Let’s talk about puppy pens… A puppy pen is a fantastic resource for any puppy, or even an older dog while they’re learning to be left alone, or while they’re being potty trained. Let’s look at how to set up your puppy pen for success.
Cosy Sleeping Area
I like to use a crate in a puppy pen, just to have a clear divide between the play area, potty area and sleeping area. Normally I leave the crate open during the day, and close it at night if the puppy is comfortable sleeping in it. If not, I usually create a sleeping area for the puppy beside my bed, so if they need me in the middle of the night, I can hear them. This helps in the long-run with toilet training too.
The sleeping area should have some comfortable bedding. Some puppies like to shred beds, so in these cases a fleece blanket or a towel will suffice. Some dogs prefer the floor of the crate. Give your dog a few options and see which they are more comfortable with. It can also help to leave a teddy in the crate, or a t-shirt or pillow case that smells like you. For puppies recently separated from their mum and siblings, a blanket that smells of them will also help.
Ideally, the potty area will contain a natural substrate like grass, paper or wood pellets, hemp, bark or wood chippings. I like to use the base of a large rabbit cage, so there's a clear distinction between the potty area and the rest of the pen.
When using just puppy pads for training, there is always the risk that the puppy will start to associate other rugs and carpets with pads. I normally use reusable pads that can be cleaned in the washing machine, but I just use them to protect the floor, rather than a training tool.
I normally change the pad, and pick up poo immediately.
The puppy pen potty area isn’t a long-term training solution, unless you want your dog to learn to toilet in the house. It’s just there for damage control and to make cleaning easier while you’re working on toilet training in the meantime.
By using a natural substrate, it makes it easier for the puppy to learn to go outdoors, and by providing a toilet area, it means that if they've got to go, then they have somewhere to go.
Puppies should have access to water 24/7. Restricting water intake can lead to over-consumption when the water is available. For some puppies, a water bowl can make a fantastic toy, so if they tend to step in it or tip it over, a heavy ceramic dish can help to prevent this. With metal bowls, puppies can also try to catch their reflections, so bear this in mind when considering the mess!
Chew Toys, Food Toys and Natural Chews
Food is such a wonderful resource for our puppies, and we’re wasting it by feeding from a bowl. If we feed from Kongs and other interactive food toys in the puppy pen, it will keep our puppies busy and will tire them out. If a puppy has the option to chew on a tasty toy that spits out food rewards, they’re more likely to choose this than the leg of a chair. Chewing, licking and sniffing are all calming behaviours for our puppies, so by providing them with these toys and chews every time they’re in the pen, we’re classically conditioning them to settle down everytime they are in it.
The best options for edible chews are natural. Pizzle sticks, rabbit’s ears, dried tendons, chicken feet, tracheas, antlers, hooves and dried tripe are normally a big hit with most puppies. They smell a bit odd, but they’ll help to keep your puppy entertained for hours. The smellier the better! Rawhide can be dangerous for dogs, and can form a glue-like compound in their stomachs so it’s best avoided.