Just a little note that I’m not a trainer, a professional in any way, this just just my opinion.
Everything I read about crate training 7 years ago told me to start crate training right away, from the day we brought out puppy home. Boy, I wish I had waited because it was easily the worst part of Whiskey’s puppyhood and we weren’t at our best when sleep deprived. With our new puppy Bourbon 6 years later, I couldn’t believe how easily we transitioned. The key was waiting.
Whiskey- by the book
We crate trained Whiskey from the first day we got her. It was in all the books, all the advice I could find and since we were in an apartment and both worked full time, I was anxious to make sure she was crate trained while we were both at work (for her own safety as well as our home). The first night that I popped her in the crate, was the first day we brought her home, away from her littermates, over a long flight from Quebec into this strange new place.
Whiskey cried and cried. She hated it. We stuck to the training plan, took her in and out of her crate 3 times a night when she cried, not sleeping for the first month. We had throw on close, run down to the main floor of our apartment (we lived on the second floor) holding her at 3am, with a leash and treats, to wait for her to potty, then back up into her crate, and back in bed. It was torturous and was hands down the worst part of puppyhood for us.
Because of my research, I had thought to make sure Whiskey’s crate was den-sized. Not too big or she might pee in a corner is what the research showed. My poor girl was so miserable. We played crate games, we let her sleep during the day in her crate, we covered it up with blankets and played calming music. We put all her toys in there and fed her inside (she didn’t like to eat so it wasn’t’ helpful). I put in warmed toys, I slept outside her crate singing to her with my fingers through the bars.
Eventually after what seemed like forever (probably a couple of months) Whiskey would sleep through the night and we developed a routine. We also switched to the largest crate we could find and she was SO much happier. Whiskey NEVER went into her crate voluntarily during the day (and still to this day doesn’t). We left her in her crate when we went to work in the mornings and had a dog walker come take her out mid day. By 6 months of age she was left in the bedroom (only one accident ever) and a couple months later she had the run of the house during the day (Whiskey’s never ruined anything).
Our experience with crating was so opposite others we had talked to, as well as my readings. Whiskey didn’t like a den, she liked the couch or bed. She was a confident dog and she’s never felt the need to “hide” from scary sounds or things and although we finally agreed on her crate as her bed to sleep in at night, she would still crawl in our bed if we forgot to lock the door (or if we travelled).
Bourbon- second time’s a charm!
When I got Bourbon, I was alone and so exhausted from travelling I just didn’t have the energy to deal with a screaming puppy all night long. I had a large crate with me in the room that I filled with blankets and toys, but let Bourbon crawl into bed around my neck and fall asleep.
Having seen Bourbon with her littermates in a warm puppy pile, and having just experienced her screaming her little brains out on the plane in a tiny carrier, I just couldn’t imagine she would be ok sleeping in another cold crate. Surprising (to me) Bourbon slept in bed with me for 7 HOURS the first night. At 8 weeks old! And when she woke up, she woke slowly and because I could feel her waking, I could slowly wake myself up. I didn’t have to jump up and throw on clothes in a rush. I had an extra 3 mins to become conscious, and cradle Bourbon, carrying her outside for a pee. It was AMAZING.
For the next month I slept with Bourbon. She was introduced to the small plastic crate for nap times during the day and accepted about an hour inside. Every evening I would put her into her crate with the door open, and she would crawl into bed with me (we were quarantining for the first 2 weeks and roadtripping for a week more) and she would slowly wake me when she need to pee. On average Bourbon would be able to hold it 6-7 hours at a time.
When we finally transitioned to a larger plastic crate a full month later, we put the entire gigantic crate in the bed between us (sorry no pictures but it was like this. Bourbon predictably screamed for the first 2 days (about 2 hours each) and then fell asleep. On the 3rd day it was about 20mins so crying, and on the 4th day maybe just 5. After that, we put the crate on the floor, and then after 3 months finally she was moved to her permanent crate. We had a regression of about an hour less of sleep when first moving her to the crate (because the screaming and crying and anxiety took so much out of her) so she would average 5-6 hours at a time compared to 6-7 in bed.
Vizslas have a habit of moving and taking up the entire bed so my husband has vetoed dogs sleeping in beds a long while ago. Bourbon’s also got a knack for face and throat punching but we still let her in to cuddle at night before bed, and in the morning before we wake.
I really suggest sleeping with your puppy for the first week or two before transitioning to a crate. This is assuming your breeder hasn’t had the puppies already sleeping in separate crates (crate training) before you get them. I believe because they’re less anxious they can hold their bladder longer, giving everyone more sleep (and sanity) and it’ll be a more gentle wake up call instead of a scream and rush out. It’s less traumatizing moving from warm puppy piles and everything they’ve known.
Then if possible, sleep with the crate in bed and slowly move the crate to the location you prefer. It’s best if the crate is in your room, facing you so your pup can see you and you have quick and easy access and can hear them if they need to wake up at night to go. This might not be possible for everyone, but I found the whole experience (probably the one I was dreading the most) really lovely and got to bond with Bourbon in a way I really wish I could have had with Whiskey.
Also, there’s quite a bit of advice to size your crate to your dog and only put an old towel there, but I’ve found both my girls like large spacious crates (the plastic ones are much preferred to the wired ones) with soft beds. There be concern that they’ll rip up the beds, or soil a larger crate but I just never experienced this and I stayed in the room while crate training. Bourbon had to be shown what to chew on, and given chews/toys but she’s never had the chance to tear into a bed. The longest we have crated her is 2 hours at a time currently.
I also monitor their crate times really closely especially the first weeks (and start with short stints) and only put them in after activity and when you think they should be tired (or bedtime). I do find playing the same soft music helps, and covering the crate with a blanket so they cannot see also helps. Lastly, pay attention to your puppy and see what they gravitate to, what makes them comfortable at home. For Bourbon it was the cavebed so we put that in her crate and she’s happier to sleep there at night.
Puppy crate (borrow or find a used one for the first month)
Full sized crate (4 months and older, although Whiskey prefers 1 size up)