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Crate Training

dog_crate

Crate training is a valuable way to keep your new puppy safe and more quickly teach house-training.

Why Should I Crate My Dog?

Dogs are den animals. Your dog’s wild ancestors would dig shallow holes or caves in out-of-the-way places where they could sleep, hide from predators, and rear their pups. Modern dogs still retain this ancient instinct. They love a quiet refuge where they can take a snooze or get out of the fray. The crate is your dog’s “den.”

Crate training is universally recommended for housetraining because dogs—even the youngest pups—don’t like to soil their dens. Your pup will quickly learn to hold it in or else. Preventing accidents is much more effective than correcting your puppy after the fact.

Crating also restricts your puppy or young dog’s access to the rest of the house so she can’t get into trouble while you’re away. This could literally save her life. Later, your adult dog is likely to use the crate by choice. You’ll often find your dog in there with the door open, snoozing or just chilling out.

Finally, the crate is a great home away from home if you ever need to travel with your dog.

Isn’t It Cruel to Cage My Dog?

Used properly, a crate is a cozy and comfortable space where your dog feels at ease. But it should not be abused. A dog left crated for long stretches without exercise and human interaction will become bored, depressed, or anxious. A young puppy can only go so long before she’ll need company and a bathroom break. If you’re home during the day, your puppy should be interacting with you, not constantly crated.

Crates are NOT indicated for dogs with separation anxiety or compulsive disorders unless they are already known to be calm in a crate. Being confined only increases their distress, and a panicked dog can get severely injured in an attempt to escape.

Crates should never be used for punishment. If you grab your dog angrily and shove her into the crate, she'll start to associate it with negative feelings, which could make her anxious or stressed in the crate.

Which Crate Should I Choose?

Crates come in three major types: plastic, metal, and soft-sided. Crates can be purchased at most major pet stores and online pet supply outlets.

  • Plastic crates are molded two-piece units with ventilation holes along the sides and a steel wire door in front. Plastic crates are relatively lightweight and portable. Their enclosed sides may provide added privacy for your dog. This type of crate is required by law if you want to fly with your pet.
  • Steel wire crates are probably the most popular type. They are easier to clean and allow better visibility and ventilation. Better models are collapsible, and can fold down to a suitcase-sized unit that is easy to store and to carry. They also have pull-out bottom trays for easy cleaning. The downside is that they’re heavy and often more expensive. Steel wire cages can vary significantly in quality and style, so it’s important to shop carefully. A good one can last for many years.
  • Soft-sided crates are newer on the scene. They are made of soft fabric over a rigid steel wire frame. Advantages include decreased cost, lighter weight, and easier storage. They are probably less durable over the long haul than plastic or metal crates, and they are no match for an escape artist.

What Size Crate Should I Get?

Crates come in all sizes. The right size crate is one in which your dog, as an adult, will be able to stand up, lie down, and turn around. Not sure what size to get for your growing puppy? Ask your veterinarian, shelter, or breeder for advice. Too much extra space and your puppy might choose the far corner of her crate to do her business, and house-training will be slower. Options include purchasing a second crate to use when your pup is small, renting successively larger crates as she grows, or buying one full-sized crate and partitioning it. Some crates come with built-in partitions just for this purpose.

How Should I Introduce the Crate to My Puppy?

Some pups will take to the crate right away. For others, it’s an epic struggle. If your pup comes from a breeder, she may have learned her crate manners already. If not, be sure to proceed gradually. It also helps to have your pup on a regular schedule of feeding, play, and sleep times. Puppies have natural cycles of rest and activity during the day. An awareness of your puppy’s physiologic down times will maximize your success with crate-training.

Teach your puppy to use the crate by linking it with something pleasant. Here are some tips:

