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Crate Training

The crate; some pet parents swear by them, while others don't use them or use them only as a training tool.  Some people find crate training too hard and give up part way through the process.

Crate training your dog can be a painless process if you follow the steps in this guide and will provide life-long benefits to your dog. Don't give up part-way through the process. As long as you go slowly and keep consistent, you can have a successfully crate-trained dog too!

Why Should I Crate Train My Dog?

The theory behind crate training is that dogs and their ancestor's natural instinct is to find a cave or a den in the wild where they are safe from predators to eat, sleep and raise their young. In the wild, a den is usually enclosed on three sides and hidden away in a quiet place.  In your home, Fido's crate becomes his den so that no matter what is happening outside his "den", he can feel safe and secure in his little home.

Dogs don't like to eliminate in their dens and this theory is why crate training is popular for puppies as a housetraining tool. Crating your puppy can also keep them safe and out of trouble while they learn what they are and aren't allowed to chew on.

Many people only crate train through puppyhood, however, a crate should be a quiet, safe place for your dog where they can go, at any time. Often, dogs will retreat to their crates to escape when things get busy or scary for them, like when guests are in your home or during thunderstorms and fireworks. A crate will also keep them safe when you are unable to supervise them properly, which is especially useful for curious puppies. A properly crate trained dog will naturally want to go into their crate. That is where they find peace and solace and can relax or de-stress in a space where they won't be bothered or harmed.

Another great benefit to crate training your dog is that when they need to go to the vet for a procedure or are boarded in a kennel, they aren't as stressed out by being in an enclosure as a dog who has never been in a crate. If you ever need to travel with your dog, a crate or carrier is required for air travel and can make long car trips safer for all passengers.

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Selecting Your Dog's Crate

Dog crates come in a much wider variety than they once did. You're no longer limited to a choice between a wire crate or a plastic kennel. Now, many crates are designed to fit in your home décor with wood trim or wicker sides. You can even customize your plain crate with a decorative crate cover or inexpensive throw blanket. Crate covers have the benefit of providing a more den-like feel, since the crate is less exposed on three sides.

If you plan to travel with your pet, either on an airplane or in the car, choose a plastic flight kennel. If you are planning air travel, make sure that the crate you choose is approved for flight use.

A basic wire dog crate or a crate that looks like furniture is more appropriate if your crate will not be used for travel, and will have a permanent spot in hour home. A basic wire crate is usually collapsible and can easily be transported if you need to take your crate to a pet sitter's home.

Fabric crates and dog carriers are most appropriate for very small breeds and small puppies, especially if you're going to be taking your pet as a carry-on on an airplane or they will be travelling with you when you run errands.  If you have a heavy chewer, be sure to inspect your fabric crate each time you use it to make sure that there are no weak spots or tears where your dog could escape.

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What Size Crate Should I Buy?

Whether you have a puppy or an adult dog, you should choose a crate that will be large enough for him to stand up comfortably, turn around inside the crate, and lay down comfortably as a full-sized adult.

Take a look at our size guide to determine the approximate size crate you should purchase for your dog.

*A note for puppy parents: Many crates now come with additional adjustable "wall" that you can move as your puppy grows. A puppy's crate should be just large enough for them to turn around and stand up in. By purchasing a crate for your dog's adult size and using the adjustable wall to block off any excess space, you'll speed up the process of potty training and save money since you won't have to buy a new crate each time they outgrow one.  If the crate is too large for your puppy, they tend to eliminate in the crate on one end and use the other end for sleeping, and the crate no longer makes for a good potty training tool.

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Where should I put my dog's crate?

Above all else, dogs are pack animals. Being separated from their pack is stressful and can cause anxiety. Fido's crate should be place in an area in your home that is out of the main path of traffic, but still in an area frequented by your family. Usually a corner of the living room is a great place o put the crate. They can relax in their crate while still staying near the pack. 

