Crate Training Guide

Why is crate training beneficial?

Dogs are highly social animals and wonderful pets. They are excellent companions for play and exercise, and are sources of affection and comfort. However, with the lifestyle and schedule of the majority of families, dogs must learn to spend a portion of the day at home while their human family is away at school, work, shopping or recreational activities. A common complaint about puppies and dogs is the mischief occasionally created while the they are alone. It’s at this time that household damage may occur.  Using a crate is an excellent way to:

  • keep your dog safe and prevent damage when he is alone,
  • provide your dog with a place of his own for security – a comfortable retreat where he can relax, sleep, or chew on a favourite toy, and be used as a house training tool.

Some people feel it is cruel to confine a dog to a crate. It would be cruel to put a dog in a crate and leave for eight hours. However, if you take the time to properly introduce a crate to a dog, you’ll find that the dog will often come to prefer the crate as a place for sleeping and having a quiet place to call his own.

Types and Size of Crates

When you chose a crate, be sure that it is the right size. A crate must be large enough for an adult dog to stand up straight, turn around and lie down in a stretched position.

Use a wire or fiberglass crate with adequate ventilation:

  • Some dogs, especially adult dogs, prefer wire crates because they can see what’s going on around them and air flow is optimal.
  • Some dogs prefer enclosed fiberglass crates that give them a more secure feeling.

For a puppy, use a crate the size he will need as an adult, but block part of it off until he is house trained. If the crate is big enough for the puppy to eliminate in one area and sleep in another he will do so, which defeats the purpose of crate training. To prevent this, block part of the crate when your puppy is left alone for a reasonable period of time. As soon as your puppy is released from his crate, take him outside to a designated area and reward elimination.

How to introduce your dog to a crate

Crate training can take days or weeks, depending on your dog’s age, temperament and past experiences.  It’s important to keep two things in mind while crate training:

  • The crate should always be associated with something pleasant.
  • Training should take place in a series of small steps – don’t go too fast.

Ideally, you should try to spend the first few days at home with your new dog. This will enable you to introduce the crate gradually.

Step 1: Introducing your dog to the crate

  • Put the crate in an area of your house where the family spends a lot of time. An ideal location for the crate is a kitchen or den during the day and a bedroom at night, rather than an isolated laundry or furnace room.
  • Put a soft blanket or towel in the crate.
  • Bring your dog over to the crate and talk in a happy tone of voice.
  • Make sure the crate door is securely open and fastened so it won’t hit and frighten your dog.
  • To encourage your dog to enter the crate, drop some treats near it, then just inside the door, and finally, all the way inside the crate. If he refuses to go all the way in at first, that’s okay – don’t force him.
  • Continue tossing treats into the crate until your dog will walk calmly all the way in to get the food.  If he is not interested in treats, try tossing a favorite toy in the crate. This step may take a few minutes or as long as several days.

Step 2: Feed your dog in the crate

After introducing your dog to the crate, begin feeding regular meals near or inside the crate. This will create a pleasant association with the crate.

  • If your dog is readily entering the crate when you begin Step 2, put the food dish all the way at the back of the crate.
  • If your dog is still reluctant to enter the crate, put the dish as far inside as they will readily go without becoming fearful or anxious.
  • Each time you put the food in the crate, place it a little further back in the crate.

Once your dog is standing comfortably in the crate to eat, close the door while they are eating.

  • At first, open the door as soon as the meal is finishes.
  • With each successive feeding, leave the door closed a few minutes longer, until they are staying in the crate for ten minutes or so after eating.
  • If the dog begins to whine to be let out, you may have increased the length of time too quickly. Next time, try leaving him in the crate for a shorter time period.
  • If your dog whines or cries in the crate, do not let him out until he stops; otherwise, he will learn that is the way for him to get out of the crate and will keep doing it.

Step 3: Getting your dog to accept longer crating periods

After your dog is eating regular meals in the crate with no sign of fear or anxiety, you can confine him for short time periods while you’re home.

