In the wild, dogs are inclined to seek out shelter and live in dens. These are small spaces which provide protection from the elements, and a place for the dog to relax. In addition, dogs instinctively avoid eliminating in their dens. Because of this, the use of a crate as a ‘den’ is an effective tool for house breaking your dog.
In addition, a crate can provide a perfect place for your dog to relax, as well as help you to establish a bathroom routine. In this article, we take a look at how you can get started with crate training your dog, from choosing the right type of crate to increasing the amount of time they spend in it.
How to Select a Crate
When crate training your puppy, it is essential that you are using a quality crate to ensure the best results. In particular, getting the size right is crucial. The crate should be large enough so that your pup can walk around in a tight circle, and lay down easily. It should also be tall enough so that the dog can sit down without their head rubbing against the top of the crate. The crate you choose should give your puppy plenty of room to stretch, sit and stand.
On the flip side, you should ensure that the crate is not too big, as if they’re given too much space you may find that your puppy designates a separate sleeping space and “bathroom” spot within the crate- which would completely defeat the purpose of using it!
In addition to size, you also need to think about the variety of crate materials that are available to chose from- namely plastic, steel wire and wood. If your puppy is a heavy chewer, opt for steel wire over plastic or wood as it is typically much more durable. Wicker and wood crates are not recommended for dogs who are have not already been house trained as accidents will quickly ruin crates made from these materials.
The Initial Introduction
When you are preparing to introduce your puppy to their crate for the first time, it is best to first take them on a walk, or tire them out with a high-energy play session. This will help to relax your puppy, making it much easier to guide them into the crate.
It is important that you keep the introduction as positive as possible, so that they think of it as a safe and happy place. Layer the bottom of the crate with a soft blanket, and add some of their favourite toys so that they feel at home. During the introduction, throw a few treats inside and allow them to explore their crate without rushing them or forcing them inside. As your puppy explores, reward them with further treats and lots of praise.
Once they enter the crate of their own free will and without a treat being tossed in, try closing the gate slowly and gently. Keep it closed for a few minutes, as long as they remain calm. When that time has passed, open the gate and shower them with praise! Continue doing this until they can stay in the crate without whining.
After your dog is comfortable spending time in the crate, you can start to feed him regular meals whilst crated, which will help to reinforce positive feelings about it.
If your dog is already happy to enter the crate without much encouragement from you, place the food bowl right at the back. On the other hand, if he is still reluctant to enter, place the food bowl in as far as he will go without becoming anxious. Encourage him to go further back by placing the bowl a little further back each time you feed him. When you see that your dog is comfortable standing and eating in the crate, you can start to close the door whilst he is eating. To begin with, open the door as soon as he has finished his food. After this, leave the door closed a few minutes longer each time, until you reach the point where he is staying in the crate for ten minutes after finishing his meal.
If your dog starts whining, you’ve most likely increased the length of time with the door shut too quickly. It’s important not to let him out when he starts doing this, however. If you do, this will just teach him that he can get out of the crate by whining. Instead, wait until he has stopped whining before letting him out.
Increasing Crate Time
When you can see that your dog is settled in his crate and is able to eat meals in the crate without displaying any signs of fear or anxiety, you can move to the next step and start leaving him in there for short periods whilst you are home.
To begin with, stand by the crate and call your dog over, rewarding him with a treat. Next, gesture towards the crate and give him a command to enter, such as ‘crate time’, ‘kennel’ or simply ‘crate’. As soon as he enters, reward him with lots of praise and another treat, closing the door behind him.
Stay quietly by the crate for a few minutes, being careful not to make any fuss of your dog or respond to him if he starts whining or barking. After a short while has passed, leave the room and stay there for a few more minutes. Next, come back into the room, waiting for another 5-10 minutes quietly by the crate before letting your dog out.
So that your dog gets the hang of spending increasing amounts of time in the crate, repeat these steps several times each day, slowly upping the amount of time you spent outside of the room. Eventually, you will reach a point where your dog is able to stay quietly in his crate for about 30 minutes with you out of sight. When you get to this stage, you can start leaving him in the crate when you’re gone for short periods of time and let him sleep in there at nighttime.
Leaving Your Dog In The Crate
When you are about to leave the house, send your dog to his crate using your chosen command phrase, rewarding him with a treat. To keep him entertained and comfortable, you may also want to leave him with some safe toys.
To prevent any kind of anxious or over-excited behaviours developing, it is wise to vary at which point you send your dog to the crate. For example, rather than crating him immediately before you leave, occasionally send him in 5-10 minutes beforehand.
Avoid making a scene or paying extra attention to your dog when you do leave. Briefly praise and reward your dog for entering his crate, close the door and leave the house quietly. Likewise, don’t encourage excited behaviour from your dog by responding to him in an enthusiastic way. Instead, avoid creating anxiety around your return by keeping your arrival subdued, only letting him out of the crate when is calm and quiet.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Crate Training
You should never use your dog’s crate as a form of punishment. If they do something bad, do not send them to their crate. Your puppy should consider the crate a comfortable and happy spot for them to relax. If it is used as a punishment, you run the risk that they will become afraid and refuse to enter.
Another thing that you should always take care to avoid is removing your pup from the crate if they are barking or whining. If you do, it will teach them that in order to get out of the crate, all that they have to do is simply make some noise and you’ll let them out. As long as you’ve taken them out to use the bathroom, fed them and made sure they are in a comfortable crate, there is no reason that they should be whining. As hard as it may be to hear your puppy crying, it is essential to teach them their crate is a safe place.
Be careful not to leave your dog in the crate for too long each day. If you leave him in there for too long, you run the risk of your pup not getting enough exercise and developing symptoms of depression or anxiety. If you find that your dog is being left in his crate for longer than you think is necessary, you may have to look at making changes to your routine or speaking to a dog-sitter to reduce the amount of crate time each day.
If you find that your puppy has had an accident in the crate, do not scold or punish them as they will not know why you’re yelling at them and will just become confused. Instead, be sure to clean the crate and wash any padding, using a vinegar solution to remove any odors that may be lingering.
Once your puppy is fully housetrained, you no longer need to send your dog to his crate. After this point, the crate should become the den that he goes to voluntarily rather than a training aid.