Crate training your puppy from an early age will ensure the puppy has a safe and comfortable place to go as a retreat early on and throughout its life. Crate training your new puppy with other dogs in the house can be more difficult due to the distractions and additional attention needed.
Crate training your dog gives you an advantage in having a safe space where your dog may retreat in times of anxiety. It also serves as a useful method of potty training. Overall, the dog crate can be used as a positive management tool to control unwanted behaviors and safe containment when you need to travel with your dog. A crate-trained dog will return to its crate to help it deal with stressful situations such as thunderstorms and fireworks.
Dog crates can be of great benefit in managing behavior
Crates are useful both to have on hand and to provide a known safe space for your dog. The crate must not be thought of or used as a prison. We do not sentence our dogs to time behind bars for bad behavior: that’s where training comes in.
We all know, however, that some situations leave us at odds with how to handle our dogs when the excitement around them only helps stir them up, and they could use a handy “time-out.” In all cases, we do not consider it wise to crate your dog for periods longer than a few hours.
There are exceptions, though. Crating a dog becomes necessary in such circumstances as:
- Noise or stimulus refuge
- Keeping your dog safe during travel
- Recuperative post-surgery convalescence ordered by your veterinarian
- Preventing injury or exposure to toxins
- A substitute for home comfort when going to the vet, the groomer, or a kennel
- Protecting your stuff
- Helpful house training
For your dog’s safety, all dogs going into a crate should be naked. That means removing collars, harnesses, or any other items they may be wearing. It is better not to be lamenting “what are the odds” when the ID tags dangle their way into the only spot they can’t get out of. That is the last thing you want to accept blame for.
Of course, your dog must have comfort in his crate. It doesn’t have to be anything posh or la-di-da, just something comfy and familiar, including the appropriate toys. You know your pup and how chew-happy or destructive he may be, his activity level, and age. A good comfortable and perhaps chew proof bed will be appreciated by your new pup.
What to put inside the crate
While every dog is different, young and old dogs have different needs. If you are beginning your crate training, you have a different approach than with a dog that has acclimated to its crate. Your dog is spending time alone in the crate. Something to occupy its time is needed.
Chew resistant padding or bedding that is also waterproof for the youngsters is a plus. The adults are not as likely to be such a concern. Seniors may need the waterproofing aspect for the bedding.
As a rule, you don’t want to leave food or water in the crate. Space is already limited, and those feet will most certainly step in or on the bowls leaving you with a whole other mess to contend with.
This is different, of course, with a sick or recuperating dog. You will need to leave them with water, and you can find sturdy, spill-proof bowls or even BPA-free lickable water bottles you attach to the crate itself. You can use the classic irresistible peanut butter on the nozzle if you need to encourage your pup to start licking.
Puzzle feeders and toys treat dispensers, or interactive toys are useful in giving your dog something to do. You aim to provide an excellent form of entertainment for your dog’s brain, the more exhausting, the better.
Dos and don’ts for crate training your puppy
- Properly size the crate to the dog. Add a divider panel to a large crate when crate training a puppy that will grow into the crate
- Make the crate comfortable and safe
- Keep toys in the crate
- Place the crate in view of other dogs so the puppy and the other dogs get to know each other. You can gradually move the crate into the flow as the dogs get used to each other
- Keep the crate experience positive. Never use as punishment
- Force your dog into the crate – you should entice the dog in. Food, snacks, favorite toys are all great ways to get the dog in the crate
- Do not put puppy pads or newspapers in the crate. You do not want to encourage the puppy to use the bathroom in the crate
- Do not leave the puppy in the crate for a period of time that is longer than it can be expected to have to use the bathroom
How to crate train a dog
A typical day allows your dog to get in some exercise and opportunities to go potty. You want to become mindful of your dog’s need for exploration, food, fun, and elimination because you only want to crate him once these needs have been met.
As with all training, you want to anchor a positive association with the crate. You have the crate ready with comfortable bedding and the right stuff. Let your pup explore the crate on their own with the door wide open or removed if possible. A mishap with the door can cement a negative association that will take more time to overcome.
Whenever you see him go inside the crate, be ready with the clicker, or use an established marker word. This is patterned behavior that lets the dog know this is what you want him to do. Don’t forget the praise treats. See here for more in-depth clicker training information.
