Dog Crate 101
Ever wondered how to housetrain your puppy? Do you want to be able to leave your dog home alone? Would you like to teach your dog to be calm when friends and family come by to visit? If so, crate training might be for you.
Crate training uses the idea of the den to teach domestic dogs important life lessons. In the wild the den is a small, confined area which provides safety and shelter. Likewise, in crate training, owners use a dog crate or indoor kennel designed to give the puppy or adult dog a safe, secure and comfortable place for short-term confinement. Beyond teaching valuable life lessons such as housetraining, coping with being left alone, and remaining calm when visitors come over, crate training is also beneficial for preparing dogs for travelling and for visits to grooming parlours and vets.
What type of crate is best?
Crates are usually square or rectangular, but they come in a large range of materials, sizes and designs. Which one is best for you will depend on a number of factors, including the size of your dog, the purpose you want to use it for, and whether it needs to be easy to transport. For instance, whilst wire crates often collapse and are convenient to transport, they can be difficult to clean, whereas plastic crates are lightweight and easy to clean, but their fixed shape can make them difficult to transport. Wooden and metal crates may not be ideal as they are heavy and restrict your dog’s ability to see his surroundings.
Whether you choose a collapsible or fixed crate, one made of wire, plastic, or canvas, your crate should be big enough for your dog to sit and stand up without hitting his head, and to stretch out flat on his side. There should be enough room for your dog to turn around comfortably. If you begin when your dog is a puppy, it might be best to choose a crate that you’ll be able to use when your dog reaches his adult size. In the meantime you can use crate dividers to make the space smaller and prevent the puppy from being able to eliminate in one area of the crate and sleep in another.
What should I place in the crate?
It’s important that your puppy or adult dog has access to fresh, clean drinking water whilst in the crate, so a water bowl should be placed inside. Clip on bowls are available for many of the crates and these can prevent unnecessary spillages as your dog moves around and gets comfortable. The crate should be a safe and secure place for your dog, so make sure it is comfortable. Put in a blanket or towel so he can make a cosy bed. Placing an article of unwashed clothing in the crate is a good idea, especially if you’re training a new puppy or dog. This will help the new dog get used to the scent of his new family. All sleep and no play is just no fun, so be sure to put in some toys and chews, but always make sure you check these regularly and remove and replace any that are damaged. Toys that can be stuffed with food are great for use in a crate, and will provide fun and mental stimulation for your dog.
Remember that accidents do happen! So if your puppy or dog eliminates in the crate, is sick, or plays splash in the water bowl make sure you remove all the damp and dirty material, clean immediately using non-ammonia based products, and then only use the crate again when it is clean and dry.
Where should I place the crate?
Crates should be placed in an area with good ventilation, no one, not even dogs like to sleep with a draught. The crate should not be in direct sunlight or be too close to a heat source. Although it is used for confinement the crate is not meant to isolate your dog and so it needs to be placed in a social area of your home, somewhere the family likes to spend time together like a kitchen or lounge.
How do I crate train a puppy?
You’ve selected a crate, found a good place in the house for it, and put your pup’s favourite blanket inside - so what’s next? Begin by taking your pup outside, play with him and make sure he’s eliminated before going inside again. If he’s wearing a collar it’s best to remove it so it doesn’t get caught on anything. Place some treats just outside and just inside the crate. This helps create a positive association with the crate as the puppy is rewarded for going into it. Leave the door open, so the puppy is free to go in and out of the crate.
Once your pup readily goes into the crate you can close the door for a moment while the puppy enjoys the treats inside the crate. When your pup is comfortable with the door being closed for short periods, you can then begin closing the door for shorter and longer periods, building up the time your puppy stays in the crate with the door closed. If your pup is tired from playing, he might just climb in and crash out. At first it might be best to remain in the room so the puppy doesn’t associate being left in the crate with you all leaving the house. Once he wakes up, open the door and take him outside to eliminate. In order to avoid accidents on being let out of the crate it might be best to carry him outside in the beginning. Remember not to let your pup out while he is barking or whining as then he might come to learn that the more vociferous he is, the quicker he’ll get your attention and be let out of the crate.
