Many people feel it is cruel to crate a puppy or a dog. All those negative associations about cages and zoos and such. The truth is, it keeps the puppy safe from chewing things like electrical cords and your new shoes when you cannot be around to supervise. It can be considered the same as a playpen for a baby. It is also an invaluable tool in housetraining a puppy and adult dogs. Dogs learn from their mother that they shouldn't soil their sleeping area. When they are still in the den, puppies will crawl away from their sleeping area to an area they chose as the potty area, and eliminate there. They are already innately trained not to soil the area where they sleep.
Using the Dog's Natural
First, let's look at dog behavior in the wild. Wild adult dogs will naturally find a den or safe area to sleep. When the dam whelps the pups in the wild she sets up a den and keeps it clean until the pups are old enough to go outside on their own. She teaches them it is not okay to potty in the place where they sleep. Domestic dogs will also naturally den. You will often see a dog sleeping under a table or desk or next to a piece of furniture if no other area is provided for them to den. It is not cruel to develop this habit from the time you bring the puppy home. In fact, it is cruel not to give the pup or dog a safe area they can call their own.
Selecting A Crate
Crates may be plastic (often called "flight kennels") or collapsible, metal pens. They come in different sizes and can be purchased at most pet supply stores. Your dogís crate should be just large enough for him to stand up and turn around in.
The Crate Training Process
Crate training can take days or weeks, depending on your dogís age, temperament and past experiences. Itís important to keep two things in mind while crate training. The crate should always be associated with something pleasant, and training should take place in a series of small steps - donít go too fast.
∑ Put the crate in an area of your house where the family spends a lot of time, such as the family room. Put a soft blanket or towel in the crate. Bring your dog over to the crate and talk to him in a happy tone of voice. Make sure the crate door is securely fastened opened so it wonít hit your dog and frighten him.
∑ To encourage your dog to enter the crate, drop some small food 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, thatís okay Ė donít force him to enter. Continue tossing treats into the crate until your dog will walk calmly all the way into the crate to get the food. If he isnít interested in treats, try tossing a favorite toy in the crate. This step may take a few minutes or as long as several days.
∑ After introducing your dog to the crate, begin feeding him his regular meals near 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 only as far inside as he will readily go without becoming fearful or anxious. Each time you feed him, place the dish a little further back in the crate.
∑ Once your dog is standing comfortably in the crate to eat his meal, you can close the door while heís eating. At first, open the door as soon as he finishes his meal. With each successive feeding, leave the door closed a few minutes longer, until heís staying in the crate for ten minutes or so after eating. If he 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 he does whine or cry in the crate, itís imperative that you not let him out until he stops. Otherwise, heíll learn that the way to get out of the crate is to whine, so heíll keep doing it.
∑ After your dog is eating his regular meals in the crate with no sign of fear or anxiety, you can confine him there for short time periods while youíre home. Call him over to the crate and give him a treat. Give him 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 him 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 of the crate. Repeat this process several times a day. With each repetition, gradually increase the length of time you leave him in the crate and the length of time youíre out of his sight. Once your dog will stay quietly in the crate for about 30 minutes with you out of sight the majority of the time, you can begin leaving him crated when youíre gone for short time periods and/or letting him sleep there at night. This may take several days or several weeks.
After your dog is spending about 30 minutes in the crate without becoming anxious or afraid, you can begin leaving him crated for short periods when you leave the house. Put him in the crate using your regular command and a treat. You might also want to leave him with a few safe toys in the crate (see our handout: "Dog Toys and How to Use Them"). Youíll want to vary at what point in your "getting ready to leave" routine you put your dog in the crate. Although he shouldnít be crated for a long time before you leave, you can crate him anywhere from five to 20 minutes prior to leaving. Donít make your departures emotional and prolonged, but matter-of-fact. Praise your dog briefly, give him a treat for entering the crate and then leave quietly. When you return home, donít 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 youíre home so he doesnít associate crating with being left alone.
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 youíll 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 doesnít become associated with social isolation. Once your dog is sleeping comfortably through the night with his crate near you, you can begin to gradually move it to the location you prefer.
A crate isnít a magical solution. If not used correctly, a dog can feel trapped and frustrated. For example, if your dog is crated all day while youíre at work and then crated again all night, heís spending too much time in too small a space. Other arrangements should be made to accommodate his physical and emotional needs. Also remember that puppies under six months of age shouldnít stay in a crate for more than three or four hours at a time. They canít control their bladders and bowels for longer periods.
