Crate Training a Shih Tzu Puppy – Cruel or Kind?

A shih tzu puppy in a portable crate.

What Is Crate Training?

I used to be dead set against crate training a shih tzu puppy, thinking that it was mentally cruel for the dog and anyway, why would you buy or adopt a dog and shut it away in a crate all day? On further investigation I have found that it is not cruel at all but, in fact, just the opposite. With the correct crate training methods a puppy will grow into a calm and stable adult dog while, at the same time, retaining his unique character.

The primary reason for crate training a shih tzu puppy, however, is to teach him when and where he can go to the toilet. Crate training is arguably the easiest way to potty train a young shih tzu puppy. The main theory behind this is that a puppy will not, if he can at all help it, defecate in his sleeping area. So, if you have a crate that is just big enough for him to comfortably sleep in, then he will have no space to “do his business” and will learn to depend upon you to take him to where he can.

Before setting yourself up to crate train your puppy you need to bear in mind that initially either you or someone else will have to be around to take the puppy out of the crate to the place where he can pee and poop every two hours. The time interval between toilet breaks will increase as the puppy grows, his bladder capacity increases and his bladder control strengthens. It’s not so bad, after the first three days he will likely be able to last six or seven hours during the night.

Selecting A Suitable Crate

There are three basic designs of crate. There’s the plastic box construction with a metal grill front door, the collapsible nylon type and the metal wire cage type. You may also see images of dogs in beer bottle crates or similar but these are unsuitable for crate training as there is no means of keeping your shih tzu from leaving the crate.

A shih tzu about to fall asleep in a crate.
A shih tzu about to fall asleep in a crate.

Of the three, I recommend the wire cage type. With this design you can easily observe your shih tzu puppy at all times and he can also be reassured by seeing you when you are there with him. If you are going to buy one look for the following features.

First of all, the size. There needs to be just enough room for your shih tzu puppy to stand up, turn around and to lie down comfortably and go to sleep. For the average sized shih tzu the optimum dimensions would be 13” (33cm) wide by 22” (56cm) long. The height is not as important but needs to be a minimum of 13” (33cm). If you are the proud owner of the larger American variant shih tzu puppy you will probably need to add around 20% to these dimensions.

The next most important feature that your crate must have is a divider panel. The purpose of the divider panel is to restrict your new puppy to the front half of the crate for the first few days. Then, as he grows you can incrementally move the divider towards the back of the crate as necessary until it is no longer needed at all. The divider is there to restrict the amount of space your shih tzu puppy has inside the crate. Give him too much space and he will sleep at the back of the crate and then when he needs to pee or poop he will come to the front of the crate to do his business. If you just leave enough room for sleeping and nothing else he will probably, 99% for sure, not do anything in the crate.

Another desirable feature is a leak proof, easy to clean, fitted pad in the bottom of the crate. The pad will give your puppy something more comfortable than the wire frame to sleep on and being leak proof will contain any fluids from both the biological and water bowl types of accident.

Having two doors, one at the front and one at the side, will allow you to place the crate in some tight spaces while still being able to place your puppy in or out of the crate. With some designs however, you may not be able to use the side door until the divider is set towards the back of the crate past it.

If the room where you are thinking of locating your crate has a hardwood floor then you might like to consider buying a crate featuring tiny rubberized or plastic wheels. Apart from making it easier to move the crate around, these wheels will lift the wire frame above the surface helping to prevent scratches and gouges.

One last feature you may want to look out for when choosing your crate is the ability to collapse into a flat pack. This is a handy feature if you will be storing the crate away or if you are traveling and taking the crate with you. Having said that, traveling by car with your puppy inside the fully assembled crate is a great way of ensuring safety on the road as he is not free to roam around inside the vehicle. In a lot of countries it is a legal requirement to immobilize any pets traveling inside a vehicle.

Crate training a shih tzu puppy

For further information, see “What Size Crate For A Shih Tzu?

The Theory Behind Crate Training

It is a natural instinct for a dog to want to sleep in a den where he can feel safe from rivals and predators. In his den he would not make a mess near where he sleeps; he would either go outside or somewhere else in the den if it was large enough.

The idea behind crate training is to make the crate his den, a place that is his own where he is comfortable, feels safe enough to sleep and where he won’t want to pee and poop. If you get the training right he will actually want to be inside his crate most of the time when he is relaxing or sleeping.

Until your shih tzu is fully house trained he should never be left unsupervised unless safely inside his crate. If he were to defecate somewhere in the house, and if he has the chance he probably will, then the whole crate training program would be in jeopardy of failing. The program would also fail if you put him inside the crate as a form of punishment. This would have the effect of making the crate a place where your puppy doesn’t want to be, the exact opposite of the desired one. The crate must become a happy place for your shih tzu to be for this to work. You can increase your puppy’s feeling of his crate being a good place to be by giving him his food and water inside the crate. You can either use no spill bowls that lay on the floor but with little floor space available I recommend the clip-on type bowls that hang from the side of the crate.

Crate Training A Shih Tzu Puppy – how it’s done.

No, I said CRATE training!
No, I said CRATE training!

IMPORTANT WARNING! – Before placing your puppy inside a crate, make sure you remove any collars or neckwear to avoid any chance of entanglement and accidental strangulation.

Ideally, you must put your puppy in his new crate as soon as he becomes your puppy. For the first three days of crate training you must carry him from the crate to the place where you want him to go to the toilet and when he has finished you must carry him back to the crate again. After the three days you can start walking him out on the leash but you must prevent any fouling between the crate and the toilet spot. You must never let any accidents happen with this method.

