Crate Training Your Dog
Crate training your dog may take some time and effort, but can be useful in a variety of situations. You can use the crate to limit the dog’s access to the house until it learns all the house rules, such as where it can and can’t go to the toilet. A crate is also a safe way of transporting your dog in the car, giving your dog some quiet time, or providing a familiar space if you take your dog on holiday. If you properly crate train your dog, it will become a safe place and your dog will be happy to spend time there when needed.
Selecting a crate
A crate is a collapsible, metal pen. They are easy to put up and down, and to transport or move from room to room.
The right dimensions of the crate will depend on the size of your dog. As a minimum your dog must be able to sit and stand at full height, turn around, stretch out and lie down in a natural position. If you are adopting a puppy, it is a good idea to buy a crate that he or she can grow into – that way you only have to purchase one crate.
The crate training process
Crate training can take days or weeks, depending on your dog’s age, temperament and past experiences. Remember:
- The crate should always be associated with something pleasant; and
- Training should take place in a series of small steps – don’t go too fast.
Step 1: Introducing your dog to the crate
Put the crate in an area of your house where the family spends a lot of time, such as the living room. Put a soft blanket or towel in the crate. Make sure the crate door is securely fastened open so it won’t hit and frighten your dog.
- Bring your dog to the crate while talking in a happy tone of voice.
- Drop small food treats near the crate, then just inside the door, and finally, all the way inside.
- Do this until your dog walks calmly all the way in.
- If your dog isn’t interested in treats, try tossing a favorite toy into the crate.
If your dog refuses to go all the way in at first, that’s okay – don’t force it. It may take a few minutes or as long as several days.
Step 2: Feeding your dog meals in the crate
After introducing your dog to the crate, begin feeding regular meals near the crate. This will create a pleasant association with the crate.
- Put the food dish as far inside as your dog will readily go without becoming fearful or anxious.
- Each time you feed, place the dish a little further back in the crate.
- Once your dog is standing comfortably in the crate to eat, you can close the door while your dog is eating.
- Open the door as soon as the meal is finished.
- At each feed leave the door closed a few minutes longer, until your dog is staying in the crate for 10 minutes after eating.
If your dog whines to be let out, you may have increased the length of time too quickly. Wait until the whining stops, then let your dog out. Next time, try leaving your dog in the crate for a shorter time.
Step 3: Conditioning your dog to the crate for longer time periods
Once your dog is eating regular meals in the crate with no sign of fear or anxiety, you can confine them for short time periods while you’re home.
- Call your dog to the crate and give a treat.
- Give a command to enter, such as, “in your crate.”
- Encourage your dog by pointing to the inside of the crate with a treat in your hand.
- After your dog enters the crate, give praise then the treat and close the door.
- Sit quietly near the crate for 5 to 10 minutes, then go into another room for a few minutes.
- Return, sit quietly again for a short time, then let your dog out of the crate.
Repeat this process several times a day, gradually increasing the length of time you leave your dog in the crate and the length of time you’re out of sight.
Step 4: Part A - Crating your dog when left alone
Once your dog is spending about 30 minutes in the crate without becoming anxious or afraid, you can begin leaving them crated for short periods when you leave the house.
- Put your dog in the crate using your regular command and a treat. You can also leave a few safe toys in the crate.
- Don’t make your departures emotional and prolonged, but matter-of-fact. Praise your dog briefly, give a treat for entering the crate and then leave quietly.
- When you return home, don’t reward your dog for excited behaviour by responding in an excited, enthusiastic way. Keep arrivals low key.
- Continue to crate your dog for short periods from time to time when you’re home so your dog doesn’t associate crating with being left alone.
You’ll want to vary at what point in your “getting ready to leave” routine you put your dog in the crate. Although you shouldn’t crate them for a long time before you leave, anywhere from five to 20 minutes prior to leaving is fine.
Step 4: Part B - Crating your dog at night
- Put your dog in the crate using your regular command and a treat.
- Once your dog is sleeping comfortably through the night, begin to gradually move it to the location you prefer.
- Puppies that are healthy can have their water taken from them a few hours before bedtime to help decrease the frequency of toilet trips during the night.
Too much time in the crate
A crate isn’t a magical solution. If not used correctly, a dog can feel trapped and frustrated.
It is never acceptable to shut your dog in the crate all day while you go to work. Adult dogs who have been successfully trained to have a positive association with their crate and view it as a safe haven are normally quite happy to spend about three hours during the day in their crate. They should not be left in the crate for longer than this.
Puppies are unable to hold their bladders and bowels like adult dogs can and this needs to be considered when leaving them in their crate. Puppies under 6 months of age should spend no more than 2–3 hours in a crate during the day without a toilet and play break.
If a dog spends too long in confinement, their muscle development and condition can be adversely affected. It is important that they have sufficient space and enrichment to maintain their mental and physical wellbeing.
If your dog whines or cries while in the crate at night, it may be difficult to decide whether your dog is simply whining to be let out of the crate, or to go outside to the toilet. If you followed the training procedures outlined above, your dog won’t have been rewarded for whining by being released from the crate.
- Try to ignore the whining. If your dog is testing you, the whining will probably stop soon.
- Do not yell at your dog or pound on the crate – this will only make things worse.
- If the whining continues after you’ve ignored it for several minutes, use the phrase the dog associates with going outside to the toilet.
- If he or she responds and becomes excited, take your dog outside. This should be a trip with a purpose, not play time.
- If you’re convinced that your dog doesn’t need to go to the toilet, ignore the whining until it stops. Do not give in, otherwise you’ll teach your dog to whine loud and long to get what he or she wants.
If you’ve progressed gradually through the training steps and haven’t done too much too fast, you will be less likely to encounter this problem. If the problem becomes unmanageable, you may need to start the crate training process over again.
A crate is not a remedy for separation anxiety. A crate may prevent your dog from being destructive, but they may injure themselves attempting to escape from the crate. Separation anxiety problems can only be resolved with counter-conditioning and desensitisation. Find out more about reducing separation anxiety in dogs here.
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