Dog crate training is an incredibly useful tool for frustrated dog owners – but it can also be a very confusing process. Exactly what are the advantages of crate training a dog, and how do you do it? If you don’t approach crate training your dog with the right information on hand, you risk wasting time or making mistakes that could actually set you back weeks or months in your training.
This page exists to give you an in-depth look into what crate training is really for and how to do it. We’ll cover the general process for crate training a new puppy, plus some additional tips for getting older dogs used to the crate.
Why Crate Train?
You may be wondering, is crate training your dog really necessary?
The short answer is no. But, you’ll find life a lot easier as a dog owner if you do crate train. It’s not necessary, in the sense that you can still achieve all the goals crate training is designed to achieve, without actually using a crate. The crate is just a useful tool that makes life easier and helps speed up certain aspects of dog training (including the ones you want to get over and done with quickly, like house training).
Is the Crate Cruel?
Many dog owners worry that locking their dog up in a crate is cruel. They equate crate with ‘cage.’ However, this is the wrong way of looking at things.
When crate training is done properly, the dog doesn’t view the crate as a prison – she views it as a safe place to sleep and hang out.
See, dogs are den animals by nature. They are used to having an enclosed space to curl up and sleep. The crate is the same as a kennel in this respect, except it has a closed door on it. But as long as you crate train the dog properly, she won’t feel any anxiety about the fact she’s locked in – in fact she’ll feel safer knowing any dangers are locked out when her humans aren’t around to protect her.
Dogs are not used to being left alone – in the wild, they stay with their pack throughout their entire lifetime. So being left alone can be quite scary, but it’s a necessary part of living in a human household. The crate simply provides an area for the dog to feel safe when she needs to be left alone for a while.
Dual Advantages of Dog Crate Training
There are two big advantages to crate training your dog.
One is house training. The crate can be an incredibly handy tool for breaking bad patterns of behavior when it comes to toileting inside the house. It’s useful for dogs who can avoid toileting inside when their owners are around, but always leave a mess whenever their humans go out of the house for a few hours.
The other advantage is easy transport. Many dogs don’t like car rides and it can be hazardous to have a dog roaming free around your car while driving. The crate provides a comfortable, enclosed space for a dog on a journey. It’s also useful if you ever have to transport your dog long distance, by plane or train.
Getting the Right Crate
Before we even get into the nitty-gritty of how to crate train, it’s important to make sure you have the right crate for the job. Trying to crate train with a crate which is either too big or too small can be a waste of time.
If the crate is too small, the dog will be uncomfortable and it will be almost impossible to get her used to being left in there for too long. On top of that, this is one of the instances where the crate actually can be cruel. The dog should have enough room to stand up comfortably at full height, and turn around without touching the sides of the crate.
A crate which is too big also presents a problem though. The idea of the crate is that it’s big enough for the dog to be comfortable in, but small enough that the dog doesn’t have room to go to the toilet. Again, this is based on the fact that dogs are den animals, and they won’t toilet in their den. If the crate is too big, the dog will simply toilet at one end and sleep at the other. You need to make sure the crate is not big enough for this sort of behavior, otherwise it will be ineffective as a house training tool.
The Process of Dog Crate Training
Let’s now get into the nuts and bolts of how to crate train your dog.
The first step is to get her comfortable with the crate. If you’re training a new puppy, this is fairly easy. Start out by placing her food bowl at the back of the crate every time you feed her. Make sure that for starters you leave the door open while she eats. This is important – you want her to get used to being in the crate without feeling that she’s trapped in it.
As well as feeding her in the crate, leave her toys sitting inside it. You may find that she naturally starts to hang out in the crate by herself. As soon as she seems comfortable in the crate for five or ten minutes with the door open, you can begin closing the door.
