Home Sweet Home: Crate Training Your Dog
by Barbara DeGroodt
You may call it a crate, a box, a cabaña, a kennel; it really doesn't matter. What does matter is that you take the time to crate train. There are times you may find you need one, or you may never use a crate, but knowing your dog is crate trained may come in handy. Recently one of my dogs had major surgery and was on six weeks crate rest. Fortunately, he is crate trained and it wasn't an issue for him. However, if he had not been crate trained, that would have added more stress to his recovery.
So what is a crate? Crates come in many types, but the most common are the hard plastic crates (also known as airline carriers), wire crates and cloth pop-up crates. Cloth pop-ups are not to be used for crate training; they are great after your dog is crate trained. They are light-weight, easy to travel with, and a snap to store. However, they are very easy for a dog to escape from if it is not trained.
I always begin training with a hard plastic crate; they are a bit more den-like and lots of dogs like that closed, comfy feeling. They are also harder to escape from if your dog has a tendency to push the sides or bounce around in the beginning. If you purchase a less expensive wire crate that is not constructed very well, wires can pop out and cause injury or allow your dog to escape.
You will need to purchase a crate that is correct for your dog’s size. This means if you begin training a puppy, your crate should only be big enough for him to stand up and turn around in, and not sized for him as an adult. Too large a crate can contribute to housetraining problems. You will need to buy a larger crate as he grows.
To begin training, test to see how your dog reacts to the crate. Some dogs walk right in and you never have a problem; others need more help adjusting to the crate.
If your dog is not too keen on getting into a crate, you can start by doing some simple exercises. Feed him in the crate or give him a stuffed Kong or a favorite toy in the crate. If he comes out with it, calmly take the item from him and put it back in the crate. You may need to do this several times before he gets the idea, if I stay in my crate I can keep the toy. You never do this in anger; just calmly pick up the toy and take it back to the crate without scolding him. After several times of doing this, when he is staying in his crate, calmly close the door and then open it again. Just close it briefly, no stress. If he does this well, close it a bit longer, and perhaps even latch it. Don’t leave him just yet; make sure he can still see you. When he does this well, sit close to his crate, off to the side, and just drop treats in the crate with some soft praise. Soon he will be going to his crate when he wants some down time.
Use the crate when you are at home, as well as when you are leaving. Don’t make him think he only goes in the crate when you are leaving. That can create other problems.
I use the crate when housetraining a dog if I can’t watch him all the time and I’m doing something that takes me away from him. If your dog or puppy eliminates in the crate, it is not the right tool for you to be using for housetraining, and you may need to consult a professional for additional suggestions.
I don’t have a problem using the crate if the dog needs a bit of quiet time. I’m not a fan of punishment (you know that if you’ve read any of my other articles), but I do utilize consequences: When you do this, something you don’t like happens. A time out, especially if you and the dog are really bonded, can be a very powerful consequence. If the dog or puppy is getting out of control, you can use the crate to give him a bit of quiet time.
Your dog should look at his crate as a sanctuary. Often in the evening after a hard day, my dogs will seek out their crates to rest.
Barbara De Groodt is the owner of From the Heart Animal Behavior Counseling and Dog Training in Salinas, CA and has been an animal behavior counselor for over 30 years. Barbara was one of the original founders of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, APDT (under the guidance of Dr. Ian Dunbar); she’s a professional member of International Association Canine Professionals and several behavior organizations, as well as a certified animal trainer. She is a regular speaker at Western Career College’s Animal Health department and lectures around the world to veterinary groups, law enforcement agencies, trainers and pet owners. From the Heart is located in Salinas, CA. Barb De Groodt can be contacted at (831) 783-0818. www.fromtheheart.info.