Crate training for puppies is long due for an overhaul. For too long a puppy’s first exposure to the crate was being locked inside, left to panic, and then being “taught” to be crated by being ignored until it ceased crying.
Too long has the crate training standard been not to gradually acclimate puppies to confinement, but instead to induce learned helplessness when confined by ignoring the puppies vocalizations. Then we wonder why so many grown dogs exhibit behaviors associated with barrier frustration/aggression, separation distress/anxiety, and a myriad of other confinement specific undesirable behaviors later in life.
New puppy owners often felt overwhelmed by the crying, puppies already sensitive to stress while transitioning to a new home were stressed further, potentially triggering separation distress, and a myriad of other potential undesirable outcomes become more likely.
There is a better way. Instead of forcing puppies to give up complaining about confinement, we can condition them to be confident craters, and it’s not difficult either.
Rose is confident and content being crated in my vehicle, even though there are other dogs and people walking around.
If you’re a breeder or foster who cares for puppies from birth please use our Crate Conditioning For Puppies: An Incremental Approach.
If you are bringing home a new puppy (from a breeder, shelter, or rescue) who has never been exposed to a crate, or who may have had unpleasant associations with confinement, you may also start with Crate Conditioning For Puppies: An Incremental Approach as your foundation crate work.
If you are fortunate enough to be bringing home a puppy from a Puppy Culture breeder, or a breeder who has used our (or a similar) crate conditioning protocol, you can easily continue that work by following these principles.
Leading Principle: Crates are where good things happen.
Make the crate the “best bed in the house.”
- During crate conditioning, have the crate bed be the only bed. We want our puppy to prefer to rest inside the crate, so make resting in the crate desirable with a good bed. It’s a very good idea to have both a smaller night time crate in the bedroom, and a larger daytime crate in the living area.
- When your puppy falls asleep, gently pick it up and place it in it’s daytime crate to nap. Do this every time you find your puppy asleep outside it’s crate. Close the door if you will be nearby to release the puppy when it awakens, or place an x pen around the crate.
- Feed your puppy in it’s crate if it’s eating from a bowl.
4. Gradually teach your puppy to expect a few minutes of confinement after each meal.
Large breed dogs, such as my German Shepherds, benefit from rest after eating. Teaching your puppy to expect to rest in the crate after eating also means you can feed your puppy right before the humans eat, and you can enjoy a “dog free” dinner time. Always provide puppies with a high value chew after eating, to help them relax and pacify themselves.
5. Provide daily “chewing” sessions in the crate.
Dogs love to chew, and puppies especially require chewing. The crate is the perfect place to provide this activity. When you can’t directly supervise your puppy or when your puppy is due for a nap, pull out a pacifier and put your puppy in it’s crate for a chew session.
6. Be prepared to pair all duration crating sessions with high value chews for the first few weeks.
Collect as many types of chews as you can, stuff them them yummy things if they are stuffable, and provide them only in the crate.
You find find more ideas and inspiration in my blog, The Power of a Pacifier.
7. Crate your puppy at night, but not alone.
Puppies are sensitive to separation and will vocalize when they feel isolated. This is very strong survival instinct that has it’s roots in the dog’s evolution, long before it was a pet.
Here are some suggestions to bypass separation distress.
- At night, crate your puppy on your bed, or place the crate at bed height right next to your bed. Your breathing and movement will help sooth a puppy and prevent it from feeling “lost” and alone.
- Provide a large stuffed animal, or Snuggle Buddy, for the puppy to cuddle with at night.
- For every night your puppy sleeps at least 6 hours without waking, you can move the crate 1 foot away from your bed until you reach the area of the bedroom where you would like your bedtime crate to be located.
- Put a tired puppy to bed with the last person to retire for the night. Feed dinner at least 3 hours before bedtime, and take water up 1 hour before bedtime. Calmly walk the puppy for at least 10 minutes before putting it to bed.
- If your puppy is fussing at night, offer it a chance to potty. Keep nighttime potty breaks “businesslike.” Simply carry the puppy out, clip the leash on, and stand in one place for no more than 3 minutes while the puppy relieves itself. Do not talk, play or feed your puppy. Doing these things distract from the purpose of the potty break and can teach your puppy to wake you up for play and treats.
- Be consistent in the nighttime pottybreak protocol. You want your puppy to learn to “ask out” if it needs to void in the night (otherwise, it may learn to void in the crate) but you don’t want to teach your puppy that waking you up has ANY purpose other than going to the potty.
- When 3 minutes is up, carry the puppy back to it’s crate on your bed, place it inside, close the door and turn out the lights and go back to sleep.
- Repeat EVERY time your puppy vocalizes in the night crate, your puppy will learn to ask out only to potty during the night. This process may take a week, so be prepared.
- Do not offer chews or pacifiers in the Night Crate. Nighttime is for sleeping, and sleepy puppies need to sleep.
- Soothing music, scents (such as Adaptal)and a cool room will help puppies sleep.
8. Devise a routine and stick with it.
Puppies love routine because it’s comforting to know what to expect. Find a routine that includes crate conditioning time. Good examples are to crate your puppy after each meal, at human mealtimes, and the first 10 to 15 minutes after visitors arrive. Be sure to pair a high value chew with each duration session! Use the same routine when you leave the house – pair this with a high value chew and soothing sounds and scents.
9. Provide high value pacifiers for car crate time too!
Be sure to take the time to condition your dog to traveling in a crate. Not only can this prevent barrier aggressive behaviors from starting, but it’s safer for the dog and driver. Pair all car crate rides with high value chews at first.
10. Practice Crating on outings.
If you plan to travel or compete with your dog, it’s worth it to condition your dog to enjoy crating anywhere. Purchase a “tent” or cloth crate that’s easy to carry and take it to training classes with you. Crate your puppy (with a pacifier) during class down time when your instructor is teaching or other dogs are working. If your instructor includes mat training (yay!) place your mat inside your tent crate to do some of your mat work.
Some common and not so common sense tips.
- Don’t crate your puppy too much. It’s unhealthy for their body and mind – a crated puppy isn’t being socialized or learning any life skills. Yes, puppies need crate time every day, but they do not benefit from being confined too often.
- Play lots of crate entry games! Have someone hold the puppy while you run and put it’s food bowl inside the crate. Next, call the puppy with your crate entry cue – this is also your helper’s cue to release the puppy! Cheer the puppy while it’s running to the crate and praise while the puppy enjoys it’s meal. Play lots of these types of games.
- “Bait” your crate ahead of time. If you put your puppy’s chew in the crate and close the door, the puppy will REALLY want to enter the crate! Plan ahead and bait the crate with your chosen pacifier 10 to 30 minutes ahead of scheduled crate times, then call your puppy to crate up with your crate entry cue, open the door, and voila…your puppy loves to run into the crate!
- Don’t bribe your puppy to enter the crate. If your puppy is reluctant to enter the crate, do more of number 2 and 3, but avoid at all costs bribing your puppy to enter the crate. This will backfire! It’s actually better to pick your puppy up and place it inside the crate than to bribe it to enter the crate.
- If you puppy is reluctant to enter the crate figure out why and fix the problem! Don’t be tempted to bribe or trick the puppy to enter the crate, that will backfire! Consult with a skilled positive reinforcement trainer if needed.
