Crate Training & Your Dog

Dogs are den animals. Denning is an instinct that has been in the canine family from a time long before they ever met man. A den is a cozy spot away from the weather, a safe place to sleep, and a dog's personal space to call home. In our modern times the wild den is easily replaced with a crate. Proper crating of a dog is not cruel or inhumane. A crate is not an animal "cage", even if it happens to be made of wire!

Most dogs will crate train readily, especially when introduced to their crate as young pups. Many times a crate trained dog will retire to his personal "den" to sleep undisturbed or knaw a bone privately. All this without being told to do so and will happily stay there with the door left wide open.

Advantages to Using a Crate

Housebreaking: Dogs do not like living in a "dirty" environment. They will try not to soil their sleeping quarters if at all possible. This makes it possible to use the crate as a house training tool. Puppies and problem dogs can put on a schedule of being crated between "bathroom" trips outside. This teaches them to "go" when they are outside in the yard, NOT inside the house.

Destructive Behavior: Bored dogs are destructive dogs... and all puppies will investigate things with their mouth. A crated dog cannot get into things he is not supposed to when you are away. A crated puppy will not kill itself chewing on an electrical wire when you are not looking. Furniture will not be destroyed, nor will shoes, books, carpet, etc. Food is not stolen that can upset their digestive system or ruin a balanced diet. The crate is an excellent tool to keep a dog or pup out of trouble. It can also be used to help "reset" a dog's bad habits by removing him from the situation that the behavior occurs...

Happy Homecoming: When you come home to a house that is "destroyed", your good mood may be ruined or a bad mood made worse from being angry with your dog. A crated dog does not have the opportunity to destroy your home. Homecomings should be happy & positive for both of you. He does not become afraid to see you or not come to you because you are always mad at him! He will usually keep the weekday crating schedule during the weekend, allowing you "quiet" time in the house while he naps.

Safe Travel: Your dog can ride with you without the fear of his jumping out a window or from the back of a truck. Your dog is protected from being tossed around in a vehicle if you are involved in an auto accident. He will not become lost when the car door is opened and he goes out to explore. The crate is his "home away from home". It gives your dog a familiar place to stay and a feeling of security in strange places. Hey, the relatives might even let him visit since they know he won't be an unsupervised "wild one" with their house & pets!

Safe Visits: Your dog can be kept out the way of visitors, whether it is the neighbor down the street or the repairman. You do not have to worry about the safety of young children or your dog... neither one can play too rough with the other. Visiting pets won't be chased around the house or dog fights break out unexpectedly. And you won't worry about your pet escaping outside when a door is left open or by sneaking past your visiters.

Never Use a Crate...

... as a place of punishment. It is his "safe" place and should not be associated with negative experiences! If you are mad at your dog, "cool down" before sending him to his crate.

... that is too small for your dog to be comfortable. He should be able to sit up or turn around easily, as well as be able to lay on his side! A good "rule of thumb" is a crate that is as tall as the dog's height plus 2-3 inches, or about as wide as the dog's height. Height is measured at the shoulders while standing.If buying an adult sized crate for a puppy, a reasonable guess of size can be made from the height of the parents.

... for puppy house training that is too big! If your pup's crate is too big, he will soil one corner and sleep in another. If you buy a crate suitable for an adult dog - partition off the excess space & remember to move the partitioning as he grows.

... for more than a few hours at a time when house training a puppy! If left in the crate too long and the puppy soils his crate, you are defeating the purpose of using the crate to house train. About 4 hours is the longest a very young puppy can "hold" himself, although some younger pups and most older pups can wait much longer.

... as a replacement for teaching your dog basic obedience and house manners! DO take your puppy to a puppy obedience class, both for training and socialization.

Choosing a Crate...

There are basically three types of crates that you can buy for your dog. A metal wire crate, a hard plastic crate, or a specialty crate. The one you choose will depend on your dog,  your preferences, intended use, and your pocketbook. 

Wire Crates:

Generally more expensive for the size. They are very sturdy and provide good airflow & visibility for your dog. They come in several wire thickness, the smaller the gage number... the thicker the wire. They also come in several door styles (or combinations): front opening, side opening and (in some crates) an additional top opening. Finish may be plain, anodized, or epoxy in several colors. Many styles will fold down to a flat "suitcase" size for easy storage and transport. Wire crates are easier to partition off and some can be purchased with an optional wire partition. Airline kits and crate covers can be purchased to meet airline shipping regulations, but not all airlines will accept wire crates for shipping.

