Crate Training Your Puppy
You can’t help but spot them while browsing at the pet store: row after row of crates, all big enough to fit a dog. They’re made of fiberglass or plastic or plain, old, open wire. Despite their many differences, they all evoke the same frightening image: Doggy Prison.
Despite their ominous appearance, crates can be a boon for a puppy – a home-away-from-home or a comfortable retreat when the family gets to be too much. Crate training can also help calm your dog’s anxiety. A wild dog’s den is their home where they can rest, sleep, and hide from danger. As natural den animals, dogs actually enjoy small, enclosed spaces. A crate will make your dog feel more secure, since it essentially becomes their den.
Crate training is also a good way to teach your dog responsibility. Crates are great tools for housetraining, because dogs don’t like to soil their immediate environment. In addition, for car travel, being inside a crate is probably the safest place for a puppy to ride, and, for pups that have to fly cargo, crates provide a touch of the familiar on a plane.
When crate training your puppy, patience will be your best resource, since the entire procedure can take about six months or so to complete. It’s important to remember two things when crate training your dog – the crate should always be associated with pleasant experiences, and training should be a slow, step-by-step process.
Hazards to Avoid When Crate Training Your Dog
When used as punishment, a crate can make a dog feel frustrated and trapped. If you make a habit of doing this, your dog will become fearful and refuse to enter the crate.
You should never leave your dog in the crate for extended periods. Dogs who are crated all the time can become anxious or depressed. Puppies under six months of age should not be confined to the crate for more than four hours, because of their inability to control their bladders.
As a rule of thumb, only crate your dog during a training period. After that, it should be a place that they want to go voluntarily.
Making Pups Comfortable with Their Crate
First, make sure you don’t isolate your pup when they’re in the crate. Buy two crates, and put one in your bedroom – so your puppy can sleep beside you at night – and put the other in a busier part of the house for daytime use. Make the crate comfortable for your dog. Line the crate with a soft blanket, put in some small treats, and then show the puppy how to get in.
Bring your puppy to the crate and use a happy voice to introduce it. Open and secure the door to ensure it won’t accidentally startle your dog by slamming shut or hitting them on the way in. Entice your dog with a trail of treats leading into the crate.
Once your puppy has figured out how to go in and out of the crate, and has satisfied their curiosity about it, use a cue word – such as “kennel” – as your puppy moves toward the crate, and hand them a treat as soon as they enter the enclosure. Repeat this several times at random intervals until your pup goes in when they’re told to do so. At this point, you can shut the door for short periods without making a big fuss about it. In fact, it’s best to ignore your pup while opening or shutting the door.
Once your puppy is willing to rest in the crate, start confining them for varying periods of time, and at different times of the day, like when you’re at home. The more random and persistent you are, the less the dog will worry when you do have to leave the house. With this kind of routine, your puppy will learn to rest while crated, and that’s exactly the way you want them to feel – at home, relaxed, and comfortable in their own little den.
Crate training teaches your dog that good things happen in the crate and that it’s a very nice place to relax. When they’re properly trained, dogs love their crates and happily spend time there whenever necessary.
Feeding Your Dog in the Crate
Once you have familiarized your dog with the crate, try feeding your dog’s meals nearby. This will help your dog associate pleasure with their crate. If your dog is still reluctant to enter, place your bowl partially inside the enclosure. Then, each time you feed your dog, move the dish farther back into the crate.
When your dog is fully inside, close the door and let them finish their meal. Open the door to the crate as soon as your dog finishes eating. Then, each time you feed your dog in the crate, try leaving the door closed a few minutes longer. Your goal should be to leave your dog in the crate for 10 minutes after eating.
You’ll know that you have increased the length of time in the crate too quickly if your dog whines to get out. Make sure not to let them out of the crate until they stop whining. Otherwise, they’ll learn that you will reward their whining by taking them out of the crate, and they’ll continue behaving in this fashion.
Learning to Love Lockup
On occasion, you may want your pup to remain in the crate when they want to get out. Don’t try to fool your puppy by calling them to you and then forcing them into the crate. Instead, use a command like: “Go to your crate,” and lure them in with a little food. Hand over the treat as soon as they settle down inside the crate, and praise them and keep feeding them while they’re inside. The minute your pup ventures out, turn off the food supply – and the charm.
Put a few pieces of kibble in the crate so your pup will develop the habit of going into the crate on their own, earning more praise and even more treats. Sooner or later, they’ll learn that they get lots of attention, affection, and goodies inside the crate – and very little in the way of treats outside of the crate.
