Why should I crate train my puppy/dog?

The crate is an extremely valuable behavior management tool. It takes much of the pain out of puppy-raising by keeping your pup safely confined when you can’t directly supervise her. Puppies are usually housetrained in a surprisingly short time with the use of a crate, and the crate gives you peace of mind, knowing that your dog isn’t peeing and pooping all over the house, or chewing on electric cords and antique furniture when you’re not there to watch her.

Dogs are den animals, and if properly introduced to the crate, they usually love them. The crate can be your dog’s own portable bedroom, so if you travel, or leave her at a kennel or with a friend, your dog can take her own little piece of home along with her wherever she goes.

Here are some crating tips:

Crates Are Good For:

Housetraining: If it’s done right, crating can make housetraining a snap. Dogs come with a natural aversion to soiling their own dens. Even puppies will try very hard not to eliminate in their crates. Properly done, a puppy’s crate is placed in or just outside the master bedroom, where Buddy has the comfort of his nearby human pack for company, and his humans can hear if Buddy wakes up in the middle of the night and cries to go out. Too often, new dog owners make the huge mistake of putting Buddy’s crate downstairs in the laundry room. The puppy, fresh from the comfort of his mom and littermates, is frightfully lonely and cries his sad little heart out. Finally he does go to sleep, only to wake up at 4:00 a.m. with a full bladder. Now he cries again, desperate to get out and not soil his bed. The owner hears from afar, if at all, curses the noisy puppy and blames the crate for making Buddy cry. Buddy, unable to hold it any longer, finally poops and pees in his crate, then curls up unhappily in the mess. Human finds a filthy crate and puppy in the morning, exiles Buddy to the back yard and sells the crate at the next garage sale. The banished Buddy never learns how to be in the house, and the owner is convinced that crates are horrible.

Owner Peace-Of-Mind: Not only is a properly crated Buddy not pooping and peeing all over the Berber carpeting, he is also not chewing on electrical cords and antique furniture legs. Humans can sleep peacefully at night, or enjoy a leisurely dinner and movie date, without worrying about the mess they will find when they get home. Buddy gets to stay inside, happily nested in his den, rather than pacing the back yard, looking for ways to dig or jump out, barking at squirrels and disturbing the neighbors.

Protecting Buddy: Your relatives are coming over for dinner. As much as you love your dear sister, her children are little hellions who love to torment poor Buddy. For his own safety, you invite Buddy to escape to his crate before the kids arrive, give him a stuffed Kong toy to keep him occupied, and return to dinner preparations, secure in knowing that he is out of harm’s way behind your closed bedroom door.

Protecting the Kids: Unfortunately, Buddy’s prior bad experiences with your sister’s kids have left him with a definite aversion to small humans. Although your best friend’s kids are exceptionally well-behaved and love dogs, you just don’t trust Buddy around them. She’s on her way over for coffee with her youngest child, so once again Buddy escapes to his crate. (Meanwhile, you make a mental note to contact a positive dog behavior counselor so you can overcome Buddy’s fear of children while he is still a pup.)

Safe Traveling: There’s no arguing that a dog in a crate in a car is safer for all concerned than a loose dog in a car. Loose dogs can cause traffic accidents. Even if the dog doesn’t cause the accident, a loose dog becomes a dangerous flying missile in a car that stops suddenly for any reason. If windshields are broken out in an accident, a loose dog can escape onto the highway and cause another accident there, or vanish into the wilds of unknown territory. If the dog remains loose in the car, he can be a serious deterrent to emergency personnel if he tries to protect his injured human from their rescue efforts. Safely confined to a crate, his chances of contributing to or being injured in an accident are greatly reduced.

Hassle-Free Travel: Many hotels and motels are much more amenable to allowing Buddy to stay in their rooms with you if you assure them that he will be crated. Friends and family, too, may be relieved to know that your canine pal is safely crated and not making midnight raids on the refrigerator (or the cat) while everyone is sleeping. Easier on Buddy, too, when he can take his own portable bedroom with him wherever he goes – even if he gets left at home in the boarding kennel while you visit the family.

Training/Time Outs: The crate is a perfect training tool for giving Buddy temporary time-outs in order to discourage inappropriate behavior. A time-out is not physical punishment. We don’t yell at Buddy, tell him he’s a bad dog and throw him into the crate. Instead, we use it for what trainers call negative punishment – the dog’s behavior makes something good, in this case, Buddy’s freedom, go away. Properly used, a time-out involves the use of a marker word or phrase such as “Oops! Too bad!,” uttered in an upbeat tone of voice at the moment of unacceptable behavior (such as uncontrolled biting, or jumping up on the counter) to let Buddy know what the time-out is for. Then Buddy is gently escorted to his crate for a brief time-out. Once he settles down, he is released again and given the opportunity to keep his freedom by behaving well.

Crates are Not Good For:

Physical or Verbal Punishment: A crate is Buddy’s safe haven. He should never be punished while he is in his crate. Children and adults should not be allowed to tease or torment him when he is crated.

