A Crated Dog is a Happy Dog – Crate Training

Two small words can send pet owners into a heated debate: the crate. To some, it’s a cruel prison where mean owners stuff their pets. But once you investigate the benefits of crate training your dog, you’ll realize that this is a vital tool that makes the lives of you and your pet more secure in many ways. A crate provides your dog with a safe haven, a space all his or her own where he can find respite from noise and other animals (humans included!). And when we can’t be watching our pets closely, it provides us with the assurance that they will remain safe from household harm.

To really appreciate the crate it is important to understand the nature of the dog. Your dog’s ancestors (feral, or wild, dogs) were den animals. This is where they slept, sought refuge, whelped their young, healed their wounds, and took shelter. Your dog maintains the urge to den and therefore will willingly accept a crate as such. Another benefit of the urge to den is that a dog will not “mess” where he or she sleeps. This means that a crate is a wonderfully useful tool in housebreaking your pup. Your dog will only evacuate in their crate when given no other alternative, so always limit the amount of time your puppy will be crated. Be aware that a puppy cannot hold their bladders nearly as long as an adult dog and will need to be taken out every few hours for relief. Remember: your puppy doesn’t want to sleep in a mess so it’s up to you to really utilize the crate properly. If it is absolutely necessary to crate your puppy for a longer length of time (say, a full work day) you must be willing to provide your puppy with a larger crate so that you may put down a paper. It should be far enough away from where he or she will be snoozing to retain cleanliness. This may mean that it will take you longer to housebreak your pup, so be patient.
There are so many horror stories from pet owners about animals whom have been seriously injured or even killed while left alone at home. Chewing on electrical wires, getting into household cleansers, choking on chicken bones from a ransacked garbage can, even strangulation on telephone cords: these are but a few of the dangers a pup can face when left on their own accord. And all of these risks can be easily avoided by crate training. When you use a crate you are given the peace of mind that your beloved pet is safe and out of harm’s way. You can further reassure yourself of their safety by removing any collar he or she may be wearing and providing them with safe toys that they can’t pull apart and choke on. And knowing that your pet is healthy and happy while you are away is reason enough to use that crate! Another perk is that your dog is not developing any unsavory habits such as chewing furniture, rummaging through the trash, soiling your rugs, and generally wreaking havoc upon your home. It’s astounding what a bored puppy can accomplish. Your sofa is no match for a teething pooch! I’ve even heard stories of a pup that literally ate through a wall. You won’t have to clean up a giant mess and your dog will avoid confusion and punishment regarding his or her action. They don’t know how much you paid for that Oriental rug, they only know it is fun to dig upon.

A crate also allows your dog the comfort of his or her “pack”. There will be no need to isolate your dog in the garage, laundry room, basement or back yard when company comes over if he or she becomes overzealous around guests. A dog that is properly crate trained will be content in a den if he or she can hear you and are close by. This is not to say that the crate is substitution for socialization. Your pet should have ample socialization and playtime. But if your dog is prone to begging, jumping up on guests, getting underfoot where they can be stepped upon by people or other habits you’d like to curb or avoid, the crate is a way to give them a quiet “time-out” without making them feel secluded.

When you decide to crate train your dog there are many things to keep in mind:

  • Size of the crate: Your crate should be neither too big nor too small. It needs to be just right. If it is too large you could run into problems housetraining. If it is too small, your pooch’s comfort is jeopardized. However, it’s always better to have one that is too big rather than too small and there are crates that have removable divisions that allow you to determine the best size. When determining the size of your crate you should keep in mind the size of your pup and how fast he or she will grow. It should be tall enough for them to comfortably sit or stand up and long enough for them to stretch out fully. Ask your pet store clerk for advice if you are in doubt. If you have a pup of a larger breed (such as Great Danes or mastiffs), you will need to upgrade your crate to a larger model as he or she grows.
  • Type of crate: There are many styles to choose from and each type has its advantages and disadvantages. You can determine which will work best for you and your dog based on your and his needs. Plastic crates are the safest for travel and some are approved for airline use. They provide privacy and enclosure that appeals to the dog’s denning instinct, but can become very hot in warm weather. Wire crates contain a dog while letting them see, hear and smell their environment; you can cover the crate with a sheet for temporary privacy. Wire crates also fold flat for compact travel and storage, so you can always erect a safe place to contain and comfort your dog. Whatever style of crate you choose it should provide your dog with proper airflow and allow him or her to see where they are.
  • Location of the crate: Your pup should feel like they are a part of the family, therefore the crate should be placed in a room that is highly populated by his or her “pack”. A good choice is the living room, den (no pun intended!) or even the kitchen. If you aren’t thrilled with how the crate looks, be creative. There are crate covers available that also afford your pup more privacy (personally, my pooch’s crate has a pretty chenille blanket draped over it). Just make certain that it won’t interfere with airflow! A crate should be placed away from drafts or direct heat such as pipes or a furnace. Even direct sunlight can make your puppy uncomfortably warm, so be aware of light sources.
  • Creature comforts: Your dog’s crate should be equipped with water (hanging bottles work best and alleviate spilling), a comfortable sleeping space such as a pillow, blanket or washable pad (chewers should not have things they can destroy and consume), and should you be gone more than a few hours you should also provide food. For pups, you should keep it simple and clutter free. As they age, you can get more creative. My dog’s crate is equipped with carpeting, a pillow, food and water, a blanket and a toy (my room should be so comfy!).

There are distinct differences when introducing a crate to puppies as opposed to adult dogs.

  • Puppies: You should immediately establish a routine with your new puppy. Every puppy will test its limits to see where they stand in the pack and it’s up to you to be the alpha dog in every respect, even crate training. Should you let the pup out of the crate at the first whine, it will learn that whining is rewarded. If you are certain that he or she doesn’t need a potty break or a meal, you can ignore it. Start out with small intervals of time (45 minutes to an hour) and build up from that, taking care that you only take them out when they are silent. While it breaks your heart to hear your baby cry, rest assured that he or she will calm down. It’s best not to make a big fuss when you put your pup in the crate or take your pup out. Expect the occasional accident and provide adequate bedding that can be easily washed, and in such an event make certain to properly cleanse the crate. By placing an article of clothing with your scent on it in the crate with them and playing music you can provide some extra comfort. Never use the crate as a form of punishment. It is a safe haven, not a jail cell. The crate should be associated with something pleasant rather than punishment. Toss a small treat into the crate to coax your pup in, but don’t force them. To avoid your dog becoming too overprotective of the crate, reach in and show your pup that as the alpha dog you can share the space if you desire. It will take patience and time, but crate training is a process rather than a quick fix. Eventually your pooch will willingly run into his or her room upon command. It took a while but with persistence I am now able to say “Night-night!” my dog will come trotting out from wherever she was snoozing and hop right in!
  • Adult dogs: When introducing something new to your dogs’ routine, it is essential to make it fun and rewarding. Start by tossing in a treat and letting your pal retrieve the treat and come right back out and praise him or her highly. Continue the pattern for a few days, then place your dog’s bedding inside to coax him or her to sleep inside. Do all of this while keeping the door to the crate open. Eventually you will be able to close the door briefly, then for longer periods once your pet is more secure. As with puppies, it will take time and patience.

It’s imperative that you use, not abuse, your crate. Your dog needs ample exercise, socialization and comfort. If used incorrectly, your dog will feel frustrated, trapped and resentful. Never shake or rattle the crate to quiet your pet. This will only frighten your dog and the crate will no longer be a safe haven. The crate is not an overnight solution to all of your challenges. Rather, it is a tool you can use to help overcome them. By doing so you give your dog what every kid wants: a room of their own!!!

by Rebecca Ash