Crate Training Your Dog: Benefits and Best Practices
To some new pet parents, crate training can seem like an unjust punishment to dogs—they often synonymize “crate” with “cage.” We at Cuyamaca Animal Hospital have talked with many dog owners who feel this way, people who fear unwittingly harming their beloved animals. Of course, we would never encourage unsafe practices.
However, crate training is not only accepted by veterinarians and trainers as a safe practice, but it’s recommended as one of the fastest and easiest ways to ensure good behaviors in pups. Dogs may be man’s best friends, domesticated to mirror human-like emotions, but they have still evolved from den dwelling animals. As such, their den, or the crate, provides the structure and comfort they instinctively crave. In most cases, they’ll love their crates.
In today’s blog post, we’ll dive into that and more by giving you all the info you need to begin crate training your dog (while also providing him a strong sense of security):
The Benefits of Crate Training
If done properly (through positive reinforcement), crate training can be an amazing resource for both dog and dog parent. Your pup will learn to love his crate as a safe space—his own private sanctuary—while you can rest easy in the fact that he won’t tear up the house while you’re away from home. Here are other crate training benefits:
Instinctively, dogs don’t want to make a mess where they sleep. If you ensure that his crate is big enough for him, he will learn bladder control, making crate training one of the most effective methods of potty training.
While we all would love to spend time with our dogs 24/7, we have other areas of life that need management. Even when you’re home, you still have chores and other work to attend to! Crate training will keep pups out of trouble when you can’t be attentive to them, and the crate is a safe place where your pup can go and manage himself.
Crate training will teach your dog independence. He’ll not only come to understand that it’s sometimes necessary to be alone, but he’ll learn to enjoy it. This is great for anxious or nervous dogs who can have a place to go to decompress. But it’s also a great socialization tool: it encourages controlled behavior.
Responsible Crate Training
As much as we encourage crate training, we don’t want you to view it through rose-colored glasses. No training method is foolproof and we want to make sure our clients understand that there are also improper ways to crate train your dog:
Crate training should never be a punishment. Your dog’s crate should exist only as a positive, happy space. When used as a punishment, your dog will associate it with fear and negativity and be much more likely to refuse it entirely—the very opposite reason you wanted to crate train him in the first place.
Be mindful of the time your dog spends in his crate. Part of your pup’s overall growth into a mature and happy dog is socialization. Your dog needs exercise and interaction with other humans and animals in order to maintain his physical, mental, and emotional health. If you need to be out of the house for extended periods of time, please consider a doggy daycare (we recommend Furry Friends Resort) or hiring a dog walker.
Your dog’s age is an important factor in crate training. Puppies who are six months old or younger should never be in the crate for longer than three hours. While crate training is great for teaching bladder control, puppies that young are physically incapable of holding it for that long! Additionally, adult dogs aren’t always guaranteed to be housetrained when you adopt them—be mindful of your dog’s current progress with bladder control and housetraining.
The Best Crate Training Practices
The first and most important step to this process is to make sure you select the right crate for your dog. Sizing is important - your dog should be able to stand and turn comfortably in his crate. If he’s a growing puppy, make sure the crate is big enough for him to grow in and will be spacious enough to fit his adult size. If your crate has too much room (where he might feel comfortable messing in one corner and sleeping in the other), block off that extra space. Many crates will actually come with a partition you can use as he grows.
Realistically, the process of crate training your dog is a lengthy one that requires the ultimate patience on your part. Start crate training while you and/or your family are at home. Here are other tips for crate training your dog:
Keep the crate in the area where you and your family spend the most time. Again, your dog should associate his crate with safety. He should also feel supremely comfortable there. Stuff the crate with his favorite soft blankies and towels. When introducing your pup to the crate for the first time, keep the door open and let him approach the crate of his own free will. Don’t push it—your dog needs a sense of autonomy!
Always encourage him and stay optimistic. If your pup senses you are comfortable and happy about the crate, he’ll be much more likely to follow suit. Use only happy and gentle tones when encouraging him over to the crate and never express anger or disappointment.
Don’t be afraid to lure them with treats and food. Start with dropping small treats around the crate, and gradually drop them closer over time until you can leave treats for him to discover inside. If your dog still won’t enter - be patient. If your dog is toy motivated, try his favorite toys instead.
After introducing your pup to the crate, substitute those luring treats and toys for meals. Begin the process of placing his food dish inside the crate and be sure to do so gradually, being mindful of where your dog is in his comfort level with the crate.
Only after your pup is comfortable standing and eating in his crate, practice closing the door behind him. As soon as he is finished eating the first time, open the door. Leave the door closed for longer periods of time afterward, until your pup is comfortable being inside it for 10 minutes or more after his meal.
At this point, you and your dog should feel comfortable crating for longer periods of time, but if and only if he isn’t exhibiting any signs of fear. Practice calling him to the crate, giving him a treat, and using a command like “kennel” or even just “crate,” to enter. Remember that positive reinforcement with crate training is key, so be sure to praise and reward him each time he successfully enters.
Once your dog is ready, you can begin to train him to be comfortable with your absence. Begin by remaining near his crate while he is in there, and then leave the room for only a brief amount of time. Increase that time gradually until he is comfortable being alone in his crate for at least half an hour. Keep in mind that every dog is different, and so are his needs—that means that crate training can take days, weeks, or even months.
Ready to dive deep into crate training? At Cuyamaca Animal Hospital, our veterinarians want to help you and your dog be as comfortable as possible with the crate. We can help you begin the process and walk you through it until your dog is able to sleep overnight in his crate and be alone in it while you’re out of the house. Give us a call at (619) 448-0707 so that we can help set you and your furry family members up for success!