How to Crate Train Puppies & Kittens
SQUEEE! It’s puppy & kitten season, and just in time for YOUR big adoption gotcha-day celebration, during March local PetSmart® stores will have crate, kennels, carriers, and accessories on sale. There are many kinds of crates and carriers, from soft sided to hard plastic to wire, and in a variety of shapes and sizes.
IS CRATE TRAINING CRUEL?
Why would you want to “cage” that new baby? The way Junior-Dawg howls and Kitty-Kins yowls you’d think they’re being hung up by their furry toes!
Actually, it’s not cruel, but without proper introduction, it can be a wee bit scary. In my Complete Kitten Care and Complete Puppy Care books, I call this LIBERATION TRAINING. Teaching your new pet to accept the kitty carrier or puppy crate is a pet safety issue, but also means they get a ticket to ride…and travel beyond the confines of your house and yard.
That doesn’t mean your new puppy or kitten automatically understands the concept, though, so this blog post not only explains the benefits of crate training to YOU, it also helps you purr-suade your kitten and convince your canine that the notion is a CRATE IDEA. (sorry, couldn’t resist…)
BENEFITS OF CARRIERS & CRATES
Most puppies and kittens–and even their adult counterparts–feel more secure in a small, enclosed den-like area. That’s not to say your new baby should be in the crate for outrageous lengths of time. A youngster should be gradually introduced to the crate or carrier and never left unattended longer than he’s able to “hold it” for potty training.
Prime Nap Spot. A crate works well as a bed. And when a pet claims the spot for naps, it’s no longer scary, but becomes a happy, familiar place he feels secure.
Private Retreat. Because it’s enclosed, the puppy crate or kitty carrier also serves as a safe retreat to get away from other pets or pestering children. Don’t you want a private place of your own where you won’t be bothered? Pets are no different.
Safe Confinement. A crate also can be the safest place to confine that rambunctious baby to keep him from pottying in the wrong spot or cat-climbing to dangerous heights when you can’t watch him.
Ideal Travel Buddy. All pets need to travel by car to the veterinarian from time to time. That’s a STRANGER DANGER moment especially for cats, so already feeling safe and comfy in a familiar carrier puts your kitten or puppy at ease at the vet.
Potty Training Tool. For pups, it’s one of the best tools available for potty training. They don’t want to mess where they sleep, so just turning it into a bed prompts Junior-Dawg to let you know when he needs a potty break. Here are more tips on puppy potty training.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST CRATE
The perfect crate or carrier should be just large enough for a pet to go inside, turn around, and lie down to sleep. It can be a solid hard plastic container, wire mesh cage or soft-sided duffle-type carrier (for cats). While soft-sided pet carriers work great for transport, they may be too small and prove too tempting for chew-aholic pups to work well for safe confinement.
Of course, puppies and kittens grow, so especially for larger dog breeds, consider your pup’s future adult size before investing in a pricy dog crate. Large crates are available with partitions for you to “shrink” to puppy size, and then enlarge the area as your puppy matures. You can also purchase an adult-size crate, and insert a barrier like a plastic storage box that shrinks the space to puppy proportions until your pet grows to full size. That’s what I did with Magical-Dawg. He arrived at our house weighing about 11 pounds, and grew up to be nearly 90 pounds. Our dogs don’t the crate at all, because it doubles as an enormous doggy toy box!
The key to training pets to accept the carrier or crate is creating familiarity. You do that by introducing him to this new situation in a series of non-threatening, gradual steps.
5 Tips to Crate Train Pets
Make It Familiar. While well-adjusted puppies and kittens tend to be curious, some tend toward shyness. Anything new prompts suspicion. So make the crate or carrier “part of the furniture” and set it out in the family room for your new pet to explore. Leave the door open or take it off, and let him sniff it inside and out. Don’t make a big deal out of it.
Make It A Happy Place. Place a snuggly kitty blanket or dog bed inside. Or you can toss a toy inside, to create positive experiences with the crate. For kittens, Ping Pong balls are great fun inside the hard crates. Karma actually LOVES hanging out inside Magic’s crate because of all the fuzzy toys. Both Karma-Kat and Seren-Kitty have smaller duffle-style carriers (set on top of Magic’s crate), and take turns sleeping in them–they’re out all the time, with doors open.
Offer A Treat. For puppies, find a puzzle toy that can be stuffed with a smelly, tasty treat. This should be a treat your puppy loves, but he ONLY gets the treat when inside the crate. Show it to him, let him smell and taste the treat, and then toss it inside the crate and shut the door—with the puppy outside the crate and the treat on the inside. And after he’s begged to get inside, open the door and allow him to chew and enjoy it for five minutes but only with the door shut. Catnip can work well with cats, but youngsters won’t react until they’re 6 months old, so getting kitty tipsy only works for more mature cats.
Teach Him Tolerance. If your puppy fusses let him out—but lock the treat back inside. You’re teaching him that wonderful things can be found inside the crate. Most pups learn to tolerate the door shut at least as long as they have something to munch. Praise the dickens out of him! He should know that staying calmly inside the crate earns him good things. Do the same with your kitten, using healthy treats or fun toys like chase-the-flashlight beam, but only inside the crate. Repeat several times over the next few days, each time letting the kitten out after five minutes.
Extend Crate Time. By the end of the week, you can begin increasing the time the pet spends in the crate. For small pups and kittens, pick up the carrier while he’s in it and carry him around, and then let him out. Take him in the carrier out to the car, sit there and talk to him, then bring him back into the house and release him—don’t forget to offer the treat. Soon, you should be able to take him for car rides in his carrier, without him throwing a fit. He’ll learn that most times, the carrier means good things for him—and the vet visit isn’t the only association it has.
Cat Crate Training, Too!
For older cats, it can take several weeks to teach crate acceptance. Check out this PAW-some video from Catalyst Council on how to help your cats accept carriers. You–and your cats–will be glad you did.
So now it’s your turn. How are you teaching Junior Dog and Killer-Diller-Kitten to accept their carriers or crates? What about older pets–are they already crate trained? What worked best for your furry wonders? Please share tips to help out other pet lovers in the comments section!
I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!
Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!