Feeding time should occur in the crate. Your placement of the bowl should coincide with your dog’s level of nervousness toward entering the crate. You want to gradually move the bowl farther inside the crate.
Once you have achieved successful mealtime inside the crate, close the door during feeding. Open it up again as soon as the meal is finished.
You are working on the duration and planning to continue extending the time so that you can leave your dog in the closed crate for a stress-free 15 minutes. This is accomplished through repetition and positive reinforcement.
Invite your pup inside the crate with a favorite toy or food puzzle, closing the door and having him remain for 15 seconds. Let him out for five seconds, trading him time for treats while you keep the toy out of reach. Repeating these steps, you can build up to the 15 minutes if you progress slowly and do not leave your pup’s side.
A happy puppy is an engaged puppy, not anxious or crying. If there is a struggle in these steps, choose a more valuable toy, in your dog’s estimation, and reduce the time duration. You can change up the times, varying how long, making easier times show up between the longer durations.
You may even need to keep the door slightly open and have your hand just inside with the toy. Use your voice for encouragement and praise until your puppy has grown more comfortable with your hand outside the crate.
As with the time progression, proceed to increase your distance from the crate each time your puppy is inside. Halfway across the room at first, you can return and open the crate for your treat-for-time trade.
At any time your puppy becomes uncomfortable, go back to your previous distancing, and keep your patience. Work up to the challenging duration and distance so that your puppy is happily taking these in stride.
Your progression at this point should become more comprehensive. In other words, you may start adding additional conditions to the training. Change things up, go for longer periods of time, try it without the toy, or delay your return.
With sufficient exercise and completing the first four steps, this should be reaching a more natural progression. You can begin to apply the use of the crate to life’s typical rundown, such as when you eat dinner, go for a ride in the car, when guests visit, or when you sleep.
At any time your puppy is vocalizing because he wants to be let out, wait until his chorus subsides. The main reason for this is not to associate crying with release since your puppy will associate that as the way to get let out.
However, you can tell the difference between a little whining and a more serious level of distress if your pup can’t stop crying. If he is really not having any fun, abort the mission and start fresh tomorrow, going back to whatever stage he is happier with.
Just as with time and your personal distance, you can do the same with where you position the crate until you have it where you expect it to be regularly. At this stage of accomplishment, you will have successfully established a known safe space that your pup willingly heads for.
Keeping the door open allows him to use the space as he pleases. He is more likely to settle and nap there without you needing to shut the door. When you do close it to go out and run an errand, he should be fine with remaining with his comfy bed and toys as usual.
So many crates, which one to choose?
There are various dog crates on the market, and they have as many reasons for their style and composition. Your choice may be governed by how you plan to use one and where you plan to place it as well as the size of your dog, his behavior, and needs.
Start by measuring your dog
It is important to have a crate that is not too big and not too small. The Goldilocks of crates can be achieved by measuring your dog’s length and height.
Start from the tip of his nose to the base of his tail; that’s where the tail connects to his body and not the full extension. Otherwise, you may end up with an oversized crate. In a sitting position, measure your dog from the top of his head to the floor.
You will also want to double-check your dog’s weight conforms to the manufacturer’s suggested weight limit if you plan to carry the crate with your pooch inside. For puppies, you can get a crate equipped with a divider panel designed to allow for growth. The main purpose here, again, is for the Goldilocks of crates.
Choosing a crate that suits your needs
A dog crate can be selected to satisfy your specific needs, or you can choose one based on the best of all needs, in general. We will go over the choices available here with some recommendations on why you might choose one over the other.
Often referred to as an airline kennel, you may recognize this crate by its solid plastic base with an aerated plastic top, typically in a contrasting color. The top is removable, allowing you to convert it into a dog bed. It has a sturdy handle at the top, an equally sturdy mesh gate at the entrance, and is hard to escape.
This crate gives your dog more privacy than some other open mesh styles. It is lightweight and intended for portability. Its low visibility is helpful for travel as it shields shy or reactive dogs from outside stimuli, although some dogs may become stressed if they cannot see what is going on around them.
While it has low airflow, which can help in colder weather, it can be a problem when it gets hot. It is easy to clean, although the plastic is capable of absorbing smell over time. You can’t beat the convenience of this style of crate.
