When I adopted my first puppy as a child, my whole family worried that almost everything we were doing was wrong. “Should we take him out again?” as I watched him vigorously smell the carpet only 10 minutes after I had just taken him out. “Do you think he’s hungry?” I’d ask since he stood over her just emptied bowl. “Maybe he’ll stop barking if we let him out of the crate,” I would mutter at 1 A.M.
Then I remember that first night we brought him home and tried to be firm by putting him in his crate far away from our rooms only to have his barks break our heart – and most likely anger the neighbors – and soon he ended up, still crated, but next to my bedside, with my finger patting his head every so often through the metal bars of the crate.
Yet soon we discovered that as anxious and uncertain as we felt, the crate eased our stress — as well as the dogs.
Teaching our dog to be in the crate for short periods of time, as well as during the night, helped us potty train our dog rather than watch him constantly like an unpredictable sprinkler system, ensured he was safe when we were gone, and slowly gave him the confidence to peacefully sleep through the night without me petting his head every so often.
Yet as he grew, his crate, which for years had seemed the right and obvious solution, started to become a question mark for us. He was happy nestled on the couch when we were outside, he was most certainly housebroken and had outgrown his curiosity for power cords and houseplants, and while we still used his crate, he didn’t seem to need it like he used to. This led to discoveries on how to crate train a dog, and how to do it properly.
Remember the basics:
Dogs should be crated to provide them with a den environment that they are genetically accustomed to in the wild. Since dogs don’t like to soil their dens, crates can help housebreak a dog. Also, because a dog’s den, or crate, should be a source of comfort and safety for them, it can be a bed for them to go to when they’re tired, the house is chaotic, or a thunderstorm occurs. This element of safety also ensures they stay out of trouble when you’re not home.
A crate is not a babysitter:
Often when people have misguided ideas about crates they can think they are cruel; however, when done properly a crate is just the opposite. A crate is supposed to be a safe and secure place for your pet, as well as a training tool, but in no way a babysitter. Your dog or puppy should be exercised for 30-60 minutes before and after being put in the crate if you will be gone for several hours, and up to 90 minutes before and after a full night in the crate. Additionally, they should first eliminate before being put in the crate, and the crate should have items that will be safe for them and can keep them busy or lull them to sleep, like a Kong filled with peanut butter. Ideally, guiding your pet into their crate with a treat or favorite toy will teach them to go in willingly rather than you picking them up and putting them in the crate.
Don’t lose sight of the purpose of a crate:
As your dog becomes housebroken, trustworthy, and more independent explore leaving them home alone with the crate door open so they can come and go as they please. For their safety, start with an area, such as a crate with a pen around it or a safe room in your house like the bathroom. Even if your dog appears comfortable and trustworthy, be sure there’s nothing they can harm themselves with in the area you leave them, as some dogs can behave differently if they feel anxious when you leave.
Avoid separation anxiety:
Just like when you crate them, don’t make a big deal about your leaving or returning when you leave them home alone. Dogs play on your emotions and if you seem anxious or excited they will adopt those tendencies and develop anxious, and sometimes destructive, tendencies when left alone.
Consider the unique personality of your pet:
Though every dog is different, crating should never be a misused training tool, no matter your pet’s age. Look for signs in your pet of what makes them most comfortable, and what your deem the safest solution, and work toward creating an environment that both remembers this, as well as grows with the maturity of your pet.
Crate training is also a great tool if you ever have to travel or leave for an emergency. With our family dog we learned what not do with crate training and as adults with our own personal dogs we know what to do to make our dogs more comfortable and to love their crate!
A crate isn't a magical solution. If not used correctly, a dog can feel trapped and frustrated.
- Never use the crate as a punishment. Your dog will come to fear it and refuse to enter it.
- Don't leave your dog in the crate too long. A dog that’s crated day and night doesn't get enough exercise or human interaction and can become depressed or anxious. You may have to change your schedule, hire a pet sitter, or take your dog to a doggie daycare facility to reduce the amount of time he must spend in his crate every day.
- Puppies under six months of age shouldn't stay in a crate for more than three or four hours at a time. They can't control their bladders and bowels for that long. The same goes for adult dogs that are being house trained. Physically, they can hold it, but they don’t know they’re supposed to.
- Crate your dog only until you can trust him not to destroy the house. After that, it should be a place he goes voluntarily.
We all wants our pets to be loose in our homes without restrictions and sleeping on the couch when we return, but not all dogs are able to do this. There are some dogs that have to be crated when left alone for the entire life or they will destroy or have accidents in the house. What can make crate training a dog difficult is the unique personality of every dog, yet that is also what makes your pet so special and irreplaceable to you!
For more information on crate training, check out this video on Vetstreet about how to crate train your dog or contact email@example.com!