HOW DO I CRATE TRAIN MY PUPPY OR DOG? Now that you’ve made the decision that crate training could help your new family member with her training and keep her safe, how can you help your dog learn to love her crate retreat?
As noted in our previous article, Why Crate Training Isn’t Cruel, training your dog with this tool can help your dog with housebreaking, limit destructive behaviors and keep your pup safely contained. Once your pet has acclimated to their crate and thinks of it as their own, the crate becomes a comfortable place for when you’re traveling together. Having a crate on hand is also a great way to introduce new pets.
Choose the Right Crate
Making sure you have the correct crate for your dog is very important, particularly if you are using the dog crate for house training. If your pup can stay high and dry on his or her crate bedding and not have to worry about their waste, the crate is too large. There should be enough room for him to stand up, turn around in a small circle, and lie down comfortably. The reason for this is that dogs are unlikely to soil their “den,” and this is what your dog will soon understand that this is what their crate is meant to be.
If you’ve purchased a large crate in anticipation for how large your dog is going to grow, that is fine – just be sure to safely partition off a portion of the crate so it suits your dog’s size.
Although fabric dog crates can be used once kennel rules have been established (and people love soft-sided crates because they are easy to travel with) you’ll need to with a hard-sided or wire dog crate. This is important to keep your pet from chewing or digging themselves out of containment.
Furnishing Your Dog’s “Den”
Because you are trying to help your dog view their crate as a their own, you’re going to want to decorate it in a way that suits your pet. Our dog crate beds are nice because most of them have bolstered sides to cushion the sides. This makes the crate feel more like a nest, which is comforting to a dog.
We also carry a wide variety of super-soft plush dog beds and mats that are suitable for use inside the crate. If, however, your dog likes to tear things up or dig, you may just want to use old towels or blankets, at least initially. Placing a towel or blanket over the crate can also make the crate feel more private and secure.
Alternately, we have cute crate covers with matching cushions such as the ProSelect Sweet Safari 2-Piece Crate Cover and Bed – Petal Pink pictured above. These dog crate cover and cushion combos are fashionable, a great value, and make a wire crate much more inviting.
Another thing that will make your dog’s time spent in their kennel more pleasant, particularly when you are gone, is putting in one of your old tee shirts that you’ve worn recently. That way, your dog will be comforted by your scent even while you are away.
Additionally, you’ll want to put some appropriate chew and/or dog plush toys in the crate. All of these things will make your pet’s crate be their “happy place.”
The best crate toys are dog chew toys. Busy Buddy dog toys are great for this because they have treat challenges that are good for your dog’s teeth. A dog that has exercised their jaws and worked hard to figure out how to enjoy their treats will exhaust themselves. Since wild dogs spend up to 16 hours sleeping per day, this is a great way to work up to a nap!
Getting your puppy or dog used to their kennel
The goal of crate training is to help your dog feel comfortable being in their crate so they will stay safe and out of trouble. This will take time. Don’t go too fast! Having a happy association with kennel time is important. Otherwise, your dog may become agitated and even self-destructive. Happy dogs are trainable dogs. Upset dogs shut down and won’t listen.
When you first introduce your pet to their crate, hide some dog treats in it for your puppy to discover. Use your happy voice to make this place sound super fun! Praise you pet for finding the treats. Pet your dog while he or she is in the kennel. Randomly hide treats in the crate in the future to keep the associations fun. If your puppy is still unsure about the crate, try putting their food dish in it when it’s dinner time.
You can also give verbal directions with their crate by enticing them inside with a treat and saying “go to bed” or “kennel up.” That will be the command to send them to their room as needed. Tell your dog, “ok” when it’s time to come out, but don’t reward her for coming out since you’re showing her that all good things happen in the crate.
Gradually, your puppy can be left on his own with the door closed while enjoying treats or complicated chew toys. Soon they will go into their crate voluntarily for naps or in the hopes that a treat or dog toy will magically appear.
Adult dogs without any crate experience can be trained to like a crate in the same manner, but it may take longer. Make crate time for adult dogs especially fabulous by providing a variety of “special dog toys” that will only be enjoyed in the crate.
Regardless of your dog’s age, dog toys that are used in the crate should be interchanged to keep your pup’s sense of wonder and discovery alive as they anticipate the time spent in their kennel.
Lengthening your dog’s tolerance for their crate
Keep in mind, a wild dog will spend up to 16 hours sleeping a day with the rest of the time running, hunting, playing or raising young. Therefore, acclimating your pup to longer stretches of den time is fine as long as you are providing them with vigorous, lengthy activity before and after they are crated. If proper mental, physical and social activities are not provided, you’ll won’t be meeting your dog’s needs and will create behavioral problems.
It’s also important to remember that puppies are incapable of staying in their crate for long stretches since they have to eliminate at shorter intervals until they develop the ability to “hold it.” If you aren’t able to come home and let your puppy out for your lunch break, you’ll either need to hire a dog walker or create a space out of a laundry or bathroom with their open crate on one side and puppy pads on the far side of the room. Furnish this nursery area with food and water and chew toys in the crate.
What if my dog whines?
The only whining that should get the crate door opened is the kind that is for when the dog has to pee. Although it might be difficult, resist the urge to respond to your dog if she complains in her crate. Even negative attention (such as a verbal reprimand) is still attention. This might increase her barking and whining. Don’t give in. Otherwise, your dog will learn that if she cries long and hard enough, you WILL let her out. Only let her out if she is quiet for a good three minutes.
If you aren’t sure that your dog or puppy really does need to go outside, you can take her directly to the spot you want her to eliminate. You may even decide to carry her out so that there will be no dawdling or playing (further reward for getting out of the crate.) If she pees, you’ll know it was a legitimate request. If she doesn’t deliver, it’s time to go back to the crate.
The other exception for letting your dog out is if your dog seems anxious either because of separation anxiety, because of storms or other frightening sounds. Remember, the goal is to reinforce that crate time is happy, relaxed time. If your dog simply won’t settle down and is anxious, consult a pet behavioral professional.
Weaning Your Dog Off Crate Time
The more your dog learns what behaviors are deemed acceptable and they have learned that they can chew their designated toys rather than your sofa, you can start expanding their living arrangements. You can begin to give your dog more freedom in your house while you’re gone once she’s thoroughly house trained with no accidents for a month.
The right time to give your dog more freedom will depend on his or individual personality and learning rate. Some dogs can be destructive when alone until they are about two years old, while others can be trusted at one year or less.
Start with short errands away from your dog and see if everything has been left intact. You may even find that your dog has voluntarily retreated to their kennel since they associate it with happy feelings and experiences when you are away. Then you know the crate has truly become their retreat den.
Have you crate trained your dog? What did you find helpful?