YOU WANT ME TO DO WHAT?! PUT MY DOG IN A CAGE?!! HOW CRUEL!!
Cruel? NO. Done properly, crate training can be the answer to many problems faced by dogs and their owners.
Dogs have a natural instinct that they inherited from their ancestors, the wolf. Wolves find a small cave, or dig themselves one and this is where they sleep, rest and just “hang out.” It is home. Providing your dog with a crate satisfies his desire to den. No one is going to yell at him for doing something wrong while he is in his crate. No one is going to step on his tail, trip over him or pull on his ears. It is easier to teach small children to stay away from the dog while he is in his crate than it is to yell “LEAVE THE DOG ALONE” every couple of minutes.
FIRST, WHAT IS A CRATE?
A crate is an indoor dog house, with a door. It is big enough for your dog to easily stand up, turn around and lie down in. This “indoor dog house” is placed in a much used area of your house such as the living room or kitchen during the day. At night, the crate should be moved to an occupied corner of a bedroom. It can be made of plastic, wire, wood or a combination of all three. It is a place for your dog to relax in when no one is around to make sure Rover is staying out of trouble. It is your dog’s space in your house. It is his bed (or room) and sanctuary; it is his.
WHY CRATE TRAIN?
Many people crate train their dog for the simple reason that the dog can do no wrong while he is in his crate. Your dog can’t piddle on the rug, harass the mailman, chew on the furniture, get into the trash or eat your children’s hamster.
He learns to relax and go to sleep while you are away. This in effect is teaching him good habits...SLEEP while his family is away. And while he sleeps, you can go shopping, visit friends, run errands or take in a movie and not have to worry about what kind of shape the house is going to be in when you get home. You put your dog in his crate, shut the door and leave for a few hours, knowing that when you return it will be a happy reunion and not a one-sided yelling match, with your dog cringing in the corner.
BUT WHAT ABOUT EXERCISE? I THOUGHT A DOG NEEDED FREEDOM TO RUN AROUND. WON’T MY DOG BE CRAMPED IN SUCH SMALL QUARTERS?!
NO. Before putting your dog in his crate each day before you go to work or go off for a couple of hours to run errands, you will have made sure he has had a good exercise session with you. Remember, you won’t be putting your dog there forever. Four or five hours while you go shopping, or overnight so you can sleep without having to worry about what your dog is doing is fine.
He will not have to spend every day of life in his crate anyway. Just until he outgrows that puppy destructive stage, or until you teach him your household rules or until he adjusts to living with you (especially in the case if you have adopted a shelter dog). Your dog will actually enjoy being in crate after you have taught him that it is his “room.”
For longer periods of time (generally anything over eight hours during the day), your adult dog should be confined to a larger area such as a completely enclosed dog run along side your house so he has the choice to eliminate if needed. Ideally if you need to crate your dog during your work day (5+ hours) then either come home at lunch to let your dog out for a stretch and elimination; hire a dog walker or pet sitter to come during the day OR provide a secure area large enough for your dog to eliminate in and yet sleep or play in the other (i.e. a closed off kitchen area, outside enclosed dog run or a very secure backyard area). Again, always make sure your puppy or dog has had a good exercise session with you anytime before confining them for the day. See our Play and exercise.
THEN WHY CRATE TRAIN AT ALL? WHY CAN’T I JUST LEAVE MY DOG IN THE YARD ALL THE TIME?
Because dogs by nature are pack animals, they are very social. They prefer the company of others probably more so than humans do. They need to be in the house, even when you are not there or when you are sleeping and can’t be interacting with them. They need to feel that they are part of your family “pack” and that means being in the house (the pack’s den), even though you may not be in the house. Depriving your dog of that feeling of “belonging” and of being a part of your family pack can do as much psychological damage as locking a child in the closet for most of the day. They become neurotic or psychotic.
Problem behaviors such as digging, barking, chewing and escaping WILL develop in a dog kept primarily outdoors. Crate training prevents destructive behaviors when you are not home or can’t supervise the dog directly when indoors.
