All pet owners want their furry friends to be happy and well-behaved. While there is no magic formula for instantly training a pet, crate training is a key when it comes to achieving a peaceful home environment for both you and your dog. A crate is also a safe way to transport your dog. If he’s learned to think of it as a safe space, he’ll be more likely to cooperate and get into the crate when necessary.
A common misconception is that crate training is cruel, leaving dogs feeling isolated and neglected. However, this is simply not the case. Dogs instinctively seek den-like spaces as protective shelters, and a crate can give your dog a sense of security and teach independence; it can also come in handy for calming anxiety in especially stressful moments.
Choosing the Right Crate
There are a variety of crates to choose from: plastic or wire, enclosed or more open, small or large. Dogs that like to sleep in the dark may prefer a kennel or airline crate, while dogs that don’t want to feel too left out may prefer a more open, wire crate.
The ideal crate should be large enough that your pup can stand up and turn around, but not large enough that he would be able to pee or poop and comfortably avoid the mess he made—part of crate training is encouraging housebreaking, since a dog wouldn’t want to soil his own space.
Crate training can be done with dogs of all ages. If you begin crate training with a puppy, it’s okay to purchase a crate based on how big he’ll get as an adult. Use a divider to provide the right amount of space, and modify as needed while your pup grows up.
Crate Training Tips
Crate training can take up to six months depending on your dog’s history and temperament, so prepare to be patient while you and your dog adjust. Take breaks when needed, especially since the crate should never be associated with stress and tension. Proper crate training should be done in a series of small steps:
1. Introduce your dog to the crate.
Put the crate in a common area of the home, such as the living room. Make it comfortable by adding a blanket or soft towel, and then remove the door so your pup can explore the crate on his own terms. If he isn’t interested in entering, encourage him by speaking in a happy tone of voice and maybe even placing some treats or a favorite toy into the crate. The amount of time it takes for your dog to become comfortable with the crate could take anywhere between a few minutes to several days.
2. Feed your dog in the crate.
Once your dog becomes acquainted with the crate, you can begin regularly feeding him in or near the crate to ensure a positive association. If he’s eagerly entering the crate, set the food all the way to the back; if he’s still reluctant, put the dish closer to the entrance and gradually push it further back as he becomes more comfortable over time.
3. Build trust between you and your dog.
This isn’t just about your dog and his crate—it’s about your role, too. Your dog needs to know that when he’s alone in his crate, he isn’t being abandoned. Once your dog is comfortably eating in the crate, start to close the door during meals. Start by only keeping the door closed while he’s eating, and then gradually keep the door closed for a few minutes afterward until your pup is comfortable staying in the crate for about 10 minutes after eating.
Once your dog is comfortable staying in the crate for short periods of time, practice with longer crating periods, not only at meal times. Call him over to the crate, give a command such as “crate,” and then give him some praise and a treat. Close the door, sit quietly next to the crate for a few minutes, and then briefly go into another room. Return, sit quietly again, and then let your dog out. Repeat this process regularly, gradually increasing the length of time that you are in a different room.
If your dog starts whining or crying to be let out, you may have increased the time too abruptly. Don’t let him out right away, or he’ll learn that whining is an appropriate method of getting his way. Instead, just shorten the length of time the next time you “disappear.”
4. Crate your dog when you leave
Once your dog is comfortable being left alone in his crate for about half an hour while you’re in another room, you can begin leaving him in the crate while you leave the house for short periods of time.
Establish a routine that indicates to your dog that you’re getting ready to leave, so the crate and your absence don’t come as a shock. Have your dog enter the crate 5-20 minutes before you leave, and let him out as soon as you return. However, don’t limit crating to times that you’re gone—continue to crate your pup while you’re home, too, so he doesn’t associate it with being left alone.
Crate your dog until he can be trusted alone in the house without bathroom incidents or destructive behaviors, but never keep your dog in the crate for too long (especially not for longer than he can control his bladder). Sufficient exercise and social interaction is crucial for dogs, and crating too long can lead to anxiety and depression.
Ideally, creating will also ease the anxiety of otherwise potentially stressful scenarios such as car rides, vet visits, thunderstorms, and fireworks. Pet Honesty’s Hemp Calming Chews can also act as a supplement to ease your dog’s anxiety.
Never use the crate as punishment. It should always be associated with safety and security, so continue to create positive associations with the crate by making sure it’s a comfortable, accessible space that your pooch can retreat to whenever he needs a safe space.