A Guide to Crate Training Your Dog

Dogs are naturally den animals and by nature will view a den as a place of safety and comfort. If crate training is done properly, the den experience is duplicated and the crate becomes the den. It will be a place where he will go when he wants to feel safe and he’ll be content to stay in there quietly when you need him to. Dogs don’t like to urinate or defecate in their dens, so a crate is good for house training. Until a puppy knows not to chew or destroy things, it’s also a safe place to keep him when you leave the house. If you take your dog with you, crates are a safe way to transport your dog in a car and about the only way to transport him by airlines. Veterinarians, animals hospitals, and kennels use crates, so training your dog to be at ease in a crate may make a future, potentially traumatic, experience less frightening.

    Selecting a Crate

    Crates can be purchased in pet stores, but it may be possible to rent one from a local animal shelter. There are three main types of crates to choose from: plastic, fabric, and wire. Plastic crates look like large carriers and are the types used for air travel. Fabric crates have a wire frame and usually have a door that closes with a zipper. Metal crates are made from solid wire and are collapsible. When selecting your dog’s crate it’s important to consider your dog’s size or your puppy’s potential adult size. He should be able to stand up and turn around when the door is closed. If you are house training a puppy, block off excess space, so the he won’t soil the crate.

      The Crate Training Process

      Depending on your dog’s age, temperament, and past experiences, crate training may take days or weeks. The crate should always be a positive experience and be associated with something pleasant, so it’s important not to rush it. Crate training should always be done in a series of small steps.

      Introducing Your Dog to the Crate

      Put a soft blanket, towel, or old t-shirt in the crate and place the crate in a room where the family spends a lot of time. Even when he’s in his “den” your dog will want to be near the family. Open the crate door and bring your dog to the crate with a happy voice. Secure the door, so it can’t accidentally hit the dog and scare him as he explores the crate. Some dogs will go into the crate immediately, but if your dog refuses to go in, don’t force him. Put small treats or his favorite toy in the crate to entice him. Depending on your dog, this step may take a few minutes or it may take a few days.

      Feeding Your Dog Meals in the Crate

      After you’ve introduced your dog to the crate, it’s time to give the crate positive associations by having your dog eat his meals in it. If your dog is still hesitant about entering the crate, place the food dish in the crate, but only as far back as the dog will go before he becomes anxious. With every feeding, place the food dish a little further back. If the dog is already going into the crate on his own, you can place the food dish at the back of the crate.

      While the dog is eating his meal, you can close the door. The first time you do this, open the door as soon as he’s finished eating. Leave the door closed a little bit longer each time you feed him, until he stays in the crate for about ten minutes after eating.

      If you increase the length of time too quickly, the dog may begin to whine. If he does this, don’t let him out until he stops. Once he realizes that whining will get him out of the crate, he’ll do it every time he wants you to let him out.

      Conditioning Your Dog to the Crate for Longer Time Periods

      Once your dog is eating his meals in the crate without any sign of anxiety, you can keep him/her in the crate for short periods of time. Call your dog to the crate, point to the crate, and give him a command to enter it, like “crate” or “kennel”. Have a treat in your hand. When he goes into the crate, praise him and give him the treat. After you’ve closed the door, sit near the crate for about 10 minutes, then go out of site for a few minutes. Repeat this step on a daily basis, gradually increasing the amount of time you’re out of sight. Again, this may take several weeks, depending on your dog.

      Crating Your Dog When Left Alone

      Once your dog can comfortably be in a crate for about 30 minutes, you can start leaving him in the crate for short periods of time when you leave the house.

      Call him and put him in the crate with your usual command and a treat. If you put toys in the crate for him, make sure that they are safe and can’t be easily destroyed or turned into a choking hazard. Try to vary the time when you put your dog in the crate before departure. You can put him in the crate up to 20 minutes before you leave. Continue to crate the dog now and then when you’re at home, so he doesn’t begin to associate the crate with you leaving. Leaving and coming home should be done calmly and casually. Overly excited behavior will only increase possible separation anxiety.

      Crating Your Dog at Night – Step 5

      Dogs in a pack will sleep together, so your dog will want to be near you at night. If your dog is a puppy, he may have to relieve himself at night and you’ll want to hear him. Put the crate in the bedroom or near the bedroom door. Your dog will always prefer to be near you, but if the dog has begun to sleep through the night, you can gradually start moving the crate to a location that you’d prefer.

      Potential Problems

      Although proper crate training can be a safe and healthy thing for a dog, misuse of a crate can lead to problems. A crate should never be used as punishment. A crate is no substitute for training and it is definitely not a solution for everything. Too much time spent in a crate can lead to a dog feeling frustrated and trapped. A dog’s physical and emotional health can suffer by being crated all day and night. Puppies don’t have the bladder or bowel control to keep from eliminating over a long period of time.

      Some sources recommend using a crate for separation anxiety. While this will keep the dog from destroying your home, it increases the risk that he’ll hurt himself while trying to escape from the crate. Separation anxiety can only be resolved with conditioning. If you suspect that your dog suffers from this, consult your veterinarian or an animal behavior specialist.

      If a dog has been properly crate trained, then it is likely that whining will mean he has to go outside to eliminate. Use the term that he associates with this. If you’re sure that he is only whining to get out of the crate, the best thing to do is ignore him. If he’s let out, it will only train him that when he wants to get out of the crate, whining is the way to do it.