Crate Training

To crate or not to crate

Crate training is not the ultimate solution for teaching your dog house etiquette, but it is a good way to house train a dog or puppy. Used properly, it gives your dog an opportunity to be safe and secure in his/her own space.

Crate training is helpful as a training tool:

  • When a dog must be left unattended for less than six hours.
  • During sleeping hours with a young, un-housebroken dog.
  • As a feeding station for easily-distractible puppies.
  • To encourage good sleeping habits and discourage inappropriate elimination.

Crate training has disadvantages:

  • It doesn't communicate leadership.
  • It separates you from your dog when you're at home.
  • It can't teach a dog how to behave in all rooms of the house.

A crate can prevent problems, but it provides no real training. Thus, a crate is a training tool, but by itself, it cannot produce results. If you do decide to use a crate, here are some suggestions for how it can be properly applied.

Size of the crate

Not too large, or your dog or puppy will have enough room to soil in one corner and sleep in the other. This defeats the premise of crate training!

A puppy should be enclosed in the crate no longer than four hours, because a young dog can't go that amount of time without needing to eliminate.

A crash course on crate training

Crate training builds on the basic "denning instinct" in the dog world. A mother dog gives birth to her puppies in a nest or "den" -- a safe place to sleep. She keeps it clean until the puppies are old enough to eliminate outside of the den. She teaches each pup that it is NOT acceptable to eliminate where it sleeps. It is canine instinct not to soil the area where they sleep.

Crate training uses this natural instinct to help you house train your new dog. Here's how it works: When you bring your new dog home, it is important to provide it with a nest or 'den' it can have as its very own safe place. A crate becomes a punishment only if you use it with that goal in mind. If you view a 'crate' as a training tool to help you reach your goal -- which is to house train your dog -- then you will use the crate appropriately.

One of the first difficult things about introducing your dog to a crate is that dogs often whine or cry when they are confined to the crate. But you must keep in mind that your dog doesn't want to be confined. A puppy may have just left the comfort and warmth of his littermates, and that comfort and warmth is associated with sleeping. Sadly, unless you purchased the entire litter for the enjoyment of your puppy, learning to sleep alone is just part of growing up and is an experience your puppy must master successfully. Imagine the adult size your dog will eventually attain, and try to imagine whether that adult will still fit in your lap or under the crook of your arm in bed at night. Most puppies will grow up to be too large to continue those habits.

At any rate, set the rules from the beginning. It is kinder to be consistent, than to "punish" your dog later on and banish it from your lap or your bed for committing the horrible crime of merely being a dog.

For a puppy, try to get a familiar piece of bedding from the breeder to place in your pup's crate. If you are fortunate to have a local breeder, you can drop off a towel at the breeders a few days before you pick the dog up, so the litter can sleep on it and leave their collective scent.

When first using the crate, it is important that the crate not have any negative associations. For example, don't shut the dog away in the crate immediately after it has done something it shouldn't have, or has had an "accident." Have the crate ready and comfortable, with a toy and a treat, and let your dog go in and out on its own, exploring the crate as it chooses. Don't shut the dog in the crate right away. Always praise the dog for entering its crate, and choose a word or a phrase to say when the dog does enter its crate, so that phrase will be associated with the behavior. "Go to your room,"; "time to take a nap," and "crate time" all accomplish the goal of word association. Do this several times in a row over a short period of time, and then stop for a while. Repeat several times throughout the dog's first day with you.

Select a 'good' time for the dog's first time enclosed in the crate. When your dog enters the crate in search of the treat it expects to find there, and has just been outside to eliminate and is ready for a nap, it's time to close the door. Many owners find this a good time to introduce a new toy for a dog's enjoyment. Stay with the dog after you close the door, and if the dog cries, talk to it and put your fingers through the door openings. Generally leaving the dog there ten minutes or so is a good rule of thumb.

But one word of warning. NEVER let the dog out because it is crying or digging at the door. If you do, you will have sent a dangerous precedent for your dog. What lesson will you have taught? Misbehave and you will get what you want. You must wait out your dog. That's why it is helpful if you wait until your dog is tired before closing the crate door the first few times. It tends to cut down on the whining. If your dog continues to whine and dig, distract him with a toy or something so that he is quiet for a half a minute or so. Never let a crying dog out of the crate, you are rewarding it! And don't be too excited when you open the crate door, or your dog will get the message that it's "fun" to be let out of the crate (and NOT as much fun to be enclosed). Your approach to crating should be matter of fact.

What if your dog has an accident in its crate? Don't punish the dog. Chances are, your dog tried to tell you it had to go out, but you were in the middle of fixing dinner or in a deep sleep and didn't respond.

Crating your dog when you leave the house

Remove any collar you have on the dog, because it is unsafe. Make sure you have just taken the dog outside before enclosing him inside the crate. Close the door and leave without fanfare. Stay away an hour or so and return and check on the dog. If you cannot find someone to check in on your dog while you are at work, then come home for lunch to feed, exercise and take your dog outside. Remember puppies cannot be expected to go more than four hours without a potty break. Once a dog has gotten used to soiling its crate, the basic premise of crate training has been violated and you will probably need to find another method.

Crating your dog while you sleep

Remove any collar you have on the dog, because it is unsafe. Make sure you have just taken the dog outside before enclosing him inside the crate. With all the lights out, sounds subsiding and stimulation next to nil, your dog should fall asleep shortly. Set your alarm for no more than four hours. Have your clothing ready to put on quickly, and reach in, pick up your dog, and get outside. When your dog has been successful, praise him, bring him back in and return him to his crate. Turn the lights out and go back to sleep. Keep lights, noise and excitement to a minimum to allow your dog to stay relaxed, and increase the chance it will go back to sleep without fuss.

Dog nap times

After your dog gets used to sleeping in its crate while you sleep and while you are at work, you will probably find that your dog returns to its crate whenever it wants to nap or have some time on its own. Remember to keep the crate door open so that your dog can make the crate his own home, on his own terms.

Other uses for your dog's crate

A dog that is crate trained is easier to travel with. If you fly with your dog, it will have to travel in a crate. The noise and sensation of flying is stressful for animals, and there's no reason for a dog to endure the stress of being in a crate for the first time while flying. If you will be boarding your dog at various times, you will be providing early training forvyour dog to cope with a few days in a small enclosure. If its crate is comfortable and considered a haven by your dog, you can bring the crate to the kennel and your dog will have a familiar bed to sleep in. And teaching your dog to travel in a car while being in its crate is the safest way to travel with your pet. You won't have to worry about your dog slipping out the door when it opens, or your dog being injured if you stop suddenly or thrown out of the car in case of an accident

Used by permission of Beagle Rescue and Welfare of Northern Virginia, Teresa Livingston