  • • Don't put the crate in a room that no one ever enters, like a spare bedroom or basement.
  • • Make sure the room the crate is in remains a comfortable temperature year-round.
  • • The room where the crate is housed should have a relaxed atmosphere; a busy and noisy kitchen, for example, is often not the best location.

Notes about bedtime: If you wish for your dog to sleep in their crate at night, consider putting a second crate in your bedroom, or moving their crate each night so they can be near you. This is especially important for puppies; they cannot hold their bladders all night and will need to go out every few hours.

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A Few Words of Caution

  • • A crate should never be used as a tool for punishment. This is counter-productive and will cause anxiety whenever their told to go to their crate. You know your dog best. If you think they may get into trouble, crate them before they have any opportunity to misbehave. If you puppy has peed on the carpet, take a rolled up newspaper and give yourself a little smack on the nose; puppies aren't yet potty trained and should be in your line of sight at all times until they are. It can be helpful to attach a leash to your belt. Crating any dog after yelling at them or disciplining them will only cause an association of fear and lead to the crate becoming a "bad place" that your dog will want to avoid at all costs.

  • • If you are housetraining your puppy or adult dog, do not leave them in the crate for more than four hours at a time. They haven't learned how to "hold it" yet, and will soil their crate and become distressed, the end result is that the crate is not a pleasant place your pet looks forward to entering.

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  • • Do not let any pet in a crate for long periods of time without proper exercise and stimulation. If you're crating Fido while you're at work and again while you sleep, he can become depressed, anxious or begin to misbehave and dread the crate. Make sure they are getting plenty of human interaction (dogs are pack animals, after all, and you are their pack), plenty of exercise through long walks and play sessions, and plenty of brain-stimulating play. Try playing with puzzle toys, playing a game, or teaching them new tricks.

  • • A properly crate-trained dog should only be crated until they can be trusted to behave in your home without supervision. After they have learned the house rules and can be trusted, the crate door should be left open as a place to retreat to on their own.

How Long Will it Take to Crate Train My Dog?

The answer to this question depends on your individual dog and his personality. Some dogs take to their crates right away and the process only takes a few days. Other dogs can take weeks to successfully crate train. Some common factors to consider that affect the time it takes to crate train your dog include your dog's age, temperament and past experiences with a crate or kennel.

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How to Crate Train Your Puppy

Please note: Puppies under six months of age should not be crated for more than 4 hours at a time. They have limited control of their bladders and cannot help but soil their den.

Puppies, especially those who have not had previous bad experiences in a crate, are naturally more curious and faster learners than adult dogs. It is easier to start crate training when your dog is a pup, rather than trying to crate later in life.

Step 1 & 2: Introduce the crate
  • • Put a soft blanket, towel or crate pad in the crate. Make sure it is absorbent and easy to wash for a dog that's not perfected potty training.
  • • To your puppy, the crate is just a piece of furniture in the room. They may naturally investigate the new "room" and begin sleeping in it on their own.
  • • If not, sit by the crate and talk in a soothing tone and call them over to you.
  • • Use small training treats to lure your puppy to come near the crate
  • • Continue dropping small training treats to lure your puppy inside the crate
  • • Do not force them into the crate
  • • Once they have entered of their own free will, praise them gratuitously
  • •Continue this process every few hours so the crate becomes a happy place!

Add a command

  • • Now that your puppy is happy in the crate and eating his meals there, add a command word or phrase that you'll say each time you want them to go in the crate. The command should be simple and kept consistent by all members of your family, try using "crate" or "go to your crate".

Step 3: Closing the door

  • • Once your puppy is happily entering and exiting the crate on his own, progress to closing the door for a few seconds.
  • • Lure them into the crate with treats, close the door for just a few seconds, praise them for remaining calm and open the door to give them another treat
  • • Repeat this step as long as your puppy is interested and not distressed by the door being closed. Very gradually increase the amount of time the door is closed.
  • • Do not reward whining, if they are beginning to whine while the door is closed, you may have moved too fast for their comfort level.
  • • Repeat every few hours until your puppy is happily sitting in the crate for a few minutes at a time.

