There are several occasions where you need to have your dog safe and in a restrained area, e.g. at dog sports competitions, on road trips, or after certain surgeries. A great way to do this is to keep your dog in a crate (sometimes this becomes a must during the recovery from certain health issues). This is why it’s so important to learn about crate training a dog.
This method is best taught at an early age, however, adult dogs can be taught to use a crate too! It may just take them a little longer to acclimate to it than it would a puppy.
What is crate training?
Crate training is the process of teaching your pet to feel comfortable in a dog crate. You might be surprised to learn that some dog lovers believe dogs automatically like to be inside a crate. Even though dogs are den animals, they still appreciate their freedom, and may feel uneasy if kept away from their pack. So, you must know that there is a training process behind the successful use of crates. Pet parents with no preparation will put up with crate training for a couple of days. Yet, after seeing no results, they will give up. Truthfully, this is a real shame. At the end of the day, crate training a dog has huge benefits.
Why should I crate train my dog?
The single most important benefit of crate training a puppy is it is a way to keep your pup out of trouble when you can't keep an eye on him for a little while. When you have your back turned, puppies can get into all sorts of trouble: digging up your plants, going through your pantry, destroying the toilet paper...you name it! These behaviours are not only a disturbance to you, but it can also be dangerous for your puppy! Plus, if you don't catch your pup in the act, it'll take longer for him to understand what he is and isn't allowed to do in the house. In addition, some suggest that crate training is effective when toilet training a puppy. For these reasons, owners sometimes choose to put their puppies in a crate at night, when everyone is asleep, and no-one is watching them...
Adult dogs can benefit from crates too. Some dogs may be generally anxious (either chronic due to past trauma, for instance, or acute, during specific times like firework nights, for example). The crate gives them a confined, quiet, and individual place to retreat to and feel secure in. Dogs cope better with stressful situations when they have the chance to hide away. Originally den animals, using a crate can feel quite natural to some dogs.
Crates can also be a great way to make sure your dog stays in one place for a certain period of time. This could be the case after surgery, if your vet has recommended that your dog isn’t too active for some time. If you need to leave the house for a few minutes, but want to make sure your dog isn’t moving around too much, the crate is a good solution.
Finally, crates can also be used for transportation. Whatever the method you choose, you must find a way to restrain your dog when you are inside a vehicle. Having a dog who is comfortable using a crate can make the difference between life and death in this sort of situation.
Your dog may not need or want to use a crate every day. However, if the time comes that you do need to use a crate for any reason, it’s best your pup is already accustomed to it. This will prevent any stress or anxiety for the both of you.
When you do not need to keep your dog restrained for any specific reason, the crate can be left opened 24/7 so your pet is free to enter and leave it as he chooses. When closing the crate, however, remember they are not meant to be used for long periods of time. They should be used for short periods of time only (2 to 3 hours tops). Using them for long periods of time can hinder your puppy’s proper muscle development, and can cause behavioural issues, including separation anxiety, in dogs of any age.
Choosing the best crate for my dog or puppy
First, choose a well-ventilated crate that is big enough for your dog to stand up, lie down, and turn around. If you begin training with a puppy, you also have to take into consideration that the crate will have to grow as he does. It is advisable to buy a crate for a full-grown dog and then use a divider to make the crate smaller for the time being. Finally, try to buy a crate made of hard materials like metal (if you plan on using it only at home), or plastic (if you are also going to use if for transportation). It is important the crate is made out of sturdy material because your dog won’t be able to break it!
Where to place the crate?
It is advisable to put the crate exactly where you want it to be eventually. However, this should not be in a room that you hardly frequent. Most pet parents place it in the ‘family’ room, meaning the room where most of the family spend their time together. This is imperative because you need your dog to associate the crate with your presence. Plus, you don’t want the puppy to feel excluded when crated. Vets recommend placing the crate in the living room or the kitchen. This step is very important when crate training your puppy or dog.
How to crate train a dog?
You can follow the next steps to crate train your dog:
- Place the crate in a room where you and your family spend time together often. Remember to leave the crate door open when you start habituating your puppy to it. The crate needs to face the rest of the room.
- If you are using the crate while toilet training a puppy, then place puppy pads on the crate’s floor.
- Make sure you begin crate training after an activity that tires the pup out.
- Also add a soft blanket, a dog bed, and water. The crate will be even more enjoyable for your dog if you add a fun chew or treat-dispensing toy inside.
- The first time that you want your dog to go in, leave a treat near the back of the crate. Treats encourage pups to enter the crate voluntarily. You could also encourage your puppy to enter the crate by throwing one of his favourite toys inside for him to go fetch.
- Pick a command to signal to your dog that it is time to go into the crate. Use it every time he enters the crate voluntarily. Don’t forget to reward him.
- The first time you introduce the crate, stay nearby as he explores his new space. Praise him a lot for going inside.
- Once he has explored and sniffed the crate, call him out and give him a treat for passing his first crate experience. It is crucial that dogs only associate a crate with positive experiences. In this respect, make sure the crate is also well-adjusted, and won't collapse on your pup. Even if the crate is lightweight, the simple experience of a loud noise and sudden movement could frighten your puppy too much for him to feel confident using the crate again! Repeat steps 6 to 8 several times a day for a couple of days.
- You can make your dog feel more comfortable about going inside the crate by feeding him in it. Feeding your dog his meals in the crate will create an association between food and the crate (crate = happy puppy!) After a couple of days, begin to close the door gently behind him, and sit quietly outside it. When the door is shut, feed your pup a treat through the crate. After a few seconds, let him out, and praise him some more!
- Repeat steps 6-9 several times each day. Every now and then you can wait a minute or two longer to let your dog out of the crate. Continue to do this until the pup is comfortably relaxing in the crate for 30 minutes. Once your pup is able to relax for some time inside the crate, you can start using it to your advantage. You should not force your dog to use the crate until he is comfortable using it by himself!
- Don't leave a puppy in his crate all day. Remember that he needs several bathroom breaks, as well as play time.
- If you do need to leave your dog alone in the crate for some time, remember to remove his collar so as to avoid any dangerous accidents.
- Never use the crate as punishment.
- Never lose your patience. You know that learning takes time.
Crate training a dog is very interesting and beneficial for you and your dog! Give it a try and see the results.
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