If all you want is a backyard fixture, then get yourself a statue. But, if what you want is a family companion and friend, then get yourself a dog and let him in the house with you, let him belong.
BUT WON’T HE GET TERRIBLY BORED, BEING LOCKED UP?!!
NO. He will learn to just sleep while you are away. That’s a lot better than leaving him out where he learns it is fun to chew on the door, get into the garbage or piddle on the rug (these are all normal behaviors that ANY dog will exhibit until he is taught how to live WITH people).
A dog will sleep eighteen hours a day if you let him. And remember a dog’s version of recreation while you are away often involves destroying your house or your yard.
Also, it is not as if he must remain in his crate for the rest of his life; just until they get over the destructive period all dogs go through when they are young.Or if it’s an older dog in a new home, just until you, as the owner, feel safe leaving him alone in your house unconfined.
Many dogs form habits, such as house soiling, that can easily be changed by crate training. If a dog has formed the habit of urinating or defecating in the house wherever and whenever he feels like it, then crate training can teach your dog to hold it until you provide him the opportunity to go out and to relieve himself. A normal, healthy dog will try very hard not to urinate or defecate in his crate. To do so would mean he would have to lay in it. Most dogs prefer to wait until you can return to let them out.
HOW MANY MONTHS/YEARS SHOULD I USE A CRATE IN MY DOG’S LIFETIME?
It is highly recommended that any newly adopted adult dog be crate trained until he understands your household rules and has proven to be trustworthy when left alone for short time periods.For most newly acquired adult dogs, plan on using the crate regularly (when ever you are not home or can’t directly supervise the dog) until the dog reaches at least 1 to 2 years of age or for a minimum of 8 consecutive months if the dog is past this age. For puppies, plan on using the crate for a minimum of 1 to 2 years to assure the dog has matured and grown out of the adolescent/destructive phase that ALL dogs go through. The crate can be used for the rest of the dog’s life as well; the door tied open so the dog has the choice to use it or not.
PERHAPS I’LL GIVE IT A TRY. WHERE CAN I GET A CRATE?
Any of the larger pet stores such as PetsMart or Petco.
Crate training is a wonderful thing you can do for your canine and you!
Crates come in a variety of materials and sizes. Buy one large enough to accommodate an adult animal even if you have a puppy and simply section off the crate with cardboard boxes.
The crate should be located indoors in the most used room in the household.
For nighttime, the crate can be moved to a bedroom.
WHAT KIND OF MONEY ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?
It depends on the size of your dog and where you purchase the crate. Just remember though, a crate is something your dog will have the rest of his life. It is his bed, his room, his space in your house. A good crate will last much longer than your dog will; so don’t worry about it wearing out!
Also, compare the initial cost of a crate with the cost of destructive behavior. Shelling out sixty dollars for a new crate is nothing compared to buying new carpet or a sofa, replacing stereo equipment, relandscaping your yard, trying to find Rover after he has escaped from your yard or explaining hamster heaven to your kids!
WHAT SIZE SHOULD I GET?
Your dog’s crate should be big enough for him to easily stand up, turn around and lie down in. If he piddles in one corner of the crate then just make it smaller by adding cardboard boxes, bricks or a wire barrier. As he gets the idea that the toilet is outdoors, then you can take the barriers out of crate and let him have a “king sized” room.
WHAT ABOUT PUPPIES — I DON’T WANT TO KEEP BUYING CRATES AS MY PUPPY GROWS BIGGER!
Right. You should guesstimate what size your puppy will be as an adult (breed books will be able to help you with this, providing you know what breed or mixture of breeds your puppy is) and buy a crate that will be big enough for him as an adult dog. Then you put cardboard boxes or a wire divider in one end to make the crate smaller. As your puppy grows, you gradually increase his “living space” in the crate by getting smaller boxes or moving the wire divider.
If you have an adult dog already, take him with you to the pet store to size him for the crate. Just stand your dog next to the crate (don’t scare him by shoving him in!). The top of the crate should extend three to four inches above his shoulders. The end of the crate should be about three to four inches from your dog’s rump. If in doubt, buy larger as you can always make the crate smaller with a wire divider or piling boxes in the back of it.
