Crate Training 101

A man’s home is his castle and a dog’s crate is her den. If used properly, crates can be training tools useful for housetraining puppies and containing a dog that is destructive when not monitored. They can also be a safety zone for dogs during thunder storms or loud gatherings.
Denning Animals

Dogs are genetic descendants of wolves, a denning animal. This type of animal is one whose young are born in a den and raised there during the first few weeks of their lives. Denning animals are inclined to seek out small, enclosed spaces for rest and/or recovery. It is this tendency that allows us to successfully crate train dogs.

Denning animals prefer not to eliminate in the den because they do not like to live in their waste. Consequently, they tend to move away from the den in order to eliminate. Confinement in a crate capitalizes on, but does not create, this tendency in a domestic canine. Dogs will eliminate in their crate if they are left inside for too long, but when used appropriately, crating can greatly reduce the time required to housetrain your dog.

There are a number of aspects that are key to successful crate training, the most important of these include using a crate that is the correct size for the dog, appropriately introducing the crate, and utilizing it properly.

Choosing Your Crate

A crate that is correctly sized should be just large enough for the dog to stand up, sit down and turn around. A crate that is too large does not feel like a den to your dog and she may choose to eliminate in one area of the crate and sleep on the opposite side. Conversely, if the crate is too small, this can negatively impact the development of a growing puppy or induce anxiety in your pet.

Many people ask, “What do I do if I have a puppy? I don’t want to spend money on multiple crates.” If your dog is still growing, choose a crate size that will accommodate her adult height and weight. Many crates come with adjustable inserts that can block off the extra crate space to fit your puppy’s current size.

Crates can be plastic, collapsible or metal. The collapsible crates can be wonderful for traveling with your dog. Whether you choose to use a plastic or metal one at home is a matter of personal preference. However, sometimes one can be more suitable than the other depending on your dog’s personality. Some dogs like to chew on their crate and therefore a plastic crate may become a chew toy. Some dogs have difficulty settling down to sleep if they see shadows or hear noise, so a wire crate may prove too open. Covering a wire crate with a blanket can buffer some of the noise and will block out light. When putting a blanket over a crate, be sure to leave openings for air to pass through the crate and ensure your dog does not chew on the blanket.

Crate Introduction

Introducing your dog to the crate should be done in a series of small steps. Crate training can take a few days or several weeks depending on your dog’s age, temperament and past experiences. In the long run, it will be well worth the time invested.

During the training and introductory phase place the crate in an area of your home that is frequently occupied, like a family room, so that your dog will not feel isolated. When you are crating your dog at night, bring the crate into your bedroom or have a second crate located in that room. Young puppies may not be physically capable of holding their bladder throughout the night and you’ll want to hear her if she needs to eliminate. Once your dog is successfully sleeping through the night, you can consider moving the crate to its permanent location.

  1. Bring your dog over to the crate using your best “happy voice.” Give her a command such as “Kennel Up” or “Crate.” Let your dog smell a great treat and then toss it toward the back of the crate. If your dog doesn’t want to go in after the treat, then try using the Hansel and Gretel technique … make a trail of yummy treats from just outside the crate door to the back of the crate. As your dog follows the trail, she’ll enter the crate and think it’s a great place since it has so many goodies. Leave the crate door open so that Fifi can come right back out. Once she is happily going into the crate, you can move on to the next step, which is closing the crate door.
  2. Toss a treat into the crate and once Fifi has entered, close the door for one second. The crate should always be viewed as a positive experience from your dog’s perspective; it is important to take it slow so that it does not frighten her. SLOWLY, build up the amount of time the door remains closed. As the time increases, give Fifi other things to concentrate on while inside the crate such as a Kong toy stuffed with treats or a tasty bone.
  3. If your dog appears at all reluctant, then begin feeding her meals by the crate. This will insure the crate is viewed as a wonderful place. Once she is happy to eat by the crate, move the bowl into the crate. Lastly, move the bowl all the way to the back of the crate and then begin closing the crate door.
  4. Now it’s time to remove yourself from view. Put Fifi in the crate with a yummy stuffed Kong, close the crate door and walk out of the room for a very brief period. Your departure should be very matter-of-fact. You don’t want to make a big deal about leaving and have Fifi become stressed because you are fussing. You should return prior to the Kong being finished. Slowly build up the duration that you can be out of sight.
  5. Once your dog can spend about 30 minutes in the crate without whining or becoming anxious or afraid, you can begin to leave her alone for short periods while you leave the house. Be cognizant of your routine. If you always get dressed, have breakfast, put on your coat, pick up your car keys, and then put Fifi in the crate, it will be a cue to her that you are about to leave her so be sure to vary your routine so she cannot predict that you are leaving.

Insuring Proper Crate Use

If Fifi is whining while in the crate, you may find it difficult to determine if she needs to potty or if she simply wants to get out of the crate. If you’ve followed the steps above and introduced the crate slowly while always insuring it was associated with a pleasant experience, then ignore the whining. If she is just testing you to see if she can train you to open the door when she cries, she will quickly realize that it doesn’t work and settle down. If the whining continues, wait until she stops whining, even if it’s only for a second, before opening the door and then take her out to eliminate. Don’t play with her or “overly” interact with her. She needs to understand that if she whines and gets taken outside then it is strictly time to get down to business.

It’s important to remember that dogs should not spend too much time in their crate. Dogs need exercise and puppies under 6 months of age shouldn’t stay in a crate for more than 3 or 4 hours. The young ones can’t control their bladders or bowels for any longer and putting them in a situation where they feel forced to “hold it” too long can cause medical problems. If you can’t get home to let your dog out within a reasonable time period, consider hiring a pet sitter or dog walker.

Do not leave a collar or harness on your dog while in the crate. Even flat buckle collars can get stuck and cause serious injury to a dog. If you must leave a collar on your dog while she is crated, use a safety break-away collar.

The crate should never be used as a form of punishment. This will cause your dog to resent the crate. It should always be a happy place. Furthermore, children should never be allowed to play in the dog’s crate. This is a private sanctuary for Fifi and all rights to privacy should be respected.

The one type of dog that should not be crated without behavioral consultation is a dog with separation anxiety. By crating this type of dog without the guidance of a professional, you stand the risk of making your dog’s anxiety worse. If your dog eliminates in the crate, attempts to break out of the crate or injures herself while crated, this may be the case. Before attempting to crate a dog with separation anxiety, contact a canine behaviorist for advice and assistance.

Crate training has many advantages. When you are not home or cannot supervise, your puppy is safe in the crate and not developing bad habits. Nothing can be soiled or destroyed. Because dogs tend not to eliminate where they sleep, housetraining happens more quickly with the use of the crate. When traveling with your pets, they are safer when contained in a crate. Dogs enjoy the security and privacy of their “den” and can retreat to the comfort of their spot when tired or stressed. Crate training is a win for the owner and a win for the pet.


Crate Training 101

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Copyright 2013 Connecticut Humane Society