Do you need help crate training your puppy? Or are you a breeder who wants help building a crate conditioning plan into your puppy raising protocols?
Distance coaching is available and we are very happy to help, contact us to find out more!
Momma’s dogs need new bones! This blog contains affiliate links, so we can earn a small amount of money linking to products we have tried and tested, while you pay nothing extra!
Enrichment for our dogs is the hot topic of the day! Blogs, workshops, seminars, and FB groups all devoted to this topic. But what about puppies? Can puppies benefit to?
One of the best benefits of a puppy pacifier, one tuckered out puppy!
As I do more and more with my crate conditioning protocol I have been using more and more pacifiers. Pacifiers are things we give dogs designed to amuse them for long periods of time like chews, lick mats, and Kongs. There’s many, many more then just those types, and I have experimented extensively with all different kinds. I have been really interested to see some really beneficial “side effects” of the use of pacifiers in my puppies.
Puppies who are:
- Calmer, in general and specifically when not ‘doing anything.’
- Getting along better with littermates.
- Learning more quickly and with less frustration.
- Seeming more “thoughtful” with their actions.
This is undoubtedly due to the “Enrichment Effect” discussed at length in the puppy raising protocol Puppy Culture. As breeders, we know that an enriched environment is beneficial for our puppies physical and behavioral health. Puppies raised in enriched environments have bigger brains, learn faster, and have better behavior as adults.
I think the pacifier is a hybrid between Passive Enrichment opportunities (things like tunnels, and adventure cubes) and Active Enrichment (activities that involve learning, like clicker training.) Puppies are DOING something and learning something, but unlike clicker training the activity is completely self driven. Passive Enrichment is great, Active Enrichment is the “gold standard” for puppy raising, and I think pacifiers fall somewhere in the middle. They are just another tool to add to our toolbox as we seek to raise the best puppies possible, and make the most of their inherited traits. But if that wasn’t enough, there are huge benefits to your new puppy families too – but more about that at the end.
Here are my 10 tips for success with pacifiers.
1. Start Easy! Baby puppies learn fast, but there are limits to their motor and cognitive abilities.
2. Ensure Success! Make sure the food is easy to access.
3. Present one skill challenge at a time. Pick one skill: lick food out, sniff food out, push food out, move a thing to find food, tear something open to find food, sniff to find food, roll to find food, or remove food.
4. Use palatable easy to digest foods and mix up flavors.
5. Choose materials carefully. Avoid things that could trap body parts, fracture teeth, abraid skin, or become ingestion risks.
6. Choose materials thoughtfully. Select things that are interesting or are novel to puppies.
7. Observe your puppies for success with any item.
8. Adjust. If you observe your puppies don’t engage or give up on a challenge, next time make it much easier.
9. Adjust. If you observe your puppies have immediate success, next time make it slightly more difficult.
10. Keep Records. Keep track of your puppies favorites and preferences, so you can share what works for a puppy with it’s new family.
Here is my current list of items that work for my puppies. I often use these for crate training, but also when my puppies are getting quarrelsome, frantic, or having trouble calming down. I have both Group and Individual activities. I would love to know what you use for your puppies, please share in the comments!
Toy Pile Scramble: Talk about cheap and easy! On a rainy day I tossed some treats down, and piled all the Nylabones on top, took the puppies 10 minutes to snuffle through and find them all.
Snuffle Mat: I really LOVED the snuffle mat I made. I would work some dry kibble down into the mat and even 5 week old puppies were delighted to snuffle around and find them. This became my “bedtime” activity for litters. After a play in the house, I would put down the mat and put the puppies to bed for the night. After the snuffle they were ready for sleep! Our friend Camille makes amazing snuffle mats (and great toys too!)
Kong Quest Forager: This dude was great! I put small soft treats in the holes and ends, all the puppy needs to do it bump it and the treats roll out easily. NOT durable enough for older puppies.
Left: Licky Mat
Lick Mats: I started with these lick mats around 4 weeks. I put puppy purée, goats milk, and canned food on them. The puppies did OK with these, I think I’ll try to find an easier one next litter. But they still LOVED these, especially with yogurt or goat milk.
I used the lick mats almost entirely in the crates. The puppies LOVED them, and I got better with using different foods to vary how difficult they were.
Lick Mat in a Crate!
I used lick mats with older puppies as well! I graduate to freezing the mat to make it more challenging for older puppies. I do phase out the use of the lick mats once they show interest in chewing them up, or clean them up too quickly.
Single Puppy (Crate) Pacifiers
From L to R. Cow hoof, Trachea, Shank Bone, Alligator Whimzee.
Bones, Hooves, Trachea, Whimzees, and more! These are stuffed with dry puppy food puréed with veggie broth and a cooked egg. We feed fresh the first week and frozen from then on. Some of these are completely edible (the Whimzees, tracheas) and some are not and can be reused (the bones.)
An assortment of chews I have tried, some of these were a bomb and some a hit. Clockwise from ring. Puppy Teething Ring (Bomb) Pork Cheek (Hit) Pig Ear Slices (Hit) Bully Stick (Hit from week 6 up) Patella (Hit from week 5 up) Dentastix (Bomb)
Chews: These are edible treats that take a long time to consume, or only parts are consumed. I’ve use smoked patella bones, dental chews, small bully sticks, pork cheeks, and raw hides. You’ll have to experiment to see what works for your puppies!
Kibble Nibble: These are fairly hard for young puppies and it helps if you have a nanny dog who can teach the puppies how to shove it around. But once they get the hang of it, they are great! I will often put a Kibble Nibble in at night from week 7 to 8, because the puppies can get hungry in the night and I never leave “free” food out, this is a great way to leave a snack option for them, but one that requires a bit of thought to access.
When to use them?
Pacifiers are a GREAT management tool to make your work as a breeder easier and more effective! Here are the most common ways that pacifiers make my work easier.
- To teach puppies it’s great to run back into the weaning pen after an outing. I “seed” the weaning pen with a pacifier (like a snuffle mat) after I take the puppies out. Once they figure out the snuffle mat is always waiting for them, they are happy to run back inside the pen when I open the door.
- To soothe puppies during the “witching hour” when they are bickering and frantic.
- To prevent puppies from learning to scream and bark at movement outside the pen. I plop a pacifier like a few Kong Foragers in when I know I’m going to be moving around outside the pen.
- A snack before bed. During weeks 4-8 I put down a snuffle mat to soothe puppies as we go to bed.
- Rainy, cold, or blistering hot days. When walks and noodles outside are short and puppies get bored.
In the new home!
Falcon in his new home. Because he learned to use a variety of pacifiers when here, he was “primed” and ready to use pacifiers in his new home. This makes raising him much easier on his mom!
I can’t even begin to tell you how introducing your puppies to pacifiers early, while they are in the care of the breeder or foster, will help your new families.
Raising a puppy is hard work! Puppies are chew machines and almost every new owner struggles with the same normal puppy issues: chewing on things, mouthing humans, ‘getting into stuff’, and pestering humans or older dogs. These are all normal behaviors, and pacifiers are amazing effective ways to allow puppies to develop normally, while also fostering habits the owners LOVE. This helps ensure the puppy has GOOD interactions with people and not a bunch of “no puppy” “bad puppy” type interactions, it builds good recreational chewing habits, and it gives puppies a natural outlet for their chewing and foraging needs.
