies are social beings and do not usually experience complete aloneness prior to going to their new homes. Of course, this is distressing for them! It’s very simple to make an overnight sleeping space for your puppy where he can see and hear you, and you can reassure him with just offering a few gentle strokes with your fingers through the crate slats or holes. Yes, you can add a snuggle puppy, cover the crate, turn on calming music or white noise, use a pheromone diffuser, and employ numerous calming aids; but chances are that your new puppy just needs some reassurance that he is safe, secure and has some company. Studies indicate that worried puppies left to cry it out are at a greater risk for developing separation anxiety. Basically, your puppy needs you, and that’s completely normal. As your puppy gets more confident and comfortable in their new home, you can transition the crate out of your room.
2) Sleeping Through the Night:
“My puppy slept through the night by the time he was 12 weeks old, but he’s stopped. HELP!”
What is more likely:
Depending on the dog’s size, evening consumption and elimination, energy level, daily exercise, and overall comfort, many puppies are able to sleep for 6 hours or more through the night by the time they are 16 weeks old. Guess what, though? Many puppies don’t!
What is frequently heard is that a puppy started sleeping through the night for a few nights or weeks and then just stopped. This seems prevalent in dogs around 5 to 9 months old. Puppy parents get worked into a tizzy about this one. Understandably so, sleep disturbance is definitely not a welcomed change in any home. Parents seem to start an exhausting internal dialogue wondering if they are going to ruin their dog by giving him a potty break or attending to his night time needs or protest.
Don’t fret! Go back to the basics of a boring potty break, back in crate, short, calm reassurance and lights out again. In this case where puppy had been sleeping through the night, if their needs have been met, then a few minutes of puppy protesting in their kennel can be ignored. If your puppy seems concerned or panicked, as opposed to wanting out to play or explore, then you need to attend to their needs and do more sleuthing. However, I’ve observed that this disruption usually happens in correlation with adolescence when puppies’ brains and bodies are exploding with developmental changes and they need gentle reminders of boundaries with consistency.
3) Crate Training:
Puppy does great at night in their crate, but barks, cries, “freaks out” when crated during the day. If puppy doesn’t do great in their kennel at night, then see Puppy Predicament #1 above.
What can be done to avoid this predicament?
Plan to help your puppy learn to love their crate during the daytime. To us, a crate is a crate. To our puppies, daytime crate and bedtime crate are two totally different things. For nighttime crating, our houses are generally quiet and still. Daytime crating, on the other hand, leaves puppy “missing out” on the action in the waking hours. This can make it tricky finding a balance if puppy protests daytime kennel training because he needs that daytime rest for breaks to prevent overstimulation, exhaustion and behavior breakdown. This is where many people decide to ditch the kennel instead of training comfortable crating. There are many advantages to having a dog that can be kenneled or gated off during the day. For puppies especially, did you know that puppies under 5 months old need between 16 to 20 hours of sleep per day? Not only do they expend energy through play, but growth alone is tiring. Regular restorative sleep is necessary to process the information gathered while awake and reboot the brain. An over-tired puppy is usually not a pleasant puppy.
Feed some meals, leave treats and toys for puppy to find, give them special chews and schmears in their daytime crate. Play games that allow puppy to enter and exit the crate freely. Transfer them to their crate when tired or sleepy. Make crating part of their daytime routine. Start with a short duration and close proximity while they sleep or enjoy a goodie or meal. There are dozens of resources on ways to make your puppy’s kennel a positive place they can learn to enjoy. There’s a point to make clear that most puppies perceive crating very differently depending on their surroundings and circumstances. Don’t give up on crate training or teaching puppy comfortable separation because they didn’t come to your home happy to be kenneled during the day. Expect to guide them in adjusting to calm daytime separation.
Need ideas for trouble shooting other puppy problems like potty training, biting and chewing? Come back soon for Puppy Predicaments Solved to address those topics.