Crate Training: How & Why
By Honor Tarpenning, NextDayPets.com Staff
There are several accepted methods of house training your new dog. However, if you’re looking for not just a housebreaking method, but are also interested in adapting your dog to a safe and confined environment for various safety and comfort reasons, crate training is for you.
Proper crate training teaches your dog that his crate is his “bedroom.” Just as a child will retreat to his room when scared, when he wants to be alone, or when he just wants some time to play with his toys, so does a crate trained dog. Dogs are den animals, so they crave that close, cozy space for comfort. Just think about a fox hole, it makes sense, right? It isn’t inhumane, cruel, or unfair--it’s natural.
Why Crate Train?
Crate training protects your dog from dangers in your home when you’re not around, and protects your home and your possessions from your dog until he learns the rules of the house. Once your dog is crate trained at home, he will be comfortable with the crate while travelling and in the car. A crated dog in the car is much less likely to be severely injured in an accident, and won’t be able to cause one. A portable, or at least collapsible crate will allow you to bring your dog’s “room” anywhere you go together. This means your dog will be instantly more comfortable no matter where you go or how much you travel. Another benefit of crate training your pooch is, in the event of a fire or other household emergency, there’s no question as to where the dog is. Be sure your neighbors know where you keep the crate; and be sure to have a pet locator symbol on the window nearest your crate, and a sign on or near the front door indicating how many and what kind of pets are in the house.
Your dog’s crate should be just big enough for him to stand up and turn around, but no bigger. Dogs will not eliminate in the same place where they sleep, so they will do their very best to hold it until they are taken outside. Buy a crate that will be big enough for your puppy when he grows up, and use a crate divider to make the space small enough for his present size. If the crate is too big, your puppy will use one end to eliminate and the other end to sleep, which results in bad habits and severely slowed crate training.
Outfit your crate with a water bottle, a comfy blanket or towel, and a couple of safe, indestructible toys. These amenities will help to encourage your dog to spend time in his crate and make it more comfortable once he is confined.
The first step of crate training is understanding the housebreaking aspect. A new puppy or un-housetrained dog does not yet understand that it is not ok to eliminate in the house. This is an important fact to realize because it means that you absolutely cannot punish your pup for having accidents. Screaming at your dog, beating him, or rubbing his nose in an accident accomplishes nothing, especially if you did not catch him in the act. This kind of abusive behavior only succeeds in building an air of anxiety around eliminating, and often makes your dog uncomfortable going around you in general. This makes getting your dog to go on a leash almost impossible. New puppies and un-housetrained dogs should be under constant supervision in the home. Any time he does have an accident, just give him a stern “no” and take him outside so he can continue his business. Anytime he eliminates outside, praise him like crazy. You can avoid accidents by watching for behavior that indicates your dog is about to go. This includes pacing, sniffing around and, obviously, squatting.
Introduction to the Crate
To begin crate training your dog, just place the crate in a room in which you and your family spend a lot of time, and leave the door open. Keep an eye on your pup and encourage him to check out the crate. Place some small treats or bits of kibble around and just inside the door of the cage, and when your dog enters the crate, praise him ecstatically. It is a good idea to secure the door open in the beginning so it doesn’t make noise or accidentally swing closed and frighten your dog.
When it’s time to eat, feed your dog in the crate. If he is especially dubious of the crate, start by feeding him directly in front of the crate, then, with each feeding, move the bowl further and further inside. Once your dog is comfortable with eating inside the crate, close the door while he is eating, and let him out as soon as he is done. Meal time is a happy time for a dog, and he will associate this with the crate.
You’ll need to come up with a “get in the crate” command. The most common is probably “kennel,” but any word will due, as long as you and your family are consistent (I tell my dog "get in your box"). After your dog has gotten used to eating while confined with no problem, use your “get in the crate” command and encourage your dog to get in the crate. When he does, shower him with praise and give him a treat. Do this over and over until he goes straight to the crate without hesitation. This can take a few hours or several days. Remember to not overdue this kind of training. Just like children, and just like us, dogs get frustrated with too much repetition, especially when they don’t get the hang of it right away. Take breaks and keep sessions short, especially with young puppies.
When your dog begins getting in the crate every time he’s told, it’s time to start closing the door. Start by closing the door for a few minutes at a time and staying next to the crate. After five minutes, open the door and give him a treat. Increase the time the door is closed in small increments and stay near the crate. NEVER let your dog out when he is whining, crying, or barking. It may seem sad, and you may want to rescue your companion, but this will only set back his training.
Once your dog can sit quietly in the crate for 30 minutes, try leaving him alone for short periods of time. Start with a 5 minute period and move up from there. Young puppies should never be crated for more than a couple of hours, because they are not capable of holding it longer than that. It is not a puppy’s fault if he eliminates in the crate after being left alone for hours on end.
Your dog should be crated any time you cannot give him your full attention. This includes bed time. It is a good idea to put the crate in your bedroom so your dog doesn’t feel alone or abandoned at night and so you can hear him ask to go out. Most puppies will need to go out in the middle of the night until they are about 3 months old, this is not their fault and it is part of owning a puppy. After about three months, though, he should be able to sleep through the night.
Never, ever use your dog’s crate as a punishment. This creates negative associations with the crate and will severely set back training.
Do not crate your dog if he has worms, has had a large amount of water or food without a chance to go outside, has a bladder infection or prostate issues, is vomiting, or is experiencing severe separation anxiety. All these conditions result in negative associations with the crate, an extremely uncomfortable experience for your dog, and messes to clean up when you get home.
If your dog does have an accident in the crate, or anywhere else in the house for that matter, use an odor neutralizing cleaner. One of the most common mistakes in housebreaking is not thoroughly cleaning up. When dogs smell urine or feces in a certain spot, it encourages them to use that spot to eliminate again. Never use ammonia-based products to clean up accidents because ammonia has a similar smell to dogs and it might encourage them to use that spot again.
Never let your friends or children play in your dog’s crate. You must treat the crate as his room and only his
room; that is how it becomes his comfort zone. Also, never let people play with or bother your dog when he is in his crate. It is imperative that he understand that he is safe and secure when he is in his room.
Never leave your dog crated when it is too hot or too cold, and never leave the crate on a terrace, roof, or in a car. A safe and comfortable crate can turn into a death trap in a hot car within minutes.
If nothing else, always remember: NEVER, never ever use your dog’s crate as a punishment! It is extremely important your dog only has positive feelings about the crate.
If your are careful and consistent with your dog’s crate training, use plenty of praise and positive reinforcement, and don’t overdue training or leave your dog confined for too long, the process should be relatively simple and painless. Don’t forget that all dogs are different; some dogs will take to crate training instantly, while others may take weeks to get used to being in the crate alone, just be patient and positive.
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