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Dog Training

Crate Training Your Dog

Picture of a Labrador in a crate

Crate training is a popular and beneficial tool for both dogs and their owners.  When begun in puppyhood, it is a powerful way to keep your puppy safe when you are unable to be there to actively supervise him. Though some would say it is cruel to confine an animal intended to be free, it is far wiser to restrict their access to hazardous things by keeping them in a confined area designed for their comfort than to leave them to their own devices. 

Why use a crate?

Dogs, by nature, are animals that like to live in dens.  These dens provided a sense of shelter and safety for dogs in the wild and were a necessary part of their survival strategy.  Since wild dogs had to hunt in order to provide ample food supply for them and the members of their pack, they were placed in the role as hunters set to the task of gathering prey.  However, they were not merely hunters in the wild; they were also potential prey to predators.  A den afforded the wild dog the opportunity to rest hidden from sight. Since these dens were often encased in earth, they also had the added advantage of camouflaging their unique “scent”.

But dens served a greater purpose for these dogs as well.  When a mother dog gave birth to puppies, she would need a place that was secure and warm to leave her young while she went out to procure food.  Nestled safely in their den, the puppies were out of plain sight of any animals on the hunt for their next meal.  These shelters also provided a safe location for an animal to recover from an injury.

Though our modern dogs have no need to fear for their safety, the instinct to “nest” in a space that is uniquely theirs, and that provides warmth and shelter is still very much alive in our dogs.  A crate can fulfill this role.

Feeling comfortable in a crate is a useful skill for other areas of our dogs’ lives as well.  Pets often need to travel in crates for safety when along on a journey with you.

At some point in your dog’s life, he will need to visit a veterinarian, and if he requires surgery, he will need to spend some recovery time in a crate at the vet until he is cleared to come home to you.  Other dogs will succumb to injury or illness and will need to be confined to a crate until they are feeling well again.

Crates are also an integral part of dog performance sports.  Dogs who compete in events such as conformation, Rally, Obedience, and Agility need to learn to patiently wait their turn in their crates. 

How you can teach your dog to love his crate

Ideally, crate training begins in the breeder’s home in the early weeks of your puppy’s life.  Unfortunately, not all puppies receive this foundation, but that’s okay.  Crate training is a useful skill that can be taught at any time!

Here are some tips to help you teach your puppy that his crate is a great place to be:

Keep it positive.
Dogs respond especially well to training that is positive and rewards-based.  It is no different with crate training.  If your dog begins to see his crate as the place where good things happen, he will be only too happy to go in there.

If at all possible, make going to the crate your dog’s choice.  You want your dog to see it as a place that he GETS to go, not a place that he HAS to go.  Over time, you want it to be something that he will eventually gravitate towards because he associates it with feelings of safety and security.

Many dogs actually come to love their crates and will choose to rest in there over climbing up on your couch!

Make it fun.
No dog is going to want to spend time in his crate if there is nothing to do in there.  You want to start by making his crate a place that is appealing and fun.  This is where you can get creative.

Many online companies and pet stores sell beautiful and comfortable crate liners or beds.  Many of them can even be embroidered with Fido’s name on them and in the colors he “likes” for added customization.

You want your dog’s “den” to be comfortable, but you also don’t want too much stuff in there.  Make certain that whatever lines the bottom of the crate is soft and comfortable as well as easy to clean in case of accidents.

Most people like to include a blanket or two as well since dogs enjoy contributing to their “nest” by circling and digging until their blankets are aligned “correctly”.  Microfleece is a great choice for blankets for dogs.  Care must be taken if you are placing blankets in with puppies as they can sometimes chew and eat portions of them.

Lastly, a favourite toy or chew will help alleviate any boredom if you are planning to be away for longer than half an hour.  Normally, your dog will fall asleep after a short amount of time in his crate, but you do want to provide something that will keep his mind engaged during any time he has to spend in there.

For an added level of “protection”, you can ever cover the crate with a blanket or towel, so your dog gets that extra cozy feeling. This will often help to quiet dogs who start to protest when initially placed in their crate.  

Start with short stints.
When beginning crate training, keep the time your dog spends in their very short.  Ten minutes is best to begin with.  As your dog becomes more comfortable spending time in his crate, you can begin to increase the length of time he spends in there but always bear in mind his comfort level and do not push him beyond what he is ready for, or he will regress in his training.

When increasing duration, you can help ease the transition by providing an exceptionally yummy bone or a Kong filled with peanut butter for Fido to enjoy.  He will start to learn that when he is in his crate for longer periods of time, he gets something extra special as a reward.  This will help immeasurably.

Crate training through the night is also a great way to get your dog used to the crate and to prevent house training accidents.

Be patient.
Always remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day.  You will need to exercise patience in crate training.

Refuse to be manipulated by pathetic pleas for early release.  If you do, your dog will soon learn that all it takes is some whining, barking, or crying, and you will give in—a fact you will soon deeply regret!  But at the same time, do not push your dog into emotional distress.  Let his comfort guide the length of your sessions, always err on the side of caution, and be patient as you both go through the learning process. 

Use your crate to train other things.
Your crate can be used to train a number of things.  Many trainers use it to help teach impulse control or other important canine skills.  If done as a game, your dog will soon learn to enjoy it.  Professional dog trainer Leslie McDevitt’s Control Unleashed and Susan Garrett’s Crate Training Games are great resources for teaching different skills that involve the use of a crate. Online retailers Clean Run and Dogwise offer a large selection of DVDs, Videos on Demand, and books to assist you in your training efforts.

Crates are also invaluable tools for house training.  Accidents happen when you can’t be there to supervise your puppy.  Since dogs do not like to mess where they live, using a crate will help to teach them that there are appropriate places to do their business, and their crate and your house are not among them!

Yes, crate training can be a wonderful thing, and contrary to popular belief, it can enrich Fido’s life!  Pick up a few training DVDs, outfit Fido’s crate, and have some fun learning this great new skill.

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