Crate: A Bonus, Not a Penalty
Many people refuse to crate or kennel-train their dogs because they feel the confinement is cruel. However, a crate or kennel can give dogs a sense of security. Crate training done properly is also a highly effective management system that can be a lifesaver for dog owners. Like any training method, crating can be abused, but using a crate for appropriate time periods is helpful with a variety of important goals, including house training, preventing destructive behavior, and teaching a dog to settle and relax.
If a dog is taught through positive reinforcement to love the crate, the crate becomes his own private and safe place, much like a bedroom for a child. The crate or kennel is somewhere the dog can go and not be bothered; it’s a perfect destination when the dog is tired or nervous. Dogs have a natural instinct to be in a den. Many dogs take to a crate very easily.
Crate training provides a number of benefits to owners:
- A crate that is sized properly encourages a dog’s instinct not to mess where he sleeps, helping to teach the dog bladder and bowel control. This tendency to view the crate as a clean place is a huge benefit house training a new or puppy.
- Using a crate prevents a dog or pup from getting into trouble when you can’t supervise directly. Those times might include at night, when you are at work (provided the work day is not too long and the dog gets exercise before and after), when you are busy cooking, or any other time when your attention is elsewhere than directly on your dog.
- Crate training also teaches puppies and excitable dogs to expect and enjoy some downtime, and conditions relaxed behavior. Dogs and pups can be put into a crate with a yummy and safe chew or stuffed Kong to keep them secure, relaxed, and out of mischief for periods of time.
Choosing a crate: type, size, and location
There are several varieties of crates available. It can be a bit daunting to figure out the size and style to pick for your dog. The most common crate varieties are wire crates, plastic crates, and fabric crates.
Fabric crates are great for small dogs to travel in, for sporting events, or for camping. With a fabric crate, your dog must be well trained. Since fabric crates are not secure, they are not recommended for long-term confinement without supervision. The benefits of a fabric crate are that it is lightweight and that it folds flat for easy storage and travel.
We favor wire crates, as they fold flat for storage and are more economical to purchase, they are also easier to clean. If you are looking for a crate that matches your decor, fashionable dog crate furniture combos that double as end tables are available!
Selecting the right size crate can be confusing. Some people are inclined to choose a large-sized crate to give the dog lots of room. If you pick a crate that is too large, your dog may use a portion of the crate as a toilet. Pick a crate that will be big and comfortable enough for your expected puppy’s full grown size. This is when picking out a wire is best as most of them come with a divider that you can adjust as the puppy. The space should be just large enough for your puppy to stand up, turn around, and lay down/stretch comfortably, at least until the puppy is house trained.
We recommend placing the crate in an area of the house where both you and the dog can access it easily. The crate should be close enough to be handy, but out of the way enough that it is not going to be tripped over constantly. We usually place a crate near the door we take the puppy to go out to which is the living room or the kitchen area. If you have a few story living space, it may not be a bad idea to have a couple of crates, one not far from where you sleep so you can still hear the puppy, and another where the family usually gather or where the puppy has an easy access to go out for potty breaks. We strongly discourage placing the crate in the bedroom however, as this can create a problem such as separation anxiety later on. They need to know that the crate is a safe and comfortable place even if you are not right there beside them.
A positive place
We invest time in introducing the crate before your puppy goes home. They have never been put in the crate to be punished; instead they are introduced to it gradually and positively. We start feeding the puppies in their separate crates as soon as they turn 5 weeks old. This will not only help in determining how much they are eating, but also give them an idea that the crate is where they get fed and not just to get locked in. At 5.5 weeks old, they spend about an hour during the day in the crate while chewing their raw veal bones or peanut butter apple kong. At 6 weeks two puppies sleep in the same crate at night for at least 2-3 nights, after that they will be crated at night to sleep on their own until they go home. By the time they are 8 weeks old, most if not all the puppies are sleeping in the crate at night from 11:30 P.M. until 5:30 A.M. without a lot of crying, or accidents.
When your new puppy first comes home though, everything will look and smell different so some of them will need to acclimate to their new crate. Place a bed, their blanket and a couple of favorite toys into the crate. This will help create a cozy den. During the day, give your puppy the veal bone in the crate, leaving the door open so that the puppy can enter and exit freely. When your puppy is comfortable going in and out of the crate, toss a yummy treat inside and close the door for a second or two before letting the puppy out. Feed your puppy meals in the crate, leave the door open (try not to interrupt the puppy during meal times).
Cue in and out
When the puppy is going into the crate willingly, add a cue for entering the crate. Try “crate” or “bed” or “kennel.” Say your cue before giving a treat inside. Soon your puppy will be going into the crate on cue and eagerly.
Next, give the crate cue and wait for the puppy to go in on its own. Stop giving the treat and wait for the puppy to enter. When the puppy does go in, say “Yes!” or click a clicker and then feed the treat.
Start training a release cue at this time. The release cue tells your dog when he or she is free to leave the crate. This training step has the added benefit of encouraging and increasing self control. Your dog learns to remain calm and not rush out, even with the crate door wide open.
Cue the entrance, mark with yes or click, and treat. Almost immediately, say your release cue (try “ok,”) and toss a treat on the floor outside of the crate. Keep tossing treats until the dog can leave the crate without seeing the treat; the dog exits just hearing the release cue. At that point, you can phase out the treat. Leaving the crate has become the reward.
A crate can also be used as an effective and humane punishment. As long as the crate has lots of positive value built up, you can use it as an occasional time-out zone. If crate training is done properly, your pup will be conditioned to relax and settle inside the crate. Putting an unruly pup into a crate as a time-out for a few minutes teaches him to settle, and also removes all reinforcing stimulus for his “naughty” behavior. However, if you are resorting to putting your dog in time-out multiple times per day, you risk developing a negative association with the crate. The crate should be used in this way as a last resort, and only if redirecting to an appropriate behavior or ignoring the undesirable behavior does not work.
From the crate, onward
We have raised many puppies, and can’t imagine doing it without creating a positive association with the crate. In addition to the value of a crate at home, having a crate-trained dog is wonderful when you are travelling, when your dog needs to go to the vet or groomer, or if you plan to compete in any dog sports. Trained properly with positive reinforcement and patience, the crate becomes a safe place for a dog. You will find that your dog uses the crate on his own when he is tired, and enters willingly and eagerly when asked. All it takes is an investment of time and a few treats to end up with a happy dog and a happy human!