Crate Training: The Benefits and Proper Use of the Dog Crate
To crate or not to crate, that is the question. The answer is simple: Crate your pup or emotionally and behaviorally immature dog!
Crating is one component in the many strategies that you will use to bring balance and calm to your pooch. Crating is far more instrumental in your dog’s state of mind than merely potty training. We use a crate daily in APBC’s training programs because it uses a dog’s natural den instincts and gives a dog a safe place to truly rest and relax. Dogs are not people with our distaste for small, enclosed places. They are denning animals that, by choice, are born in a tightly confined area.
Have you ever wondered why your dog loves to worm his way under a chair, table, or other tight space? Dogs look for spaces in your home or yard that mimic a den. Dog crates make excellent dens and provide that safe, secure environment dogs crave.
Using a crate is appropriate confinement—it’s not punishment. Too many freedoms, too soon, is a recipe for failure. If your dog is young or immature, resistant to the rules, destructive in the home, or sometimes commits acts of aggression in the house, then judicious use of the crate is part of the solution. Until you have the time to devote to your dog’s state of mind, your dog should be confined. In other words, if you are busy, distracted, or want to take a shower, your dog doesn’t get free reign of the house. He has to be put into a safe, confined space like a crate, exercise pen, or kennel. No matter how good your pooch has been doing, unsupervised time in the house or yard is not in your pooch’s best interest. Essentially, whenever your puppy or misbehaving dog is out of his crate or confined space, it’s your time to focus on and supervise your dog and to provide an outlet for his mental and physical energy. That means you only have your dog out with you when you are able to pay attention and follow through. All other times of the day when you are not purposeful and intentional, your dog needs to be appropriately confined. Trust me, the time your dog is in his crate will provide you both with the ability to rest between purpose-driven activities.
It’s not that this phase will last forever, but you have to prepare yourself that becoming balanced in your home is a process. Building the right relationship with your dog takes time. If you are meeting the required basics of purpose-driven activity with your pup or misbehaving dog, then the times that are appropriately confined are beneficial, fair, and reasonable.
Crate Training Prep for Human
Once my dog enters his crate, I do not get him out, regardless of the age of the dog. I don’t pop back in to check on him or peer around the corner at him (he can smell you long before he sees you). This dog is safe, exercised, fed, watered, pottied, loved on… now he needs to rest and sleep. Dogs do not sleep without moving. They squirm, shuffle around, whimper, wake up, and sometimes even cry when they wake up—then they go back to sleep. If you react to every little noise, you are doing them a disservice and not allowing them to comfort themselves and go back to sleep. They would be ignored in their litter, and back to sleep they would go. If their mamas wouldn’t acknowledge every noise made, we shouldn’t either.
It’s OK to hear the entire spectrum of noises when you put your pup or immature dog to bed: howling, yapping, crying, whining, whimpering, fever-pitch rantings, you get the idea. Typically, the noise can go on for ten to twenty minutes. Don’t get a dog out until their appointed time in the schedule (more on this later). Period. The rare exception to this would be if my dog had been asleep and quiet for hours before suddenly beginning to scream like a bear is eating him alive inside his crate. That would get my attention, and I would go assess the situation and verify if a bear is, in fact, eating him. If a bear is not in the crate, simply turn and calmly walk away…and reposition your earplugs. If, however, you simply have to get them out because they are throwing a hissy fit that made you believe it was a bear in there, here’s how it should be done.
1. Open the door like usual and do not allow him to bum rush the door. I would wait for a polite pause and invite him out. NO affectionate touch, tone, or eye contact during this time, especially if he is agitated. It’s routine as normal.
2. Put the leash on him immediately and go directly out to the designated potty spot.
3. Then quietly assess the dog to see if a bear did in fact peel the skin off his body.
4. Again, quietly lead him back into the house and return him directly into his crate, as usual. Take the leash off, close the door, and don’t look back as you leave.
5. Yes, since they woke up, they could cry again for a while. Don’t get them out! Don’t acknowledge that fever-pitch state of mind!