Keep a list, much like this one, of the types of pacifiers you have taught the puppies to use. Provide it to each new puppy family so they can learn the value of pacifiers, how to teach puppies to use them, and when to provide them for the most benefit. And BOOM, your puppy and it’s new owner are now set up for success and a happy life together!
Transitions are a part of every dogs life, how can we use a puppy’s transition to it’s new home to teach a puppy to anticipate transitions as positive experiences, and face change with adaptability.
Long before this day, a breeder has been working towards an easy transition to the new home.
Most breeders, and many new puppy owners, have experienced fall out from a rocky transition. Like the proverbial snow ball growing larger as it rolls down snow covered hill, if a puppy becomes distressed during transition a cascade of undesirable effects can accumulate. Sadly, these can result in an overwhelmed family returning the puppy to the breeder, or an overwhelmed puppy experiencing potentially life altering anxieties, fears, illnesses, or traumas.
Many of you know the story of my own dog Indeigh, my second German Shepherd puppy and one of the most cherished dogs of my life. But Indeigh had a rocky start, not knowing how to help this puppy, who was so unprepared for transitioning into my home, had far reaching effects for her. The weeks that snowballed into months, of distress, upset, and frustration we both experienced taught Indeigh to view change and novelty with suspicion and even anxiety. This became a lifelong struggle for this highly acomplished dog. I don’t blame Indeigh, or myself, or her breeder, none of us knew how to prepare or help her. But things have changed in the world of dogs, and animal behavior in general, and as said so famously by Maya Angelou “when you know better, you do better”. Now I know and I want to share what I’ve learned in the nearly 30 years since I brought Indeigh home.
SG1 (JHKL) Indeigh v. Spezialblut Bh AD HIC CGC SchH1 Kkl1 OFA. My heart.
Indeigh, once again, this is for you. I miss you, and I’m doing better.
What can we do to foster resilience in transition? How can we, as breeders, leverage things we already do to help optimize our puppy’s native born temperament? How can we make the most of this first big life transition, using it to create a foundation of adaptability and confidence in our puppy, making the most of each inherited trait.
You might think of this as coddling, puppies need stress you would say, to grow into adaptable dogs. You would be right, stress is vital and important to both mental and physical development and growth, however distress is not. Distress creates room for unintended learning, distress doesn’t foster strength and resilience, distress is to be avoided. We don’t want to protect puppies from stress or stressful events, but instead to give them the skills they need to emerge from those inevitable life events stronger, resilient, adaptable, and confident.
Adaptability and resilience grow from experiencing small, age appropriate, amounts of stress as positive experiences. That’s the experience we want to foster, it’s the growth medium for confidence.
First, our goals:
1. Puppy will learn to anticipate transitions and change as positive experiences that lead to good things. Puppy will feel competent in new experiences.
2. Family will learn how to teach their puppy that transitions are positive experiences using primary reinforcements (social interaction, food, play), and conditioned reinforcers (clickers and other markers) primarily through operant conditioning.
We already have the tools we need, we are already working hard, when we look forward to plan life’s first big transition we increase the chance of a smooth transition week for our puppy and the new family, and orchastrate an environment to guide our puppy along a path to adaptability and competence throughout life.
Using the puppy raising protocols from the film Puppy Culture as our guide, here is a list of 5 tips and techniques I, and other breeders, use to optimize puppy’s transition to it’s new home. I hope you enjoy this list and find it helpful!
Learn more about Puppy Culture here:
1. Create a lover of Novelty.
2. Serving Comfort Foods.
3. Turtle Puppy: I take my home with me.
4. Schedule Choas And Learn To Love The Unexpected.
5. A bridge over changing waters.
Let us know what tips you’ve discovered help build confidence in transitions in your puppies, and how you help your new puppy owners make the best of the transition period!
Crates are a great management tool for new families, keeping puppy safe and out of trouble, but the new family can’t take advantage of crates and x pens if the puppy panics when placed inside.
Rook lounging in his crate, with attached x pen, during his transition week. Because Rook associated confinement with good things, he was easily able to relax when confined in his new home, right from the start.
One of the greatest gifts you can give your puppy and it’s future family is investing in creating a Positive Conditioned Emotional Response to being both crated and confined in an x pen. Both are tools your puppy family needs to use to manage their puppy’s behavior in the first hours, days, weeks, and months of it’s life. By taking some time to create a positive association with the crate, the puppy will be better able to self soothe and self calm when confined in a strange environment, because it views the crate as a source of comfort.
8 week old puppies relaxing during daily crate time, some napping, some chewing, all content.
Conversely, if your puppy has had rushed and forced confinement and so has formed at Negative Conditioned Emotional Response to confinement, this may express itself during transition stress as excessive vocalization, panic, refusal to enter the crate, or urinating/defecating when confined. While stress is a necessary part of any transition, distress is not, and can lead to panic and a less than ideal outcome.
If you want to learn about how we use choice and chews to condition puppies to love confinement read about it here!
Visit any Facebook group on dog care or training and you’ll find lots of questions from new puppy families. Many of these questions and concerns stem from, or are caused by, transition stress.
Stress is often defined as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances. In our case, the stress is the transition from the breeder’s home to the home of the new family. Coping with this transition should always fall under “demanding” and never “adverse” experiences, as our puppies are moving into loving and attentive homes that are carefully chosen to be just the right match for our puppy and the family.
It’s important to note that stress is beneficial for our puppy. All dogs will experience multiple stress inducing events throughout life. Indeed many dogs, such as show, sport, or working dogs, will be exposed regularly to stress and their body and mind must learn to cope and function optimally under it’s effects. In short, stress builds stronger and more resilient dogs.
Learning to cope with, and work through, stress associated with changes stems from a puppy feeling competent and confident during transitions and is an important part of the socialization experience for every dog.
Our work starts long before this day!
By thinking about the imminent departure of our puppy and preparing the puppy for this experience, we can help our puppy adapt as easily as possible during this transition. We can also teach our family how to help their dog master transitions, something that sets both puppy and family up for long term success.
I’ve compiled a list of 10 easy to implement exercises we use to help puppies transition smoothly to their new homes. These are based heavily on the Puppy Culture protocols we are already using.
1. Puppy will learn to anticipate transitions as positive experiences that lead to good things.
2. Family will learn how to teach their puppy that transitions are positive experiences using primary reinforcements such as: Social Interaction, Food, Play.
3. Family will learn to make the most of management and choice funnels to set their puppy up for success and growing confidence in choice.
Individual cuddle and attention starts early.
1. Individual Handling = Attention, Treats, Fun.
As per the Puppy Culture protocol we follow, as soon as your dam will tolerate it, remove each puppy from the dam and litter for individual attention. Make some time for this each day if possible. Early on, this will be exclusively cuddling, brushing, and other form of petting, but as the puppy matures and becomes socially aware this should expand to include grooming, husbandry, and training, all taught and conditioned with high value food, as well as various types of play. Create a checklist, or use the Puppy Culture Workbook to ensure you rotate through each type of activity with each puppy. Try to avoid only removing puppies for things the puppy might experience as unpleasant, such as vaccinations, worming, or other necessary care. Our goal is our puppy learning to associate removal from it’s litter with positive experiences.
