Crate training your dog can take some time and effort, but is helpful in preventing separation anxiety and helping with house breaking. The crate can be used when you have a new dog or puppy to eliminate their access around the house until they learn the house rules, like things they can and cannot chew on and where they can and cannot eliminate. The crate is also a safe way to transport your dog in the car. If your dog is trained properly using the crate, it will be their safe place and will be happy spending time in it.
Selecting a Crate
Crates come in different sizes as well as styles. They can be metal pens or plastic, which are often called “flight kennels.” Crates can be purchased at most pet supply stores. The size of the crate should be just big enough for them to stand up and turn around.
The Training Process
Crate training can take days to weeks, depending on the dog’s age, temperament and past experiences. The crate should always be associated with something pleasant, and training should take place in several steps. We recommend starting your pup as soon as possible at around 8 weeks of age.
Step 1: Introducing Your Dog to the Crate
The crate should be in an area of the house where the family spends a lot of time, such as the family room. Add a soft blanket or towel in the crate. Bring your dog over to the crate and talk to them in a happy tone of voice. The crate door should be securely fastened opened so it will not hit your dog and frighten them.
Put some small food treats near, just inside the door and all the way in the crate to encourage your dog to enter it. If he refuses to go all the way into the crate, it is okay, but do not force them to enter. Toss treats into the crate until your dog walks calmly all the way into the crate. If they are not interested in treats, try to toss their favorite toy into the crate. This could take a few minutes or as long as several days.
Step 2: Feeding Your Dog’s Meal in the Crate
Once the crate is introduced to your dog, you can start feeding their regular meals near the crate. By doing so, it will create a pleasant association with the crate. If your dog is readily entering the crate by the time you are starting Step 2, you can put their food dish all the way into the crate. If your dog is still reluctant to enter the crate, only put the food dish as far as they will go into the crate without becoming fearful or anxious. Place the food dish further back each time you feed them.
When you dog is standing comfortably in the crate to eat their meal, you can close the door while they are eating. Open the door as soon as they finish eating their meal. After each feeding, keep the door closed longer each time until they can stay in the crate for ten minutes or so after eating. If your dog begins to whine while in the crate, you may have increased the length of time too quickly. Try to leave them in the crate for a shorter period next time. If your dog does whine or cry in the crate, it is imperative that you not let them out until they stop. Otherwise, they will learn that whining or crying will get them out of the crate.
Step 3: Conditioning Your Dog to the Crate for Longer Time Periods
When you dog is eating regular meals in the crate with no signs of fear or anxiety, you can confine them to the crate for short periods while you are home. Call your dog over to the crate and give them a treat. Use a command to have them enter the crate, such as “kennel up.” Using a treat, point to the inside of the crate and use the command. After your dog has entered the crate, praise them, give them a treat and close the door. Remain quietly near the crate for five to ten minutes and then go into another room for a few minutes. Then return back to the room the crate is in and sit quietly there for a few minutes and then let them out. Repeat this process over the next couple of days. Gradually increase the time you leave them in the crate with each repetition. After your dog can stay quietly in the crate for about 30 minutes with you out of sight, you can start leaving them crated when you are gone for a short period of time and/or letting them sleep in the crate at night. This process could take several days to several weeks.
Step 4: Part A – Crating Your Dog When Left Along
Once your dog is able to stay in the crate for 30 minutes without being anxious or afraid, you can begin leaving him crated for short periods while you are not home. Use the regular command and give them a treat as you put them in the crate. You will want to vary when you put your dog in the crate during your “getting ready to leave” routine. You will want to crate them anywhere from five to 20 minutes before leaving. Do not prolong or make the departures emotional. Briefly praise your dog, give them a treat as they are entering the crate and then leave quietly. Once you returned home, do not reward your dog for excited behavior by responding to him in an excited, enthusiastic way. Low key arrivals are best. Remember to crate your dog while you are home periodically so that they do not associate crating with being left alone.
Step 4: Part B – Crating Your Dog at Night
Use your regular command and treat to put them in the crate. Initially, it might be a good idea to have the crate near or in your bedroom, especially if you have a puppy. You will be able to hear your puppy whine/cry if they need to go outside during the middle of the night. Older dogs should initially be kept near your bedroom as well so they do not associate crating with social isolation. After your dog is sleeping comfortably through the night with the crate near you, you can gradually move it to the location you would prefer.
Too Much Time in the Crate
The crate is not a magical solution. Your dog can feel trapped and frustrated if it is not used correctly. An example would be if you crate your dog all day while you are at work and then crate them again all night. Your dog is spending too much time in too small of a place. You will need to change your arrangements to accommodate his physical and emotional needs. Puppies under six months of age should not stay in a crate for more than three or four hours at a time. They cannot control their bowels and bladders for long periods of time.
If your dog is whining or crying while in the crate at night, it can be hard to decide whether it is because they need to go outside to eliminate or they want to be let out of the crate. If you have followed the training procedures as outlined, you have not rewarded your puppy for whining and crying. It is important to try to ignore the whining. Pounding on the crate or yelling at them will only make things worse. After ignoring them for several minutes and the whining has continued, use the phrase you use when they go outside to eliminate. If your puppy responds and becomes excited, let them out to eliminate outside. The purpose of this trip is to eliminate, not to play. If you are convinced that your dog does not need to eliminate, ignore them until they have stopped whining. It is important not to give in because you will teach your dog to whine loud and long to get what they want. You will be less likely to encounter this if you have progressed gradually through the training steps and have not done them too fast. The training process will need to be started over if it becomes too unmanageable.
Using the crate as a remedy for separation anxiety will not solve the problem. It may prevent your dog from being destructive, but they may injure themselves. Separation anxiety problems can only be resolved with counter-conditioning and desensitization procedures. Consulting a professional animal behaviorist may be something to concern if you are dealing with separation anxiety.