Step 4: Feed meals in the crate

  • • Since your puppy is happy to enter and exit the crate, begin feeding all meals inside the crate.
  • • Put the bowl in the crate, let your puppy enter and begin eating, then quietly close the door behind them.
  • • When your puppy is finished eating, let them out of the crate.
  • • Increase the amount of time between them finishing their meal and opening the door at each meal.
  • • Until you have perfected Step 5, you should remain near the crate during this stage.

Step 5: Leaving the room
  • • This stage of the training works best when your puppy is tired out from a play session.
  • • Repeat this, but this time close the door and say "I'll be right back" in a happy tone or say nothing, and leave the room for just a few seconds.
  • • When you return, calmly open the door and then give lots of praise and a few treats.  Do not open the door if they are whining. Wait until they have finished whining, and then open the door. If you open it while they are whining, they are learning that this is how they can get out of the crate.
  • • The same as the last step gradually increase how far away you go and how long you are out of the room. Don't move too fast for their comfort level!
  • • Continue to increase this time until they are happy to remain inside the crate for 1 hour while you are still somewhere in the house.
  • • If your puppy is too anxious or excited to stay in the crate, try providing fun chew toys to help them pass the time.
  • • If when you come back they are asleep in the crate, let them sleep until they wake up, then open the door and go outside to potty.

Step 6: Leaving the House

  • • Once you've perfected step 5, you can begin to leave the house for short periods of time.
  • • Start by putting your puppy in the crate 15 minutes before you leave. Go through your regular stages of getting ready to head out the door: get your keys, bags and anything else you need.
  • • Don't be emotional when you leave. Just pretend you're still doing step 5 and leave the house without any fanfare.
  • • Start out by leaving for 30 minutes and gradually increase the time you're away.
  • • When you return, don't reward the puppy for excited behavior. Stay low key and calmly take the puppy outside to potty. Not acknowledging your return will decrease anxiety.
  • • Increase the time you're away, making sure that your puppy isn't crated for more than a few hours at a time.

Bedtime Routine Notes

  • • When your puppy has now learned to entertain himself when you leave the room for about a half an hour and is familiar with your command, you can have him sleep in his crate all night.
  • • Place the crate within earshot so you can hear him.
  • • Tip: Keep the crate in your bedroom at night so that he feels safe with you nearby. If he is placed where he can see you that is even better.
  • • When he wakes up in the middle of the night, take him outside to relieve himself, then return him to his crate.
  • • Tip: Try to ignore whining when you return to bed. You should never let your puppy out because he is whining; it will teach him that you'll let him out as soon as he whines. This can be a stressful point in crate training your puppy.
  • • Tip: If you give in at this point and let him sleep in bed with you, be prepared that you've started a bad habit and will probably be sleeping with your dog every night, even when he is grown. 
  • • Tip: A teething toy or stuffed Kong can help keep him occupied until he falls back asleep in his crate.

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How to Crate Train Your Adult Dog

Who said an old dog can't learn new tricks? They were wrong! Crate training an adult dog can be a bit longer of a process, but it can be done if you follow the steps in this guide and only move on to the next step once your dog is 100% comfortable with the previous step. Training an adult dog is similar to the steps above for puppies, but you may need to progress much more slowly. Here area few key differences when you are training your adult dog:

Introducing the Crate to an Adult Dog:
  • Put a soft towel, blanket or crate pad in the crate
  • Open the door of the crate or remove the crate door temporarily
  • Let the crate become a natural part of the room and let them explore the crate on their own terms
  • Allow this for a few days without further progression

Naturally curious dogs may investigate the crate on their own. If your dog does not, or is afraid of the new piece of furniture:

  • Keep the crate door open securely as to not scare your dog
  • Sit by the crate and talk to your dog in a soft, happy voice
  • Call them over to you, continue to talk in happy tones
  • Encourage them to sniff the crate and eventually go inside, using small training treats to facilitate the process
  • Drop treats at first next to the crate, then near the door, followed by just inside the crate. Continue progressing until they have entered the crate by their own free will.
  • If your dog is not food motivated, you can try the same process with a favorite toy. Use whatever best motivates your dog.
  • Do not force them into the crate. If they are refusing to progress further go back to the last place they were comfortable and drop a few more treats and stop training for the day.
  • This process can take days until they are comfortable entering and exiting the crate.

