Sometimes life, both in and outside of the home, gets overwhelming. There are times when each of us wishes to find a place of solitude where we can relax away from the stresses of the world.
In this respect, we are very much like dogs. Even the friendliest, most social of dogs, needs a place to “get away from it all.” Crate training a puppy or dog, when done correctly, provides them with just such a place.
The first step in crate training is purchasing an appropriate crate for your dog. Here are the dos and don’ts of crate buying:
DO: Select a crate that is 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.
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.
DON’T: Buy a soft-sided crate if your dog likes to chew on fabric!
The goal of crate training is to create a dog that is relaxed and happy while in the crate. Here are the dos and don’ts of crating your dog.
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.
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.
DO: Practice crate training when you are home.
DON’T: Make the crate a predictor of your absence (dog is only crated when you are leaving).
DO: 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, Nina Ottosson toys, 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: Play with your dog in his crate. Train in and around the crate to make positive experiences for him – capture and put going into the crate on cue, practice from all distances and with distractions.
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.
DO: Consider feeding your dog in his crate.
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.
DO: Generalize to other crates, environments.
DON’T: Put bedding in the crate until your dog is reliably house trained or if your dog will chew/ingest bedding.
DO: Make sure to wash bedding frequently and thoroughly when your dog has earned the privilege of a soft bed or blanket, especially during flea season!
DO: Leave the crate door open and reward him whenever he chooses to relax in his crate.
DO: Keep the crate in a living area where the dog will not feel lonely.
DO: Consider getting an extra crate for the bedroom, if you prefer not to share your bed with the dog!
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 think you ever may, 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.
Follow the dos and don’ts of crate training to give your dog a sanctuary – every dog deserves a happy place to relax.