  1. Initially, put the crate in a part of the house that your puppy frequents, such as the kitchen or family room. Put chew-safe padding in the crate and leave the door open. If you’re lucky, your pup will wander right in and settle for a nap. But if not:
  2. Try tossing treats or a favorite chew toy into the crate while your pup is watching. When she goes inside to retrieve her prize, praise her enthusiastically. If she balks at the door, try at first putting the treat just inside the threshold and then increasingly far into the crate as she gets more comfortable.
  3. Next, feed your dog inside the crate. If she accepts this, try closing the door while she’s eating. Let her right out as soon as she’s finished for now. But keep the door closed longer on each try.
  4. Once your puppy is comfortable spending short stretches in the crate while eating, she’s ready to be closed in there for longer intervals. Call your dog over, show her a treat, and give her a command such as “kennel.” Toss the treat in. Your puppy should go into the crate and devour the treat. Praise lavishly. Your pup will soon learn that “kennel” = “treat + “praise.” Then close the door.
  5. If your puppy whines or complains about being crated, try to ignore it. Chances are, she’ll soon quiet down and turn her attention to her toys or even get ready for a snooze. If your puppy is very stubborn, try correcting her once or twice with a sharp “no!” Shaking a soda can filled with pennies might also do the trick. Whatever you do, don’t give in to your puppy’s complaints by opening the door and letting her out. She’ll only learn that whining gets results.
  6. Unceremoniously leave the room for several minutes. When you return, open the door to let your puppy out and praise her. That is, if she hasn’t fallen asleep!
  7. If in the course of this training your puppy cries, barks, or whines uncontrollably, you may have to go back step 1 and proceed more gradually. If you’ve really reached an impasse, consult your veterinarian for advice.

When Is It OK to Leave My Puppy Alone in the Crate?

Once your puppy can remain content and relaxed in the crate for about 30 minutes, you can begin leaving home for short periods. Give her the “kennel” command and a treat, and then close the door and walk away. Don’t linger over goodbyes and don’t make a big fuss when you return, no matter how excited you are to see each other. This actually makes separation harder.

Your puppy is also ready to start sleeping in her crate overnight. Since young pups need a bathroom break during the night, keep the crate nearby—beside your bed or in the hallway—so you can hear when she stirs. Later you can choose to move the crate to a preferred spot. However most dogs are happiest sleeping close to their favorite person.

How Long Can My Dog Stay in the Crate at a Time?

Adult dogs should be crated for no more than 8 hours at a time. For puppies, a good rule of thumb is to calculate your puppy’s age in months and add one. So for a 3-month old pup, she might spend a maximum of 4 hours before needing some social interaction and a potty break. Fortunately, you may find that this interval extends at night when your dog is sleeping and her whole system slows down. But the opposite is true when it’s daytime and she’s awake and alert.

When My Puppy Cries at Night, Is She Just Complaining, or Does She Need to Go Out?

If your 3-month-old puppy is crying and 4 hours have passed since bedtime, she probably needs to do her business. Then again, if she’s been out already but is fussing and won’t settle, try giving a correction as in step 5, above. If this doesn’t work, it may be best to ignore her. Don’t dote or coddle. It will truly make matters worse. Feel comfort in knowing that your pup will inevitably mature and adapt, and that these sleepless nights will soon be a distant memory.

My Puppy Keeps Soiling Her Crate. What Should I Do?

Setbacks are common during crate training, so don’t be discouraged. If your puppy repeatedly soils her crate, consider the following:

  • Make sure the crate isn’t too big. Either partition the one you have or temporarily switch to a smaller crate.
  • Make sure your puppy’s not being crated for too long. Remember, hours in the crate = months of age plus one.
  • Take it slower. Some puppies take longer to get it.
  • If you are training your puppy to eliminate on newspaper, never use newspaper to line the crate.
  • Take up your puppy’s food or water 2 hours before bedtime.
  • A bowl of water in the crate is a no-no until your dog is 100% reliable with potty training. Liquid in equals liquid out.
  • Take your puppy out the minute you wake up or come home from work. Don’t stop to fix a cup of coffee or read the mail. She literally can’t wait.

Be aware that a puppy who abruptly loses housetraining may actually have a medical problem with her bowels or bladder.If things just don’t seem right, consult your veterinarian.

Is It Too Late to Crate Train My Adult Dog?

Probably not. Crate training is best done when your dog is young, but old dogs can still learn new tricks. Your dog may need to be crated after a big surgery, for travel, to prevent destructive chewing, or to protect her from bolting out the door when guests arrive. Use the same procedure as you would for a puppy to acclimate your adult dog to the crate (see steps 1-6 above), although you may have to take it much slower. Again, crate training is usually not safe for dogs with true separation anxiety.

With any luck, your dog will soon love her “room with a view.”


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Traveling With Your Dog

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Separation Anxiety in Dogs

Fireworks Fear in Dogs

Tips for the First Few Weeks with Multiple Dogs


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