Continue to progress through step 7 in the previous section. A few notes for adult dogs:

  • At night, your adult dog should be able to hold his bladder through the night.
  • Although they can sleep through the night, keep the crate in your bedroom within sight of you so that they are comforted and do not feel socially isolated.
  • You will not need to take your dog out after each training period like you would a puppy.
  • Just remember to move slowly so that your dog does not regress and come to dread the crate. Everything about the crate should be a positive experience and they should begin to look forward to being in the crate!
  • Eventually, your dog will enjoy the crate so much they will use it on his or her own, without you giving the command.
  • Once your dog is trusted in the house alone leave the crate door open when you leave the house.

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Important Tips for Successful Crate Training

Never, never, never use the crate as a punishment. Everything surrounding the crate should be positive and fun; otherwise the training won't work and Fido will refuse to enter or become anxious when asked to go in the crate. This is a very important detail that many people fail to follow and their dogs learn to hate their crate. 

This process can be a long one, and is as individual as each dog. Remember to move at your dog's speed and assess their comfort level at each step in the process. Use small steps and repeat training several times a day. If you move on to the next step, but your dog is not responding well, go back to the last step they were happy with and progress at a slower speed.

Make the crate an enjoyable experience that they look forward to! Provide plenty of treats, praise, fun toys (Kong toys are great for crate training while you are around to supervise them), and love during the training process. Dogs respond much better to positive reinforcement from their innate desire to please their pack masters.

*Please take your individual dog's habits in to mind before providing toys or treats while you are unable to supervise them. Some heavy chewers can break apart even the toughest of  toys and they can become a choking hazard. Make sure your dog is using the toys properly before providing while you are away from the crate.

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My Dog is Whining in His Crate, What Should I Do?

First ask yourself if he needs to go outside or if he is whining to try to get you to let him out of the crate. If the latter is true, you'll need to ignore him until he quiets down. Never reward whining by letting him out and never yell or shake the crate, even if you're at your wits' end.  If you followed through with the steps outline above, the whining should subside once he realizes that whining will not get him what he desires: to be left out of the crate.

If you think your puppy may need to go outside, calmly take them straight outside to eliminate. Make no pit stops on your way there or back to the crate so that your dog knows that it is time to go in the crate and you're not backing down.

If the whining continues after a few minutes of ignoring the behavior, you may have moved too fast through the training process for your dog's comfort level.  Return to the step before the whining started and try again with slower progress.

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A Quick Note on Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety cannot be treated or abated by crate training; it may only serve to help save your home from some damage. However, in the process, your pet may become injured trying to escape the enclosure due to their overwhelming level of anxiety experienced when they have this disorder.

Separation anxiety is a disorder that affects many dogs. Often, these dogs will go, almost literally, out of their minds when they are left alone. It is severe, debilitating anxiety; it is often accompanied by attempts to escape the house, resulting in damage and destruction of items in your home in the process. Dogs with separation anxiety often try to escape from kennels and boarding facilities as well, so special care must be taken.

You can treat separation anxiety, but it can only be treated by very slow desensitization and counter-conditioning training.  It takes a very long time to desensitize a dog with separation anxiety. There is no quick cure.  You may want to see your vet; some anti-anxiety medications may be prescribed in extreme cases.

If you think your dog has separation anxiety we recommend that you see your vet and seek out a qualified dog trainer or behaviorist who uses positive reinforcement techniques before beginning a crate-training regimen.

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-Article written & designed by Heather Crotsley

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