Crate Expectations: Everything you Need to Know about Crate Training your Dog
Whether the dog you bring home is a puppy or an adult they will need some time to adjust to their new surroundings. One of the best ways to help with this adjustment is to designate a space that functions as a safe harbor - should your dog feel overwhelmed or simply want to rest. The easiest way to create this space, is to provide your dog with a crate.
When set up and used correctly, a crate can not only be the place your dog chooses as his/her resting space, it can also keep your pup physically out of harm’s way when you can’t be at home with them.
When choosing the right crate for your dog, it’s important to consider the size of the crate in relation to the size of your dog. Ideally, you want the crate to be large enough that your dog can stand in the crate without being confined by the roof, turn around in the crate, and lay in the crate comfortably. You don’t want the crate to be so large that your dog can do laps in it. If you have a growing pup buy a crate based on the estimated size that your dog will mature at and use a divider (often provided with the crate) to customize the size of the crate, increasing the room available as your dog grows. Most crate companies will provide you with an idea of what size crate you should buy based on your dog’s weight, height, etc.
Once you have the dimensions of the crate you’re buying, choose a bed that fits the crate and will provide some added comfort for your dog. Often times, when being crate trained, dogs tend to chew or scratch at the bed in their crate out of frustration. Choosing a durable bed like one of these from K9 Ballistics can save you from needing to buy a new bed and save your dog from being in a dangerous situation with loose stuffing and bedding material available to eat.
The next thing on your list should be something to cover the top and sides of the crate with. In order for a dog to feel comfortable and safe, make their crate as den-like as possible. Covering the top, back and at least one side of the crate will help your dog settle into their new area without feeling exposed to danger from all sides. If you have towels or a large enough blanket at home, that’ll work! If not, specially designed crate covers like these are great too.
The location of your dog’s crate plays a big role in the success of whether or not your dog feels safe in it. Assess the following rooms in your home and think about these criteria that will help choose the perfect place for their crate:
1. Does my dog have a clear sight line [from the crate] to where the family spends most of their time (e.g., kitchen, family-room, etc.)
2. Can my dog see the door that we exit/enter through?
3. Will my dog stay at a comfortable temperature (not too cool/not too warm) in this location?
If you can check yes on all three of those criteria, you’ve found a great place for your dog’s crate!
Now that you’ve created the perfect crate set up for your dog, it’s time to help your dog enjoy his/her new room!
Making the crate a happy place to be by using positive reinforcement with your voice and treats is the number one goal. When starting out, lead your dog to their crate with a treat and coax your dog inside the crate. Once your dog is inside, praise them and give them a treat. Leave the door open so they can exit whenever they desire. Repeat this step a few times to familiarize your dog with their crate and associate going inside with a treat reward. If your dog is very nervous or apprehensive of the crate, feeding them their breakfast and dinner in their crate every day is a great way to get them inside for a short, enjoyable period of time.
Once your dog will willingly enter their crate for a treat or meal, practice closing them in and latching the door shut. Stay within eyesight of your dog and start an activity that does not involve them (e.g., watching TV, reading a book, working on your laptop). Your dog will likely whine or bark when they realize they’re closed in. That’s ok! Ignore your dog and continue your activity for 5-10 mins or until they settle down and stop barking/whining. Once your dog settles down, open their crate door, let them out and continue your quiet activity. It’s important not to celebrate your dog exiting the crate. If you teach your dog that it’s more fun outside of their crate than inside, they’ll spend their time inside their crate anxiously awaiting your return instead of learning to settle down and relax.
Practice leaving your dog in their crate for longer periods of time while you’re home and opening the door when they settle down inside. Sometimes, it takes some patience and practice for your dog to learn to enjoy their crate. Keep up the good work and do your best to not give in to their whining/barking. Letting your dog out of their crate when they whine/bark will only teach them that making noise is the key to exiting their crate. Once your pup has mastered being inside while you’re home, it’s time to practice leaving them home alone.
Make sure your dog has gone to the bathroom and had plenty of aerobic exercise before leaving them alone in their crate. Start with short 20-30min outings and increase the length of time you leave for incrementally. Never leave your dog in their crate for more than 4 hours at a time (or 3 if your dog is under 6 months old). If you must exceed that time, someone needs to give your dog a break to go to the bathroom and stretch their legs before returning to their crate.
As your dog adjusts to their crate, they may even learn to love it and seek it out as a safe place to rest and relax. Leaving your dog’s crate door open during the day and establishing it as a great place for them to settle down when you are home and will help your dog quickly relax in their crate when you leave.
A crate not only provides your dog with a space of their own when they choose to use it, it also gives you the peace of mind that your dog is safe and resting when you need them to use it.
If your dog is wearing a collar in their crate, a buckle or loose stitch could get snagged and put your pet in an uncomfortable or dangerous situation. It's a good idea to remove their collar before leaving them in their crate alone.