New room, new bed = Play!
2. Novel Locations = Attention, Treats, Fun.
As part of your Individual Handling, be sure to rotate through different locations. It’s tempting to simply remove a puppy and work in the living room, but make an effort to use every puppy safe room of your house, and even carrying a puppy outside to a front or back porch. Older puppies can be taken to your puppy safe yard, or even off property in a puppy stroller. If you are doing car conditioning, this counts as a novel location and individual attention too.
3. Novel People=Attention, Treats, Fun.
On a hot summer morning Caleigh learns that interacting with a stranger (her future mom Camille) is both safe and fun.
Even though breeders often wait to introduce novel people until puppies are older, most breeders have a small group of family and close friends who drop by to visit puppies (using all appropriate bio hazard protocols.) These visits should contain some individual handling of puppies (of course, be sure your dam will tolerate this) and use proper management and safety protocols to ensure everyone is comfortable and safe. Once puppies are in the Critical Socialization Period, visits increase. Emphasis should be placed on creating and maintaining a Positive Emotional Response or Positive Conditioned Emotional Response to people and locations.
This puppy has already learned how to offer eye contact as a behavior, so she is delighted to learn that this new person will also click and treat her for offering eye contact. She now feels very confident and has happy associations with being removed from her litter and handed off to a person she does not know.s as well as transitions. Make abundant use of high value food and chews and all positively taught behaviors the puppies know.
*NOTE! Always supervise and manage socialization of your puppies. Remember, Single Event Learning is real and any scary or traumatic experience during the CSP can have long lasting effects on the puppy’s behavior.
4. Create Security in Schedules.
Portia is enjoying crate resting time after morning exercise and training. She has two pacifiers, and is already conditioned to expect resting during the late morning. This will help her feel more confident when crated in her new home.
Puppies are a schedule intensive creature. By making note of your puppy care schedule, you can help both your new family and the puppy. Make note of your typical feeding/cleaning schedule as well as your training and crate conditioning routines.
Most puppies will have owners who work during the day and many puppies can expect to be confined at some point during the day, and crated during sleeping hours.
Knowing this, we try to work on crate conditioning with our litters during the day. This is fit in after morning clean up, breakfast, and play time, when the puppies are getting tired and ready for rest. At this point we do crate chews and naps, as the puppies are primed and set up for success – napping and being calm in their crates.
By anticipating what your puppy’s schedule will likely be in the new home, you can prepare your puppy for it’s transition. Knowing what to expect builds a puppy’s confidence during the stress of transition. Further, knowing this routine can help our family during the transition period, so be sure to send home a copy of your schedule with each puppy.
Surprise Car Crate = Raw Bone!
5. Create Adaptability By Throwing Out The Schedule!
We don’t want our puppy to be so habituated to a particular schedule that changes in routine are distressing. So while puppies really do require some scheduling of meals and cleanliness for their health and well being, we can also create an happy anticipation of change by pairing random events with very enjoyable activities.
Mix up your elective activities. We can’t really just “not feed or clean up after” our puppies, that’s a given. Puppies require regular feeding and a clean environment. But all other activities (passive enrichment, active enrichment, crate conditioning, etc.) are elective activities that we can move around. Since our puppies LOVE these elective activities (as they are paired with food, play, and learning) we can also create an happy anticipation of change by creating some randomness in these activities.
This is how I do this! I assign each activity a number.
1. Passive Enrichment: Novel item(s), Weaning Pen toy resets.
2. Active Enrichment: Clicker training lessons.
3. Puppy Scent Games: Puppy tracking.
4. Noodling: Yard exploration and play.
5. Crate Conditioning: Crate chews, in house or car.
6. Nothing Time: Puppies are left alone in the house.
7. Play: Fetch, flirt, tug games.
8. Nothing Time: We are home, but not interacting.
9. Grooming: Individual, one-on-one attention.
10. Active Enrichment: Clicker Training (this is twice, because we have lots of training to do!)
Then I download a free Random Number Generator onto my phone (from the App Store or Google Play) and set it from 1-10.
The Random Number Generator then gives me an elective activity, and I do this activity during one of three free times: After Breakfast, After Lunch, or After Dinner. Since I know I can’t skip feeding or cleaning up after my puppies, this means I need to work variety in between these non elective scheduled tasks. This allows me to condition the puppies to both feel confident their needs will be met. But at the same time, that many fun and unexpected things are going to happen in any day.
Note, I’ve included two types of “alone time” time, one when we leave the house and another when we are home but not interacting with the puppies. Both happen as part of our regular schedule, but I want to ensure that the puppies have lots of experience with us leaving the house, as well as us being home but ignoring the them. This mirrors real life and what will happen in any type of home situation.
Crates = Comfy Beds!
6. Invest in Crate Conditioning and teach new owners how to continue this work:
One of the greatest gifts you can give your puppy and it’s future family is investing in creating a Positive Conditioned Emotional Response to being both crated and confined in an x pen. Both are tools your puppy family needs to use to manage their puppy’s behavior and safety in the first months of it’s life, and both are a common cause of distress for puppies and owners.
Conversely, if your puppy has had rushed and forced confinement, and thus has a Negative Conditioned Emotional Response to confinement, this may express itself during transition stress as excessive vocalization, panic, refusal to enter the crate, or urinating/defecating when confined. All these signs of distress can affect outcomes in the new home and even the dog’s behavior going forward.
Be sure to teach your new puppy owners how to continue your crate conditioning work once they bring their puppy home. Here is our blog post on creating Confident Craters, a Guide for New Puppy Owners
You can find our Crate Conditioning for breeders and fosters here:
Puppies chasing a Kibble Nibble.
7. Teach puppies how to use pacifiers:
Your puppy’s new family will benefit greatly by being able to provide the puppy with a variety of pacifiers, but only if puppies leave the breeder knowing the behaviors needed to enjoy pacifiers this will be much easier. Again, when presented with a familiar challenge in the new home, a puppy’s feeling of competence during transition increases.
Some of these pacifiers will be instinctively engaging to puppies. Natural chews such as hooves, bones, tracheas, and bully sticks require no “teaching” and puppies will enjoy them right from the start. Some pacifiers, such as Kibble Nibbles or Wobblers, need practice and puppies need regular exposure to learn to enjoy them.
By starting around weaning age and offering different pacifiers throughout the weeks, the puppies have lots of opportunity to learn how to engage with these items and to enjoy them.
Here is a list of items we find work well for our puppies.
1. Lick mats
2. Snuffle mats (We send a snuffle mat home with each puppy.)
3. Kibble Nibble
4. Kong Quest and Wobbler
5. IQ Ball
6. Stuffed Hooves, Kongs, Trachea, Whimzee
7. Slow Feed Bowls (great for raw or canned foods!)
8. Scent Items and Familiars.
Be sure to send a scented item home with each puppy; this can be a baby blanket, fleece toy, or even the puppy’s own crate. By planning to send scented items home with the puppy, you provide a source of familiarity and comfort during transition. I love these hand crafted blanket and tug kits from Smiling Dog. Conversely, you can send home a snuffle mat, which doubles as an enrichment item and a familiar.
