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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

Expert Advice May 2015 Issue

Dear Doctor

Letters to Tufts Veterinarians

Should the crate door be left open or shut?

Q I enjoyed your article on “6 Must-Haves for Your New Puppy” last month. When you mentioned a crate, you said it should have solid side and a solid top but a wired front so the dog can see out. Should the front door be closed to increase her sense of security?

Jonathan Escoffery

Somerville, Massachusetts

Dear Mr. Escoffery,

AFor the most part, the crate door should be left open. You want to increase your puppy’s sense of security, not make her feel trapped. Think of a crate as you might a teenager’s bedroom. A teenager might want to get away from the rest of the household but not feel trapped in her room. She wants to know that she can come and go as she pleases while feeling relaxed by the fact that everyone’s nearby but not “in her face.” In fact, to continue with that analogy, you should keep a couple of your puppy’s favorite toys in her new crate, just as a teenager would have her favorite things in her room, which is her own domain.

The only reason you might want to nonchalantly shut the crate door for a few minutes here and there is so your pup becomes acclimated to staying inside during housetraining sessions. From the minute you get your new puppy home, you’re on the clock for housetraining.

If your puppy does not eliminate when you take her to the designated spot, even after you’ve waited patiently for five to 10 minutes, take her back to the house and put her in her crate, closing the door behind her. This is not a punishment! After all, the crate has some of her favorite toys in it along with a cushion on the bottom and perhaps some bumperlike cushioning along the sides. Confining the pup to her crate for short periods is simply a technique for making sure she does not have accidents indoors. Because a crate is a dog’s den, or nest, her instinct not to soil it is going to be very strong. (That’s why you don’t want the crate big enough for her to be able to eliminate on one side of it and then go rest on the other side.) While she’s in there, make sure her collar and leash are off so that she does not accidentally get caught on the bars and start choking.

Wait just 15 minutes after closing the crate and go about your business cheerfully, not expressing any annoyance or exasperation. Your only aim is to let her build up her urge to “go.” When the 15 minutes are up, calmly walk her back to the designated spot outdoors. Repeat the 5- to 10-minute wait, and, if she still does not go, repeat crating her. Within just a few days, she will most definitely be getting the hang of it.

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