Dogs typically like to have their own space to take a nap, play, chill or perhaps hide away from a thunderstorm. Whatever the reason, crate training takes advantage of this by utilizing a dog’s natural instinct as a den animal. The crate (or kennel) serves as your dog’s den, his little home, where he can find comfort and security. Although they love to have their own space, it will take some time getting used to a crate.
So, what is crate training?
Crate training is a process of teaching a puppy or adult dog boundaries and to accept a crate as a friendly, safe and cozy place that he can call his own; to sleep in at night and rest during the day when you are home and while you are out. Crate training has the possibility of creating a very well-trained pet.
To get a better understanding of crate training and the use of crates, we will be exploring the following:
- Benefits of Crate Training a Dog
- How to Use a Dog Crate
- The Do’s and Don’ts of Using a Crate
- Choosing the Best Dog Crate
Benefits of Crate Training a Dog
There are so many great reasons to crate train your dog. It’s an essential part of housebreaking a new puppy. Usually dogs do not want to dirty their den or the bed they sleep in. Thus, crate training teaches your dog to wait until he leaves the crate to do his business. This type of training puts you in control of where and when your puppy relieves himself.
Crate training can help control your dog’s behavior, especially when you have company over. It’s also supposed to help make a new puppy feel safe and secure at night (when he gets used to being in his crate). Crates help to ensure your dog is not eating everything within reach or tearing up furniture when you cannot watch him. Furthermore, you can use the crate to cut off their access to areas of the house while they are still learning the right ways.
How to Use a Dog Crate
Crate training is a process that takes time to master so try not to get discouraged if your dog doesn’t get it right away. Your dog’s age, personality, and experience all factor in the training process. Think positively, have a little patience and it can be done!
1. Proper Placement: Make sure the crate is placed in a conducive, safe and neat environment which would be easy for your dog to move in and out freely. During the training phase, place the crate in an area of your house where you spend a lot of time, like the family room or a bedroom. You will need an easy spot to get to quickly to check on him and take him out to potty, especially when it’s late at night.
2. Make the Crate Cozy: Place a towel, blanket or mat inside the crate. At first you may want to use something that is easily washable in case of accidents. Add a toy and/or treat-dispensing toy such as a Kong for your dog to play with. Make sure it’s something entertaining, long-lasting, or comforting.
3. Introduce Your Dog to the Crate: To do this, bring your dog about a quarter of the way inside the crate and talk to him in a fun happy tone. You can place some food or treats inside to encourage your dog to enter the crate all the way on his own. It’s important that he enters on his own without a push from you. Praise him promptly for following through. Do not close the door.
4. Use Meal Time to Your Advantage: In order to create more positivity around the crate, try feeding him some of his regular meals inside the crate or right next to it if he is still hesitant to enter. Meal time is usually something your dog looks forward to. So the idea is to use food, which is something already positive, and connect that positivity with his crate. Do not close the door at this point.
5. Use a Command: Now introduce a command such as “crate time” every time you want your dog to go to his crate. I like to use the command “go night night”. Practice this command and praise with a treat. If he doesn’t enter on his own, you may assist this movement as described in #3 and #4. Do not close the crate door just yet.
6. At Home Practice: After your dog has started entering the crate on his own, you can practice crating him while you are home. Use your command word for your dog to enter the crate, praise him and give him a treat as you normally would. Now, close the crate door and sit beside him for a few minutes. If he whines, refrain from opening the door. If you do, it will inevitably teach him that whining gets him out of the crate for no reason.
Next, leave the room so you are out of sight for another few minutes. Be as quiet as possible. Come back, sit beside him again just for a moment or until he stops whining. Then, open the crate. Praise with a treat. Repeat this process for as long you need until you notice a change in his state of being while inside the closed crate – greater calmness and no whining.
Note – As soon as it appears your dog can remain in his crate without issue, do not always ignore his whining or other cues your dog may be giving you as this may be an indicator he has to go potty or something else is wrong, especially if he has been crated for some time. Only time and practice will give you the knowledge of when he is playing around or he really needs something.
7. Practice Leaving the House: After you have seen your dog making progress being in the crate, it is time to test this when you are not home. Try leaving the house for 15 minutes to start and gradually increase the time away as long as he doesn’t appear to be in complete distress upon your arrival. If you have a home camera, watch him on your phone or tablet and see how he does.
Remember to keep departures and arrivals pretty neutral as if they are not a big deal. Too much excitement when leaving or coming home may eventually create a situation of separation anxiety in your pet or even cause excitement urination. Good practice would include saying something like “see you later” in a calm tone when leaving and upon arrival, greeting your dog in a calm manner only after being home for about a minute.
“How long can I leave my dog in a crate?” is one of the top questions about crating.
As a general rule of thumb, your dog’s age will determine the amount of time he is able to stay crated (and hold in his bodily functions). So, for every month old he is, he can remain in the crate for that many hours. For example, at 2 months old, he can be crated for 2 hours at most (2 hours is also the approximate time he can hold is his pee or poop).
Note – This is only an approximate predictor. Every dog is different so the amount of time one can stay crated will vary. Lastly, this general rule applies up until the age of 8 months (approx.) since a dog should not be expected to hold it in for more than 8 hours.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Using a Crate
When Should You Use a Crate?
