Successful crate training opens up a lot of options for you and your dog, both within obedience and behavior training as well as life in general. A dog who is properly acclimated to the crate is going to be far less stressed during travel, boarding, or overnight stays at the vet. (We never want that last one, but it’s always possible.) Crating can prevent destructive chewing and assist in potty training, each of which we’ll cover in detail below. The structure provided by crating can also reduce minor separation anxiety. The most fundamental and vital thing to remember about crate training is the crate is never a punishment. The crate needs to be a comfortable and pleasant space for your dog. Here’s how we do that:
- The Crate: Plastic and metal wire crates each have their pros and cons, but the choice largely comes down to preference (either the dog’s or the human’s). Some dogs like the closed-in plastic crates while others do better with more visibility in wire crates. If you plan to do a fair amount of traveling with your dog, the collapsible wire crate may be more ideal for you. Go with what works best for you and your pup! As for size, the crate should be big enough for your pup to stand up and easily turn around.
- Location: Generally speaking, the crate should be placed in a high traffic area of the home, or where the pup is used to spending time (most likely around you or other people in the home). They are already comfortable in this space.
- Introducing the Crate: Encourage your dog to investigate the crate. Toss some treats or a favorite toy in to begin the positive association. Work on this until your dog goes in and out of the crate without displaying any nervous body language. This could take a few minutes or several days.
- Feeding Time: Food is an excellent training aid. Even if your dog isn’t highly food motivated, we can still use this basic necessity to our advantage. Start feeding your pup around the crate. Begin by setting the bowl in front of the crate. Over the next several days (or longer, depending on the dog’s comfort level) gradually move the bowl further into the crate. Do NOT work on closing the gate until your dog has eaten a few meals, while relaxed, when completely inside the crate. Once they’ve reached this point, you can begin closing the door while they’re eating. At first, open the door once they’ve finished. As you progress, start taking a pause between their last bite and opening the gate. Lengthen this pause over several mealtimes until they can stay in the crate calmly for up to ten minutes after eating. If at any point they begin to bark or cry or paw at the gate, DO NOT open the gate until they have stopped. Otherwise they will think complaining will make the gate open!
- Adding Time: Start crating your pup outside of mealtimes. In the beginning, they should be able to see you while in the crate. Toss some treats or a toy in the crate and start giving a name to the act of going into the crate (such as “crate” or “kennel”). Wait a minute or two (walk across the room, pick up toys, sit on the couch—this doesn’t have to be while you are standing right in front of the crate, so long as your pup can see you) and then let them out. Do this multiple times throughout the day and slowly increase the amount of time. Once they can relax quietly in the crate for up to thirty minutes, whether after a couple days or several, start leaving the room. Once you’ve worked up to at least thirty minutes of calm, quiet crate time with no one in the room, you can start leaving the home for short periods of time with your pup crated.
- Departures & Arrivals: No matter how much we want to coo over our pups when we leave and how we want to match their excitement when we come home, it’s important we keep our comings and goings calm and lowkey. By being a source of praise (including baby talk) or excitement, we reinforce that our being away was something to be upset about in the first place. When you do let your dog out of the crate, make sure they don’t have a chance to shove past your hand the second the gate is unlatched. Block the exit with your body and the gate until you give a release cue (e.g. “free”).
- Exercise: Most dogs spend at least half the day (here meaning 24 hours) sleeping. Puppies and older dogs need a lot more sleep than that. For most adult dogs, the half of the day they are awake, they aren’t constantly go go go. That being said, giving them plenty of exercise before they go in the crate will help them relax for the day.
- Bedtime: It doesn’t hurt to have a second crate for your dog to sleep in at night, especially if they are a young puppy and still need to go potty every few hours. Remember, though, even if their whining wakes you up to alert you, wait for a pause in the whining before letting them out of the crate.
Ideally, we don’t want to crate a dog for longer than they’re used to. Realistically, many of us have full time jobs away from home and still want to prevent destructive behaviors and potty messes all over the place. There are ways to work around this reality without ruining our progress with the crate. You can keep your pup in a bathroom or laundry room where they can’t get into anything that might hurt them. Tiled and linoleum floors are also much easier to clean up than carpet! Give them some old towels or blankets to sleep on, but make sure things like trash cans and toilet paper are out of reach. Another option is to buy a plastic playpen or metal x pen to keep them contained in a specific area of the house.
Dogs are, by nature, denning animals. This doesn’t mean every dog will take to the crate with ease, but it does mean you shouldn’t feel guilty about crating your pup. So it’s completely reasonable to crate our pups for up to 8-9 hours each day, so long as we set them up for success with the crate!