Exercise Pens

It might be helpful, especially for the first couple of months to have an exercise pen.  Pens made especially for dogs might be a little sturdier than toddler pens but I personally prefer to use pens made for toddlers for aesthetics reasons.  When your puppy is 4 or 5 months of age he will be able to climb out or jump over or push any of these pens around or over.  You need to train your puppy at an early age not to jump up on the sides of the pen so that when he’s able to get out later, he doesn’t try.  If you train your dog not to jump on the pen, the pen can be useful even into adulthood.  Pen time should not consume your puppy’s entire day but should be reserved for those times when you can’t devote your undivided attention to him.  Your puppy needs exercise time and a lot of time with you inside as well. 

Here are a few rules for an x-pen.  (1) Never reward your puppy for jumping up on the pen by petting or letting him out. Say no and back off from your puppy when he jumps up. (2) Reward your puppy for playing quietly in the pen by giving a treat periodically.  If your puppy tries to jump on the pen, give the treats through the pen, not over it so that you don’t encourage jumping on the sides.  (3) Don’t let your puppy charge out of the gate when you open it.  Train your puppy that he doesn’t come out until you have a leash on him or give a release command.  Practice giving treats while your dog waits for you to put the leash on him.  (4) Put lots of toys in (8-15) and rotate every 2-3 days.  Old plastic jugs, water bottles with tops removed, big boxes, and other stuff can be used as toys if you are watching, and feel pretty sure he won’t chew them up and swallow them.  (Only give the safest of toys if you won’t be watching your puppy). Put a variety of different types of toys in there:  soft toys, chew toys, and interactive toys.  (5) Take the puppy outside or put in crate for a nap at least after an hour in the pen in the beginning.  (6) Don’t put water in the pen but have water available when you take your puppy out of the pen which will be often.  (7) If your puppy should have an accident in the pen, the pen needs to be made smaller and you need to be taking him out more often.  (8) Don’t give into whining.  If you know that your puppy has gone potty, he’s had enough exercise, and he’s had enough time with your family, don’t feel sorry for him.  He needs to learn to play alone.

I suggest standing outside the pen in the beginning and rewarding repeatedly with treats for good behavior.  Then go inside the pen with him and reward with treats again for waiting for you to put a leash on him instead of charging out the door.  When he tries to charge out, close the door before he can get out.  Don’t slam it or hurt him, but keep him from going out.  Then when he gives his attention to you, start giving treats again.  Gradually move (over many days) from giving treats for just not charging to requiring more of him.  Once he quits trying to dart out of the pen and learns to wait for you, require that he look at you and give eye contact.  After several more days (or weeks), when he is consistently giving eye contact, require him to sit and wait.  Do this little exercise for just a minute or two every time you take him out, increasing the criteria for the food as your puppy masters the earlier criteria.  Puppies have very short attention spans and their training goes best if it’s incorporated into their lifestyle in many short lessons.  Do not rush raising the criteria for reward.  It could take days or it could take weeks for your puppy to just quit trying to dart out of the pen when you open it.  It’s always better to over reward and move too slowly than to raise criteria too quickly and frustrate your puppy.

An exercise pen can be a big help in raising a puppy. It is a help to the family in giving much needed breaks from puppy watching and it is a help to the puppy in teaching him to entertain himself at an early age.