Many first-time pet owners have misconceptions about why professional dog trainers recommend crate training for puppies and new dogs. Crates may look like scary cages to humans, but to dogs, they look like safe and snuggly places to retreat to when the rest of the world has you worn out.
Crates are a place a dog can go to get some alone time. Crates are also a tool to use when training your dog, and they’re a way to give your dog a place to call their own within your home.
There are also functional applications like using a crate for transportation and locking the dog in at night, so they stay out of trouble (and allow you some sleep). Not to mention, this also portrays that you can give your dog definitive structure and boundaries to follow.
Some people will misuse the crate, and in turn, the dog may view the crate as a confining place that is not comfortable for them to stay in. We’re not recommending anything like that here, and our goal is to show you how to use the crate the right way and use it to improve your relationship and ability to train your new puppy.
The benefits of crate training your dog are numerous. They seriously make life so much easier! Especially if you are house training a puppy.
Puppies are similar to babies, and they are just learning everything for the first time. Crates help young dogs establish boundaries around where it’s ok to do their business and where they need to hold it in. Dogs, as a rule, do not like to go in the same area that they sleep.
The crate is meant to be a safe environment for your dog. If your home isn’t effectively puppy-proof, your dog can get into all sorts of trouble. If you have food or some not-so-dog-friendly items out around your home, the crate is where you can ensure your dog is safe and out of harm’s way, particularly if they are not being monitored closely. Your crate is where you want your dog to be when you have lots of guests coming in and out of the house, and the doors are left open, workers working in and around your home, or you just need them out of the way so you can do some much-needed vacuuming.
Crate training helps establish good discipline in your dog, translating into the rest of their training routines like potty training and general obedience. Crates help demarcate what’s uniquely your dog’s domain as opposed to the rest of the house. This territorial separation can prevent them from engaging in destructive habits like chewing on furniture or other areas of your home like doors or baseboards.
A cozy crate helps your dog relax and let go of pent up stress and anxiety. Never use them as a form of punishment because we want our pets to have positive associations with time spent in their crates. Dog’s who learn to be comfortable alone in their crates are much less likely to experience separation anxiety when you need to leave them alone for a time.
If a dog and their crate are friends, it will be that much easier to get them to hop into it when you’re taking them to the vet or on a trip outside the home. If your dog’s not familiar with staying inside their crate already, they’ll be more likely to resist staying confined when you’re taking them on a long road trip or an airplane.
Crates come in a few different styles; each has pros and cons.
There are collapsible crates that are great for transporting and fit easily into the car. They’re great for when you take trips to see family and friends and want to bring your doggo along.
There are also plastic airline crates, which, as the name suggests, are allowed on planes. These are necessary if you are flying-with-fido. They can also work for non-aerial usages, but then it becomes more a matter of personal preference.
Yes, some people do have multiple crates, even though they only have one dog. Larger breeds may outgrow their puppy crate and need a larger one as an adult, so unless owners give them away to others in need, they may have a stockpile going. Some crates do come with a divider panel that can be adjusted as a dog grows.
A good rule of thumb is that a crate should only be larger enough that a dog can comfortably turn around inside of it, stand up, and lie down.
There are a few conflicting opinions on the “right” place to keep your dog’s crate. The crate is meant to be a quiet retreat for your dog and used for sleeping; some believe it should be out of the way of the household activity, which means not in a social room like a kitchen or living room, but rather in a bedroom or unused space.
The other school of thought is to keep the crate closer to the “hub” of the house and allow your dogs to have some social interaction even while they are in their own space.
You can’t please everyone here, except those who recommend you have two crates for your dog! In this scenario, you’d own one crate that’s used strictly for sleeping and another for during the day. Not everyone has the budget to buy a second crate or the space to have another one out, so you’re going to have to feel out what might be the best solution for your pup.
Not all dogs form an immediate bond with their crates. Sometimes it takes several weeks to get used to it. Remember, your dog is going through a big adjustment period during the first days and weeks they’re in your home.
It’s ok to take this process slowly and take a step back if your dog becomes anxious or afraid. In general, from a dog’s first introduction to a crate to feeling complete comfort and familiarity, the process can take up to a month. Some dogs will immediately form an attachment to their crates, and others will be more hesitant at first.
