Crate training your dog can be beneficial to you and your dog throughout puppyhood and into adult life. Puppies can be kept safe from wandering the house freely and chewing on things that may be expensive, dangerous for them, or both. Crate training is also an excellent way to prevent accidents during toilet training, because dogs like to keep their den clean. The crate encourages bladder control and helps to establish a routine for toileting outside.
A dog who has been crate trained has a safe way to travel in the car, and can easily be included in family outings rather than being left at home or in boarding. He will feel safe and secure in his crate, and it will be a place where he can retire when he is tired, ill, or feeling insecure such as around fireworks or storms (or parties).
Crates are not intended for confining your dog for lengthy periods of time on a routine basis. Your dog will quickly grow tired of this and begin resisting it. Use a crate, but don’t abuse a crate.
Ideally, a crate should be large enough to allow your dog to stretch out on his side, stand without hitting his head and be able to turn around. The crate should not be so large that your dog can relieve himself in one corner and move away to play and sleep in another. If your puppy is not yet fully grown, you can block off part of the crate until he grows into it.
Place the crate close to the main living area of the house, such as the kitchen or lounge. Draping the crate with a sheet or towel may help to enhance the den-like quality for the puppy. Put a soft blanket or towel in the crate to make it comfortable. Also ensure that the crate is free from drafts or direct heat.
The crate training process
The basic foundation of crate training is that you are trying to make your puppy feel absolutely safe, secure and settled in the crate. This is not a process that can be rushed, but should be guided by your dog’s reaction through a series of small steps. Don’t move on to the next step until your dog is comfortably reacting to the exercises in the previous step.
Most importantly, never punish your dog in the crate or force it to go in, as the dog will associate the crate with a feeling of anxiety. It is meant to be a comfortable and safe space, so it needs to be associated with pleasant experiences.
Step One: Introduce your dog to the crate
Make sure the crate door is secured open so it won’t hit your dog and frighten him. Let your dog explore the crate on his own. Talk to him in a happy tone of voice, and give him treats for showing interest and sniffing it. To encourage your dog to explore the crate, toss small food treats on the ground around the crate and inside it. If he isn’t interested in treats, try tossing a favourite ball or toy in the crate.
If your dog is showing anxiety and doesn’t want to go inside, don’t force him. Remember that this step takes as long as the dog needs. This may range from a few minutes to as long as several days. Continue tossing treats into the crate until your dog will walk calmly all the way into the crate.
Step Two: Feeding your dog in the crate
Now that your dog is comfortable to enter the crate to retrieve treats, begin feeding him his regular meals in the crate to strengthen the pleasant association. Only place the food as far inside as he will readily go without becoming fearful or anxious. Each time you feed him, place the food a little further back in the crate.
Once your dog is standing comfortably in the crate to eat his meal, close the door while he’s eating and open the door as soon as he finishes his meal. Gradually lengthen the period of time that the door remains closed until eventually he’s staying in the dog crate for 10 minutes or so after eating. If he begins to whine to be let out, you may have increased the length of time too quickly. Wait until he stops whining for at least 10 seconds and then let him out. Next time, shorten the time period and remember not to push your dog. The goal is for him to be completely content being inside the crate, not whining to be released.
Step Three: Conditioning your dog for longer time periods
Start confining your dog in his crate for short time periods while you’re home. Give him a command to enter such as, “crate,” and encourage him by tossing a treat inside the crate. After your dog enters the crate, praise him, give him another small treat and close the door. Go about your business in a calm, quiet way, both in sight of the dog, and ducking into other rooms for short periods. After a short time, open the door without fussing the dog. If he starts to whine or show anxiety or bolts out when the door is opened then your dog needs you to slow down with the steps.
Repeat this process a few times each day and gradually increase the length of time that he is in the crate and you are out of his sight. Once your dog will stay quietly in the crate for about 30 minutes with you out of sight for most of that time, then you can begin crating him for short time periods when you go out and/or letting him sleep there at night.
Step Four: Part A – Crating your dog when left alone
Put your dog in the crate using your regular command and a treat. You might also want to leave him with a few safe toys. Vary your routine and crate him anywhere from five to 20 minutes prior to leaving. Don’t fuss your dog as you are leaving, and when you return home wait for him to calm down before talking to him or releasing him. Continue to crate your dog for short periods from time to time when you’re home so he doesn’t associate crating with being left alone.
Crate training should only be for short periods of time other than overnight. Just like children, dogs need stimulation and to be able to wander and explore their environment during the day. Crating a dog all day while you are out is not preferable unless advised by your vet or behavioural therapist for medical reasons.
Step Four: Part B – Crating your dog at night
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.
On these toilet breaks, do not engage in play with your puppy. Your puppy doesn’t need water inside their crate overnight, and restricting his access to water after a certain time at night will also assist your puppy in sleeping through the night. 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 his crate near you, you can begin to gradually move it to the location you prefer.