WHAT’S THE BEST KIND OF CRATE TO BUY?
Plastic is probably the best, although metal crates have the advantage of folding up for storage and metal crates allow for better air circulation. If you have a heavy coated dog, pick a crate with better air circulation as you can always cover the crate with a blanket if it is too cold. Remember though, that a dog will want his crate door left open so he can go in and out as he pleases after he has outgrown the initial purpose of the crate. So, the fact that metal crates can fold up when they are not in use may not be a good reason to purchase that kind of crate. Plastic is easier to clean and does not squeak and rattle like metal does when the dog moves around inside. You can make your own crate out of wood, but wood is difficult to keep clean and some dogs like to chew on wood anyway! Some brand names of plastic crates are: Vari-Kennel, Kennel Aire, Kennel Cab and Sky Kennel.
ONCE I HAVE THE CRATE, WHERE DO I PUT IT?
Your dog’s crate should be placed in the most often used room in the house during the day. The living room, the family room, the kitchen, wherever your family spends the most time. At night, especially if you have a puppy, the crate should be moved to a corner of an occupied bedroom. This helps the puppy sleep at night (being in the same room with their “person”), helps the pup bond to the family and helps with housetraining as you will know when the pup needs to go outside.
OK, SO NOW I HAVE A CRATE. HOW DO I TEACH MY DOG THAT THIS IS HIS ROOM?
At first most dogs resent being confined because they feel you have left them and are not coming back. However, given some time to adjust, your dog will soon learn to love his crate and the security and privacy that goes along with it. Try feeding your dog his meals with the door tied open the first week or two and intermittently hiding special goodies in the crate. You want your dog to keep going back and checking out the crate in hopes he may find something good in it.
Crate Training the 8-12 week-old Puppy
Young puppies have very small bladders and cannot control them very well. They have to eliminate much more often than older puppies or adult dogs. To have a successful crate training program, follow the guidelines below.
Place a cardboard box or some other material in the crate to allow the puppy only enough room to lie down and turn around. An old blanket or towel can be placed in the remainder of the crate as the puppy’s bed (WARNING: do not give your puppy an expensive blanket or pet bed; all puppies are destructive! Give them something old so if they chew it up, you won’t be angry!). The crate should be located in a bedroom so if the pup wakes up in the middle of the night, you can take him outside quickly. Most puppies that have had access to their crates from beginning have no complaints. The first time they are shut in, they may cry a little, but ignore them and soon they will give up and go to sleep. A three-month-old puppy can usually spend an entire night without having to relieve himself, as long as he did his business right before going to bed and he has not had any water at least two hours before bedtime.
The general rule of thumb is that during the day, a puppy can hold off elimination for as many hours as he is in months of age. For example, if you have an 8-week-old puppy then never make him spend more than two hours in the crate during the day without a toilet break.
If you must leave your puppy unattended for longer time periods during the day, then leave the crate door open so your puppy has access to his bed (crate) and a small area right outside the crate door allowing for a “bathroom spot” outside of his crate. The kitchen is a great choice as it will be easy to clean up any accidents. You may line his “bathroom area” with newspapers for easy clean up but you will NOT rely on this method for training. The papers are there for easy clean up for you BUT not to deliberately teach the puppy to go on them. Make sure the barricade is sturdy enough to prevent the puppy from climbing out and relieving himself in an inappropriate spot. This “bathroom spot” should not be a large area; usually two feet square is plenty of room. When you are home, the papers should be put away and you should be taking the puppy outdoors on regular intervals to toilet.
