What is Crate Training?
People often equate crate training a dog with putting a child on the ‘naughty step’ or issuing a ‘time out’ when they misbehave, but the psychology is quite different in many ways, although it is a useful trick for calming a dog down when they’re misbehaving! In wild packs, dogs often have a familiar ‘den’ or common sleeping spot, so the idea is also to give the dog a place where they can feel safe if they get overwhelmed rather than indulging in ripping up the sofa or digging up the garden!
What does crate training a dog involve?
The first step of crate training is teaching your dog to sleep in a metal or plastic ‘crate’ – which is small enough to offer a hiding spot, but large enough that the dog can move around a bit and be fed in – in many ways it is like giving a child their own bedroom, and just like children, young puppies will probably be reluctant to sleep on their own at first given a choice, but will soon learn to appreciate ‘their’ own space. We help to create this connection by getting them to associate things they like, such as their favourite foods and warm, comfy, familiar-smelling bedding.
Once the dog is comfortable and happy with the crate is also becomes a behaviour management tool, an area where the dog can rest or sleep when you’re not available to supervise them. It is also invaluable as a housetraining tool, especially for younger puppies, as dogs by nature are reluctant to ‘soil’ their sleeping spot.
How big should the crate be?
In general, the crate should be large enough that the dog can turn around, but still small enough to remain ‘den’-like. Even if you only intend to use the crate for training in the short term, a good airline-friendly carrier is ideal because you also get a carrier that you can use for transporting to the vet, out to the beach or on similar adventures. Metal and plastic ones are commonly available, and some manufacturers even provide uber-comfy furnished options for the more discerning pooch, and even in table form which is great for owners:
Standard folding metal crate which is great as a space saver and also works well if you live in relatively warm climate as it offers great ventilation.
Classic plastic crate ideal for travelling.
When to Start Crate Training a Dog?
In the case of a puppy, its best to introduce crate training as soon as you begin to teach house training, in other words from the very beginning. If you are dealing with an older dog that is starting to exhibit behaviours that you’re hoping the crate training will help with, you will need to introduce the crate slowly. The most important thing is that the dog associates the crate with things that he likes, without a positive connection with the crate the training won’t work.
The crate is not meant to be a punishment. Initially just leave the crate where the dog or puppy can explore it, smell it, and venture inside to claim the spot as his own naturally. You can also start providing the dog’s food in his crate so that the positive association is reinforced. If your dog is nervous of the crate or reluctant to go inside at first, be patient and let them learn by themselves that it’s not something to be feared.
Super comfortable “pet home” which is suitable for indoor and outdoor use
A very important note! – if your puppy or dog is making noise when they’re in their crate, whining or barking to be let out – don’t do it. If you allow the connection to be made that barking, whining, yowling or otherwise making a racket gets them out, you’ve set yourself up for some very hard work indeed in unlearning that behaviour. If the dog clearly wants out, only do so when they have become quiet, or at the very least, quieter. It is worth the temporary irritation to have your point made. Associate less noise = you get what you want.
Getting Started With Crate Training:
Pick a command or verbal cue that you’re going to use to indicate that it’s time to get into the crate. Commands like ‘inside’, ‘kennel up’, ‘in we go!’ – Whatever feels natural to you. Now the games begin! Pick some of your dog’s favourite treats – homemade dog food or their favourite raw dog food treats will work well because they smell extra yummy – and repeat your chosen command as you toss one of the treats inside the crate. Repeat this exercise until the dog shows no hesitation at rushing inside the crate. Some dogs get this instantly, others may be a little more nervous, but they generally get the idea very quickly! At this point, you’re not yet closing the crate door at all.
For the next stage, you’ll begin to close the crate door for a very short period of time once the dog is inside. Toss in the treat, shut the door and feed a treat through the crate to him. At first you can start with periods as short as a few seconds, and gradually begin to work up to longer periods of time before you let him out again. Make sure that you continue to give the treats while he’s inside.
As you graduate to longer periods of time, around 15 minutes or more, you can give a longer lasting treat such as a rawhide bone or something he can chew on to keep him entertained. Make sure to give verbal praise when he’s inside as well. When you let the dog out of the crate, it’s important not to make a fuss of him. He gets treats when he’s in the crate, coming out is not a cause for celebration – so no more treats once he’s out. Remember that if at any stage the dog starts to vocalise, he gets ignored. Only give a treat or let him out once he’s been quiet for a minute or two.
Practise this over period of at least several days, two or three weeks if possible, depending on how your dog has reacted to the crate. As with most training behaviours, lessons will be more easily learnt after the dog has had some exercise and a trip outside to do his business if need be, and therefore isn’t fidgeting or brimming over with excess energy.
Wooden pet crate table which doubles as a useful coffee table!
You can now begin to use the crate training to manage unwanted behaviours such as chewing up furniture or digging up the garden when you’re not around for a period of time. If you’re leaving the house, make sure he has had a chance to go to the bathroom first, and then place him in the crate with some treats and some indestructible chew toys or a bone for him to give him something to do. You can also start to get the dog used to sleeping in the crate overnight. Remember the rule – if he barks or whines, he’s invisible.
An Important Exception for Crate Training a Puppy:
Puppies need time to develop their bowel and bladder muscles, and in the beginning it is quite possible that they will need to go to the bathroom during the night when they’re still very little. If the puppy starts to whine in the middle of the night he may be indicating this to you. So break the rule here and do allow him out, but go straight to his designated elimination area and let him do his business, praising gently before you put him back in his crate. If he doesn’t go straight away, don’t let him think that he’s found a way to con you! If it’s clear he doesn’t need to go, straight back into the crate, and certainly no playtime!
We hope you’ve found some good advice for crate training a dog here. Feel free to let us know if you have any questions and we’ll be glad to try and help!
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