Long-Term Confinement: Buddy should not regularly be left in his crate for longer than four to six hours at a time, even shorter when he is a very young puppy. He gets very little mental or physical stimulation in his crate, and needs to be able to get out to stretch his mind and his muscles from time-to-time, to say nothing of emptying his bladder and bowels. Regular crating for periods of eight hours or longer could constitute abuse, and might induce Buddy to break housetraining. If a dog is regularly forced to soil his own den, he can eventually lose the instinct to keep his house clean and may be extremely difficult if not impossible to housetrain. Life in a box is not an acceptable life for a dog.

A Substitute For Training: While it is perfectly acceptable to crate Buddy in order to prevent him from climbing into guests’ laps during dinner, the ultimate goal is to teach him to be well behaved so he doesn’t have to be crated when company comes over. This means that you have to take the time and make the effort to teach him good manners, so that his crate time diminishes as he matures and learns to control his own behavior. Training classes offered by a skilled positive trainer are the ideal place to work on Buddy’s good manners in the company of other dogs and humans.

How to Crate Train

The crate is a sturdy plastic, fiberglass, wood, metal or wire box just big enough for Buddy to stand up, turn around and lie down in comfortably. It can be used with the door open, at Buddy’s convenience, or with the door closed, when mandatory confinement is called for. Some pups walk right into their crates and hang up a “Home Sweet Home” sign. Others need a little more coaxing. Even adult dogs with prior bad experiences can learn to love their crates, if we take it slow and make it positive.

Remember that the crate should be just large enough for Buddy to stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably. He doesn’t need to be able to play football in it. If you want to get one large enough for your puppy to grow into, block off the back so he has just enough room, and increase the space as he grows. Cover the floor of the crate with a rug or soft pad to make it comfortable and inviting, and you’re ready to begin training.

Start with the crate door open, and toss some irresistibly yummy treats inside. If Buddy is hesitant to go in after them, toss them close enough to the doorway that he can stand outside and just poke his nose in the crate to eat them. If you are training with a clicker or other reward marker, each time Buddy eats a treat, Click! the clicker (or say “Yes!” if you are using a verbal marker).

Gradually toss the treats farther and farther into the crate until he is stepping inside to get them. Continue to Click! each time he eats a treat. When Buddy is entering the crate easily to get the treats, Click! and offer him a treat while he is still inside. If he is willing to stay inside, keep clicking and treating. If he comes out that’s okay too, just toss another treat inside and wait for him to re-enter. Don’t try to force him to stay in the crate.

When he is entering the crate to get the treat without hesitation, you can start using a verbal cue such as “Go to bed” as Buddy goes in, so that you will eventually be able to send him into his crate on just a verbal cue.
When he is happily staying in the crate in anticipation of a Click! and treat, gently swing the door closed. Don’t latch it! Click! and treat, then open the door. Repeat this step, gradually increasing the length of time the door stays closed before you Click! Sometimes you can Click! and reward without opening the door right away.

When Buddy is staying in the crate with the door closed for at least ten seconds without any signs of anxiety, close the door, latch it, and take one step away from the crate. Click!, return to the crate, reward, and open the door. Repeat this step, varying the time and distance you leave the crate. Don’t always make it longer and farther – intersperse long ones with shorter ones, so it doesn’t always get harder and harder for him. Start increasing the number of times you Click! and treat without opening the door, but remember that a Click! or a “Yes!” always gets a treat.

It’s a good idea to leave the crate open when you aren’t actively training. Toss treats and Buddy’s favorite toys in the crate when he’s not looking, so he never knows what wonderful surprises he might find there. You can even feed him his meals in the crate – with the door open – to help him realize that his crate is a truly wonderful place.

Sometimes dogs and often puppies can do the whole crate training program in one day. Some will take several days, and a few will take weeks or more. If at any time during the program your dog whines or fusses about being in the crate, don’t let him out until he stops crying!!!!!! This is one of the biggest mistake owners make when crate training! Instead, wait for a few seconds of quiet, then Click! and reward. Then back up a step or two in the training program. When Buddy is doing well at that level again, increase the difficulty in smaller increments, and vary the times rather than constantly making it harder. For example, instead of going from five seconds to ten to fifteen, start with five seconds, then seven, then three, then eight, then six, then four, then eight, and so on. This is a vital part of a successful crate training program. If you let Buddy out when he is fussing, you will teach him that fussing gets him free. If, however, he panics to the point of risking injury to himself, you must let him out. You may have a dog with a Separation Anxiety challenge. (A crate is generally not recommended for dogs with Separation Anxiety, since they tend to panic in close confinement. If you believe your dog has a Separation Anxiety problem, stop the crate training and consult a behaviorist or a trainer who has experience with this behavior.)

Once Buddy is crate trained, you have a valuable behavior management tool for life. Respect it. If you abuse it by keeping Buddy confined too much, for too long a period of time, or by using it as punishment, he may learn to dislike it. Even though he goes to bed willingly and on cue, reward him often enough to keep the response happy and quick. Keep your verbal “Go To Bed” cue light and happy. Don’t ever let anyone tease or punish him in his crate.