Shih tzu do not like being alone so place the crate somewhere where he will have some human company from you and any other family or household members. Do not put any soft toys or blankets inside the crate as these can become “targets” to get peed on.

To get started with the training, take your puppy from the crate whilst at the same time saying something out loud such as “walkies!” or “let’s go!”. Keep to the same command every time you do this and he will come to learn what is going to happen. If it’s the first three days of training carry, or after three days walk him to the place where you want him to pee and poop, whilst saying something along the lines of “let’s go outside” so that he gets to learn that means he is going to get the chance to relieve himself.

When you reach the spot where you want him to pee let him on the ground and give another command such as “go potty” or “go toilet” to let him know you want him to do his business. In a few days or weeks he will associate this phrase with relieving himself and you will be able to get him to go on command. But for now he may go, he may not go. If he does, reward him with praise and possibly a small treat as well. If he doesn’t go do not punish him or scold him.

Either way, whether he goes to the toilet or not, let him run around for a while to get some vital exercise, perhaps chasing his favourite ball or toy. Working his excess energy off like this will help reduce the chances of anxiety setting in during the times he is alone in his crate. Give him plenty of time and try the toilet command to see if he wants to pee or poop any more. Don’t forget to reward any successes. You can also use exercise time to teach other basic commands such as “sit”, “stay”, “come”, “lie down” and so on.

When toilet time is over take your puppy back indoors for a session of petting and socializing prior to returning him to the crate. During this vital bonding time if it is the first three days of training you must hold on to him at all times. After three days you can let him loose but you must supervise him to make sure there are no “accidents”.

After a few minutes of this, pick up your puppy saying the words “crate time”, and place him back in the crate. As you close the door, reward him with a treat and perhaps rub his head as you say “good boy!” so that he associates going back into the crate with good things happening. Watch him settle down then leave him to have a nap, he should need it after his exercise and excitement.

You can leave him there for two or three hours before repeating the process again. If he needs a potty break before then he’ll let you know by whimpering or crying but be careful that this is the case and he is not doing it just to be let out of the crate. For the first three days you may well have to take him out once or twice during the night but after that, as I implied before, he should be able to last the night without a potty break. Just be there to take him out first thing in the morning.

As your shih tzu puppy grows older you can start to lengthen the time he stays in the crate up to a maximum of four hours during the day. If you’re out at work all day this means either coming home for lunch or having someone else to take your puppy from the crate for a toilet and exercise break at this time.

A shih tzu visiting her preferred toilet spot.
Paying a visit to the toilet spot.

If Your Shih Tzu Becomes Agitated In His Crate

This is more likely to happen if the shih tzu you are attempting to crate train is not a new puppy but an older puppy or even adult dog. When you are training a new puppy he is still learning about his environment and surroundings. You are training him at the right time for him to readily accept that his crate is a natural part of his environment. When training an older puppy or dog, he has probably already established what his environment and surroundings are and suddenly putting him in a crate comes as a shock. He then is likely to become anxious and agitated.

There is a proven method that will calm your shih tzu down to the point where he accepts being in his crate. You have to be strong and not be manipulated by any fuss, whimpering or crying as he tries to get you to let him out of the crate.

So, you have your shih tzu inside the crate, he wants out and kicks up a fuss to try to get you to open the door.

Sit or kneel in front of the crate facing your dog. Don’t do anything until he stops still. Then, reach forwards as if you were to open the door. If he starts making a fuss again, take your hand away.

Repeat this action until you can actually take off the latch without any fuss. Be careful, he’ll know probably try to poke his head through the door. If he does, make sure you close the door and put the latch back on.

Repeat this until you can fully open the door and your shih tzu stays put without any fuss. When this happens, take him out of the crate, praise him because he has completed a desired behaviour, then, guess what? Put him back in the crate and close the door again!

Apart from calming down an anxious shih tzu, the object of this exercise is to drive home that whenever you come to the crate and open the door it doesn’t necessarily mean he can come out, therefore it isn’t worth creating a fuss as you cannot be manipulated into giving him what he wants. It will teach him that coming out of the crate is a routine thing rather than a reward.

When you put him back in the crate, for the first few times he will more than likely start with the whimpering and crying again, so carry on repeating the opening door, taking out and putting back exercise until he remains calm at all stages. You can give him treats every time he goes back into the crate, if you like, to help make being in the crate a pleasant experience.

After Crate Training Is Completed

Your puppy’s crate training is completed when he can seek out the place you have chosen for him to pee and poop without any prompting from you and he will even let you know by some means that he wants to go to the “go” spot. For example, my Bruno has a special “let me go to the toilet” bark, whereas Charlie lets me know by standing on his back legs and pawing my knees. You will have to discover the way your shih tzu is letting you know.

When you are 100% sure that your shih tzu is not going to make a mess in the house, you can leave the door of the crate open for him to come and go. You may find that the crate remains his favourite place to sleep. Whether he does or not, it’s worth keeping the crate for transportation, travel and for occasions where you may have guests and you want to keep your shih tzu from under everyone’s feet.

Spending some quality time together before going back in the crate.
Spending some quality time together before going back in the crate.

I hope that you have enjoyed reading about crate training. If you have any questions or comments please leave a comment or send us an email using our contact us form. See you in the next post, bye for now.

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