Did you know that crate training uses a dog’s natural instincts as a den animal? A wild dog’s den is his home, a place to sleep, hide from danger, and raise a family. The crate becomes your dog’s den– an ideal spot to snooze, get away from it all, or take refuge during a thunderstorm.
The primary use for a crate is housetraining–the main concept being that dogs don’t like to soil their dens. A crate aids greatly in housetraining and keeping a puppy out of things when it can’t be watched. The crate can also limit access to the rest of the house while your dog learns other rules, such as not to chew on furniture. It also gives adult dogs a safe place to go and relax when needed. Crates are also great when traveling as it’s a little piece of home for them and a safe way to transport your dog in the car.
However, as good as crates can be, we must remember that a crate isn’t a magical solution to everything. If not used correctly, a dog can feel trapped and frustrated. One should never use the crate as a punishment. Your dog will come to fear the crate and refuse to enter it if it’s used in that way.
Also, a dog shouldn’t be left in a crate for too long a period of time. A dog that’s crated day and night doesn’t get enough exercise or human interaction and can become depressed or anxious. You may have to change your schedule, hire a pet sitter, or take your dog to a doggie daycare facility to reduce the amount of time he must spend in his crate every day.
Selecting a Crate:
The first step in crate training is purchasing an appropriate crate for your dog. Several types of crates are available: plastic (often called “flight kennels”), fabric on a collapsible, rigid frame, and collapsible metal pens. Crates come in different sizes and can be purchased at most pet supply stores or pet supply catalogs. Here are some do’s and don’ts about selecting a crate:
DO: Select a crate that’s big enough for your dog to enter standing, turn around in comfortably, and lie down in.
DON’T: Buy a crate that is too large for your dog if you are using the crate for house training. If you have a puppy and want to purchase a crate that will be an appropriate size when he is an adult, DO purchase a crate that has dividers so you can adjust crate space as the dog grows.
DO: Consider future uses of the crate when purchasing. Plan on flying with your dog? Purchase an airline-approved crate. If you plan on using your crate when you go camping, a collapsible, soft-sided crate may be preferable, but…
DON’T: Buy a soft-sided crate if your dog likes to chew on fabric!
The Crate Training Process:
The goal of crate training is to create an atmosphere where your dog is relaxed and happy while in the crate and will go in voluntarily for no other reason than to “get away from it all.” Here are some dos and don’ts of crating your dog.
DO: Keep the crate in a living area where the dog will not feel lonely. Place the crate in an easily accessible and comfortable place so your dog can associate it as their safety “den” or “cave.” Leave the door open when you’re home so your dog can go in and out as they please. Always praise him/her when they go in on their own and reward them with a treat.
DO: Acclimate your dog to the crate slowly and make experiences with the crate very positive for the dog. Start out with very short periods of time in the crate.
DO: Keep items that your dog associates as “security items” within the crate such as a blanket or a teddy bear. Give your dog something to do in the crate. Items that should only be given supervised: marrow bones (not for powerchewers!), stuffed toys, chew ropes, bully sticks, pressed rawhide, etc. Depending on your dog and how he handles toys, you may be able to leave stuffed Kongs or Nylabones with your dog in your absence.
DO: Leave the crate door open and reward him whenever he chooses to relax in his crate.
DO: Continue to praise the dog and reassure him/her that you’ll be back once it is time to leave and shut the crate door. It helps to turn on the radio or music in your absence. If you live in a quiet house without a lot of people, classical music is soothing. Or if your dog is used to a lot of talk/noise in the house, talk-radio is helpful. Also there are “doggie entertainment” videos which play on “loop” for them to watch if he/she has an interest in TV. This will help them realize that crate-time is just down-time and nothing to be feared.
DO: Consider feeding your dog in his crate to reinforce the positive aspects of the experience.
DO: Consider getting an extra crate for the bedroom, if you prefer not to share your bed with the dog!
DON’T: Make the crate a predictor of your absence (dog is only crated when you are leaving).
DON’T: Use the crate for long-term confinement. If your dog cannot hold it for as long as they will be alone for, you must provide some opportunity for him to relieve himself using potty pads, a dog door, or a dog walker/pet sitter. Crating him for longer than he can hold it is cruel and does not set your dog up for success. Puppies under six months of age shouldn’t stay in a crate for more than three or four hours at a time. They can’t control their bladders and bowels for that long. The same goes for adult dogs that are being house trained. Physically, they can hold it, but they don’t know they’re supposed to yet.
DON’T: Put a dog with destructive separation anxiety in a crate. Please consult a behavior professional for assistance, as dogs with severe separation anxiety can harm themselves if crating is done inappropriately.
DON’T: Let your dog out of his crate when he is whining or barking, as this will reinforce the behavior. Wait for quiet before letting your dog out of his crate.
DON’T: Put bedding in the crate until your dog is reliably house trained or if your dog will chew/ingest bedding. If the dog has earned the privilege of having bedding, make sure to wash the bedding frequently and thoroughly–especially during flea season.
Whining: If your dog whines or cries while in the crate at night, it may be difficult to decide whether he’s whining to be let out of the crate or whether he needs to be let outside to eliminate. If you’ve followed the training procedures outlined above, then your dog hasn’t been rewarded for whining in the past by being released from his crate. If that is the case, try to ignore the whining. If your dog is just testing you, he’ll probably stop whining soon. Yelling at him or pounding on the crate will only make things worse.
If the whining continues after you’ve ignored him for several minutes, use the phrase he associates with going outside to eliminate. If he responds and becomes excited, take him outside. This should be a trip with a purpose, not play time. If you’re convinced that your dog doesn’t need to eliminate, the best response is to ignore him until he stops whining. Don’t give in; if you do, you’ll teach your dog to whine loud and long to get what he wants. If you’ve progressed gradually through the training steps and haven’t done too much too fast, you’ll be less likely to encounter this problem. If the problem becomes unmanageable, you may need to start the crate training process over again.
Separation Anxiety: Attempting to use the crate as a remedy for separation anxiety won’t solve the problem. A crate may prevent your dog from being destructive, but he may injure himself in an attempt to escape from the crate. Separation anxiety problems can only be resolved with counter-conditioning and desensitization procedures. You may want to consult a professional animal-behavior specialist for help.
If you choose not to crate your dog, you should at the very least teach your dog to accept being crated to give positive experiences with a crate. While it is true that crates can be useful house training aids, it is advisable that even housetrained dogs are taught to enjoy time in the crate. At any point in his life, your dog could fall ill or require emergency veterinary care, which may require crate time. Since illness and injury are already very stressful to dogs, it is better if they are acclimated to enjoying being crated to avoid additional stress during times of trauma.
Also, if you travel with your dog or that you might ever need to board your dog, it is also helpful to crate train them in advance. Like illness and injury, travel or being separated from the owner are both stressful events–training now can prevent undue stress on your dog later.
If you follow the dos and don’ts of crate training, your dog will enjoy his own special place–his own sanctuary. Just like you and me, every dog deserves a happy and soothing place to relax!