Crate training your dog has a lot of positives if used rightly. Here are the times and reasons you should use a dog crate…
1. Keep Your Puppy Safe: If you are busy around the house, using the crate for a short while would reduce the possibility for them to get into trouble such as eating harmful objects.
2. Protect Your Belongings: When your puppy is teething or being mischievous, a crate helps to prevent him from chewing everything he can get hold of. So, use crating to help protect your belongings while you are still training your puppy.
3. House/Potty Training Process: Crate training helps you take advantage of your dog’s innate instinct to keep their “den” (aka crate) clean and this may help speed up the house/potty training process. When your dog is in his crate, he may hold “it in” for as long as he can. Then when you take him out, he’ll probably need to go potty and you have an opportunity for praising him for going in the right place – outside or on a puppy pad.
Your praises and treats go a long way as it helps them to learn what you want them to do. As a result, the house/potty training process can become quicker, which is great news for you! In addition, when it’s time to sleep, crating helps to prevent your dog from doing his business in the house during the night which can set things back.
4. Allow Freedom: When not in training mode or for any other reason, leave the crate door open for your dog to go freely in and out as he pleases. When he is able to choose for himself where to rest, he may form a greater liking to the crate.
5. Traveling: When traveling by car, having your dog in a crate during the journey is a very efficient way to keep him calm, offer protection in case of an accident and protect the driver from the distraction of having a loose dog in a car. If you need to travel by air, airlines will require a plastic crate (flight kennel) to transport your dog to its destination.
When You Should NOT Use a Crate:
Crates are meant to be a place of comfort for your dog and not a form of punishment, plain and simple.
There are times when crating your dog is wrong; sometimes for medical reasons, sometimes for psychological reasons. Here are some reasons and times NOT to crate your dog…
1. Punishment: Crating should never ever be used as a form of punishment for your dog.
If you do, you are not using it for your dog’s best interest.
If it’s used as a form of punishment, your dog will start to dislike his crate and lose the benefit of a place of safety and security. When it comes to giving time-outs, I do not recommend using a crate for this purpose. It’s impossible to positively use the crates for time-outs since he can become scared of the crate and feel anxious being in or around it. Therefore, find alternatives for time-outs. One option could be setting up a time-out spot in the house; tether him and ignore him (zero interaction) for a few minutes. Then let him loose and acknowledge him. This method has worked well for my dogs.
2. For Long Hours: Except for uncontrollable circumstances, it is advised that you should not crate your dog for more than 5 hours at a time, given that your dog is at least 5 months of age (recall, one hour for every month of age).
Crating should always be kept at the lowest minimum.
With work schedules and such, sometimes you can stretch it to 8 hours, but only if you absolutely must. As mentioned, you should really be aiming for a maximum of 5 hours at a time inside the crate. So in order to achieve this, if you work, try to let your dog out during your lunch hour if you have the chance. Or ask a trusted neighbor or friend/family member take him for a quick walk, let him do his business and bring him back to the crate until you return home. Another consideration is hiring a dog walker or pet sitter. You may even need to explore doggie daycare options for some days.
This will only be necessary until you reach a point where your dog has learned proper house rules, exercises good behavior when alone and can be trusted to roam the house (or restricted to a particular room) while you’re away.
Keep in mind that crating your dog for too long means there is no time for socialization, freedom, or much physical activity and these can lead to anxiety, depression, unnecessary weight gain or other issues. We sure don’t want that for our pets!
3. Force: Not all dogs like the crate at first and some just take longer to get accustomed to it. It is inhuman to force a dog showing signs of fear or anxiety into a crate. How do you know if they are afraid of the crate? They tremble, their tales are down, ears are flat.
Choosing the Best Dog Crate
As you probably can imagine, there are different types of dog crates available – ranging in style, color, material, purpose and durability – and there are pros and cons to each. Prices will vary as well. Sorry to say, there is no “one fits all”.
These are some of the dog crate options…
- Hard-sided plastic crates
- Soft-sided fabric crates with a steel frame
- Hard-sided wire crates
- Furniture style crates that are stylish and incognito
When choosing a crate for your dog, you should ensure the crate is big enough to allow him to stand up, sit, lay down and turn around. If you have a puppy, you should consider how much he will grow and how strong he could possibly be. Some crates come with a (removable) divider insert that allows you to limit the space inside until he grows bigger. Others can be more portable for travel or decorative to complement your home decor.
If you’re looking for the best dog crate, think about your dog’s needs first, then your own. We have narrowed down and reviewed the best rated dog crates to help you choose the most practical one for you and your dog. You can click here to check out the review.
It is not cruel to crate your dog as some people believe – as long as you do it in the right way. Crate training is a very important way to influence your dog’s behavior in a positive way, assist with house training, and restrict their access around the house when needed – all while making sure they are happy, comfortable, safe and secured. Crates have also saved the lives of many dogs while traveling, and have helped some feel safer and more relaxed in general. Go for it, and give crate training a try!
What are your thoughts on crate training? Or what has been your experience been like with crates? Let us know in the comments section below.