Whether you have just brought home a new puppy for the holidays (a well thought out family decision, I hope!), you have decided to adopt a pup in need, or you have a dog who has been with you for awhile, crate training can be an invaluable asset to keep the sanity for both you and your dog in your home.
Though some people may claim that crate training is inhumane, when done properly, dogs enjoy their crates just as we enjoy spending time in our own beds. They give dogs a safe space to be alone and decompress. They offer dogs a spot to call their own, to eat in peace, and to have a spot to go when they cannot be under their person’s feet. Here are three simple steps to get you started on the right path to crate training!
1. Get the right size crate!
This is an extremely important point. If you have a large dog, it is unfair to ask them to spend several hours in a cramped, tight space. Similarly, if you have a small dog, giving them too large a space does not encourage the relaxed, cave-like atmosphere that a crate can create.
As a rule of thumb, your dog should be able to stand in his crate without ducking his head, should be able to turn around comfortably, and should be able to lie down without being cramped. Many pet stores will let you bring your dog to try out crate sizes, but if that’s not possible, measure your dog from nose to the base of his tail, and from the top of his head to the floor. That way you will know to add several inches in each direction for your dog’s comfort. Provide plenty of blankets and beds for your dog to snuggle in, but be careful if you have a breed that is prone to ingest things they shouldn’t.
2. Use food!
When I start my puppies out in their crates, that is where they are fed. I carry their food bowl to the crate, and they have to go in before they get their breakfast and dinner. If your dog is reluctant to step inside, consider putting their food at the back of their crate so they have to go in to reach it, or toss a treat in for them to follow, and then give them their dish.
When it is not feeding time, send your dog to his crate periodically by showing him a treat, and tossing it to the back with your command. I use, “Go kennel,” but others will use things like “Go to your room,” “Go to bed,” or “Crate time.” Choose what works best for you.
3. Use it wisely!
Consider your dog’s crate to be similar to a child’s room. It is a place they can go when they need to be alone, and a safe space to be undisturbed. It can also act as an appropriate Time Out space if your dog is being unmanageable or out of control in the house. However, dogs were not made to spend the majority of their time in their crates. Try to limit their crate time to times when they would usually be sleeping anyways.
This is how I do it at my house:
My dogs are crated when I am not at home. This prevents any house-training accidents, counter surfing, and other behaviors that need to be corrected.
When I am at home, my dogs have plenty of outside play time. When it is time to come inside, they are welcome to spend time loose in the house with me. If they are acting wild (my young dog especially likes to try to wrestle in the living room), I will either send them back outside, or I will put them in the crate until they are calm again.
Before bed, I feed my dogs in their crates. My young dogs who need supervision stay in their crates until morning. My older dogs I let loose to spend the night loafing on dog beds around the house.