In the beginning you’ll need to take your pup outdoors to eliminate fairly frequently. At eight weeks old a small-breed puppy should be able to stay in the crate for about three hours (four hours for a large-breed puppy) before he needs to be taken outdoors, whilst a twelve week old small-breed puppy should be taken outdoors every four hours (five hours for a large-breed puppy) (Horwitz & Mills, 2009, p. 114). Of course, these times are just a guide and you’ll need to judge for yourself how often your puppy needs to go to the toilet. Remember, housetraining takes place during the day and the night, and each time your puppy is taken out to eliminate it’s important that you reward him for eliminating in the right place. The puppy needs to be taken outdoors to eliminate during the day and night and is rewarded with a treat once he has eliminated.
As you crate train your puppy you need to help him to become used to people reaching into the crate. This will help prevent him from becoming possessive of the crate. Also, you’ll need to take your puppy out of the crate frequently to socialise with people and other pets. On each occasion be sure to take him outside to eliminate before letting him wander around the house, and give him the opportunity again before he goes back in the crate. Your puppy needs to have play time, training time and to spend time in the company of his family. This will lead to a well-adjusted puppy and will prevent the puppy from becoming bored or lonely.
How do I crate train an adult dog?
Begin slowly and make sure that you create a positive association with the crate. Encourage your dog to investigate the crate by placing some treats inside and allowing him to go in and out of the crate freely. Place the crate in your dog’s feeding area and feed your dog in the crate for a few days whilst leaving the door open. Putting an item of your clothing inside can help your dog to feel relaxed when in the crate. Only when your dog is comfortable going out and in the crate should you begin to close the door for short periods. Chews and toys in the crate can help to occupy your dog. As your dog becomes more comfortable with being in the crate with the door closed you can gradually increase and vary his time in the crate before you open the door.
A common behavioural problem in adult dogs is anxiety when they are left at home alone. Once the dog has accepted the crate as his safe haven, time spent at home alone is no longer so stressful.
What if my dog eliminates in the crate?
First of all, whatever you do, don’t punish the dog. Make sure your clean the crate thoroughly using a non-ammonia based product. Remove the bedding and only replace it when the crate is entirely dry. If your puppy or dog is having regular accidents you might need to take him out more regularly and make sure that he has eliminated before being placed in the crate. Be aware of whether your dog is drinking or eating a lot before going into the crate and adjust when you take him out accordingly. The problem might also reflect the conditions your pup or adult dog was kept in before finding a home with you. Dogs which have been forced to eliminate in their sleeping areas will be more difficult to housetrain using a crate. Medical conditions such as bladder infections or intestinal problems can also result in elimination problems and so it may be worth getting your dog checked out at the vets.
When shouldn’t I use a crate
You shouldn’t use the crate:
§as a form of punishment
§when the puppy or adult dog will be left alone for long periods of time
§out of convenience or when you routinely leave your dog alone all day
§as the sole method to control problem behaviours
§if your dog will be subjected to teasing by children or adults whilst in the crate
§when you are unable to let your puppy or adult dog out frequently enough to avoid forcing him to eliminate in the crate
§when your dog is vomiting or has diarrhoea
§if the crate will be left in a car, rather remove it from the car and place it in the shade
Hmm, not sure about caging my dog…
Crate training involves developing a positive association with the crate and making it a safe space for your dog. It is not about caging the dog for your own convenience. Done properly it can be a positive tool in teaching your dog to adjust to living with you in your home, and as a training method it is not intended to promote the long term confinement of your dog for long periods of time. Such confinement might even be detrimental to your dog’s health. Moreover, crate training might not suit your dog, and so you might want to find an alternative method of confining your dog so as teach him basic house lessons. This may involve using a gated area, exercise or play pen, or even a small room. Whether you use one of these alternatives or a crate, make sure to remove any objects your dog might choke on and make sure hazards such as household cleaning products are safely and securely stored where your dog can’t get to them. Indeed, you might find that you want to begin with a crate and then move to a small area of a room, and expand the dog’s access to your home from there as you see that he is learning that elimination only happens outside.
Used well, crate training can be an effective and relatively quick, if somewhat labour intensive, method of training your puppy or adult dog. It is of particular benefit in housetraining and in helping dogs to cope with being left home alone.