Why and how should I crate train my dog?
Crate training your dog can be an effective training tool for puppies and adult dogs. Crate training your dog to accept and enjoy their crate must be done correctly, and takes time and effort; but it comes with many benefits, especially in relation to toilet training, and provides your dog with a safe space. However, crate training is not right for all dogs and should never take the place of appropriate exercise and enrichment. Dogs should not be left alone for prolonged periods (in or out of a crate).
What are the benefits of crate training my dog?
Crate training your dog has many benefits including:
- Toilet training – dogs consider their crate as their ‘den’ and will thus tend not to urinate/defecate in their crate. Ensure your dog has multiple opportunities to go to the toilet such as after waking up, after eating, and after playing, especially if they are a puppy as they are unable to control their bladder for long periods of time
- Providing a safe space for your dog – if your dog is tired, stressed or fearful (for example, of visitors in your home, children, other pets or loud noises such as thunder or fireworks), the crate provides your dog a safe place he/she can go to in such situations for privacy. Also, whilst you are absent for short periods of time, a crate prevents your dog from accessing potentially dangerous items in the house including electrical cables which they may chew.
- Allowing you to safely transport your dog in a space he/she feels comfortable, for example, to the veterinarian.
- Allowing you to easily confine your dog when necessary without stressing the dog, such as after surgery or an injury.
How do I crate train my dog?
It is essential that only positive reward based training methods are used. To maximise benefits and minimise unexpected problems, it is strongly recommended to work with a reward based trainer. Not every dog will adapt to crate training so if your dog is not comfortable being in the crate, it is essential to seek advice from a reward based trainer.
It is important to remember the crate should always be associated with something positive, e.g. treats, feeding time or toys, and to allow your dog to use the crate in their own time, as every dog is different and learns at a different pace!
- Picking the right crate – crates are available from most pet stores, and should be good quality and sturdy, so your dog does not injure themselves if they try to escape. A crate should be large enough for your dog to stand up, lie down, stretch and turn around. If you have a puppy, ensure you get a large enough crate to suit their adult size or upgrade to a larger crate when they are fully grown.
- Introduce your dog to the crate – because dogs are social animals, it is best to place the crate in an area where you or other household members are around such as the living room. Place soft bedding in the crate and encourage your dog to go inside the crate by placing treats or their favourite toy/s around then inside the crate. Never force your dog into the crate; it may take several minutes to days for your dog to go all the way into the crate. Keep doing this until your dog willingly enters the crate all the way in.
- Begin feeding your dog in the crate – once your dog is comfortable entering the crate, begin feeding his/her regular meals in the crate by placing the food bowl in the crate and encouraging him/her to enter the crate. You can do this gradually by first placing the food bowl near, but outside the crate, into the crate and then slowly further back into the crate. Once your dog is comfortable eating in the crate, close the crate door while he/she is eating and open it before he/she finishes the meal. At each subsequent feeding, increase the length of time the crate door is closed by a few minutes after finishing the meal.
- Encourage longer periods of time in the crate – create a cue or action word such as ‘crate’, and encourage your dog to enter the crate, give him/her their favourite treats or toys, and close the door. Sit quietly near the crate for a few minutes, leave the room for a few minutes, then return again for a few minutes, and then let your dog out. Repeat this several times daily. Gradually increase the amount of time your dog is in the crate calmly and quietly with you in and out of sight until it reaches 30 minutes. Once your dog has achieved staying in the crate calmly and quietly, you can begin leaving him/her crated while you are gone for short periods of time (few hours).
When should I not crate my dog?
- Your dog should not be crated if he/she has separation anxiety or claustrophobia – crate confinement can exacerbate stress and emotional reactivity associated with being separated or in an enclosed space. This can lead to panic and frantic attempts to escape thus causing injury. Please speak to your veterinarian if you are concerned about your dog, separation anxiety or claustrophobia.
- It is not acceptable to crate your dog for long periods of time, such as during the day while you are at work – dogs should not be left shut in their crate for excessive periods of time as this limits their exercise, ability to soil, and social and behavioural needs, thus making them feel stressed and trapped. Adult dogs should not be left for more than 3-4 hours in a crate, and puppies not more than 1-2 hours.
- Crating must never be used as a form of punishment – the primary purpose of a crate is a safe space for your dog which should only have positive associations, and forcing your dog into the crate as a form of punishment defeats this purpose. If your dog is barking or whining while he/she is inside the crate, do not yell or bang on the crate to stop the behaviour as it may cause fear. If your dog is whining or barking, he/she may need to go to the toilet or may just want to be let out. Not every dog will be comfortable being in a crate and if this continues despite the proper procedures being followed need to consult a behaviourist.
Article supplied by RSPCA