The dog diaries: crate training
Many pet owners feel guilty about putting their dog in a crate – they worry that confining their dog to a small space is cruel or mean-spirited. If you can relate, take comfort in knowing that even the most social dog needs its own space. Crates are indoor kennels that provide dogs with a cosy space that mimics the den their undomesticated wolf ancestors might have created in the wild. Crates help make a dog feel safe and secure, and can make life much easier for dogs with separation anxiety.
Why crate train your dog?
Crates aren’t only useful for calming your dog’s separation anxiety; they can also help with:
- House-training a puppy (your dog will be reluctant to soil the crate where it sleeps, and so will be more likely to give you an indication when it needs to go outside)
- Practising for a vet visit or a stay in a kennel
- Providing a dog with a safe space when it feels nervous or frightened, such as during fireworks or parties
How to choose the right-sized crate
Size is an important consideration when looking for a crate. The crate should be big enough for your dog to stand up in when fully grown. If you’re buying a crate for a puppy, take into consideration its estimated adult size and weight.
Measure your dog’s length and height and know its current weight and anticipated full-grown weight. Knowing such numbers will help you select the perfect crate for your dog, as most crates come with measurement guides.
Many crates come with temporary dividers to help reduce the crate size for a smaller puppy. Most puppies need smaller crates to prevent them from toileting in one corner and sleeping in another. These dividers can be removed once your puppy grows large enough for the full-sized crate.
Crate training guide
Step 1: Create a welcoming space
Once you have your new kennel, ensure it is a welcoming place for your dog. Place some comfortable bedding and a couple of your dog’s favourite toys inside to help entice your dog to explore the new crate. Using a blanket or toy that smells familiar will encourage your dog to go inside. During this process, keep the door to the crate secured open so it doesn’t bang shut and scare your dog. Leave the door to the kennel open for a few days to help your dog get used to it.
Your dog may not show any interest in the crate at first. If this is the case, place a few treats inside (make sure your dog is watching) to help lure them inside. If this doesn’t work, try making a breadcrumb trail of food leading to the crate. Place the treats as far inside the crate as possible so your dog has to go all the way in to get the treat.
These steps will help establish a positive association between your dog and its crate.
Step 2: Use the food bowl
Once your dog is regularly entering its kennel for treats, you can progress to the next step: introducing a food bowl in the crate. Here’s how to do it:
- Place your dog’s food bowl inside the crate to encourage it to begin taking its meals in the crate.
- Your dog may be hesitant to eat from the crate at first but, given time, it will choose food over uncertainty.
- After your dog has started to get comfortable eating meals inside the crate, carefully and quietly close the door to the kennel while it’s eating. It may feel a bit mean, but your dog probably won’t notice.
- Your dog may whine to get out of the crate, so repeat this process and gradually increase the amount of time your dog stays in the kennel after meals.
Once your dog is more comfortable spending time eating in the crate, begin associating a certain command like ‘kennel’ or ‘crate’ with your dog’s time in there. To do this, stand by your crate and call your dog to you. With a treat, give your preferred command. Once your dog is inside, treat them.
Repetition is key during the beginning of crate training. Dogs crave routines, and the more time your dog spends in the crate, the easier the training will go. Work your way up to 20-30 minutes of crate time while you are out of your dog’s sight until you progress to the next step.
Step 3: Work up to longer crate time
Now that you and your dog have mastered these shorts periods inside the crate, you are ready to leave your dog in the crate while you are not home. If your dog whines, it may be a sign that you have moved too fast in the training process. If so, return to Step 2 and work back up to Step 3.
When you return home after your dog has been in the crate for an extended period of time, do not greet excitedly. Your dog will be very excited to see you, but do not encourage this behaviour by rushing over as soon as you get home. Rather, wait a few minutes, put your bags away or take off your coat and wait until your dog has settled down a bit before you approach, and then calmly let the dog out of the crate.
Crate training tips
- Vary the times you crate your dog
If you only crate your dog when you are about to leave the house, it may negatively associate your absence with the crate. Rather, encourage your dog to go to its kennel for naps during the day or have it go to the crate before being given a chew toy. This variation will help reinforce the crate as a safe and fun place for your dog to spend time.
- ·Keep the crate part of your dog’s routine
Crate your dog at night and let them out in the morning for toileting and a meal. While your dog is sleeping in their crate at night, keep the crate close to you so your dog does not feel punished or isolated. This type of routine and positive association will help when you need to crate your dog for vet visits or travel.
- Use crate training in conjunction with house-training
Crate training can be a wonderful toileting training tool, but it is only one of many steps on the way to dog obedience and good manners. Learn more about dog obedience and training tips to keep your puppy learning long after it’s house-trained and crate-trained.