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Comments on Crating

by Lu Hart

Question posed on the Vizsla listserv: We are wondering how long we should have her crated during the day. According to the book she should be in the crate unless she is briefly being played with, eating or doing her business outside. Our understanding is that this continues until housebroken. Are we on the right track? 

Kind of. The idea is that she is NEVER unsupervised -- and I mean that you are literally watching her EVERY SECOND -- until she is housebroken. My own experience is, the more time out of the crate the better , as long as you are fulfilling the supervision requirement. She learns faster and is less frustrated that way. I use baby gates and exercise pen fencing -- as well as plain old-fashioned closing of doors -- to restrict the area puppies can be in, so I can see them at all times. I keep a playpen handy to dump the puppy in if I must suddenly turn my attention elsewhere (ringing doorbell or whatever). I have myself pretty thoroughly trained by now to never take my eyes off the pup, but for students of mine who are newer to this process I often recommend tethering: fasten a long cord around your waist and tie it to the pup. Make the cord long enough so that the pup can lie down easily, but can't get more than a foot or two away from you. Then just go about your normal routine. Praise the pup when she's calm, ignore her otherwise. When she needs to relieve herself, she will start whining, nosing you, generally fussing in a distinctive manner -- take her out (untie the cord for this) and praise her. A few sessions of tethering tends to really speed up the process of you and the pup learning to communicate with each other. I put baby puppies in crates at home only when they're tired and relaxed. This means that they often sleep with me the first nights -- that has never kept them from learning to cheerfully sleep in their own bed later. She is an infant, wrenched away from her mother and all that she's ever known. Of course she cries -- wouldn't you ? I believe that the important jobs for my pup and myself the first week are (1) learning to love & trust and (2) housebreaking. Both of these are easier to accomplish if she's with me as non-stop as possible. I DO put baby pups -- even ones that are so young, they haven't left me (the breeder) yet -- in crates to scream and scratch and generally have a fit. I do this in connection with driving them a short distance to the park to play. ( I pick an area not frequented by other dogs, for safety. With pups that are too young to safely go out in public at all , I go to a friend's yard.) They soon learn that being crated during the day (1) is NOT going to stop no matter how much they yell and (2) is not worth yelling about, anyway, because it means fun things are going to happen in a bit. I strongly believe in the desirability of putting pups outside during the day if possible. I have a very securely fenced yard, in an area without dangerous predators, so I can safely do that -- I obviously don't know what your home conditions are. But if it's feasible for you, do consider setting up an outside pen. Much more natural environment for them than a crate. (All you folks who MUST crate your pups to keep them safe while you're at work, don't feel guilty -- I realize some homes don't have secure yards.) Crates are wonderful , especially when travelling , but we Americans often over-use them. They are NOT a substitute for spending MANY, MANY long hours raising your pup. How normal a two-year-old child would you expect to have if she spent twenty hours a day in her crib ? I take my eight month old puppy many places with me -- pet stores, homes, playgrounds, et al. He automatically settles into a down-stay when I stop to visit with people. He gets many compliments for his calmness. Why ? Because he has spent LOTS of time with me, outside his crate, being showered with attention when he was calm (and ignored when he was wacko). It works. Have faith; the day WILL come when you can sleep through the night again!

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