9. Send home detailed dietary instructions.
This is an easy one, and something most breeders do anyway. By providing detailed dietary instructions, at least a weeks supply of the breeder’s diet, and instructions for training bait and treats, the breeder can help ensure that the transition time isn’t complicated by unnecessary gastric upset. Puppies with GI upset may not sleep through the night, they may soil their crate or themselves, and all these things can push a puppy from transition stress into transition distress.
Set your families up for success by guiding them on the importance of dietary consistency in both meals, enrichment, and training bait during transition.
This puppy has learned to target her nose to the hand. Her new mom learns how to maintain and use this very functional behavior before taking her home. This helps them have a mutually understood “language” during transition.
10. Install positively conditioned bridges to help your puppy “over” life’s transitions.
I’ve saved the most important for last. Really, this subject warranted it’s own lengthy blog (but don’t worry, I’ll save that for another day!) because it’s really just THAT important.
What do we mean by a bridge behavior? A bridge is a behavior taught in such a way that a positive emotional response is PART of the behavior. A bridge doesn’t work if it’s a behavior the puppy learned through avoidance. We want our bridge behaviors to help us reach our goal of a dog who thrives under stress, and who enjoys life’s transitions.
The magic of the bridge is in the communication between the puppy and the new owner. When puppies leave our home they also leave behind all those contextual cues and paths to access reinforcements that help them know what is expected when, and what behavior might work in particular settings. They feel a bit like “strangers in a strange land” in the new home. The new family often feels the same way, just how do they get the puppy to do the things they need? Our bridge behaviors give the puppy a way to communicate to the owner, and the owner to the puppy. There is empowerment, confidence, and mutual bonding in this shared language.
We encourage our new families to start the day they bring their puppy home with the Puppy Culture Communication Trinity, and to run through these lessons in order. Running through these familiar lessons helps the puppy feel confident and competent in the new home.
Our bridge behaviors MUST include a positive emotional response. Since we are Puppy Culture breeders and clicker trainers, this is easy for us, as all our Puppy Culture Active Enrichment Behaviors and our other clicker trained behaviors fit this requirement.
Here are the bridge behaviors our puppies are taught before they go home.
1. Sit (Mand) for things you want.
2. Attention (eye contact.)
3. Follow Leash Pressure.
4. Hand Target (touch your nose to my hand.)
5. Crate Up (enter your crate.)
6. Find It (find food I’ve tossed.)
7. Come when called.
With this small set of baby behaviors our puppy can, when unsure what to do, be quickly prompted for behaviors they are confident in and have a positive emotional response to.
Attention is a powerful bridge behavior and easy to recognize reinforced throughout the day.
Of course, we also need to teach our new families the basics clicker training, and most importantly when and how to use the bridge behaviors.
Here are some examples of using bridge behaviors during transition week.
Puppy can Mand to leave crate.
Puppy can Mand for meals.
Puppy can have the clicker powered up.
Puppy can Mand for toy toss.
Puppy can give Attention for tugging.
Puppy can Mand for petting.
Puppy can run outside the door to “find it”.
Puppy can Come for meals, attention, and play.
Puppy can Mand to leave Crate.
Puppy can Mand for meals.
Puppy can play The Box Game.
Puppy can practice Leash Walking.
Puppy can Mand for petting.
Puppy can give Attention for toy toss.
Puppy can Mand for social interaction.
Puppy can play Attention while vet listens to heart.
Puppy can follow a Hand Target onto scale.
Because we have already conditioned these bridge behaviors, AND taught the puppy owner how to teach, use, and reinforce them, the puppy can experience these situations (all of which are transitions) as fun and reinforcing events because the puppy “knows” how to earn reinforcement in the form of praise, food, and play. What a great confidence booster!
Puppies Manding at their first vet visit.
This helps our puppy learn from the very start that it has control over what happens to it, that good things are plentiful and easy to access, and that change predicts these wonderful things.
Will our puppy still experience stress during it’s transition?
Of course our puppy is still going to experience transition stress, and this stress is beneficial. But by planning ahead we can create a confident puppy who transitions easily, one who welcomes change, variety, and thinks clearly under stress.
We also provide our new puppy families with the knowledge and skills they need to have the smoothest transition possible. After all, puppies are TONS of hard work, as breeders we can lighten this workload on our new families tremendously, just through planning and execution of some good common sense protocols.
Modern dogs face many challenges and stressors that our breed’s foundation dogs and our breed architects couldn’t imagine. Modern breeders are not only producing dogs who can adapt to modern environments, but we are also doing our best to give puppies the tools they need to succeed, from the couch to the podium, right from the start.
What I remember most about bringing home my second GSD puppy, Indeigh, at 8 weeks was the screaming. Even though it’s been nearly twenty five years, I can still hear it…
She screamed in her crate the entire 5 hour drive home from the breeder. She screamed in her crate for four or five hours EVERY night, and while I was away at work for the first month. She would grab the bars, pull, and scream – bloodying her mouth and tearing her nails. I lived in a duplex at the time and my neighbors left daily notes about the noise that made me feel terrible, so I started crating Indeigh inside my walk in closet in an attempt to muffle the sound. I got zero sleep.
It took Indeigh weeks to give up screaming. It took her months to stop urinating in her crate.
I didn’t know what to do! Nobody did. Everyone I asked gave me well-meaning advice, but nothing worked. I felt helpless – I was a bad owner – and she was a bad puppy. Very dominate and had no impulse control, she was trying to control me! Just ignore her… or spray her, shake her crate, and above all, never let her out unless she was quiet. I did all the things, not one helped.
She grew into an amazing and accomplished dog, but she forever struggled with trusting me and adapting to change. I have always wondered if those first few weeks of struggle taught her that change was scary and that I was not really that helpful during those time.
Now, I can think about how much easier and enjoyable our first weeks together would have been if Indeigh had been conditioned to love her crate before I even brought her home.
Now, at this point, I have to warn you. I have broken every rule of writing in this day and age. There are lots of words here, some of you may be scared by the endless stream of paragraphs. Some may think this will be boring – and it might be, so flee if you must! I understand, but if you hang in there and follow the plan, you can make a different world for your puppies going forward!
I want to give breeders the tools and knowledge needed to create a +CER (Positive Conditioned Emotional Response) to the crate, so no puppy needs to suffer as Indeigh did and so no owner needs to struggle as I did.
Before the puppy ever leaves the litter, it’s in period of development that is primed to developing long-lasting emotional responses. We breeders have a unique opportunity in a limited window of time to use this to our advantage. This is the Critical Socialization Period – that period from 3 to 12/16 weeks when puppies are designed by nature to form rapid emotional responses, both positive and negative, with few exposures, and it’s the perfect time to condition a puppy to LOVE the crate.
Snapdragon totally relaxed for the car ride home with his new family.
Why have I become to dedicated to early crate conditioning?
- For Indeigh, to honor her memory.
- Because puppies (and their caregivers) don’t need the added stress of crate training AND transition stress during their first weeks in a new home.
- Because it’s just so easy and offers lifelong benefits to the dog and owner.
If it seems like there are lots of tiny steps, that is by design, and it’s the reason this plan is so effective.
Violet calmly napping on her drive home with her new family.
