How to sleep train a puppy — and why getting a crate will help more than you realise

Alexandra Fraser — who recently bought a cocker spaniel called Wilf — details the ins and outs of sleep-training a new puppy, from where to place your puppy in your home to why you dearly need a dressing gown.

Sleeping arrangements for your new puppy can be a contentious discussion. If you’re anything like me, you’d be happy for your pup to sleep anywhere — a basket by the sofa, on the sofa itself, in your bedroom, in your bed… If however, you’re a sensible lad from North Yorkshire who grew up on a farm, the puppy belongs in a crate downstairs. No discussion necessary.

Crates have always seemed harsh to me. Growing up, our dogs had free rein of the downstairs and open baskets in the living room. The first night they’d be next to you on the floor of the spare room, were cuddled when they cried and then would take their place alongside the other dogs of the house to conduct important meetings in the twilight hours while the rest of the house slept. They could explore, chew things, eat shoes, whatever they liked. I thought it the best way — the only way — to raise a dog. Why would you ever want to put a dog in a cage when they can run wild and free?

Not so. A quick Google will reveal the benefits of crate training. A crate gives a pup its own space, a place where humans don’t go, a place equally suited to sulking and sleeping. While it’s vital that you do not use your crate as a place of punishment, or a convenient storage facility while you do the vacuum cleaning, it’s a fantastic asset to have when training a pup.

So, we bought a crate.

We have carpets upstairs and we’re currently renting, so we decided that it would be safer and happier all round if Wilf’s domain was downstairs. We placed his crate is in the corner of the room that sees the least foot traffic, at the bottom of the sofa. And we braced ourselves.

The first night was not too bad, all things considered. He was exhausted from running around his new home, woke up once or twice, went to the loo outside.

The second night was… different. And not in a good way.

We were up and down more than the Grand Old Duke of York and left longing for our comfy bed upstairs, away from the tiny siren safety tucked in his crate next to the sofa bed — a crate which was somehow no longer a novelty, but instead our enemy.

The third night was much the same, and the less said about the forth and fifth night, the better.

But we stuck with it, and the next week we saw improvement — and our own mattress. I’ll explain how next Sunday.

Top tips for your puppy’s first night in your home

  • Have your puppy’s bed made up near yours for the first few nights — they’ll need time to adjust to sleeping alone. Either bring it up to your room, or do what we did and prepare yourselves for a few nights on the pull-out sofa.
  • Make sure you have a blanket that smells like the puppy’s mother — being able to smell her will help your puppy.
  • Prepare to be patient. Your puppy may wake up once, it might be every hour on the hour. Either way, unless you want accidents, you’ll need to get up and take them outside.
  • When settling your puppy back down, put your fingers through the edge of the crate. I found that Wilf settled quicker when he knew I was there but couldn’t see my face.

Four things you must have for sleep-training a puppy  

  • A good crate. Ours is a basic medium puppy crate (from Pets At Home) that will fit Wilf for his whole life. When it comes to furniture, especially furniture that lasts, I tend to buy second-hand, but this time I thought a new, rust-free crate would be best.
  • A warm dressing gown. I’ve never been one for dressing gowns — I’d rather chuck a jumper on and call it a day. However, for those 2am bathroom trips, a fluffy dressing gown is the way to go, a way of being in bed without actually being in bed.
  • A toy that doesn’t squeak. It’s nice to be able to put a puppy to sleep with a toy — but if you give them a squeaky one, it’ll rile them up and drive you crazy.
  • An audio baby monitor. You won’t need it overnight while you’re in the same room as your puppy, but if you need to pop to the bathroom or hang the washing up in a different room, it’s perfect for extra peace of mind.