Paper training your puppy is not recommended as it does confuse the pup. House training should mean that the dog NEVER eliminates in the house. Paper training a pup is telling him it is OK to eliminate in the house so we do NOT recommend using papers unless it is absolutely unavoidable. See the house training section for more information on the correct way to house train your puppy. DO NOT LET YOUR PUPPY OUT WHEN HE IS CRYING RIGHT AFTER YOU HAVE SHUT THE DOOR (the exception to this is if you have forgotten to take him out to do his business first before locking him in). If you let your puppy out while he is crying, you will have taught him that crying gets his way (emotional blackmail!). Always wait until your puppy is quiet before you let him out of his crate. Another solution for over-vocalization while in the crate is to cover the crate with a lightweight sheet or towel. Many dogs will give up within minutes if they cannot see you. The only other exception to this is when you first get up in the morning (or you have been gone longer than 2 hours) and your puppy is probably “loaded” and needs to go out immediately. Take him out right away. Also if you have been gone during the day for any length of time, you want to take your young puppy out and immediately upon your arrival home. As your puppy physically matures and gains bladder and bowel control, you can expect him to “hold it” longer. A rough gauge of how long your puppy can hold it during the day is how ever many months your puppy is in age is equal to how many hours he can hold it safely in the daytime. So if your puppy is four months old, he can probably hold it safely for four hours at a stretch during the daytime and so on.
**Do keep in mind that diet changes and medications can affect how long a dog can “hold it”. Digestive upsets can cause your dog to use the toilet much more often. Certain types of medications can increase water consumption, which again can cause a dog to eliminate much more often than normal. Always ask your veterinarian about the effects medications may have on your dog. **
Your puppy’s crate should only contain an old towel, a special chew item such as a stuffed Kong toy or stuffed sterilized beef bone. Do not leave food or water in the crate with your puppy. The crate should be located INDOORS so the pup is safe from the weather, scary noises or teasing from neighbors.
You can teach your puppy to enter his crate upon cue. Read the section on crate training the adult dog to find out how.
Crate Training the 5 month-old Puppy and Adult Dog
Although crate training the older puppy or adult dog is not as easy as a young puppy, it can still be done with less hassle than would be expected. Most dogs resent being confined at first, but soon learn to love and enjoy the security their crate provides.
Patience, persistence, some small yummy treats your dog enjoys and a good set of earplugs are the only requirements to begin crate training. The first step is to let your dog investigate the crate with the door securely tied open. Throw his favorite toy or one of his treats just inside the lip of the crate and watch what happens. As soon as your dog goes in after the treat or toy, praise enthusiastically with a happy tone of voice (do not try to shut the door at this point). Keep tossing the treats or toy into the crate so your dog has to go further in each time. Remember to praise as your dog goes IN the crate. Ignore him once he steps out of the crate. Keep this up until your dog quickly and easily goes into the crate whenever you toss his toy or treat into the very back of the crate. Next try putting his food dish in the crate so if he wants to eat he has to go in. DO NOT TRY TO CLOSE THE DOOR JUST YET. At this point you are still trying to build confidence in your dog that this indoor doghouse is his and will not “eat” him. This procedure may take a few minutes to a week or more. Throughout the day, hide treats in the crate when your dog is not watching. You want to teach your dog to investigate the crate often during the day.
The next step is to repeat the above but each time your dog goes in his crate, say a cue word such as “GO TO BED,” “KENNEL,” “CRATE,” “ZONE OUT,” “CHILL OUT,” etc. in a happy tone of voice. It does not matter what words you say, the important point is you say the SAME words each time you play the crate game with him. For him to learn a verbal cue such as “KENNEL” may take up to fifty repetitions or more, so you may want to split this into several training sessions spread out over a couple of days.
The next step is to actually shut him in the crate. Do not shut your dog in the crate until he is easily going in and out of the crate without any hesitation or fear. Give his cue such as “KENNEL,” and as soon as he goes in, give him a special chew toy (like a stuffed Kong or a nice rawhide bone) or feed him his meal and quietly shut the door. Be ready for the verbal onslaught! Stay in the same room for a few minutes and then when your dog is quiet for 20 consecutive seconds, open the crate door and let him out. If your dog accepts being in the crate quietly right from the get-to, then make sure you reward him with quiet praise and some treats pushed through the door as well.
