Almost every dog owner has experienced the sheer pandemonium that results from a bored dog left alone in the house. Chewed-up belongings, accidents on the floor, and other kinds of mayhem, may await any owner who gives their dog free reign in their abode. It’s a good idea to keep a close eye on any new dog – especially puppies – at all times once you bring them home. New dogs are constantly learning what is and is not allowed. One of the best ways to mitigate bad habits from developing and keep them safe while you’re away is to crate train a dog.
What Is Crate Training?
Crating your dog isn’t just a method of protecting your belongings from your dog and their mouth. It’s a way to keep your dog safe from their own curiosity. Crate training is the process of introducing your dog to being in their crate when you aren’t home. A crate is a fantastic tool to keep your house and puppy safe from one another, as well as providing a place where your dog can feel safe.
Why Crate Train A Dog?
When some people think of crates, they think of small, sad cages we force dogs into, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Dogs evolved from wolves, who dig dens to give birth and raise their young in a haven of solitude. These small, dark spaces mean safety and comfort for wolves and their puppies.
A comfortable crate with a blanket draped over it fulfills our dogs’ instinct to find a quiet, dark place when they need their feelings of comfort and safety. With the proper introduction and training, your dog will happily enter their crate, perhaps even choosing to do so when the door is open. Here are the best reasons to crate train a dog.
Crate training as a method for potty training a new dog, or puppy, directly results from your dog’s denning instincts. Simply put, dogs do not want to urinate or defecate in their den, their personal space. A crate is their home and safe space; dogs do not want to pee in their bed any more than you want to pee in yours.
When your dog needs to relieve themself, they will paw at their crate door and probably whine. Immediately take your puppy outside so that they don’t soil their crate. If they learn that peeing in their space is acceptable, they will think that peeing in your space is fine too.
Many dogs and puppies, especially those in a new situation, experience anxiety when left alone. A big, empty house is a lot scarier for your dog than a dark, cozy space where they feel safe. A crate can provide the comfort your dog needs to alleviate some of the separation anxiety they feel when they are home alone.
Keep Them Safe
Crate training a dog keeps your house and belongings safe from curious dog teeth when you aren’t home. Putting your dog in a crate also keeps them safe from your house! A dog left to its own devices in an empty house could easily ingest hazardous foods or materials that could make them very sick. Not only could your dog get sick, but it could even lead to a costly visit to your local veterinarian.
How To Crate Train A Dog: Choosing the Right Size Crate
Now that we understand why you might want to crate train a dog, let’s talk logistics. When purchasing a crate for your dog, you’ll realize multiple size and material options are available. Choosing the correct crate can be intimidating, but here are some general rules to follow:
- Choose a crate that is well-ventilated but made out of sturdy material.
- Choose a crate that is just big enough for your dog to be able to stand up, lie down, and turn around. A crate that is too large may leave enough room for your dog to relieve themself in a corner.
- Many crates come with a partition to adjust the size of the crate as your dog grows.
How to Crate Train Your Dog
How you crate train your dog will affect your success later on. It’s essential that your dog associate their crate with fun and positivity from the very beginning. Using positive reinforcement training techniques ensures your dog has a fantastic learning experience and develops a stronger bond with you.
Steps To Crate Train A Dog
Here are a few steps to take to ensure your dog falls in love with their crate:
- Line your dog’s crate with a soft blanket or towel, bonus points if it smells like you. You can also cover the crate with a light blanket to create a darker, more den-like environment. Make sure the crate still has adequate ventilation.
- Line your dog’s crate with a couple of their favorite toys.
- Gently coax your dog into the crate with treats and toys, but do not shut them into the crate yet.
- Have a few play sessions while your dog is standing inside the crate, but stop the play if your dog steps out. Very quickly, your dog will understand the crate means treats and fun and other good things!
- Start shutting your dog into the crate during play sessions for a few seconds at a time, quickly reopening the door and resuming play. Progress to feeding treats through the door. This method further reinforces to your dog that the crate is a good thing.
Tip: Consider adding a behavior cue that tells your dog to enter their crate. Throw a treat into your dog’s crate and say “crate.” Continue rewarding your dog for entering their crate.
More Steps To Crate Train A Dog
- Once your dog is comfortable with you shutting them in their crate, try leaving them for increments of 10 minutes or so at a time. This is best during naptime or quick breaks from play. If your dog doesn’t seem tired, try a treat-filled Kong or another interactive toy to keep them occupied.
- Slowly extend the length of time your dog spends in the crate, then progress to keeping them in their crate overnight. Most dogs can sleep through the night without a potty break by 4 months of age. If you have an adult dog, they should have no problem sleeping through the night.
Note: Crying the first night or two is normal for a new puppy or dog as they adjust to their new home and the absence of their mom and littermates.
How NOT to Crate Train A Dog
Never leave your dog in their crate all day.
A new dog is adjusting to a new home and family. They need interaction, playtime, and potty breaks throughout the day to help them adjust.
As a general rule, puppies can hold their bladder approximately as many hours as they are months old, so a 3-month-old puppy needs a potty break about every 3 hours. If you leave a puppy in their crate longer than that, they will likely soil their bed. This will cause you to be frustrated with the clean-up and your dog to be anxious about doing something wrong. In turn, this could lead to your dog taking longer to potty train. Dogs do not want to relieve themselves in their den; a dog soiling his or her crate has more to do with owner neglect than it does with a disobedient dog.
If you cannot be home during the day to give your dog a break, consider doggy daycare or a dog walker.
Never use the crate as a punishment.
Your dog should only associate their crate with positive experiences. It can be easy to fall into a routine of closing your puppy in their crate when they have done something that displeases you. However, this will lead to your dog associating their crate with negative situations and will increase the anxiety your dog feels in a space that should be their safe place. The crate should only be a safe place for your dog to rest, recuperate, and spend the night.
Never lose your patience.
A dog is almost like a human baby; they need plenty of time to learn. Be consistent and gentle in your training, stick with positive reinforcement instead of resorting to punishment, and over time your dog will come to love their crate. Many dogs even look forward to spending time resting in their safe place when the crate door is open.
Be patient and consistent… you’ve got this!