Crate training is a basic principle based on a dog’s basic instincts.
Dogs are den animals—they like having secure, clean, semi-darkened nesting spaces, away from distractions and elimination areas. Crate training utilizes this instinct to aid house training, provide security when you can not be around, and give your dog a safe haven when he is stressed out. Crate-training is not punishment nor should it be used in this way.
The crate is a safe environment for your dog when you can’t be with your dog. Once your dog becomes accustomed to the crate, they think of it as their own safe den. Your dog will feel comfortable in the surrounding walls. A crate is a place where your dog can go when stressed by any situation such as visiting children, noisy adults, or home activity increases. When in the crate, your dog should never be bothered, this is your dog’s own little haven from stress and noise.
Dogs that suffer separation anxiety are ideal candidates for crate-training. Crate-training is also ideal if you’re having house-breaking problems or just busy households. Crate-training also is ideal for young puppies who don’t have control over their bladder and bowels yet.
How to start a crate training program
Any age is a good age to start crate training.
What differs is the time between day one and acceptance by your dog as their crate being a haven. Introducing your dog to the crate should involve a desensitization period, praise and rewards should be associated with the crate and plenty of patience on your part. If you make the crate a place of desirability, your dog will start seeing it that way too.
When you bring your crate home, leave it somewhere your dog can investigate it at their leisure for several days with the door removed.
Try leaving one or two favorite treats inside, or a toy. If all else fails, climb in yourself (you might want to remove the top for this).
Once your dog’s comfortable being inside, start feeding her meals inside the crate with the door still off. Praise and reward your dog for the few minutes they spend inside the crate. You will need to decide when your dog is ready to move on to the next step and it’s time to start closing the door on her. The time is right when she’s relaxed and confident in the crate with the door still open.
The next step is harder: close the door and shut your dog in. Don’t make a big fuss when he goes in to eat. Just reach over and close the door. At this point, you can either stand there and wait or walk away, but not so far that you can’t hear her. If she starts to cry, do not go and let her out. Wait until your dog settles down a bit, and when all is quiet open the door and let your dog leave the crate. Continue for a number of days.
If you’ve recently taken on a new dog or puppy and don’t have time to spend a week or more getting your dog used to the crate, my first suggestion is to invest in some earplugs. My next suggestion is to wear your dog out physically before it’s time for him to go into the crate. Play a lot, he should be tuckered out completely and your dog should have emptied his bladder and bowels before attempting to settle in for the night.
Keep a new toy that he’s sure to like for crate time if he’s an older dog. It’s important to remember to associate good things with the crate which is why a crate-toy should stay a crate-toy. If you feel the need to reassure your dog, just poke your fingers through the bars to allow him to smell you, but don’t let him out if whining starts. If he does not settle down after a short period of time, take him out (yes contradicting, but you should be able to tell the difference) and take him to his potty spot to relieve his bladder. Don’t play or cuddle your dog too much, just out to go pee, then right back in again. He needs to learn that nighttime is not playtime. If you need to, set your alarm for about three hours into the night, and get up and take him out to avoid accidents in the crate.
Once you are past the first two or three nights, you and your dog should be comfortable with the crate and your nights will be easier. It won’t be long before your dog is noticeably alerting you that he has to go and the length between trips will grow to allow all to get better rest at night.
How big should your dog’s crate be for best crate training?
A crate, or wire kennel, whether for travel, or den training, should be big enough for your dog to stand up on all fours, turn around easily, and lie down comfortably.
If you plan to use the crate for travel, you can go as large as you wish, beyond the aforementioned guidelines.
If you are using a crate to train your dog, then it is best to stick to those size guidelines until your dog is fully trained. If your crate is too large for your puppy but will fit once your puppy is full-grown, you can adjust the size using a partition made from a box, a plank of wood, or anything that your dog will not eat. A too-large crate during crate training will give your puppy space removed from his resting area to eliminate and will result in a much longer house training period.