Crate training is more than a fad. It’s a safe and effective way to house train both puppies and adults dogs. Done properly, crate training not only makes your home a puddle-free zone, it also gives your dog a place to call his own. Here’s what you need to know:
Crate Training 101 Infographic
Here’s a quick rundown of best practices when it comes to crate training.
Why does crate training work?
Like their wild cousins, dogs are born with an instinct to establish a den. The small space helps them feel comfortable and secure.
Crate training works by tapping into your dog’s natural tendency to resist soiling their den. Keeping your dog in a crate between trips outside until he’s fully housetrained ensures that any “mistakes” won’t be interpreted as an acceptable area to eliminate in.
Isn’t keeping my dog in a crate cruel?
It’s only natural to worry, but it’s far from cruel… Though it is important that you use them properly! While owners tend to anthropomorphize — attribute human feelings to their pets — dogs see things differently.
Not only will crate training eliminate the unnecessary frustration of housebreaking for both of you, it provides the consistent routine dogs thrive on while giving them a safe place to rest, free from household stress.
How does it work?
The rule is simple. Until housetraining is complete, when the good canine housemate-in-training isn’t under your direct supervision, he should be in his crate. Doing this creates a situation in which you are always there to provide immediate feedback on the dog’s behavior (1).
This is critical because your dog doesn’t know the difference between good and bad behavior until you teach him. Bad behavior that isn’t promptly corrected sends the signal that it’s acceptable.
Puppies should be in their crate for no longer than a few hours at a time because they can’t control the need to eliminate for longer than that. Adults can handle longer periods without peeing as long as they have plenty of opportunity for exercise daily. Four hours during the day and overnight is a good guideline.
Never use the crate as a form of punishment. It will be an effective tool only as long as it is pleasant for both of you.
What kind of crate should I purchase?
A crate should be just large enough for your dog to comfortably stand, turn around and lay down in. An oversized crate may encourage the dog to sleep on one end and eliminate in the other.
Crates with adjustable panels can be purchased to allow room for growth, or choose a model that will fit the dog’s adult size and put a box or other safe barrier in one end to cut down the available area.
Crates come in many styles from open, airy wire cages to those with semi-solid walls for traveling. Some of the best dog crates are even designed to be escape-proof for the more mischievous rascals. It may be tempting to think an open model is preferable, but if your dog is fearful of thunder or gets anxious with too much visual stimulus, a semi-solid model is a comforting choice.
How do I get my dog used to the crate?
Dogs prefer snug spaces for their dens, but don’t appreciate being forced into it. The trick is to make it a consistently pleasant experience.
For new puppies, make it the very first destination when introducing him to his new home. It may take more convincing when crate training an older dog, but don’t let that deter you. With a little bit of forethought, you can set yourself up for crate training success when working with just about any dog.
A good strategy is to make it comfortable and encourage him to enter with gentle coaxing. Add a toy or small treat for enticement. One benefit to some semi-solid crates is that the top can be removed. Introducing an adult dog to an open crate is less restrictive. Add the top once they’re lying down and comfortable.
Remember that adult dogs may have previous training to overcome. They have likely been in several different environments before landing in their new home and may have been trained to go in the house on newspaper or training pads. Be patient, but consistent.
Should I put food and water in the crate?
Food and water are best added to the crate only after the dog is comfortable with its use. For adults, water should always be available. For puppies, only if they will be in the crate for more than a few hours. Choose non-tip bowls to avoid accidents and wet, uncomfortable bedding.
For adults, food can be fed in or outside the crate. For puppies, feed outside the crate and use an automatic dog feeder with a timer to ensure that they stick to a regular schedule.
How long will crate training take?
For general elimination training, it may take a few days to a several months for your dog to get the hang of it. When you feel like it’s mission accomplished, slowly increase the amount of time your dog spends outside the crate.
For issue like destructive behavior, the crate may be a permanent and lifesaving part of your relationship with your dog. Consistent reinforcement is always the key to success.
How do I handle whining?
Whining can signal the need for a trip outdoors and should be taken seriously. However, some dogs may whine in their crate for attention. Giving in will reinforce the behavior, so offer gentle reassurance, but stick to the schedule.
My dog eliminates in the crate.
The crate may be too large. Try sizing down the available area. Be sure your dog is going out enough. Dogs hate to eliminate in their den, but will if they can’t hold it any longer.
My dog loves his crate until I close the door.
Get him used to it by closing the door for a minute or two at a time and building from there. Sit by the door and provide reassurance.
My dog was trained, but now eliminates on the floor!
Breaks in housetraining happen for many reasons. Start the process over and continue following the same routine for several weeks after your dog is mistake-free.
What makes crate training so effective is that it honors both your needs and your dogs. Let patience be your guide and you will enjoy a long and happy relationship together.