I know how hard it can be to see this through, but it is so worth it in the end. My Kozi was the hardest dog to crate train in the world—or so I thought until I met a few others that almost convinced me that bears do eat dogs alive in their crates. Most dogs are content in their crates in less than a week with mere ten to twenty-minute crying jags. Kozi howled and screamed for two weeks straight and would cry for almost every moment in his crate. I thought I would die! I had to have my family sleep in our motorhome for two weeks. One weekend they even went to a motel! Kozi was tough to crate train. However, Kozi is my superstar now—he is a very bright, sensitive, and intense little guy! I’m certain that had I not stuck it out, Kozi could have become a neurotic dog with high anxiety. P.S. He does love his crate now! Quiet and calm, happy and peaceful!
Crate Training Benefits:
▪ People seriously underestimate a dog’s need for rest, which is his time to think and use his brain. Being a good dog is very hard work! Rest is a critical element in training. Crate time allows a dog to soak up his lessons and recharge and reboot his mindset.
▪ Crate training has been proven to be the fastest and most effective way to housebreak a dog at any age. A dog’s natural instinct is to avoid being near his own waste, so he’ll make an effort to avoid eliminating in his crate. They learn this from their mamas!
▪ Crate training provides a safe, comfortable, and familiar place wherever you go (hotels, vet, groomer, etc.).
▪ Destructive behaviors are often the result of an unsupervised dog being bored or anxious. Using a crate during an owner’s short-term absence eliminates this possibility. Dogs sleep the vast majority of the time when their owners are away anyway. Crating your dog while you’re away or unable to supervise keeps him from being destructive, stops nuisance behaviors, and prevents him from ingesting something that could potentially harm him.
Crate Training Dos:
▪ Make sure your crate is not too BIG! When potty training, it is imperative that the crate area your dog resides in is very small! It should only be big enough for a dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down.
▪ Introduce a crate to an older dog by feeding in it. You don’t even have to leave the door closed for this. Just get the dog used to eating in there, and he’ll soon look forward to when you unlatch the door. Move the food bowl deeper and deeper into the crate every day until your dog is happily eating inside. Then one day you can close the door until he’s finished. You can delay opening the door by ten-minute intervals after that.
▪ Lock a dog out of the crate when it’s not in use. Remove your dog, lock the door, and let him watch you toss a few yummy treats in there. Then walk away. He’ll be counting the minutes until he can get in there! Then pop him in the crate while you do a quick errand or take a shower. Remember, the crate is not negotiable, but you are willing to make it fun.
▪ Adjust the location of the crate depending upon your dog. Some dogs do well in social areas like the living room; other dogs do better in a bedroom or basement where they are not distracted.
▪ Utilize the crate any time you are gone.
▪ Put a great chew toy in the crate like a Kong or a Busy Buddy or a pig’s hoof. Use nothing digestible; we want the chewie to relieve stress, not contribute to the need for a dog to have an accident.
▪ Never make a big deal about letting your dog in or out of his crate. Wait until he’s calm before releasing him from his crate and avoid giving praise or affection until he’s relaxed.
Crate Training Don’ts:
▪ Never consider or use it as a form of punishment; rather consider it more like a safe place or puppy sitter—as long as it’s a reasonable amount of time.
▪ Don’t leave bedding in the crate if your dog is a destructive chewer. They can get an obstruction if swallowing bedding.
▪ Don’t leave your dog in his crate for extended periods of time beyond what their age supports. For a dog under a year old, the general rule of thumb is age in months plus one hour. For example, a three-month-old puppy shouldn’t be in a crate longer than four hours during the daytime. The nighttime stretch is generally an additional two to three hours to that general rule until they are making it through the night completely.
Alyson Rodges is a dog trainer specializing in puppies, and all things DOODLE. She loves people as much as their pooches and teaches the necessary skills for them both to enjoy a balanced life with each other. Aly’s approach is rooted in relationship, not commands alone. Aly trains multiple dogs at once in her own home, complete with teenagers, a bit of chaos, and a lot of real life. Aly’s Puppy Boot Camp is located on the gorgeous central coast of California near Pismo Beach. You can find out about Aly at www.alysonrodges.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org