With the exception of my first Cairn Terrier Casey (because I did not know any better), all of my dogs have been crate trained. There are many reasons why your dog should be positively introduced to and comfortable in a crate. Puppies, obviously, explore their world by investigating everything through their mouths. If the puppy cannot be constantly supervised, they should be safely and comfortably confined. Puppies will chew on electrical cords or ingest objects that can cause blockages, toxicity and even death.
When dogs are ill or recovering from surgery, it may be necessary to crate them for a period of time. If your dog is spending time at the veterinarian’s office or is being boarded, he will need to be crated. Therefore, introducing your dog to a crate in a gentle and positive way will have lifelong benefits for your dog’s safety and well being.
Car travel is another example where a secured crate is a good option for safe transport. Many years ago when I was driving in the city with my Cairn Terrier, Toby, a car ran a stop sign in front of me. I literally had to hit the brakes hard and stand my car on its nose to avoid hitting the speeding vehicle. Toby’s crate was tipped, but he was otherwise unharmed. I shudder to think what might have happened without this protection.
A safe refuge, not a prison
To you, a dog crate might look like a cage. But to a crate-trained dog, it’s his safe place where he can rest and feel secure. In fact, crate training can be helpful for both you and your dog. It can help minimize accidents when house training and prevent potential damage when your dog is home alone. It can also give your dog a quiet, cozy spot to call his own.
Buying a crate
The size of your dog’s crate is important. If it’s too small, he may be uncomfortable and dislike using it. If it’s too big, your dog may decide to divide up the space by using one side as his bedroom and one side as his bathroom. The crate should be big enough for your dog to stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably.
Setting it up
Dogs want to be near their people, so put the crate in a high-traffic area where you spend a lot of time, such as the kitchen or living room. Place a soft bed or blanket in the crate, along with a couple favorite chew toys. Do not leave food or water bowls in the crate (don’t worry, he should only be in his crate for short periods of time anyway). If a dog eats or drinks while confined in his crate, he’ll need to relieve himself shortly after, which he’d be forced to do in his crate. Plus, the bowls could get knocked over and cause a mess. Once you’re sure your dog is comfortable to keep his crate clean, you can provide water in a tip-proof bowl, or one attached to the crate wall. These bowls are wonderful, except in Rue’s case, where his Border Collie brain has figured out how to disassemble the bowl while I am away!
When you introduce your dog to his crate, stay in the room. Place a small treat or piece of kibble in his crate, and encourage your dog to go in using a simple command, such as “crate” or “kennel”. When he goes in, praise him while he sniffs and explores. Let him come out, and then repeat the exercise. Have him go in a third time, but this time close the crate door behind him. Praise him and give him a treat through the side before opening the door. Gradually close him in the crate for longer periods of time while you’re still in the room.
The key to successful crate training is to create positive associations with the crate. It should be a happy place for him, not a “time out” place. NEVER punish your dog by putting him in his crate. When you’re home during the day, leave the crate door open and encourage your dog to nap in it. When you buy a new toy or treat, put it in his crate to discover.
Leaving him alone
Put your dog in his crate whenever he’s unsupervised, such as when you’re gone or asleep. Always let him outside to relieve himself first, and remove his collar so it doesn’t accidentally get caught on the crate. Place a safe treat, such as a Kong stuffed with treats or peanut butter, in the crate to keep him occupied. This also helps him mentally connect his crate with something he likes. After you close him in, leave without making a big fuss. Lingering and giving affection through the bars will just get him worked up and make your departure and absence harder on him.
Don’t leave him in his crate too long. If you have a puppy, you can determine how long he can “hold it” by taking his age in months and adding one. For example, a two-month-old puppy could be left in his crate up to three hours without any accidents. Remember, no dog should be left in a crate more than eight hours.
If you’ve tried these tips and your dog still doesn’t like his crate, don’t give up. He may just need more time, especially if he’s an older dog that’s not accustomed to being in a crate. With consistent, positive use, your dog will grow to love his crate.
When you live in a multi-pet household, such as I do, crate training is an integral part of everyone’s peaceful coexistence. For example, at mealtime. My dogs are all fed while secured so they can eat at their own comfortable pace without fear of necessary resource guarding.
Oh, and did I mention my cats are crate trained as well? And this is for the very same reasons as that of the dogs. It is funny to see the cats run to their designated spots, just as the dogs do, when it is chow time. It is very important to monitor that all pets are eating the portions they are offered. Loss of appetite is indicative of a problem, and feeding separately you will always know if someone is not feeling up to par.
I was never a fan of free feeding, even when I had only one pet. I know that dogs and cats will often snack throughout the day, but this habit can result in weight gain and obesity. And I know this from personal experience! Pet portions are controlled, and on those rare occasions when something is not finished, it will be picked up until the next meal.
Dogs are den animals, and crates appeal to them for this very reason. Again, crates should never be viewed as a source of punishment or entrapment. And cats also love enclosed areas, which is why they love to squish themselves into boxes! When introduced properly, their crates will be a favorite spot to rest and relax.
Remember to not let your pet out of the crate when he is barking or meowing. This will reinforce that such behavior gets them what they want. Always open the crate when the animal is quiet and patiently waiting. Do not get your dog all excited upon your arrival home. Hesitate before opening the crate so the dog comes to understand that quiet behavior will result in him gaining access to you.
Judy Endo is the author of Paws-itive Pet Tales. A lifelong resident of the Wilkes-Barre area, she has been a professional dog trainer/competitor as well as a lifetime animal lover and strong supporter of animal rescue. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org