Why Should I Crate Train My Dog?
By Karin Larsen Bridge
While dog crates may remind you of a giant bird cage or cell in a shelter block, there are many good reasons why incorporating a crate into your family home may be one of the most useful decisions you’ll ever make. The crate is simply another type of dog bed, but with one exceptional advantage – it has a door. The door makes it not so much a dog bed as a doggy ‘bedroom’ – providing you with a short term, safe confinement area when necessary.
Advantages of Crate Training
Getting your dog use to and comfortable in a crate may prove valuable throughout your dog’s life by providing:
- Confinement without isolation. Dogs love to be with the family, but sometimes they do get underfoot. A crate can provide safety and time out when needed without isolation in another room such as the laundry or bathroom. The dog is still able to spend time with the family but is out of harms way.
- Mobility from room to room. The crate can be in the family room during the day then moved into the bedroom at night. A crated puppy can be provided with comfort and companionship without sacrificing supervision and risking toileting mistakes.
- A time out and/or safety zone for special times such as when visitors arrive, small children are at play, tradesman are at work or at anytime when you may not be able to supervise.
- A restricted environment limiting access to ‘forbidden’ treasures while encouraging your dog to chew on appropriate, available toys such as stuffed kongs.
- Acceptance of restraint. There will be times when your dog may need to be restricted such as at the vets, a boarding kennel or when traveling. A dog that is already use to a crate is less likely to feel stressed should confinement be necessary.
- A portable ‘home away from home’. A crate is ideal when traveling and staying in motels, Air BnBs or with friends who may not appreciate a free-range pet.
- Restricted exercise/movement during enforced periods of convalescence after injury or illness.
Housetraining your puppy. Crates are probably most often recommended to train or retrain appropriate toileting habits. Most dogs do not like to soil their own bed, so by restricting their immediate environment, your puppy will learn to hold on until released onto your chosen toileting surface – usually grass. It’s vital that you remember to take puppy outside at least hourly – or if he’s asleep as soon as he wakes up. Take your puppy outside and praise and reward him if he toilets. Bring puppy inside and let him play free for a half hour or so then pop him back in the crate before repeating the cycle again. If your puppy does not pee when taken outside, it gets no free play but is popped immediately back into the crate for about 10 minutes before trying again. By confining the puppy at this early stage, you are ensuring your dog will earn the right to have much greater access to the home as he matures.
Choosing a crate.
Crates are available in several designs and materials such as metal, canvas, and plastic. You need to consider:
- The strength of the crate
- It’s weight and ease of transport.
- It’s compliance with standards for commercial airlines – if you will be traveling long distances with your dog.
Metal crates are strong, well ventilated, and easy to clean. They are great for rambunctious dogs that may still be getting use to being crated as they will resist scratching and digging unlike a canvas or screened crate. Their disadvantage is that they may be ungainly to move around, and less attractive than some of the more colorful canvas options if they are to be in a prevalent spot in the home.
No matter which crate you choose, your dog needs to be able to stand fully upright and turn around comfortably in the crate. Bigger isn’t always better however and many dogs prefer a cozy crate to a very big one. Placing a blanket over the top of the crate and perhaps down one side will also make your crate more like a ‘den’ and thereby more attractive to your dog.
A CRATE SHOULD NOT BE USED AS:
- A punishment. Although there may be times when you decide to put your dog in the crate for some peace and quiet, this should always be done in a quiet and matter of fact way – not with an emotional outburst such as “too bad – it’s in the doghouse for you!!” The crate should be your dog’s sanctuary not an isolation cell.
- Long-term confinement. Crates are designed for SHORT TERM confinement only – no longer than your dog can comfortably go between toilet breaks. In general, this would be approximately two hours, except overnight when dogs may well curl up and sleep until morning.
- A storage system for dogs. Allowing your dog out for a toilet break and then placing it straight back into the crate, isn’t much of a life for a dog. Dogs need to play, explore, and interact with people and their environment – the crate should just be one tool that helps in the management and education of your dog, not a canine cupboard. Continual crate confinement on a regular basis should not be a way of life for a companion animal. Severe behavioural problems can develop due to excessive confinement.
- A substitute for teaching your dog manners in the home. Your dog still needs to be taught to greet people politely, to settle, ‘come’, ‘sit’ and ‘down’ so that time eventually spent shut in the crate would be minimal. Crates are also not a substitute for behaviour modification of unresolved behavioural problems such as separation anxiety or aggression.
Other precautions when using a crate.
- Do not crate a puppy wearing a collar or head halter.
- Crates should be placed in frequented parts of the house where you are able to supervise your puppy’s behaviour and stress level.
- Place crates in areas free of drafts and/or excessive heat or cold
- Never allow children to tease or play with a puppy or dog confined in a crate.
- Water should be provided if a dog is likely to be crated for longer periods.
Training your dog to love the crate.
Step 1 – Set up the crate a little to the side in a busy part of the home with the door open. Over the next week or so, place some appealing soft bedding into the crate and rotate a variety of chew toys, treats and smelly items of clothing such as your socks into the crate as well. Limit the number of interesting items available outside the crate. The dog should come to associate the crate with good things and comfort. Feed the dog in the crate multiple times throughout the course of the day. Have water in the crate (there are water bowls that attach to the side of a crate as in a bird cage to prevent spillage). Don’t be in a hurry to close the door. Ideally, your dog will be seeking out the crate to have a rest before you ever attempt to close the door.
Step 2 – Toss a treat into the crate with an exaggerated arm move – eventually this will become your signal to enter the crate. Repeat until your dog is moving in happily. At this point you may wish to add a word as well such as ‘In you go’ at the same time as your arm gesture. Next, repeat arm gesture but withhold treat until after your dog is in the crate and has turned around then reward again – in the crate.
Step 3 – When your dog is happily entering the crate, shut the door for just a few seconds and treat through the door or from above, before opening the door again. Slowly, start to keep the door shut just a little longer. If the dog is quiet praise, toss a few treats inside then release before he begins to whine or bark.
Step 4 – VARY the duration of the confinement starting with just a few seconds and building slowly to about 15 – 30 minutes. When first asking for longer periods, set yourself up for success by playing with your dog or going for a walk beforehand and/or place a desirable chew toy in the crate. Don’t always lengthen the time in the crate, sometimes confine for short periods so your dog never knows how long to expect.
Step 5 – move the crate to different rooms in the house to make sure your dog is comfortable in the crate in different areas.
Never release your dog from the crate while he is barking or whining – wait until there is a quiet moment then praise and release. If your dog is barking or whining a lot, you have probably rushed the introduction and need to go back to shorter periods of confinement. Build only on success – when you have a quiet, contented dog in the crate – release.
A handy management tool.
Training your dog to be happy in a crate certainly has its advantages creating a safe and cozy ‘settle spot’ that can also provide a ‘home away from home’ when traveling. The important thing to remember is that, as with any tool it should be used with thought and care to enhance not replace a strong relationship with your dog.