  • Call him over to the crate and give a treat. Give a command to enter such as, “kennel up.”
  • Encourage him by pointing to the inside of the crate with a treat in your hand.
  • After your dog enters the crate, praise him, give the treat and close the door.
  • Sit quietly near the crate for five to ten minutes and then go into another room for a few minutes.
  • Return, sit quietly again for a short time, then let him out.
  • Repeat this process several times a day.
  • With each repetition, gradually increase the length of time you leave and are out of his sight.

Once your dog can stay quietly in his crate for about 30 minutes with you out of sight for the majority of the time, you can begin leaving him crated when you’re out of sight for short time periods and/or letting him sleep there at night.  This may take several days or several weeks, depending on the dog.

Step 4: Leaving your dog in the crate when you’re away

After your dog is spending about 30 minutes in the crate without becoming anxious or afraid, you can begin leaving him in the crate for short periods while you are away from the house.

  • Put him in the crate using your regular command with a treat. You might also want to leave him in the crate with a few safe toys for his amusement.
  • You can crate your dog for about 5 to 20 minutes prior to leaving, but no longer than that.
  • Don’t make your departures emotional and prolonged.
  • Praise your dog briefly, give a treat for entering and then leave quietly.
  • When you return home, don’t reward your dog for excited behavior by responding to him in an excited enthusiastic way. Keep arrivals low key.
  • Continue to crate your dog for short periods from time-to-time when you’re home so they don’t associate crating with being left alone.

Crating your dog at night:

Your dog will benefit from learning some independence when it comes to night time. Although some people may be comfortable with a dog sleeping in their bed, there will come a time where the dog may not be able to. Teaching your dog to be able to sleep away from you is a valuable skill. This could help avoid the development of stress and vocalizing if the dog is unable to have direct contact with you, thus preventing the creation of a “Velcro dog”.

Put your dog in the crate using your regular command and a treat.  Initially, it may be a good idea to put the crate in your bedroom or nearby in a hallway, especially if you have a puppy.  Puppies often need to go outside to eliminate during the night, and you’ll want to be able to hear your puppy when he whines to be let outside.  Older dogs, too, should initially be kept nearby so that crating doesn’t become associated with social isolation.  Once your dog is sleeping comfortably through the night with the crate near you, you can begin to gradually move it to your preferred location.

Potential Problems

Too much time in a crate:

A crate isn’t a magical solution.  If not used correctly, a dog can feel trapped and frustrated.  For example, if your dog is crated all day while you’re at work and then crated again all night, it’s spending too much time confined in a too-small space.  Other arrangements should be made to accommodate the physical and emotional needs.  Also remember that puppies under six months of age shouldn’t stay in a crate for more than three or four hours at a time.  They can’t control their bladders and bowels for longer periods.

Whining:

  • If your dog whines or cries while in the crate at night, it may be difficult to decide whether he is whining to be let out of the crate, or whether he needs to be let outside to eliminate.
  • If you followed the training procedures outlined above and your dog hasn’t been rewarded for whining in the past by being released from his crate, then try to ignore the whining.
  • If your dog is just testing you, he will probably stop whining soon. Yelling at him or pounding on the crate will only make things worse.
  • If the whining continues after you’ve ignored him for several minutes, use the phrase he associates with going outside to eliminate.
  • If he responds and becomes excited, take him outside. This should be a trip with a purpose, not play time.
  • If you’re convinced that your dog doesn’t need to eliminate, the best response is to ignore him until he stops whining. Don’t give in, otherwise you’ll teach your dog to whine loud and long to get what he wants.
  • If you haven’t done too much too fast, you’ll be less likely to encounter this problem. If the problem becomes unmanageable, you may need to start the crate training process over again.

Separation Anxiety:

As tempting as it may be to crate or confine a dog with separation anxiety, doing so usually makes the panic much worse. It’s highly recommended to try doggie daycare, family, friends and dog sitters instead to help your dog not be alone while you have to be away.