If your dog is being very vocal first try ignoring him for 20 minutes straight. If he continues past 20 minutes then quickly rap on the top of the crate while you give the verbal cue “QUIET.” Wait until he is quiet for a minute or two, give him a treat, wait another couple of minutes and THEN let him out while he is still quiet. Again wait for several minutes of silence BEFORE YOU LET HIM OUT. This is where the persistence and perseverance part comes in. The more consistent, firm and unyielding to his complaints you are, the faster your dog will crate train. On the flip side, make sure you praise your dog when he is calm and quiet as well as slipping him an occasional treat while he is in the crate.
Another solution for over-vocalization while in the crate is to cover the crate with a lightweight sheet or towel. Many dogs will give up within minutes if they cannot see you.
Practice the above five or six times a day, each time increasing the time your dog has to spend in his crate by five minutes each time you try it. Try moving into a different room when he is in his crate.Be ready to ignore your dog if he is whining. By the time you reach up to forty minutes, your dog can safely be let in his crate for several hours at a stretch. Leave him for an hour or two inside his crate while you watch TV or clean house. Let him feel secure that he will not be left in there forever, that he will be let out eventually and that you are not going to go away and forget about him forever. Just make sure he has been exercised heavily, has eliminated first and gets his special chewy toy when he goes in his crate for longer periods.
OK, IT SOUNDS LIKE A CRATE WOULD HELP ME. ANY OTHER TIPS TO MAKE IT SUCCESSFUL?
You can make the crate more successful by always acting “happy” around the crate, making sure your dog is VERY tired if he has to spend more than an hour in the crate and making sure your pet always gets a high value stuffed Kong (a Kong stuffed with steak, chicken, turkey, hot dogs, etc.) to work on when he is in the crate. Do make sure that all your children understand that once the dog is in the crate, not to bother him (except to give him a treat if he is being calm & quiet of course!)
***Do keep in mind that diet changes and medications can affect how long a dog can “hold it”. Digestive upsets can cause your dog to use the toilet much more often. Certain types of medications can increase water consumption, which again can cause a dog to eliminate much more often than normal. Always ask your veterinarian about the effects medications may have on your dog. ***
ARE THERE ANY OTHER ADVANTAGES TO HAVING A CRATE TRAINED DOG ...BESIDES THE HOUSEBREAKING PART?
Well, a dog that feels secure in his crate is much easier to take on long trips than a dog that is left to jump excitedly around the inside of the car. Your dog does not get hit by falling camping gear, and is much safer should an accident occur.
Hotels or motels are much more willing to allow dogs to stay if you bring your dog’s crate, plus the maid isn’t likely to accidentally let your dog loose into the streets of a strange city should your dog be crated while you are out.
Dogs being shipped by plane or train feel much more secure and can handle the stress of traveling much easier if they have their own crate to travel in. Federal law requires that animals must be in crates when shipped by air or train.
OK, IT SOUNDS LIKE CRATE TRAINING IS AN EXCELLENT IDEA, BUT TELL ME, SHOULD EVERYONE CRATE TRAIN THEIR DOG?
Not necessarily, but if you are considering crate training as a method of housebreaking, you should ask yourself these questions:
- Do you find yourself constantly punishing your dog for the same misbehaviors?
- Is your dog spending more and more time outside and less and less time with the family because of destructive or uncontrollable behavior?
- Do you have children under the age of ten in your household? Is the once placid Rover now becoming snappish or too rough with your kids?
- Are you declining dinner invitations and only scheduling errands when you know someone else will be home to make sure the dog doesn’t destroy the house while you are gone?
- Does your dog think his name is “BAD DOG?”
If you answered YES to any of these questions, then perhaps you should think more seriously about crate training. Even if you have none of these problems, crate training is a nice thing to do for your dog. Dogs love their crates. Plus you are preventing your dog from developing unwanted behaviors such as chewing and digging.
So give it a try. You have nothing to loose and everything to gain. Crate training is one approach to housetraining and the prevention of destructive behaviors.
The Power of Positive Training
Howell Books, 2001
The Dog Whisperer
Adams Media Corp., 1999
Mandy Book & Cheryl Smith
Legacy By Mail, 2001