Everything You Need to Know About Crate Training
What is a crate?
Crates, also known as “kennels,” act as a den for your dog, hearkening back to their wolf ancestors. They’re a safe space for them to sleep or relax, away from the hustle and bustle of the household. Crates also give you a safe place to put your dog when you leave the house. Even the best trained dog can get into things they shouldn’t, and as the saying goes, always better safe than sorry!
Crates are also highly recommended for housetraining a puppy. In general, dogs will not potty where they sleep, so by crating your puppy when you are not around to bring them outside for potty breaks, you can avoid accidents.
What size crate should I get?
The general rule of thumb is the crate should be big enough for the dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down. When housetraining your puppy, it is a must to abide by this rule! Dogs will not potty where they sleep, but if the crate is too big for your puppy then they will simply potty away from where they sleep in the crate. Most crates these days come with a “divider,” allowing you to buy the full-size crate your puppy will need as an adult. The divider will block off the extra space and you can slowly move it in the crate as your puppy ages and grows.
As your dog gets older, this rule becomes less and less important to follow. Although a fully grown and trained dog can have a crate larger than recommended, but they should never have a crate smaller than recommended!
For lining the crate, you can use a crate liner (a type of thin bedding), a dog bed that measures a similar size to the crate, or a blanket or towel. For puppies, it’s wise to start with something you don’t mind replacing as they might shred any lining you put in there.
How do I get started on crate training?
For starters, never force your dog to enter the crate! This could create a negative association. You should also take any collar or harness off your dog before leaving them unattended in a crate.
If you have a puppy, crate training is pretty simple and straightforward. Start by tossing treats into the crate and getting them comfortable to going in and out of it. Give them a lasting toy, like a Kong filled with frozen peanut butter, to chew on and play with in the crate. Play “crate games” with them; e.g. toss a ball into the crate for them to retrieve. Puppies often adapt quickly to a crate but may still have periods of whining. It is important to distinguish between whines that signify “I need to potty” and whines that signify “I want to come out.” You should be careful not to give into the latter type of whining, but that does not mean to leave your puppy in the crate forever either. Simply wait until the whining stops, count a few seconds, and then let your puppy out. Use the whining as a lesson for yourself, as well! You should strive not to leave your puppy in the crate so long that they begin whining.
For older dogs who have not spent time in a crate before, it can require a bit more introduction. You should start by placing the crate in an area of the house where you and your family spend the most time. Take the door off or leave it open so that the dog can explore the crate when they feel comfortable to do so. You can encourage your dog to enter the crate by dropping treats inside it. Start closest to the entrance of the crate, progressively dropping them further and further into the crate until the dog is all the way in. If your dog is toy motivated then you can try tossing their favorite toy into the crate too!
Once your dog is introduced to the crate and shows some level of comfort around it, you can begin feeding your dog inside the crate. This will help create a positive association with it. Like with the treat dropping, start by placing their food bowl closest to the entrance of the crate, and then each time you feed them, increase the distance of the food bowl into the crate. When your dog is eating their meal while fully standing inside the crate, you can close the door as they’re eating. Make sure to open it as soon as they’re done! Over time, you can increase the time between them completing their meal and you opening the crate door. If at any point your dog whines to come out of the crate, then you have progressed too fast. Try leaving the door closed for a shorter amount of time.
Now that your dog is comfortable eating inside the crate, you can begin confining them to the crate for short periods of time while you’re home.
Start off by calling them over to the crate and treating them. Then give them a command to enter the crate, such as simply saying “crate,” and point inside the kennel while holding a treat in your hand. Once your dog has entered the crate, praise them and give them their treat. You can now close the door and leave them inside their crate for a short period of time (between five to ten minutes). You should start off this training by not leaving the room while they are crated. After a short amount of time, let them out, praise them, and treat them again. You can repeat this process several times a day, and slowly begin to remove yourself from the room during these sessions. Again, if at any point your dog begins to whine, you have progressed too quickly! Simply shorten the amount of time you are leaving your dog in the kennel.
Once your dog is spending about half an hour in the crate without any anxiety or whining, you can begin to leave them crated when you leave the house. Leave quietly without making a big show of it, and start off by only leaving for a short period of time. When you return home, be careful not to react to their excited behavior! This can reinforce any anxiety they had when you were gone. Keep calm and they will, too.
Once your dog is crate trained enough to go into the crate on command, you can begin leaving them in there at night, too. This is especially a good idea for puppies, but you’ll want to keep the crate close enough to your bed that you can hear them whining to go outside!
While crate training can be a lengthy process, it’s a worthwhile endeavor! If you succeed in creating a positive association with the crate for your dog, then they will be likely to use it as a bed and hideaway as an adult.