Shelby sez: "Yes, I'm comfy. Why do you ask..?"
...So, how much time in a crate (or kennel) is the right amount for a puppy? This common question came up again in an SOS call from a training client with an 8-week-old puppy. It's been many years since they last had a puppy, and they were struggling with some wild nipping and biting.
The mom said they'd already met with a trainer who told them whenever the little guy got all sharky, they should calmly put him in his crate for a time-out -- and, in fact, the puppy should be spending 70-80% of his time in the crate. Was this good advice?
Well, I know what this other trainer was getting at, but I think he went overboard. Puppies should be crated for the night and when left home without supervision. They can even be crated for short stretches when you're in the same room but too preoccupied to supervise. So far, so good.
And, yes, you can certainly use a crate as a time-out space when a puppy misbehaves. The idea is this: if a puppy pestering his humans for attention gets the opposite -- the withdrawal of attention -- he'll figure out this isn't a good strategy and learn some self-control. It's not what we typically think of as punishment -- entailing scolding or, as one long-ago client said she did, putting the puppy in his crate with the admonition, "Now you think about what you did!"
In psych-speak, a time-out is what's known as "negative punishment" -- in human terms, when a kid sasses Mom, he may lose the privilege of watching a favorite TV show. Something desirable is lost as a consequence of misbehavior.
But if a puppy spends three-quarters of his daylight hours crated when his humans are home, then he's not getting the interaction he needs if he's ever going to learn good manners. Does such extensive crating decrease opportunities for misbehavior? You bet. But it also decreases a puppy's opportunities to make mistakes and be corrected, which is a primary way both canine and human critters learn what's OK and what isn't.
So, if a puppy is out of his crate, loose and ready to wreak havoc, how do you control this furry, sharp-toothed agent of chaos? Simple: just use a leash in the house (with supervision, so leash and puppy don't get tangled up anywhere).
The leash confers superpowers on any human holding it -- enforcement power over the word "No," and the all-important abilities to keep a puppy from doing something bad and guide him toward preferred alternatives. For example, all puppies love to jump on visitors to say hello and get attention -- but it's serious bad manners.
With a leash, you can keep your puppy from connecting with his target; then you can use a treat to guide him into a nice sit and help him remain sitting so your visitor can greet (and give a treat to) a calm puppy. A crated puppy who doesn't get to interact with visitors will never learn how to be polite.
Too much crating can also cause puppies to loathe their crates. Considering what a useful training aid a crate can be (a combination of crib and playpen), inadvertently teaching a puppy to hate his crate is an unintended consequence sure to be regretted.
For great tips on the best ways to use a crate and help puppies love their cozy little rooms, check out our "Crates are Great!" article in the "Resources" section of Dayonedogtraining.com: http://goo.gl/nAUWTq
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Visit Maryland dog trainer and writer Howard Weinstein at Dayonedogtraining.com