If your dog whines or cries while in the crate at night, it may be difficult to decide whether heís 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, your dog hasnít been rewarded for whining in the past by being released from his crate. Try to ignore the whining. If your dog is just testing you, heíll probably stop whining soon. Yelling at him or pounding on the crate will only make things worse. If the whining continues after youíve 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 youíre convinced that your dog doesnít need to eliminate, the best response is to ignore him until he stops whining. Donít give in, otherwise youíll teach your dog to whine loud and long to get what he wants. If youíve progressed gradually through the training steps and havenít done too much too fast, youíll be less likely to encounter this problem. If the problem becomes unmanageable, you may need to start the crate training process over again.
Attempting to use the crate as a remedy for separation anxiety wonít solve the problem. A crate may prevent your dog from being destructive, but he may injure himself in an attempt to escape from the crate. Separation anxiety problems can only be resolved with counter-conditioning and desensitization procedures. You may want to consult a professional animal behaviorist for help.
Suppose you have to fly your dog on a plane. They must be crated for this. Flying is stressful enough for the dog who is already crate trained but add the stress of never having been in a crate to a dog who has to fly for the first time. Can you see a reason for the dog to be used to a crate?
What if you have to go out of town and need to leave the dog in a boarding kennel? A crate trained dog will understand and adapt to this situation easily. Usually, you can bring the dog's own crate with you to the kennel and allow the dog some comfort in having his own bed to sleep in.
Crating In The Car
Keeping the puppy/dog safe in the car is another reason to crate train. Nobody likes to think of what would happen if they were in a car accident. Car doors can fly open and the dog, if uncrated, stands a good chance of leaping out into traffic and getting hit by a car or running off because they are scared. If you have your dog crated in the car when in an accident the dog may get banged around but the crate will most likely protect the dog from being hit, may help contain the dog in the car itself, and will keep him from being lost if the car doors fly open even if the crate is expelled from the car. If you are hurt in the accident the emergency services people are more likely keep your dog safe and contained if the dog is in a crate and they can easily transport the dog to a safe area.
Crating Adult Dogs
Although it is probably easier to crate train when the puppy is young, you can still train the adult dog to accept the crate. Use a treat or favorite toy and lure him into the crate with the door open, same as I explained for the puppy. Keep doing this until the dog will readily go into the crate for a treat on his own. After the dog will readily go into the crate for a treat or toy make the dog lie down in the crate with you sitting on the floor in front of the crate just for a few seconds and then let him come out. Keep this up for several days or a week, as long as it takes for the dog to become comfortable with lying down in the crate. When the dog seems comfortable lying down, close the door for a minute or two, and stay there to talk to the dog same as we did above with the puppy. When the dog has been quiet for a few seconds, open the door and let the dog come out and ignore him for a minute or two so that coming out isn't associated with alot of praise. The idea is to praise gently and quietly WHILE THE DOG IS IN THE CRATE and ignore him for a few minutes when he comes out. Keep doing this without any negative associations until he's comfortable in the crate for longer periods of time. Most dogs can be crate trained using this method no matter how old they are. Keep it positive but don't give in either. Try and build up time gradually, if you can. If you need to crate train your dog to fly, try and give yourself as much time as possible. A month or more is optimal. If you don't have that much time, try to do as many repetitions as you can during the time you have. Wait an hour or so in between training sessions. The more repeititons you can do without stressing out the dog and maintaining positive associations the better. Quit if the dog or you are getting stressed.
*Never crate a dog with a choke collar on. Dogs can choke themselves to death. It's probably a good idea to remove any collar while the dog is in the crate.
*Never crate a dog with a leash attached! Same reason.
*Use safe toys only, nothing the dog or puppy can get apart and choke on while you're not there. Rawhide chewies are not good to leave unsupervised dogs with. Squeeky toys need to be monitored because the squeakers can be removed and swallowed and cause the pup to choke.
*Good toys that are safe: Kongs. These are made of hard rubber that is almost impossible to destroy. They come in many different sizes and it have an small opening on one end. Some people put a little peanut butter inside and that gives the pup/dog something do for awhile after you leave. Not alot of peanut butter, just enough to keep them interested.