A crate is a safe and comfortable environment for your best friend – offering a true home with proper use and training.
If you have a new dog or puppy, you can use the crate to limit access to the house until they learn all the house rules – what to chew and destroy, and more importantly, what not to! If you properly train your dog, they will think of it as their private safe space and will be happy to spend time there when needed.
Training with a crate can take days or weeks, depending on your dog’s temperament, age, and past experiences. So please be patient and keep two things in mind while training – the crate should always be connected with something pleasant, and training should take place one step at a time.
Some useful tips for introducing the crate
1. Place the crate in an area of your house where the family spends a lot of time and add a soft blanket or towel to the crate. Bring your dog over to the crate and talk to them in a cheerful, calming tone.
2. Make sure the crate door is securely open, so your dog can explore it and walk in and out at leisure. If they refuse to go all the way in at first, that’s okay – don’t force them.
3. You can always encourage your dog by dropping some treats near it, then just inside the door, and, finally, all the way inside the crate.
4. Continue tossing treats or favorite toys into the crate until your dog will calmly retrieve them. This step may take from a few minutes to several days.
5. Don't close the crate door if the dog has decided to enter it – let them decide how long they want to stay there.
6. If the dog whines or cries in the crate, it’s crucial that you keep them there until they stop. Otherwise, they will learn that the way to get out of the crate is to whine, and keep doing it.
7. Never use a crate as a punishment! During the day, avoid keeping your dog in the crate for long periods. Always allow the dog to move around and pee.
Keeping your dog in a crate for 8 hours straight is a real pain for them. It is especially important for a puppy to be able to pee every few hours, as a puppy's bladder is small and needs to be emptied more often than an adult dog’s.
How to practice using the crate with your dog
Start by feeding them regular meals near the crate to create a pleasant association.
If your dog is still reluctant to enter the crate, put the food plate only as far inside as they will readily go without becoming fearful or anxious.
Each time you feed them, place the food plate a little further back in the crate. Once your dog is comfortably positioned in the crate to eat their meal, you can close the door while eating.
At first, open the door as soon the meal is finished. With each successive feeding, leave the door closed for a few minutes longer until they can stay in the crate for 10 minutes after eating. If they begin to whine to be let out, you may have increased the length of time too quickly. Next time, try leaving them in the crate for a shorter time period.
Training for longer time periods
Once your dog can eat regular meals in the crate without any signs of fear or anxiety, you can start to leave them there for short time periods while you’re home. Call your dog over to the crate, give them a treat and voice a command to enter such as, “kennel time.” After they enter the crate, praise them, give them the treat and close the door.
Sit quietly near the crate for five to 10 minutes and then go into another room for a few minutes. Return, sit quietly again for a short time, then let them out of the crate.
Repeat this process several times a day. With each repetition, gradually increase the length of time you leave them in the crate and the length of time you’re out of his sight.
Once your dog is able to stay quietly in the crate for about 30 minutes with you out of sight for the majority of the time, you can start leaving them in the crate when you’re away for short time periods and/or letting them sleep there at night. This may take several days or several weeks.
Spending time in the crate during the day
If your dog can spend about 30 minutes in the crate without becoming nervous or scared, you can start leaving them in the crate for short periods when you leave the house.
Send them to the crate anywhere from five to 20 minutes prior to leaving using your regular command and a treat. You might also want to leave him with a few comforting toys in there.
Don’t make your departures long and emotional, but matter-of-fact and calm. Compliment your dog briefly, give them a treat for entering the crate, and then leave quietly.
When you return home, don’t reward your dog for excitable behavior by responding to them in an overly keen, enthusiastic way. Keep arrivals low-key. Continue to keep your dog in the crate for short periods from time to time when you’re home so they don’t associate being in a crate with being left alone.
NB! Do not leave your dog alone in the crate for more than four to five hours at a time during the day.
Using the crate at night
Send your dog to the crate using your regular command and a treat.
At first, it may be a good idea to put the crate in your bedroom or nearby in a hallway, especially if you have a puppy. Puppies often need to go outside to eliminate during the night, and you’ll want to be able to hear your puppy when they whines to be let outside.
Older dogs, too, should initially be kept nearby so that the crating process doesn’t become associated with social isolation.
Once your dog is sleeping comfortably through the night with the crate near you, you can begin to gradually move it to the desired location.
Too much crate time
A crate isn’t a magic solution. If not used correctly, your dog can feel trapped and frustrated. For example, if your dog is in a crate all day while you’re at work and then again all night, they are spending way too much time in such a confined environment. Other arrangements should be made to accommodate their physical and emotional needs. Also, remember that puppies under six months of age shouldn’t stay in a crate for more than three or four hours at a time. They can’t control their bladders and bowels for longer than this.
If your dog whines or cries while in the crate at night, it may be difficult to decide whether they are whining to be let out of it, or whether they need to be let outside to eliminate. If you followed the training procedures outlined above, your dog hasn’t been rewarded for whining in the past by being released from the crate. Just try to ignore the whining. If your dog is just testing you, they’ll probably stop whining soon. Yelling at them or pounding on the crate will only make things worse.
If the whining continues after you’ve ignored them for several minutes, use the phrase they associate with going outside to eliminate it. If they respond and become excited, take them outside. This should be a trip with a purpose, not playtime. If you’re convinced that your dog doesn’t need to go, the best response is to ignore them until they stop whining. Don’t give in, otherwise, you’ll teach your dog to whine loudly to get what they want.
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 all 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 they may be injured in an attempt to escape. Separation anxiety problems can only be resolved with counter-conditioning and desensitization procedures. You may want to consult a professional animal behaviorist for help.
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