Please note, these are not hard target goals like “puppy will be quiet for twenty minutes” because puppies mature at different rates. It’s important to have more subtle but much more important goals. This is NOT a “crate training” plan, but instead a “crate conditioning” plan that focuses on goals associated with positive emotions.
- Puppy will choose to spend time in the crate as a preferred location and will experience positive emotions associated with all crate times and activities.
- Puppy will not experience negative emotions associated with the crate. No screaming, crying, or attempts to break out.
Here is a quick and easy week by week guide to creating a +CER (Positive Conditioned Emotional Response) to crates and confinement during the Critical Socialization Period. Our plan starts at 4 weeks, when with the Puppy Culture protocols, we move the puppies from the whelping box to the weaning pen.
Week 4/5 weaning pen. Crates (L), play area (center) and toilet (R).
Week 4/5: In the weaning pen we have a toilet for the puppies on one wall, and on the opposite wall I install a row of small crates with the doors removed so the puppies can easily enter/leave at will. In each crate is a comfy bed, the only comfy bed in their weaning pen. Already, their first exposure to the crate is a happy one, a nice comfy bed!
First crates: doors removed
In the Week 4 stage we deliberately use at least two wire crates, and the crates are positioned with the back of the crate into the room. This serves two purposes.
- Gives the puppies two really good reasons to enter their crate, visiting a nanny or visiting with us. Entering the crate and napping in the crate voluntarily are goal 1.
- Gives us lots of opportunities to observe puppies entering the crate, so we can click/treat, or at this age equally powerful, use social reinforcement in the form of cheerleading to reinforce the puppies for entering or spending time in their crates.
Boom! Goal achieved, puppies are choosing to nap in their crates.
Important! It’s very undesirable for the puppy to enter the crate and then cry or fuss at the back of the crate because they can’t reach us or a nanny. Please note in the pictures above the presence of sheets or blankets as a visual block. When we cannot attend the puppies, we block their view out the back of the crate to prevent frustration. GSDs are very sensitive to developing barrier frustration, so it’s imperative that we don’t allow them to learn this during the CSP.
Week 5: During Week 5 we start feeding the puppies in groups of two inside their crates. Doors are still off at this point. We remove the bed at mealtime and feed the puppies with the bowl at the back of the crate.
- Put the puppies outside the pen, and remove any bedding in the crates.
- Lift in two puppies (I always choose two who are manding) into the pen and allow the puppy(s) to run into the crate for the food. I use a gate or X-pen to block off the crates I don’t want these puppies to enter, since at this point the crates usually don’t have doors. If the crates do have doors I close them to guide the puppies into the crate I want them to enter. I may also close the doors while they are eating.
- Repeat with each group of puppies, ensuring one or two puppies per crate. A helper is nice but not required.
- After removing the bowls, I wipe down the crate if needed and put the beds back inside.
Feeding in crates with doors closed. As soon as the puppies are finishing, I open the door. We are not working on duration in the crate.
Towards the end of this week, I put the doors on the crates. At this point I wait to let the puppy enter the crate until it Mands for me. Later I will use this association between the crate door and Manding to teach my puppies to Mand to ask out of a crate also.
Week 6/7: We know we are ready for Week 6 work when the puppies enter their crates frequently and happily for naps and meals. Once we have met those goals we are ready to build duration inside the crate and teach the puppy how to ask out.
Goals for Week 6:
1. Build voluntary duration inside the crate.
2. Teach the puppy how to “ask out” by Manding, instead of fretting, whining, or crying.
To build voluntary duration, we needed an activity the puppy would prefer to participate INSIDE the crate. The obvious choice was chewing. At this age puppies have a strong instinct to chew, and an equally strong desire to chew alone, without littermate interference.
Crate chew time with a raw bone.
We also need to teach the puppy that while we are closing the door to the crate, the puppy can “ask out” by Manding from the Puppy Culture Protocol. It’s vital to me that the puppy does not feel trapped, or regret being inside the crate. To prevent this the puppy needs a way to ask out of the crate! Puppies who cannot express needs become frantic and frustrated, this is contrary to our goals.
During this phase, if the puppy wants to exit the crate, it’s chew must remain inside the crate. If the puppy drops the chew to exit that’s great, if not we trade a high value treat for the chew.
Wren Manding to be let out.
- At this stage each puppy is fed individually in a crate. After each meal we remove the bowl and at the same moment, give the puppy a HIGH value chew. Something the puppy thinks is AMAZING! Wait patiently nearby while the puppies chew away.
- If a puppy drops it’s chew and moves to the door, open the door and remove the puppy (leaving the bone in the crate to be put away later), offer it a toilet break, and then return it to the crate. Often if a puppy asks out, we find they will return to the crate to chew after a chance to void.
- As the week progresses wait a bit longer to open the door, and see if the puppy Mands (if you have been doing lots of Manding in the weeks previous, it’s really likely the puppy will Mand if you just pause there). The moment the puppy Mands, open the door and remove the puppy from the crate.
- Give the puppy an opportunity to Mand to ask out each time, but I never “get in a battle” over this, if the puppy really wants out and is upset or fretting I let it out, this is not the age to expect adult behavior. More important is that the puppy learn to trust that it can ask out and be let out, of the crate on demand. Otherwise we risk creating a negative association with confinement.
This puppy isn’t chewing, but isn’t asking to be let out either. We just let them chill until they’re ready to come out!
In week 6 and 7 we allow the puppy to learn that sometimes they might WANT to stay in their crate AND that they can ask out at any time and we will remove them from the crate. These two lessons are learned together.
Now, before you say that you “don’t have time” for this set up at every meal… don’t despair, I don’t do this at EVERY meal because like you, sometimes I don’t have time! At the least I try to do this at one meal per day, some days I make it at two meals!
While the puppies are chewing, I clean up the weaning pen, tidy the toys, refill my success stations, and clean bowls. I just stay nearby.
Win! After meal time, some choosing to nap, some choosing to chew, none asking out (yet).
During week 6 I expect the puppy to stay engaged with the chew around 5 minutes, some less, some more. Please don’t expect your puppy to sit and chew for an hour!
Sometimes, if the puppy wants out I ask the puppy if it would be interested in staying in the crate for a different chew. So the puppy Mands to ask out, and I open the door and show the puppy a different chew, if the puppy takes the chew and lays down and starts chewing I close the door. If the puppy wants out, it’s removed from the crate. This is most often how I build duration beyond five minutes or so. But as always, the puppy chews as long as it likes, and it’s let out when it likes. If a puppy falls asleep in the crate, we leave them to nap if someone will be there to let them out when they wake up.
During Week 6 and 7 we do at least one “chew session” in the crate inside the car (ideally running) and if possible we take a short drive.
Week 8 and up:
If you wanted, you could just continue using the Week 6/7 protocol until you send your puppies home at 9 to 16 weeks weeks. JUST doing that would be a great benefit to your puppies, creating a positive emotional response to being crated and confined, and teaching them they can ask out instead of screaming. But if you want MORE, here it is!
A typical example, a few puppies have chosen to remain in their crates, a few crates are empty because those puppies have asked out.
Goals Week 8 through Send Home Day:
- Puppy will sleep through the night in the crate with minimal to no fussing.