Plastic Crates:

Cheaper and lighter than wire crates. Sturdy enough for most dogs, but they may not be advisable for some large "power chewers" - it depends on the individual dog. The closed sides with airflow holes may give a more secure feeling to a shy or nervous dog. They can be "broken down" into two pieces and the bottom half can be used as a dog bed. Plastic crates come in many styles, colors and price ranges. This is the standard crate type used by the airlines for shipping dogs. Airline kits can be purchased to meet airline shipping regulations.

Specialty Crates:

These are the least common crates found and can be purchased from specialty equipment suppliers. They come in two main materials, either full metal aluminum or solid wooden crates. Both meet airline regulations and are mostly used to transport show or professional working dogs. Although very sturdy and safe, these crates are generally heavier and cost more to ship your dog.

Crate Training a Puppy...

The "Preferred" Method:

Crate training should begin as soon as you bring home your new puppy. The sooner you begin training, the quicker the puppy will adapt to the routine of his new home. The crate should be placed in an area where the puppy will be able to see and hear his new family. It should be away from drafts and not touching anything a puppy can chew or paw. At night, the crate may be placed next to your bed so your pup will not feel alone and/or insecure.

You can place one or two toys, as well as a blanket or towel, in the crate (if he soils the blanket/towel during crate training, remove it and do not return it). Do not leave food or water in the crate. You can "bribe" the puppy into the crate with a toy or treat, but only give it to him when he is in the crate. Let the puppy investigate the crate and give lots of praise.

When the puppy is comfortable around the crate &/or is disinterested in the crate, put him in the crate, give a biscuit & praise, and shut the door. Leave him in the crate for about 5 minutes. Stay IN the same room, ignore him if he fusses, and praise him only when he is quiet (if only for a few seconds!). When the five minutes is up, praise him & let him out (again when he is quiet). Repeat this step several times that day with play and "potty" breaks in between.

Most of the crate training information says to do this for several days, increasing the time in the crate by another 5-10 minutes each day. When you have built up his "crate time" to about 30 minutes, start the whole process over with 5 minutes of crate time while you are OUT of the room. When he is comfortable staying in his crate for 30 minutes while you are gone.... he will be ready to spend time by himself for several hours. Immediately take your puppy outside to "potty" after lengthy stays in his crate.

The "Realistic" Method:

Unfortunately, taking more than a few days (or the weekend) to adjust the puppy to his crate is usually not a very realistic option in a working home. There is little difference between confining the pup in the bathroom or kitchen and using the crate while you are at work. In either case, the pup is still left alone and unable to relieve himself outside. Remember that any time the pup has a lot of "extra" room, he will also have the room to relieve himself and his housebreaking may take a little longer. You can also use the larger folding exercise pen (x-pen) as an interim measure (good training in itself) and simply start crating the pup at night or when you leave the house. The pup may cry when first left by itself, but should become used to the new routine in a few days. Always take the pup outside immediately when you return home.

Additional Crate Training Notes:

Do not leave a young pup in the crate more than a few hours at a time. Full time working families  should come home for lunch to let the pup outside to relieve itself and to get some play time. If you are unable to keep the crate time to 4-5 hours maximum, try confining the pup in an x-pen with a toy & a little water. The advantage to using an x-pen instead of room confinement is that the pup will be unable to chew on cabinets, rugs, etc and will be used to the x-pen if you decide to use it away from the house.

At night your puppy can sleep with his crate next to your bed. He will be able to hear your breathing and know he is not alone. You will be able to hear him fuss if he needs to go outside and relieve himself during a the night. If he fusses at bedtime, do not encourage him by speaking, you can let your hand rest were he can smell or touch you until he is quiet. Fussing during the night is usually a sign that he needs to go outside and should be taken seriously if you don't want to clean his crate in the middle of the night. However, only take the pup outside to relieve itself and then put it back in the crate. Do not stop to play or feed the pup.

When your puppy is old enough to make it through the night consistently without trips to the outside and is reliable not to be destructive in the house, you can start letting him have free run of your home. Night time is best to first try this as it is his normal sleep time, the house is quiet, and if he gets into any "trouble" you will be there to hear him! Leave the crate door open at bedtime, and if he manages to get into any trouble during the night, put him back in the crate and try again some other night. When he is reliable at night you can start leaving him out unsupervised for short periods of time during the day.

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