The key here is to keep the period of time she’s locked in the crate very short at first. You don’t want the time period to be long enough to trigger any anxiety – this will result in a negative association with the crate. You need to keep her associations with the crate as positive as possible. If she seems unwilling to be locked in the crate, lock the door and feed her a few treats through the wiring. Only leave her locked in there for 30 seconds or a minute to begin with if she seems particularly anxious. As she starts to become more comfortable, increase the duration by one minute each time you leave her in the crate. You should find you build up quite quickly to the point where she can stay in the crate comfortably for half an hour to an hour. After that, leaving her for longer time periods shouldn’t be an issue as she’ll now feel ‘at home’ in the crate.
Crate Training for Older Dogs
If you have an older dog who has never been crate trained or even been in a crate before, you might run into a few roadblocks with this process. For example, you may find she doesn’t want to go into the crate even if her full dinner bowl is waiting for her in there.
In cases like this, you need to up the motivation by using special treats to get her in the crate. Lure her into the crate with a highly motivating treat, and then keep feeding her treats while she stays in the crate (leaving the door open for starters). Once she’s comfortable in the crate, move on to closing the door just as you would be a puppy.
Dog Crate Training and Separation Anxiety
Crate training can be used as a tool to fight separation anxiety – but it can also contribute to separation anxiety if it doesn’t done properly. Some dog owners think they can simply shove their dog in a crate and leave her in there for eight hours at a time without any previous conditioning or training – this is a recipe for disaster!
If you follow the steps above, you shouldn’t find separation anxiety developing or getting any worse as your crate train your dog. But how is crate training useful for dogs who already show strong signs of separation anxiety?
Well, the crate can be useful for breaking separation anxiety patterns because it allows the dog to slowly and safely get used to being alone. Separation anxiety happens because, as we noted above, dogs are designed to be with their pack 24 hours a day – being left alone is a frightening prospect. The crate – when you train the dog to see it as a safe haven – can offer an excellent solution to this problem. When the dog feels safe locked in the crate, she is less likely to feel overwhelmed by anxiety the moment you leave the room.
That said, you still have to be careful not to leave her alone in the crate too long, too quickly. Again, start with small time periods. You can even do practice runs of leaving the house and then returning straight away and letting her out of the crate. Repeat this five to ten times and give her a treat and a hug each time you return. This will let her know that she isn’t being abandoned each time you leave her in the crate, and that she can expect you to return and reward her each time. This all helps build up a positive association to the crate, which in turn will make her feel more comfortable in it.
The Crate for House Training
Last but not least, let’s look at the role crate training has when it comes to getting a new puppy used to the rules of toileting around the house. The crate is a powerful way to prevent a puppy from having accidents when you can’t be around to keep an eye on her. If you work long hours, the crate will be pretty much indispensable for this aspect of training. It’s also very handy for preventing a pup from having an accident throughout the night while you’re asleep.
We already touched on why the crate is useful for house training: because dogs don’t want to soil their sleeping and eating areas. So the key is to condition your dog to sleep in the crate and eat there (can you see now why the technique of giving her dinner inside the crate is so powerful)? Once she gets used to seeing the crate as her den, she will strive to hold her bladder and bowels while she’s inside the crate. This technique alone can rapidly eliminate accidents and speed up the house training process significantly.
There is an important warning here, though. Even if she’s conditioned to eat and sleep in the crate, a young puppy can’t hold onto her bladder forever. If you try to push her too hard and leave her in the crate for a very long period, she may still have an accident inside the crate – and this can create problems, because once she starts toileting in there it can become a habit. If this happens, make sure you clean the crate as thoroughly as possible to remove all traces of the accident.
When using the crate to transport your dog, you should try to be conscious of the dog’s comfort. Put some pillows or padding at the bottom of the crate so the dog can lay down comfortably if she wants to. Try to make sure the crate is in a secure place as won’t slide around a lot, as this can cause anxiety in some dogs and even give them motion sickness.
The crate is useful even on short trips if you have an energetic breed who has a tendency to paw at you. Some toy dog breeds try to climb into their owner’s lap while the car is in motion – very dangerous!
You should make sure your dog has food and water available in the crate for longer trips. It’s easy for a dog to become dehydrated on a long car trip even if it’s not a particularly hot day.
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