How To Crate Train A Dog
By Dr. Kaitlin Wurtz, September 30, 2021
When done properly, crate training can be a useful management tool for housetraining puppies and for keeping dogs safe in your absence. This article will discuss how to ensure time spent in the crate is a positive and relaxing experience for your dog along with step-by-step guidance on how to effectively crate train your puppy or dog.
What Is Crate Training?
Crate training involves teaching your dog to be comfortable while being confined inside a crate. Crates can give dogs their own safe space to relax in especially in households with other animals or children. Some people believe dogs naturally enjoy crates because they are denning animals and crates emulate a den by being dark, snug, and secure. However, this belief is contested in the scientific community (Borchelt, 1984). Dogs would be more likely to raise their puppies in open air nest with their littermates (Allen, 1979). So while crates may not mimic a dog’s natural environment, they can still be used responsibly as a training tool and as a safe location for your dog to relax in.
Why Is Crate Training Useful?
Many people begin crate training their dog when they are puppies. Crates can be an effective tool during potty training. Dogs have a natural instinct to not soil in their nest, therefore crates can be used to prevent accidents indoors. When leaving young dogs alone at home, a crate can provide peace of mind. Confining dogs can help prevent them from getting into potentially dangerous items such as cleaning chemicals, electrical cords, toxic plants, or medicines when you can’t be there to supervise. When crated with appropriate toys to keep them busy, such as a bone or a stimulating puzzle toy, it can help prevent them from finding other things to destroy such as furniture or shoes. Providing a crate for your dog to sleep in overnight can also help them sleep through the night and can help keep them out of trouble while you are sleeping. A dog that is trained to be comfortable in a crate will better tolerate certain activities throughout their lives that require them to be contained. This includes being kennelled during vet visits, grooming appointments, hotel stays, or if they have to be confined while healing from a surgery or injury. Crates can also be used for safe travel in a car.
How To Select A Crate For Your Dog
Crates come in a number of styles and are most commonly made of metal, plastic, or fabric. When purchasing a crate, you should consider your dog’s preferences, their size, and what features work best with your lifestyle. Crates should be large enough for an adult dog to comfortably stand up, lie down on their side, and to turn around. There should also be enough room to provide them with water. If the crate is too large it may increase the chances of your dog soiling within the crate. Some crates come with a divider so they can be sized appropriately as your puppy grows. Some dogs prefer dark enclosed spaces and plastic travel crates may be a good option for them. Others enjoy being able to see their surroundings and metal wire crates may be a good fit. Design features such as being collapsible, having handles or wheels can make crates more functional depending on your lifestyle. There are even crates that have been designed to look like a piece of furniture in your home (e.g., an end table that doubles as a crate).
When Should You Avoid Putting Your Dog In A Crate?
It is critically important that crates are never used as a way to punish your dog. Crates should always be a calm and relaxing experience for your dog and should be associated with positive experiences. A dog that is visibly upset (whining, barking, or attempting to escape) should not be left in the crate because the experience can contribute to increased feelings of anxiety and frustration. Similarly, dogs should never be forced into their crate. Instead, they should be trained to voluntarily enter and settle. Some people may crate their dog if they are destructive to their home as a symptom of separation anxiety. This should be avoided as crates have been shown to further contribute to the severity of their separation anxiety (Schwartz, 2003).
Are Dogs Comfortable Being Left In Their Crate?
Whether or not a dog is comfortable being left in their crate depends on how well they were crate trained and their individual personality and preferences. Dogs that were taught to view crates as safe, comforting spots will feel more comfortable in their crate. Otherwise, dogs may feel anxiety and panic when forced into confinement (Overall, 2003). Dogs that are panicking in their crate may bite at the bars on the crate or salivate excessively. Alternative management strategies should be implemented for dogs that are not comfortable being crated. This could include confining dogs to a small area within the house such as a bedroom or the kitchen. Baby gates are a great solution for keeping dogs safe when left alone while providing them more freedom of movement and room for activities. It’s important to remember that dogs require exercise and stimulation throughout the day and appropriate breaks or toys should be provided if dogs have to be left in their crate for an extended period of time.
How Long Should Dogs Be Left In A Crate?
It is unnatural for dogs to be confined for long periods of time. Dogs require physical and mental stimulation to live happy lives. Spending too much time inside a crate can hinder a dog’s social development and greatly reduces their exposure to various stimuli. Young puppies should be let out of their crate at least every 3 to 4 hours to relieve themselves, although more frequent outings are recommended. Adult dogs that are over the age of 1 should be let out at least once every 6 to 8 hours (Gunter, 2018). If your dog needs to be confined for longer periods, such as during working hours, alternative solutions should be explored. Doggy day cares are a great resource for dogs that don’t do well being left home alone all day. Dog walkers can also greatly improve your dog’s well being by giving them a midday walk and play time.
