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Puppy Crate Training -A How to Guide

Why Crate Your Dog? From Wolf Den to Living Room

Much like the security of a wolf den, a comfortable crate can make a dog feel calm and safe.  It's her own personal space where she can find restful solitude. If used correctly, the crate becomes your dog's den—a place to snooze, take refuge during a thunderstorm or commotion, and maybe even to raise a family.  The crate also gives you peace of mind. After all, you can't possibly watch your new dog or puppy 24/7, but when pooch is in the crate, you know she’s not getting into trouble. 

Selecting the Perfect Dog Crate

Several types of crates are available:

  • Plastic (often called "flight kennels")
  • Fabric over a collapsible, rigid frame
  • Collapsible metal pens
  • Metal wire

Metal wire dog crates are the most common, . They’re easy to set up and feature removable bottom trays for easy cleaning. They fold like suitcases and can be easily moved room to room, and put away when not in use. You can also set them up in your vehicle for safe travel. A folding crate is ideal for traveling dogs or for those who just want a temporary quiet place for pup to rest in the house.

Size: Your dog's crate should be just large enough for him to stand up and turn around in. For a growing puppy, choose a crate size that will accommodate his adult size. Block off the excess crate space so your puppy can't eliminate at one end and then retreat to the other—some crates come with a divider that allows you to start small, then move or remove divider as your dog grows. 

Crates are Great for Housebreaking and More

The primary use for a crate is housebreaking. Dogs simply don't like to "use the bathroom" in their own cage, and will wait until released to do their business.  At the same time, their crate can also limit access to the rest of the house while they learn other house rules, such as not to chew on furniture or get into the trash.

Crating caution! A crate is not an effortless answer to behavior training. If not used correctly, your dog can feel trapped and frustrated. Never use the crate as a punishment, or your dog will come to fear it, and refuse to enter it. It’s only one component of a well-balanced training program for a new dog or puppy

Don't leave your dog in the crate too long. If she’s crated day and night, she’s not getting enough exercise or human interaction—and she’ll become depressed or anxious. Different Breeds have different activity levels. I would recommend not keeping your dog  crated any longer than needed. Keeping the door open can reinforce the crate as an inviting place to rest. Training a new puppy or new dog may require you to modify your schedule to ensure she gets timely breaks from the crate. Ask for help from friends and neighbors, or take her to a doggie daycare to make sure she gets the exercise needed for a happy healthy dog.

 How to Crate Train Puppies

Don’t leave puppies under six months of age in a crate for more than four hours at a time. They can't control their bladders and bowels for longer than that.

It's important to keep two things in mind while crate training:

  1. The crate should always be associated with something pleasant.
  2. Training should take place in a series of small steps. Don't go too fast. 

Puppies often need to go outside to eliminate during the night, so it may be a good idea to put the crate in your bedroom or nearby in a hallway. You’ll be able to hear your puppy when he whines to be let outside.

Crate training can take days or weeks, depending on your dog's age, temperament, and past experiences, so monitor his progress and adjust your plan to fit his needs. You should crate your puppy only until you can trust him not to destroy the house—after that, let him retreat to it voluntarily.

Five Steps to Successful Adult Dog Crate Training

  1. Introduce your dog to the crate 
    Place the crate in an area of your house where the family spends a lot of time, such as the family room. Put a soft blanket or towel in the crate. Take the door off and let the dog explore the crate at her leisure.

Some dogs will be naturally curious and enter the crate on their own. Some start sleeping in the crate right away. Here’s what to do it yours isn't one of them:

  • Bring her over to the crate, and talk to her in a happy tone of voice.
  • Make sure the crate door is open and secured so that it won't hit her and frighten her. 
  • Encourage her to enter the crate by dropping some small food treats nearby, then drop them just inside the door, and finally, all the way inside the crate. If she refuses to go all the way in at first, that's okay—don’t force her to enter. Continue tossing treats in until she walks calmly all the way inside to get the food. If she isn't interested in treats, try tossing a favorite toy in the crate.
  1. Feed your dog his meals in the crate
    After introducing your dog to the crate, begin feeding his regular meals near or inside it to create a pleasant association. To start, put the dish only as far inside as he will readily go without becoming fearful or anxious. Each time you feed him, place the dish a little further back in the crate.

    Once he’s standing comfortably in the crate to eat, you can close the door while he's eating. The first time you do this, open the door as soon as he finishes his meal. With each successive feeding, leave the door closed a few minutes longer, until he's staying in the crate for ten minutes or so after eating. Keep gradually increasing his time in the crate. If he whines or cries while in the crate, don’t let him out until he stops. Otherwise, he'll learn that the way to get out of the crate is to whine, so he'll keep doing it.
  2. Lengthen the crating periods 
    When your dog is eating her regular meals in the crate with no sign of fear or anxiety, you can confine her there for short, non-mealtime periods while you're home.

    Call her over to the crate and give her a treat. Give her a command to enter, such as "kennel." Encourage her by pointing to the inside of the crate with a treat in your hand. After your dog enters the crate, praise her, give her the treat, and close the door.

    You may find it helpful to sit quietly near the crate for five to ten minutes, and then go into another room for a few minutes. Return and let her out of the crate. Repeat this process several times a day, gradually increasing the length of time you leave her in the crate and the length of time you're out of her sight.

    Once your dog will stay quietly in the crate for about 30 minutes with you mostly out of sight, you can begin leaving her crated when you're gone for short time periods and/or letting her sleep there at night.
  3. Crate your dog when you leave 
    After your dog can spend 20-30 minutes in the crate without becoming anxious or afraid, you can begin crating him for longer periods when you leave the house. Put him in the crate using your regular command and a treat. You might also want to leave him with a few safe toys. Don't make your departures emotional and prolonged—they should be matter-of-fact. Keep your arrival home low key to avoid increasing his anxiety over when you will return.
  4. Crate your dog at night
    Put your dog in the crate using your regular command and a treat. Initially, dogs should be kept nearby so they don't associate the crate with social isolation. Once your dog is sleeping comfortably through the night with his crate near you, you can begin to gradually move it to the location you prefer, although time spent with your dog—even sleep time—is a chance to strengthen the bond between you and your pet.

     Potential Problems

    Whining

    If your dog whines or cries while in the crate at night, it may be difficult to decide whether she's whining to be let out of the crate, or whether she needs to go outside to eliminate. If you've followed the training procedures outlined above, then your dog hasn't been rewarded for whining in the past by being released from her crate. If that is the case, try to ignore the whining.

    If your dog is just testing you, she'll probably stop whining soon. Yelling at her or pounding on the crate will only make things worse. If the whining continues after you've ignored her for several minutes, use the phrase she associates with going outside to eliminate.

    If she responds and becomes excited, take her outside. This should be a trip with a purpose, not play time. If you're convinced that your dog doesn't need to eliminate, the best response is to ignore her until she stops whining. Don't give in! If you do, you'll teach your dog to whine loud and long to get what she wants.

    If you've progressed gradually through the training steps and haven't done too much too fast, you'll be less likely to encounter this problem. If the problem becomes unmanageable, you may need to start the crate training process over again.

    Separation Anxiety

    Attempting to use the crate as a remedy for separation anxiety won't solve the problem. A crate may prevent your dog from being destructive, but he may injure himself in an attempt to escape from the crate.

    Separation anxiety problems can only be resolved with counter-conditioning and desensitization procedures. You may want to consult a professional animal-behavior specialist for help.