A crate may prevent your dog from being destructive, but they may injure themselves in an attempt to escape.  Separation anxiety problems can only be resolved with counter-conditioning and desensitization procedures.  You may want to consult a professional animal behaviorist for help.

Scheduling and house training

Scheduling and creating a consistent routine for your dog is very important.

  • Small puppies should not be left in their crates for more than a couple of hours at a time. They cannot be expected to hold their small bowels and bladders for more than a short period of time.
  • Letting puppies out of their crates very frequently at first to go outside and learn appropriate elimination behaviours is important to help them learn how to hold it, and eliminate at the appropriate place and time.
  • The older the puppy gets, the longer it can hold it and therefore the longer it is able to stay in the crate.

The general rule of thumb for the length of time a puppy can hold it is: age in months + 1 = # hours (Ex: 3 month = 4 hours).

Remember that a crate is not intended as a place to leave your dog and ignore it, but a tool to help the dog develop structure and learn the routine in a home. No dog should be left crated for long periods of time routinely as this can create both mental and physical damage. Keeping your dog well exercised and mentally stimulated is important for the dog’s health.

If you must leave your dog for long periods of time on a regular basis, there are many options available to keep your dog happy and healthy:

  • Keeping the dog confined to a small room with his crate door opened enables him to go in and out of the crate allowing the dog to stretch his legs and move around while keeping him staying safe and secure.
  • Hiring a dog walker to take your dog for a walk.
  • Taking your dog to a doggy daycare.

Puppies:

The first night away from littermates can be very stressful.

  • For the first night put the crate near your bed on the floor.
  • Having the sound and vibration of a ticking clock under a blanket can simulate a heartbeat of littermates and help with settling.
  • Each night thereafter, gradually move the crate further away from your bed to its desired location.

Puppies under the age of 16 weeks probably won’t be able to make it without eliminating.  If your puppy suddenly starts to whine or stir once he had settled into his crate, take him outside as he probably needs to eliminate.  This will reinforce the notion of “asking” to be let out and speed up the housetraining process. Be careful not to be tricked, if the puppy has just recently eliminated and likely does not have to go outside, ignore the behaviour to avoid your puppy learning to wake you up just for attention.

Tricks to crating

  • Put your dog in his crate only after he has relieved himself and been exercised. It’s your responsibility to ensure your dog has the opportunity to relieve himself when he needs to.
  • Take your dog outside often at first. Puppies should go out at least every three hours.  Adult dogs, if not housetrained, should go out every five to seven hours.
  • When you first take your dog out of the crate, carry or lead him on a leash to the “toilet area” outside. Praise him for doing his business outside.
  • Don’t let him out when he is barking, you do not want him to associate barking with being let outside.
  • Gradually give your dog more freedom outside the crate, but only when he is ready. If it doesn’t go well at first then start over again.  When he is out of his crate, always leave the door open so he can go there to rest if he chooses.
  • Use the crate for “time outs” if your dog gets too exuberant or you begin to lose patience. But ensure that you make the crate a positive experience every time by giving him something to chew on and stay busy. Be neutral when you put your dog in the crate for a time out.
  • Crates are useful when traveling – it’s your dog’s home away from home in your car and at your destination.
  • Never leave a puppy in a crate for longer than it can control himself or he may be forced to eliminate in the crate.
  • If the puppy must be left for long periods during which it might eliminate, he should be confined to a larger area such as a dog proof room or pen, with paper left down for elimination. As the puppy gets older, his bladder control will increase so he can be left for longer periods of time.
  • Some dogs feel more secure if a blanket is draped over the crate. If you do drape something over the crate ensure there is adequate air circulation and tuck all loose ends under the crate so that the cover does not end up inside the crate, chewed and possibly consumed.
  • Give your dog access to water if he needs to be crated for a very long period of time (8+ hours) but secure it so it doesn’t spill. During shorter periods, providing water may contribute to urination in the crate if your dog is in the middle of house training, removing access to water when crated may help reduce accidents.

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