The primary use for a crate is for house-training; dogs don’t like to soil their dens. A crate can also limit the access to the rest of the house while he/she learns other rules, like not to chew furniture. Crates are also a safe way to transport your dog in a vehicle.
- A crate is not a silver bullet. If not used correctly, a dog can feel trapped and frustrated.
- Never use the crate as a punishment. Your dog will come to fear it and refuse to enter it.
- Don’t leave your dog in a crate too long. A dog that’s crated day and night doesn’t get enough exercise or human interaction and can become depressed or anxious. You may have to change your schedule, hire a pet sitter, or take your dog to doggie daycare to reduce the amount of time he/she must spend in his crate every day.
- Puppies under 6 months of age shouldn’t stay in a crate for more than 3 or 4 hours at a time. They are unable to control their bladders and bowels for that long. The same holds true for adult dogs that are being house trained. Physically, they can hold it, but they don’t know they are supposed to.
- Crate your dog only until you can trust they will not destroy the house or injure themselves.
Types of crates
A dog’s crate should be just large enough for him/her to stand up and turn around in. If your dog is still growing, choose a crate size that will accommodate his/her adult size. Block off the excess crate space so your dog can’t eliminate at one end and retreat to the other using a divider panel.
Types of crates:
- Plastic (often called “flight kennels” or “travel kennels”)
- Fabric on a collapsible, rigid frame
- Collapsible, metal crates
Crate Training Process
- The crate should always be associated with something pleasant.
- Training should take place in a series of small steps; Do Not go too fast.
- Choose an area in your house where the family spends a lot of time, such as the family and place the crate in that area. Put bedding in the crate and take the door off and let the dog explore the crate at their leisure. Some dogs will be naturally curious and take to the crate right away. If yours isn’t one of them:
- Bring them over to the crate and talk to them in a happy tone of voice. Make sure the crate door is open and secured so that it won’t hit your dog and frighten them.
- Encourage your dog to enter the crate by placing some treats nearby, then just inside the door, and then finally, all of the way inside the crate. If they refuse to go all the way in at first, that’s okay; don’t force them to enter.
- Begin feeding your dog their regular meals near the crate. This will create a pleasant association with the crate.
- If your dog is readily entering the crate when you begin Step 2, place the food dish all of the way at the back of the crate.
- If your dog remains reluctant to enter the crate, put the dish only as far inside as they will readily go without becoming fearful or anxious. Each time you feed your dog, place the dish a litter further back in the crate.
- Once your dog is standing comfortably in the crate to eat their meal, you can close the door while they are eating. The first time you do this, open the door as soon as your dog finishes their meal. With each successive feeding, leave the door closed a few minutes longer, until they’re staying in the crate for 10 minutes or so after eating.
- If your dog begins to whine to be let out, you may have increased the length of time too quickly. Next time, try and leaving them in the crate for a shorter time period. If they do whine or cry in the crate, don’t let them out until they stop; otherwise, they’ll learn that the way to get out of the crate is to whine.
- After you dog is eating their regular meals in the crate with no sign of fear or anxiety, you can confine them there for short time periods while you’re at home.
- Call your dog over to the crate and give him/her a treat.
- Give your dog a command to enter, such as “kennel” or “crate.” Encourage them by pointing to the inside of the crate with the treat in your hand.
- After your dog enters the crate, praise them, give them the treat and then close the door.
- Sit quietly near the crate for 5 – 10 minutes and then go into another room for a few minutes. Return and site quietly for a short time and then let your dog out of the crate.
- Repeat this process several times a day, gradually increasing the length of time you leave them in the crate and the length of time you are out of their sight.
- Once your dog will stay quietly in the crate for about 30 minutes with you mostly out of sight, you can begin leaving your dog crated when you’re gone for short time periods.
- Put your dog in the crate using your regular command and a treat. You might also want to leave him/her with a few safe toys in the crate.
- Vary at what point in your “getting ready to leave” routine you put your dog in the crate. Although he/she shouldn’t be crated for a long time before you leave, you can crate your dog anywhere from 5 – 30 minutes prior to leaving.
- Don’t make your departure emotional and prolonged – they should be matter of fact. Praise your dog briefly, give them a treat for entering the crate and then leave quietly.
- When you return home, do not reward your dog for excited behavior by responding to him/her in a excited, enthusiastic way. Keep your return low key to avoid increasing their anxiety over when you will return. Continue to crate your dog for short periods from time to time when you’re home so he doesn’t associate crating with being left alone.
- Put your dog in the crate using your regular command and a treat. Initially, it may be a good idea to put the crate in your bedroom or nearby in the hallway, especially if you have a puppy.
- One your dog is sleeping comfortably through the night with his/her crate near you, you can begin to gradually move it to the location you prefer.
If your dog whines or cries while in the crate at night, it may be difficult to decide whether he's/she’s whining to be let out of the crate, or whether he/she needs to be let outside to eliminate. If you've followed the training procedures outlined above, then your dog hasn't been rewarded for whining in the past by being released from his/her crate. If that is the case, try to ignore the whining. If your dog is just testing you, he'll/she’ll probably stop whining soon. Yelling at him/her or pounding on the crate will only make things worse.
If the whining continues after you've ignored him/her for several minutes, use the phrase he/she associates with going outside to eliminate. If he responds and becomes excited, take him/her outside. This should be a trip with a purpose, not play time. If you're convinced that your dog doesn't need to eliminate, the best response is to ignore him/her until the stops whining. Don't give in; if you do, you'll teach your dog to whine loud and long to get what he/she wants. If you've progressed gradually through the training steps and haven't done too much too fast, you'll be less likely to encounter this problem. If the problem becomes unmanageable, you may need to start the crate training process over again.
Attempting to use the crate as a remedy for separation anxiety won't solve the problem. A crate may prevent your dog from being destructive, but he/she may injure himself in an attempt to escape from the crate. Separation anxiety problems can only be resolved with counter-conditioning and desensitization procedures. You may want to consult your veterinarian and/or trainer for help.