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(For ease of explanation, male gender pronouns will be used when describing “your” dog.)
Teaching your dog that being in a crate is a good thing has many advantages. First, it can help you with housetraining because typically dogs do not want to go to the bathroom where their bed is. Second, it can limit the dog’s access to the rest of the home, if he has destructive tendencies when left alone. And third, it provides a safe place for the dog to hang out, especially when traveling.
There are several different types of crates. There are plastic ones, often called airline crates. There are fabric ones and there are wire metal ones, both of which can collapse to a flat shape, making them easy to store. The different types of crates have advantages and disadvantages. Some dogs prefer the airline crates because they like the more enclosed feel, while other dogs prefer the wire crates, so they can see all that is going on around them. The fabric ones, though useful for temporary crating, tend to be too flexible and easy for dogs to press against and collapse.
When purchasing a crate for the first time, you’ll want to consider the size of your dog. The crate should be big enough for him to stand up in and turn around. There should also be enough room to place a water bowl inside. Some crates have bowls that attach to the inside of the crate for ease of use.
Crate training requires patience and the crate should be associated with all things good for your dog. Please do not ever use the crate as a place of punishment or leave your dog in the crate too long. Any negative association with the crate can cause the dog to dislike being in the crate and display unwanted behaviors, such as barking, whining, and tearing at the crate walls and doors, possibly injuring himself.
Here are the basic steps to crate training your dog:
- Introduce your dog to the crate by placing it in a high traffic area in your home with the door removed. Place a blanket inside and see if your dog enters to investigate on his own. If he does, tell him he is a good boy! If he doesn’t enter to investigate, try tossing some treats near the crate and eventually inside of the crate, but don’t force him inside at any time. With a pleasant tone of voice, speak nicely to your dog when he enters the crate.
- Once your dog is comfortable with entering and exiting the crate on his own, begin feeding his meals inside the crate. If necessary, you can begin with the food bowl near the crate’s door and slowly, over time, move the bowl further and further into the crate.
- Now, you can begin to close the door while he is eating. Start by remaining near the crate and immediately open the door when he is done eating. Then, increase the time that you leave the door closed before opening it up after he eats. Finally, you can begin to walk away from the crate while he eats and stay away longer and longer before returning to open the crate door.
- When your dog is eating his meals in his crate one a regular basis and is relaxed when you leave him inside for a short time period, such as 5-10 minutes, you can begin to teach him the command “crate” or “kennel” or whatever word you would like to use. Walk towards the crate, point inside with a treat in your hand and say “crate.” As your dog enters the crate, praise him and give him the treat. Close the door and walk away for a short time. Keep practicing this until he stays inside for about 30 minutes without becoming afraid or anxious.
- Now, he is ready to be crated when you are away, but keep your trips away from the home short at first. Gradually, you can increase your time away. Still, never leave your dog in a crate for an extended period of time, especially puppies and older dogs who require more frequent opportunities to go potty. A dog who needs to go to the bathroom but is trying not to go in his crate will undergo extreme stress and might associate that stressful experience with being in the crate, thereby undoing a lot of the work you have put into making the crate a “good thing.”
A few pointers:
- This whole process can take days up to months. It all depends on your dog and how much practice you can do. Any setback in the training can delay the desired outcome of a dog who is crate trained. So, please be patient and take each step as slowly as your dog requires and be enthusiastic about your dog’s successes, no matter how small. He will surely pick up on your pleasure.
- Feel free to leave a toy or something to chew on like a Kong in the crate with your dog. But make sure the item is safe and will not pose a choking hazard when your dog is left unattended.
- Do not let your dog out of the crate if he is whining or barking. Wait for him to be quiet first. This way, he won’t think that by whining or barking, he can get you to let him out.
- When getting ready to leave your home and crate your dog, vary your routine and remain very calm and matter-of-fact, so your dog doesn’t get anxious at the “signs” of you leaving. Then, when you return, keep you energy very calm and relaxed and only pet him when he is relaxed. This will help him to not become anxious about when you will be returning home.
- If at all possible, keep the crate in a place where there usually is some kind of family activity, such as a living room or bedroom, instead of an isolated, infrequently used place in the house.
- Again, do not associate the crate with anything bad. Do not yell at your dog while he is in the crate, for instance if he is barking, or force him into the crate. It is much easier to teach a dog that the crate is a good thing than it is to teach a dog that the crate is NOT a bad thing.
Take it slowly and you will be rewarded with the convenience of having a dog who enjoys hanging out in his crate.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us!