Metal dog crates
For a more permanent setting, the metal crate is one of the more popular styles as it can be modified in multiple ways. They can come with dividers, multiple doors, and attractive crate covers that make them more of a concealed enclosure.
You can even build furniture around a metal crate to have it seamlessly blend in with your home’s décor. We will cover more on concealed crates further on. You may also find a metal crate you can incorporate into an exercise pen by attaching it to the panels.
The versatility with metal crates is undeniable. They have the highest airflow, which is equal to being in the open air. They have the most visibility unless you want to cover them for privacy and relaxation. Divider panels allow you to customize the size, and they fold flat for convenient storage.
You must take care of the metal, though, as it is susceptible to rust over time. The clever puppy can learn how to pop the enclosure, whether it is the door, top, or sides to squeeze out. The nervous dog that attempts to chew his way out can hurt his teeth.
A cover on a metal crate creates a den-like space more helpful for the puppy that tends to take cover under tables and desks. At least this gives you the chance to test it and see what your puppy prefers. The advantage of a fitted cover is that it allows for proper airflow and is less likely to get chewed or pulled through the mesh.
You can get a hybrid mesh crate that is a combination of a plastic frame and metal mesh. It is escape-proof, comes with dividers, and easier to move around without needing to dismantle the crate. This style also has a diamond-shaped mesh making it much harder for dogs to ruin their teeth if they try to chew on the mesh.
Soft-sided or fabric crates
For fast setup and portability, a soft-sided crate is excellent for temporary or travel crating. It is super lightweight, easy to carry, and inexpensive. However, it is not built for durability, and even the dog of the simplest mental capacity can find a way to escape it. The dog that likes to chew will make fast work of this one.
It is a sweet setup, though, with a screen flip-up door and screen windows all around. It makes for a very cozy crate, but this is probably a better choice for the mellow pup that does not try to destroy his crate.
That brings us to the Houdini version of crates – the inescapable heavy-duty model. With this style, look for riveted metal featuring double locks. This is the kind of crate you might select if you are known to travel with your dog in the back of a pickup because of the crash protection. You could not use one of these in mid-sized or smaller cars.
In 2015, the Center for Pet Safety (CPS) teamed up with Subaru of America to study these crates’ crash-worthiness. You can see the results here if you are interested in pursuing a heavy-duty model. This really should be the choice if you intend to travel with your dogs under the conditions that were tested.
It may be that your own living space is limited, and one solution to accommodating a dog crate is to turn it into a functional piece of matching furniture the blends in with your décor. Obviously, this limits your concealed crate to being a stationary, indoor model.
Your greatest advantage is that it saves space. However, this is a unit that would be harder to clean, and if it is made of wood, it might become a chew toy to some dogs. Unless you are having one custom made, they generally do not come equipped with a door.
That said, there are several options we have seen on the popular Houzz site that gives us some wonderful ideas. Among our favorites are underneath the stairwell, the transitional kitchen, and the under-closet utility. This really opens things up to being creative.
Is crate training cruel?
This question gives us pause, or paws, I suppose. We have chosen to provide the ramifications of crating dogs according to PETA, for what better organization to get the full measure of the potential detriment, right? It is good to understand that the crate is not a replacement for everything a dog requires that some dog owners care not to provide.
As we all are, loving dog owners fully understand the difficulties inherent in dogs born and raised in crate-like structures. It is hard to house-train them; they are fearful and often anxious and prone to develop destructive behaviors. This is stated to emphasize that a crate is not a substitute for the training, exercise, and companionship that makes a dog’s life the pure joy we know it to be.
However, dog crates are useful tools for training, and they come in handy for those times when you need to manage your dog’s behavior in situations that would otherwise be out of control. Again, anything your dog is doing that appears that way is something to put on the curriculum of necessary training.
How to crate train a dog is as simple as any other habit you want to instill in your precious pooch. If you are asking if crate training is cruel, we hope we have covered both the method and the practice here to ease your mind about when and how to crate your dog.
In nearly everything your dog experiences in his or her happy life, imagine yourself in their paws and ask if that is something you would like to happen to you? The balanced understanding of how dogs respond to us as their owners and their environment with all that it presents gives us the proper method of approach.