If you were anything like me growing up, you never had a crate for your dog let alone heard of one. These were the times of letting our dogs run loose to visit the neighbors and the neighbor’s dogs would come visit us.
I remember my dad cutting a cardboard box in half that a refrigerator came in. Then he cut out a slot for our dogs to get in and out of the boxes, and after putting in a garbage bag full of fleece scraps it was quite the cozy place for our dogs on the patio. Little did I know the true meaning of all this.
Dogs are naturally a “den” animal, instinctively they have a desire to rest in areas that are safe, comfortable, and only big enough for them to get up, turn around, and lie back down. If you think of foxes or wolves, they will raise their young in dens just large enough for the litter and nothing else. However, there is one MAJOR difference between a den in the wild and a crate at home, a door! This is where confinement comes into play and dogs may naturally be a den animal but they are never confined in the wild.
The goal is to make the crate a safe place for our dogs and a place to keep them out of trouble when we can’t supervise them. Dogs that are left outside for the duration of the day are apt to pick up bad habits of barking at the neighbors, chasing squirrels, or digging.
Introducing the Crate
I prefer a plastic crate over a wire crate, the plastic crate has more of a den-like feel to it compared to the wire crate. I think it’s important to offer mental stimulation such as a long walk before introducing it to them.
After the activity bring them in the house, allow them to get some water if needed and guide them into the crate on leash. Let them walk in and walk back out again. Do this a few times until your dog can walk in and out of the crate on their own without your guidance.
The next time they walk in, stand in front of the crate not allowing them to walk out (let’s call this pressure). All you need to do is stay here and wait until he/she sits down, and once they sit take a step back (let’s call this release). Then take your dog back out of the crate and repeat this process a few times until the dog can walk in and sit down on their own while you use pressure and release.
Once they are comfortable inside the crate shut the door and hang out near the crate for a little while. Crate training builds a foundation for many years to come so take the time now to get your dog used to being inside. You may hear your dog whine or whimper; you don’t need to do anything about that. Once your dog is quiet and peaceful then start moving away from the crate but remain in the same room for a while until the dog falls asleep or becomes very relaxed, then you can leave and go about your day.
Do not plan on leaving your dog for the entire day the first time you put him/her into it.
Spending time on this process on your days off will get you started on the right foot and you won’t be in a rush to get to work. Keep in mind that puppies will go to the bathroom 2-3 times more often than adult dogs so expecting a puppy under 6 months to hold it for longer than 4-5 hours isn’t realistic. Experienced trainers will go by this formula: 1 month old = 1 hour without eliminating. Adjust your schedule accordingly when it comes to crate training your dog, it will take time in the beginning but it will save you years of frustration from chewing, getting into the garbage, and over stimulation.
Ian Grant owns Vermont Dog Boarding & Behavior in Hyde Park, VT. Since 2007, Ian has observed nearly 25,000 dogs between daycare, boarding, training, fostering, and consultations. He has been sought out by rescues, foster homes, and other trainers for assistance. Clients are now coming from all over Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, and Connecticut to have their dogs trained by Ian and his staff. Every Friday at 3pm Ian hosts “Ask a Dog Trainer” Live on his Facebook Page www.facebook.com/vtdogbnb. To learn more about Ian and his business please visit www.vermontdogtrainer.com.