- Puppy can remain crated up to 10 minutes during the day, with chews.
- Puppy will Mand to ask out of crate.
- Puppy will enter crate when asked.
One of our primary goals with this program (remember Indeigh) is that puppies are conditioned to sleeping through the night in their crate before they leave for their new family. While this certainly doesn’t guarantee no sleepless nights in the new home, it does reduce the odds a puppy will panic in the crate or form negative associations with the crate or worse, the new environment or family.
I really struggled with how to do this, because I could not imagine how this would work with baby puppies. What if a puppy needed to potty in the night? I KNEW if a puppy woke up and needed to potty that all HELL would break loose in the puppy room when I went to let that puppy out. I KNEW I would end up with a room full of puppies all frustrated and crying for their release, then crying and frustrated at being crated again. Not to mention spending an hour in the middle of the night getting them all out, then in again. NOT good learning, NOT good for my sanity, NOT good for my marriage! But if I didn’t get up to let a puppy relieve itself it might have an accident in the crate, also NOT good.
I never solved this problem, but happily for me another breeder (the Amazing Paula Zaro) posted a picture of her crate training and what did I see but a LITTERBOX in the back of each crate. How CLEVER, no, GENIUS! My problem was solved. If a puppy had to void in the night, it would have a small litterbox in the crate with it. No need to wake up all the other puppies, no need to spend an hour pottying puppies at 2:00 am, no need to be sleep deprived! And NO poop covered crate or poop covered puppy! And at that moment the last phase of my crate conditioning program was born.
Starting 7 days before our Send Off Date (which is timed between 9 and 10 weeks) we plan for Crate Nights!
Now, I am going to admit something. By week 8 the litterbox gets really dirty during the night and AM clean up can be messy. So I really look forward to starting the puppies to sleep through the night in crates. REALLY.
The Plan and the Set Up!
Crate (22 x 36) with cat litterbox in the back.
Same crate, litterbox in the back and bed in the front.
What works for us: My husband goes to bed much later than I do. I set up the crates for bedtime and he gives the puppies one last potty break outside and then crates them around 1:00 am.
Bedtime set up:
- Place litterbox (with litter pellets of choice, I use hay pellets) in the back of the crate.
- Place a small bed in the front half of the crate, spray with DAP.
- Place two HIGH VALUE chews (I use a frozen raw bone and a bully stick) on the puppy’s bed and CLOSE the crate door.
By placing the chews in the crate early the puppies get really excited to enter the crate later, when Larry puts them to bed.
Crates all set up for Bedtime!
Right before bedtime:
- Puppies get last outdoor potty break.
- Puppies are placed into crates.
- Lights off, soothing music such as Through A Dogs Ear is played.
- Everyone to bed, household is quiet now, lest we wake the puppies.
- Remove puppies from crates and take them to their Puppy Patio to void. I toss treats out the door to ensure the puppies all run out quickly before they are tempted to use the indoor litterbox.
- I remove crate litterboxes and clean any that have been used and also remove the chews.
- Set up crates for daytime use – beds but no chews or litter boxes.
Repeat every night for seven nights before the puppies go home.
During Week 8/9/10 we are also doing the Puppy Culture Resource Guarding Prevention Protocols. I use the puppies crate time around meals for this, as well as chew times. Please see Puppy Culture for information on that.
During week 8-10 we don’t offer chew times after meals, instead we reserve chewing for Bedtime. Offering chews primarily at bedtime makes the puppies more excited about going to bed. The exception is the car, we give chews in the car every time.
Some breeders double up the puppies in crates, I have no problem with that. We don’t have crates large enough for this, and if we did I don’t think they would fit in our dog room. Single puppies in 22 x 36 inch crates works for us, but don’t feel like it MUST be just as we do it.
Clover and Paisley preparing for a 12 hour road trip to their new families. With crate conditioning and overnights, they made this trip with no drama.
Litter box… in a CRATE?
“Doesn’t having a litterbox in the crate teach the puppies to potty in their crate?” I admit I had this same concern – after all a dog who is dirty in the crate is a HUGE problem. My own Indeigh struggled with being clean in the crate and I remember that she was nearly a year old before I could expect to come home from work and NOT find a urine soaked dog and crate.
I can say that we have done this protocol now for 8 litters, the oldest of which is three years old, and we have had ZERO reports of puppies who are dirty in the crate. In fact, the puppies we start this way have far FEWER accident in the crate in their new homes. Most families actually report to me that the puppies NEVER have accidents, or only have accidents with extenuating circumstances,like someone delayed getting home from work, or the puppy had developed a UTI.
My guess is this is because of the litterbox. Young puppies may need to void more frequently than we think, and by offering them a litterbox we just give them a place to void if needed. But as they mature and can physically go longer between voids, they don’t need the box. Once removed, the puppy doesn’t “go” because the toilet isn’t there AND because they don’t need to. Because they are conditioned to love their crate, they are also NOT having frequent urination due to stress/distress, which is why I think poor old Indeigh struggled so with accidents, she had such a -CER to the crate and confinement. So, while your experience may be different, we have had only beneficial results with using an in crate toilet for the first couple weeks.
On my keeper puppies I remove the litterbox from the nighttime crate at 10 weeks. We don’t instruct the new families to use crate litterboxes at all. Some do, but most don’t. I find that the puppies rarely use the litterboxes in crates as they age, and once they are no longer USING the litterbox for several nights in a row I experiment with removing it.
Letting puppies out when they cry in the crate…
“How long will you let a puppy cry in the crate?” During the daytime, I don’t let them cry in the crate – I let them out if they do start, even if they don’t ask ‘politely’ – hopefully I can read the puppies and let them out before they start to NEED to cry. During Bedtime Week, we rarely have any fussing by that age, but I remove a puppy who is really freaked out. I do not remove a puppy who is just restless and whining a little bit. I try again the next night if I remove a puppy from the crate at night.
“Won’t letting the puppies out when they ask “spoil” the puppy, teaching it that it controls the human, or that crying “works” to get out of the crate?” To answer this I have to explain that I don’t believe baby puppies cry in crates for any reason other than distress. It’s natural for a puppy to panic and cry when it’s unsure about what’s happening. It’s also normal for any animal (human or canine) to panic when it feels trapped and unable to control being able to leave. I don’t think puppies cry in crates to dominate or control humans – puppies cry in crates because they are distressed and their ability to handle that distress is limited by their immaturity.
When we consider the puppy’s emotional response and why it’s vocalizing, our path becomes more clear. Behavior is very fluid and it IS easy to teach a puppy that crying will bring relief from distress… but that’s not really a bad lesson! We don’t want our dogs to silently tolerate being distresse! Crying in the crate does mean we have missed something in our plan – our puppy should not feel distressed. A bit of stress (fussing for example) is OK, but distress (screaming and biting bars for example) means we have messed up. It’s not the puppy’s fault, and the puppy should not be punished.
We need to reevaluate our plan, and go back to conditioning. In fact, what we’ve observed is that by teaching puppies a polite way to ask out of the crate, we actually create more positive emotions. The puppy knows it’s in control of it’s outcome. Dogs are happier, more secure and confident when they know how to control their outcomes and consequences. By allowing the puppy to ask out, we actually create a puppy who doesn’t want to!