How Can You Crate Train Your Dog?
Crate training is most effective when dogs are introduced to them at a young age, and when reward-based training is conducted gradually at your dog’s own pace. The following steps can be followed to help your dog view crates as a calming and safe environment (Lindsay, 2013). Make sure your dog is completely calm and comfortable before advancing to the next step. Signs that you moved too fast with your dog include whining, barking, or other signs of panic or discomfort.
- Step 1
Set up the crate in a social area of your home such as near the kitchen or in the family room. Place comfortable bedding items inside the crate. You may even consider placing clothing items that smell like you in the crate to provide familiar smells to your dog. Hide treats around and inside the crate or consider placing their food and water dish outside the crate. Leave the crate door open and allow your dog to explore on their own. Let them sniff around the crate and explore inside the crate if they’re feeling brave enough. Verbal praise or more treats can be added to help your dog make positive associations with their crate. Once your dog seems comfortable with this new item in their home and entered the crate on their own, then you may advance to the next step.
- Step 2
During this step you will begin enticing your dog into their crate by using treat bribes. Start by tossing high value treats near the entrance of the crate. Once they build confidence in retrieving their reward, progressively toss the treat further into the rear of the crate. After your dog retrieves the treats at the rear of the crate and turn around to leave, give them additional treats and praise. Always allow the dog to enter and exit on their own and do not close them in at this stage of training. Once your dog is confident retrieving treats from the rear of their crate and are calm upon entering and exiting, you may advance to the next step.
- Step 3
Associate the arm motion of throwing a treat with asking your dog to enter their kennel. For every few treat throws, do one throw without a treat. If your dog enters with just the arm motion, heavily reward them after they enter and turn around. Gradually reduce the number of treats thrown and instead focus on rewarding your dog when entering the crate with just the arm motion. Once your dog reliably enters their crate with your arm motion alone, move on to step 4.
- Step 4
Add a verbal cue such as “crate” when performing the arm motion.
- Step 5
After your dog enters the crate on cue, momentarily shut the gate. Give them treats through the gate and plenty of verbal praise. Immediately open the gate and let the dog exit. Start with only confining them for a few seconds and repeat with greater intervals. If the dog is comfortable with the gate closed for a few seconds, work up to periods of minutes. Provide the dog with a high value chew toy when being left in the crate. Stay in the same room with your pet while crated so they know they are not alone. Repeat these training exercises multiple times a day. If your dog is settling comfortably for close to half an hour, you may begin getting them comfortable in other areas of the home that they may have to be crated, such as the bedroom. If your dog is able to remain calm while crated for over 30 minutes with you present, then you can advance to step 6.
- Step 6
Begin crating your dog and leaving them alone for short periods of time. Your first few outings should be brief. Consider crating your dog with their favourite chew toy before going on a walk around the block and letting them out. Gradually increase the duration of your absence. It may be helpful to set up a recording device while you are gone to be absolutely sure your dog is remaining relaxed while you’re gone. To help keep their arousal levels low when being crated, keep your leaving and arrival low-key.
Crate training is considered successful when your dog views their crate as a safe place to relax. It’s important to be patient with your dog during the training process and to never advance before they are ready. Its normal for crate training to take many days to weeks.
With proper, positive reinforcement training, crates can be a useful management resource for your dog. They can be especially helpful for housetraining young puppies and can help keep your dog safe when left alone. While crate training can be a great tool, it should not be used for extended periods of time or as a way to confine an already anxious dog. As dogs age, they should be granted access to increased areas of the home once they are potty trained and know which items are approved for chewing on or destroying. Having a dog that is comfortable in a crate during travel or for veterinary or grooming procedures can improve their quality of life tremendously.
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Borchelt, P. L. "Development of behaviour of the dog during maturity." In Nutrition and behaviour in dogs and cats: proceedings, First Nordic Symposium on Small Animal Veterinary Medicine, Oslo, September 15-18, 1982/editor RS Anderson. Oxford: Pergamon Press, c1984., 1984.
Gunter, Lisa. Understanding the impacts of breed identity, post-adoption and fostering interventions, & behavioral welfare of shelter dogs. Arizona State University, 2018.
Lindsay, Steven R., ed. Handbook of applied dog behavior and training, procedures and protocols. Vol. 3. John Wiley & Sons, 2013.
Overall, K. L. "Separation anxiety: not all dogs crated or kenneled successfully." DVM Newsmagazine 34 (2003): 20S-22S.
Schwartz, Stefanie. "Separation anxiety syndrome in dogs and cats." Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 222, no. 11 (2003): 1526-1532.