Once your dog starts going into the crate on a regular basis, reward them by giving a long-lasting, treat-dispensing chew toy. Doing so will encourage your dog to relax and settle in for longer periods of time.
By the way, never put your pup in the crate for misbehavior “time-outs” or punishment. Using a crate in this way will render it aversive and less useful as a behavior management tool.
If your crated dog begins to whine, you must determine if they are whining because they don’t want to be in the crate or if they’re whining because they have to go outside to eliminate. You should never reward your dog for whining by letting them out of the crate. Ignore your dog for several minutes to see if the whining stops. If that doesn’t work, try prompting your dog with the phrase you use to get them outside. If your dog reacts with excitement, it’s best to get them outside as quickly as possible.
Housetraining and the Crate
To confine an untrained dog for long periods is to court disaster. If the pup is forced to soil in their crate, the crate will no longer inhibit their elimination and will be of no help when you wish to employ it for house training.
Basically, house-training a dog is solving a spatial problem. You want to teach the dog to eliminate only in one place – outdoors. During the training period, it’s up to you to set limits. For example, if you don’t allow your pup free access to the living room and bedrooms, they can’t make a mess on the carpets there.
Because most puppies can’t control their urine and feces for extended periods of time, the most important part of any house-training program is setting up and sticking with a schedule that your puppy can maintain. Feed your dog at consistent times during the day and watch your pup’s natural schedule. Puppies usually need to eliminate shortly after waking up, after eating, and after playing. Young puppies may need to urinate every four hours.
When your pup eliminates in a designated area, praise and reward them immediately with play or a treat. People usually reward their pup for urinating outside only after they have brought them back indoors. This is a mistake, because it rewards the pup for coming inside, not for eliminating outside. Instead, keep a few treats in your pocket and hand them out on the spot.
If your pup repeatedly messes inside the crate, take the puppy to your vet to rule out medical problems, such as intestinal parasites and urinary-tract diseases.
If you need to be away from home for a few hours, hire a dog walker to take the puppy out, or enclose your pup in a large pen to provide them with an opportunity to eliminate away from their resting spot. Leave newspaper or training pads down in one area when you are gone – but pick them up once you’re back home.
Punishment after the fact doesn’t work. If an “accident” happens, clean it up with a good enzymatic cleaner and blame yourself. You’re the one who wasn’t supervising the pup at the time the “accident” occurred. If you catch your dog in the act of eliminating indoors, make a loud noise to distract them, and then take them outside right away.
Dogs with separation anxiety will often urinate, defecate, or bark when confined. In fact, some dogs become so anxious when confined that they destroy their crates and hurt themselves in the process. These dogs may do better when confined in a larger area, but if the problem still persists, see your vet or check with a veterinary behaviorist.
Crating a Dog Before Leaving the House
Before you can leave your crated dog home alone, you must first make sure that they are comfortable in the crate. Your dog should be able to stay in the crate for about 30 minutes without becoming anxious before you try leaving them home alone. Start by leaving your dog in the crate for short periods while you leave. Use your command (such as “go to your crate”) and give your dog a treat. Praise them for going into the crate. Also, try leaving a chew toy to help occupy your dog’s time while you’re gone.
Put your dog into the crate about 5 to 15 minutes before you leave. When you leave the house, don’t make a big deal out of it, simply leave quietly. When you return home, it may be tempting to return your dog’s enthusiasm as well. Do not respond with excitement or enthusiasm when you see your dog. Instead, make the moment very calm and matter of fact.
As your dog continues to increase the amount of time they can comfortably stay in the crate, you can increase the amount of time that you leave your dog crated while you leave the house.
It’s best to occasionally crate dogs while you’re at home. This will ensure that they do not associate the crate exclusively with loneliness and encourage them to associate it with positive emotions.
Picking a Crate for Your Dog
Crates come in different styles and sizes. Prices range from about $75 to $175. Make sure that you select a crate that is an appropriate size for your dog. A comfortable crate should be about twice the size of your pup and should be large enough for your dog to stand up and turn around while inside.
If you’re bringing home a puppy, make sure to purchase a crate that’ll fit your dog once they’re fully grown. Just make sure to block off the excess crate space so that your dog cannot eliminate at one end of the crate and move to the other end.
The most common types are the pressed fiberglass models favored by airlines (these are often called airline kennels), and the open-wire cages that are available at most pet stores. Fiberglass kennels are the sturdiest and safest for traveling in a car or airplane.