When you feel your dog is ready, introduce them to the crate in an environment, they spend the bulk of their time. If you’re planning for them to sleep in a separate area, it’s ok to move the crate later. You don’t want your dog to associate the crate with isolation or being a punishment.
Make sure you have their daily rations available to you because you’ll need them as an incentive to explore inside the crate. Begin interacting with your dog in a gentle and friendly manner, don’t get them over-excited. You want your pup to remain calm during this process. Throw a few pieces of food near the crate, but not inside. Observe their reaction; if they go for the food, that’s great!
Praise them with a few pets. Next, toss some of their food into the crate, but not too deep inside. Just inside the crate door is fine. Make sure the door won’t accidentally bang closed if bumped. You want your dog to feel comfortable stepping in and out of the crate before we acclimate them to being in a closed crate.
If your dog shows signs of stress or apprehension at any point, stop progressing the training and wait until they become calm again. Then you can resume where you left off. Don’t force them to become comfortable all in one go. Be ok with stopping the session for the day.
As your dog shows positive signs stepping inside the crate, take the process a step further by closing the door for short periods.
This can be as short as 1-2 seconds. You also don’t need to lock the crate to do this. Just press it shut. Gradually increase the amount of time you keep the door closed while your dog is inside.
If your dog begins to whine or paw at the door, perhaps you need to decrease the time on the next go. But don’t open the door until they’ve stopped whining and pawing. You don’t want to reinforce those behaviors as effective for getting their crate back open. Wait until they stop, relax, and praise them as you open the door.
The next step in the process is to acclimate your dog to spending long periods in the crate without you in their presence. Follow the same process and close the door, but this time you can start locking it. Gradually increase your distance from the crate within the same room and maintain that distance for more extended amounts of time.
If your dog is responding positively, you can experiment with briefly leaving the room while they remain in the crate.
Be sure to follow the same guidelines as to when you started, be ready to reward your dog with their favorite treats or toys, and to put a pause on the process if they show signs of distress.
In time your dog should be comfortable in their crate for extended periods without you in the room. This is when you can begin crating them overnight and when you’re gone during the day.
A common pitfall here is falling into a routine before leaving for the day that your dog “figures out” and preemptively reacts to.
An example would be if you always grab your keys and put on your jacket before crating them and heading out the door. Your dog may realize that these are warning signs that you’re leaving for a while, and they’ll be stuck in the crate without you. We recommend that you vary the steps in your morning route to counteract a noticeable pattern forming. Crate them early in your routine, in the end, and the middle on different days, so they don’t hone in on any one cue.
Another good training technique is to get your dog’s mind onto something else as you’re leaving, so they don’t even realize you’re gone. Toys that you can conceal treats in, like Kong toys, are great for this as your dog has to work hard to get a nibble. This keeps them busy so you can slip out the door without a fuss.
By not making a big deal on your departures or returns, your dog doesn’t associate you leaving as a reason to get upset or anxious.
Too Much Time In The Crate
Make sure you’re not leaving your dog in their crate for too long! Puppies should only spend a maximum of 4 hours at a time in a crate during the day. Overnight is ok assuming they are sleeping soundly. Dog’s need exercise and freedom to live healthy lives. If a dog is spending too much time in their crate, they can develop anxiety and other behavior problems like aggression.
If you find yourself needing to be away for long periods, hire a neighbor, professional dog walker, or enroll your dog in doggie daycare.
It’s common for dogs to whine a little bit while in their crates. Sometimes it’s a sign that they need a potty break, but if you’re walking them regularly and “know their rhythm” they may just be whining for attention. In the case of puppies, try to walk them before bed and let them relieve themselves. They may still wake you up in the middle of the night, and it’s a good practice to pre-emptively walk them until they grow older and can control their bladders more.
If you’ve eliminated bathroom-related reasons for their vocalizing, ignoring them is usually the best answer. You don’t want to give in to their behavior here because it lets them know that they will eventually get their way if they whine enough. This is also why we believe it’s important for your crate to be in a good and quiet space away from the activity in the house. When you do let your pup out, wait until they’re calm and making eye contact with you.
How’s crate training going for you and your puppy? Please contact us by writing a message into the bubble, and we’ll get back to you. If you want to schedule a training evaluation for your dog, drop us a line.