So you got a German Shepherd puppy, and suddenly everybody wants to give you advice on how to take care of and train the little guy or gal. As pet owners, you can often feel overwhelmed with the wealth of information and opinions out there regarding what to do and what not to do when training your GSD. Crate training should be on the top of your to-do list for training skills with your new German Shepherd puppy. German Shepherds are notably a very intelligent breed and will pick up crate training easily as long as YOU are consistent.
Why Should I Crate Train my German Shepherd Puppy?
Many people greatly benefit from crate training their German Shepherds, and the whole experience can be enriching and positive for both the owner and dog. The crate creates a "safe" place or den for the puppy. It should not be a place of stress or punishment, but a place your German Shepherd puppy can go to relax and sleep. In general, dogs will instinctively want to keep their den clean, so this eliminates the need for pee pads and can keep bad habits from forming. The early introduction of the crate reinforces the idea that this is home and not a place to use the potty.
It is worth noting that pee pads can lead to some confusion because your German Shepherd will get the idea they can potty in the house when that is an absolute no-no. Unfortunately, they may be a necessity if you're living on the 20th floor in an apartment building! Read our article here about 7 things to think about when homing a GSD in an apartment/condo environment.
Crate training not only reinforces the need to potty outside but can also ease separation anxiety between the puppy and owner. By making the training a positive experience and giving the puppy a safe place, they won't be so prone to separation anxiety. They will develop the ability to self-soothe. Keeping your German Shepherd crated while gone will comfort them, as well as your furniture, shoes, etc.
Not only does crate training assist with housebreaking and separation anxiety, but it can also be a critical skill in case of an emergency. We cannot predict the future, but we can prepare for it. Most vets recommend crate training for this very reason. It can save you critical time if you are ever in the position of needing to evacuate, or perhaps your German Shepherd was wounded, and you need to transport him/her to the vet safely. By getting your German Shepherd familiar with the process now, it could save their life later on.
Types of Crates
There are various types of crates to consider when deciding to crate train. Crates are made of a variety of materials, including metal wire, plastic, and wood. With German Shepherds having such high energy, they will need some form of enrichment to help them pass the time, especially if you are buying a plastic or wooden crate. Your German Shepherd puppy will need some toys to get rid of their excess energy and keep their attention; otherwise, their sole focus will be ESCAPE.
Trust me. If your dog wants out, they will do everything they can to achieve that goal. The toys will serve as a comfort and distraction, allowing your German Shepherd puppy to become more comfortable with the idea of being in their den and combat the effects of boredom.
How Do I Crate Train my German Shepherd puppy?
You need to purchase a crate that is the right size for your German Shepherd puppy. They should be able to stand up while being able to turn around without issue, but not a whole lot more room than that. You could start with a small plastic kennel and work your way up, or purchase a crate that grows with your dog. Many of the wire crates are sold with a partition you can quickly move to accommodate your growing puppy.
After purchasing an appropriately sized crate, you will want to slowly introduce your German Shepherd to the idea of spending time there and making it his/her den. Put the crate somewhere the puppy will feel comfortable, like the living room or family room, and keep the experience positive! Keep the crate door wide open and allow your German Shepherd to explore. You can put small bits of food or treats inside the crate to ease the transition and make it fun. Whatever you do, do not forcefully put your puppy into the crate. Continue tossing treats in the crate until your German Shepherd walks into its den. If your puppy is not food motivated, don't worry! Toys and affection can also be powerful motivators. This first step can take a few days, so patience is vital!
Once your German Shepherd is comfortable entering the crate, you can start doing meal times there. Meals and food are a pretty positive experience for most animals (and people for that matter). Allow your dog to enter the crate calmly, and as he/she begins the meal, you can gently shut the door. With the first few feedings, open the door as soon as the meal is complete. After a little time, start leaving the door shut for longer intervals. If your puppy begins to whine, you may have gone too long, too fast. Shorten the length of time spent in the crate after the next feeding, and if the whining starts up again, DO NOT let your German Shepherd out until it stops. He/she will quickly learn that whining is a way to get out and expect that behavior from you if you cave.
Now, you can begin to crate your German Shepherd for more extended periods during the day. State a command like, "crate" and reward your dog for going to and getting in the crate. Keep giving your German Shepherd positive reinforcement. Shut the door and stay with your puppy for about 10 minutes. Then quietly go to another part of the house. Do not make a big deal about leaving. That behavior actually encourages separation anxiety, as well-meaning as it may be. After a few moments, you can let your puppy out. Gradually increase the amount of time until you reach a full half-hour crated.
Once you have reached this point, you can begin to crate your dog at night or while you are out of the house. If done correctly, your German Shepherd puppy will even seek out their crate as his/her den!
Welcome to the Pack!
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