“But it’s not the breeder’s job to crate train puppies! No new owner expects this, it’s too much work. Why should I do this?”
I’ll point to the above picture. A picture of baby Paisley – in her new crate, in her new home, happy and relaxed. I’ll tell you more about happy puppies sleeping beside their new person in a crate by the bed. About puppies adapting quickly and without trauma. About puppies and their caregivers able to really enjoy each other from the start, without screaming, fighting, and fear.
I personally do this for Indeigh. Even though her behavior wasn’t typical, my ignorance failed her and I wasn’t trustworthy. I allowed her to struggle, to be scared, to panic. Now I can do better, and I do better in her name and to honor her.
I love you Indeigh, I’m sorry I failed you, and I’m going to honor your memory by doing better and by helping others do better too. You’re a good girl, thank you for teaching me.
If anyone had told me I could raise a litter of German Shepherd puppies from birth through 10 weeks in my home without going stark raving mad, I would never have believed them!
Too much poop!
Prior to Puppy Culture, we raised puppies inside our home for the first six weeks. Then, when the poop got too much, we moved them outside to a large indoor/outdoor puppy pen and yard. Good enough, right? We thought so, and indeed this worked okay for many years.
But times, and paradigms, change. Along came Puppy Culture and it’s community of breeders dedicated to doing the best they can for their puppies, to challenge us to do better.
While our older model worked well, we missed out on a lot – our puppies AND their new owners. There was so much more we could accomplish if the puppies were inside the house. We could spend our time on more than just poop patrol! We had been doing good, but Puppy Culture showed us how much better we could be doing.
I became dedicated to figuring out and perfecting how to teaching my puppies what they needed to know to live inside with us the full nine to ten weeks. With less time spent cleaning messes, I would have the time to really work through the Puppy Culture protocols. If I was going to keep a bunch of little poop machines in my house for weeks on end, I decided they would have to be litter box trained. Litter box training is covered in Puppy Culture, but what worked for me is just a little bit different. As an unexpected bonus, our puppies were significantly easier for their new families to house train. Talk about a win-win!
Here’s what I learned in a week by week guide.
First toilet! I want to leave room for the dam, so it’s just one pad/holder and a small bed.
2-3 Weeks: I put a small potty pad on the west wall of the whelping box. I have found it’s really important to keep the litter box in the same place. When I’ve done it this way, and I make the pen larger, they can always find the litter box and I have fewer misses. On the other side I place a small bed. So, sleep area and toilet area, baby version. The puppies hit the toilet about 10% to 20% of the time.
What I used:
- 1 Durawhelp to line the whelping box.
- 1 potty pad frame with potty pads.
Part 1: One Litter Box with several Potty Pads.
4-6 Weeks: As per Puppy Culture protocols, we move puppies to the weaning pen around week 4. I remove the whelping box and put the larger toilet where the whelping box toliet was, along the western wall of our dog room. In front of the new toilet is a slightly larger play area. On the eastern side of the pen I put in a row of small puppy beds (during week 4) and small crates (week 5). Before I add the crates I want to be sure the puppies are NOT urinating on their bed area. They don’t have to make it all the way to the litter box, but are at least moving off their bed area. Once the puppies are moving off their bed area to urinate, I add the crates. By now the puppies poop in the toilet most of the time, but they still miss as much as they hit with pee.
Part 2: Removed Puppy Pads and added litter boxes with pellets.
It’s important to have realistic expectations. During week 4 the puppies rarely make it all the way to the toilet to urinate, they are just not mature enough. What I’m looking for is that the pee spots on the brown pads are moving CLOSER to the toilet. This tells me the puppies are learning to move away from their bed and play area to potty, which is an important skill.
From the moment we move the puppies to the weaning pen, we start to carry each puppy to the litter box immediately after eating. Someone watches them to make sure they actually hit the toilet when they void. Doing this religiously really helps the puppies understand to “go to” the litter box when they need to void. During week 4 we are often placing the puppies in the toilet when we know they need to poop. SOME of the puppies will start going to the toilet to poop during this week and by the end of week 5 we hope that most of the poop will be in the toilet.
Part 3: Pen expansion, added crates.
Please don’t expect your puppies to be perfectly litter box trained. They are not adults, we are just looking for an effort to reach the toilet to tell us the puppies are learning and trying.
What I used, with links at the end of the blog:
TIP! I have learned that keeping the toilet in the same place speeds toilet training. Now, I always have the toilet on the west wall of their pen, even starting as early as the whelping pen pad, and THAT was really helpful. On previous litters I experimented and moved the toilet around often, that really made it harder for my puppies to have success. My suggestion is that you decide before the litter is born how you will build out from the whelping box, to the weaning pen, to the toddler pen. Plan in advance, so your litter box will stay in the same area the entire time.
The now expanded weaning pen, the litter box is in the same position, the play area is larger to meet the needs of our growing puppies.
Week 6-7. At the end of week 5 we enlarge the weaning pen. The puppies are now using the toilet most (but not all) of the time and their pen is enlarged to make room for more exercise and passive enrichment. At this point you can also see the door is available (left) to their puppy patio outside. The crates are still on the wall opposite of the toilet, and our crate conditioning plan is in full force. The pen opens into the kitchen and living room (right), and outdoors (left). We are still using the three pan toilet for these two weeks. Please note, there are still plenty of pees outside the toilet, but most of the poop is inside the toilet.
We continue to ensure the puppies either run to, or are carried to, their litter box after each meal. By this age we are feeding the puppies in their crates, so after each meal the crates are opened and the puppies encourage to their toilet area to void.
What I added:
- Larger (24 x 36 inch) crates not visible here.
Week 8-10: For the last two or three weeks the puppies are with us, we expand the weaning pen until it takes up the entire dog room. I found my puppies do not like to touch poop, and will choose to poop outside of the box if they must touch poop to void inside the box. Not a problem during the day when we pick up constantly, but at night the box can get poopy. Once this starts, I switch my smaller boxes out for the largest boxes that are 24″x36″ – and at night i put the three smaller boxes down in front of those bigger ones!
Our largest litter box area, we use this at night for large litters in weeks 7 and 8.
This photo shows the boxes reversed! This largest toilet helps the puppies succeed in getting fully into the box to void, even if there are some poops in it. Puppies are now taken outside for potty breaks as often as possible, through their exterior door and onto their puppy patio outside. They still need and use their litter box however, and there is the occasional accident on the EZ whelp pads.
By now we are encouraging the puppies to void outside. They have a doggie door that leads to their puppy patio, so they can go outside often on their own.
What I add this week:
- 2 Rabbit Hutch Trays (24 x 36) TSC
I hope this guide helps you litter box train your own puppies. We found by starting early, creating an environment designed for success, and not expecting perfection we have been able to enjoy having our puppies in the house with us with far LESS work than ever imagined. This has freed up even more time to implement Puppy Cultures core protocols, active enrichment, training, socialization and teaching puppies to be enrichment seekers.
If you would like more in depth methods and personal coaching on litter box training for breeders, please check out my NEW course – Poop School: Litter Box Training for Breeders and Fosters.
Throw us a bone? The above links are affiliate links. These are products we have used and loved. We get a small amount of money for purchases from these links.