HOW TO CRATE TRAIN A DOG: TIPS & TRICKS
Think of your dog’s crate as his den: it’s how he views it, if you’ve introduced him to it properly. And were he still wandering around in the wild, his den is where he’d sleep, hide from danger, and raise his family. In short, he sees his den as his refuge.
Your domestic dog is not wandering around in the wild as his ancestors did, but he is still a dog. Left to his own devices there’s a good chance he’d make fast work of your belongings: furniture, books, shoes, small electronics—anything with a satisfying rip or crunch to it, especially if he is still a puppy or even an anxious adolescent or adult dog who is new to your family.
When push comes to shove, we must train domestic dogs how not to be dogs when we invite them to live with us. The dog crate is an excellent tool for helping your canine companion understand the house rules. And if he is not yet trained to eliminate outside, the proper use of a crate will help you teach him.
You’ll finally know you have succeeded when the dog crate is integrated into your home like any other fixture: it will be the place your dog voluntarily spends some amount of each day seeking out comfort and solitude, or where he goes contentedly and willingly when you ask him.
CRATE TRAINING GUIDELINES: A Few Basic Rules
If your dog’s crate is his refuge, it emphatically is not his prison. The crate should never be used for punishment or prolonged confinement to make your own life easier. Dog ownership is big work, and the crate is not a handy place to tuck him when he gets in the way. He loves you unconditionally, and crating him for punishment or convenience is confusing to him, and potentially harmful to his physical and mental well-being.
Likewise, a dog with serious separation anxiety should not be crated. If you believe your dog suffers from separation anxiety, consult a behaviorist for treatment before you undertake a crate training regimen. And never crate train a dog who is sick, for example, vomiting or experiencing bouts of diarrhea. Wait until he is well to begin.
Do crate train a healthy puppy or adult dog who is new to your home, keeping in mind two important ideas:
When you practice these two principles, your dog or puppy stands a greater chance of viewing his crate as the source of solace it should be for him.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT DOG CRATE
Metal wire dog crates are popular because they are durable and often collapsible. Many of them also include dividers, allowing you to adapt the crate’s interior size for a puppy, removable when the dog reaches maturity.
The crate should be sized so that your dog can:
If you place your new puppy in a crate that is too large (without an interior divider), she may eliminate in one end of the crate and retreat to the other end. This will defeat the purpose of using the crate for house training. A dog will generally avoid soiling her sleeping area, so a properly-sized crate is crucial.
CRATE TRAINING YOUR DOG: LET’S GET STARTED
You will find online crate training guides from reliable and trustworthy resources in just a few clicks. The Humane Society of the United States has published some excellent crate training tips here. Generally speaking, these guidelines assume you have the luxury of time to devote to this undertaking.
If your lifestyle does not allow for a long-term approach to crate training, consider an abridged method you can undertake over the course of a weekend. Before starting, remember the two ideas of gradual training (even in the abridged version), and above all, patience.
Because she can’t yet use her crate, your new puppy or untrained adult dog will also need her own space in your house where she can’t hurt herself or damage your belongings. Set up a safe, clean dog zone in your kitchen, laundry room, or mud room, or other easy-to-clean area. Pick up objects she can reach, and make the space comfortable for her: in other words, dog-proof the room. Use a dog gate to separate her from the rest of your house.
Then choose a spot for her crate in the room you and other members of your family will spend much of your time during the weekend: the den or the family room are ideal. Make her crate comfortable; place a soft blanket or some towels inside, and maybe even toss in a shirt you’ve worn recently, a reassuring reminder of you. Cover the crate with a towel or blanket to make it more den-like.
CRATE TRAINING SCHEDULE
Friday Afternoon and Evening
Repeat this exercise ten times, and then take a half-hour break. Repeat it ten times again.
For the rest of the weekend you will engage your dog in similar exercises using the same pattern of repetition with gathering intensity until Sunday night, when she is able to stay crated for an hour while you and your family leave the house. When she stumbles, it is a signal she is not ready for the next step. Your best strategy always is going back and repeating the last exercise until she gains enough confidence to move on.
2. As before, prepare some treats, sit by the crate, and call your puppy over. As a warm-up to this exercise, repeat the first exercise using the treat toss a couple of times. Now you will cue her to go in, but this time don’t let go of the treat—keep it inside your fisted hand with your finger pointed to indicate where you want her to go. When she goes into her crate, give her the treat, praise her, give her one more treat, and then the release to come out: “okay!” Repeat this exercise ten times, give her a half-hour break, and repeat it ten times again.
2. Over the course of the afternoon continue with the same exercise, remembering to take breaks after each set of ten. Try to work up to one minute with the crate door closed, but not latched.
When she whines, try one of these strategies:
Throughout the afternoon repeat the exercise, gradually working up to a full hour of crate time without your presence.
Repeat this exercise as much as you can until bedtime, taking breaks between each session. Try to work up to an hour or two of crate time alone in the house.
CRATE TRAINING PROBLEM SOLVING
In addition to adhering to the principles of gradual training and a patient approach, you must remain strong and consistent when your pup pushes the envelope:
SOME TAIL-END ADVICE ABOUT CRATE TRAINING
Each of these is symptomatic of problems you must address before you can begin crate training.
Remember that you can wipe the slate clean and start from the beginning if necessary. When you take the right approach to training, your dog will enjoy his crate as his own reassuring space for his lifetime.
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