03 Sep, 2019 at 12:40 am #660Lena GriffinKeymaster
- A crate works in harmony with your dogâ€™s natural den-dwelling instincts
- Introduced and used appropriately, your dogâ€™s crate can become his private space and â€śbedroomâ€ť for a lifetime
- Crates are beneficial for housetraining; theyâ€™re also a great way to help your dog learn to spend time alone without feeling anxious
- Successful crate training starts with the â€śItâ€™s all goodâ€ť approach, meaning all things that happen in and around your dogâ€™s crate are pleasant and positive
- Dogs whoâ€™ve had a past bad experience with crating can be reintroduced to a crate with the right approach and lots of patience
Iâ€™m a big fan of crate training and recommend it to every dog guardian I know, especially those who need to housetrain a puppy. Whether your canine companion is a puppy or a senior, providing him with his very own cozy space has a number of great advantages for both of you.
Why I love crates for dogs
Many people equate a crate with a jail cell, but if you understand a little about the nature of dogs, you know this isnâ€™t true. If you have any doubts about this, I encourage you to talk with some dog-loving friends whoâ€™ve crate-trained their pets. Chances are theyâ€™ll tell you their dog seeks out her crate on her own for naps, at bedtime and whenever she just needs some alone time.
Pregnant wild dogs, including wolves and coyotes, seek out den-like environments to whelp (give birth to) their puppies. Many puppiesâ€™ first memories are probably of being with their moms in a quiet, cozy, little space. If a crate is introduced correctly, it can provide a secure, private â€śbedroomâ€ť for your dog for the rest of her life.
In fact, if you bring a new dog into your home and you donâ€™t have a crate ready for her, chances are sheâ€™ll find a spot, such as under a table or chair or even behind the toilet in the bathroom, which answers her need for a secure, out-of-the-way â€śdenâ€ť of her own.
If you leave her in her little spot, youâ€™ll notice she wonâ€™t relieve herself there. Thatâ€™s because dogs are programmed by nature not to soil their dens. In the wild, nursing wolves and coyotes teach their pups to relieve themselves outside the den. This keeps predators from investigating inside their little homes and keeps messes outside the sleeping area.
Thatâ€™s exactly why crates are so useful for dogs who havenâ€™t been housetrained. A dog with her own den doesnâ€™t want to pee or poop in it, so by providing a crate for her, youâ€™re working in harmony with her natural instinct to keep her resting space clean. As long as your dog is getting consistent and frequent trips outside to relieve herself in an appropriate environment, nature should prompt her to not soil her den space in between potty trips (unless thereâ€™s a medical problem).
Another health benefit of crate training is that dogs accustomed to spending time alone in their den are much less likely to develop separation anxiety or other phobias. Putting a puppy in her crate for a nap or some quiet time also helps her learn not to expect constant human attention, similar to the use of playpens for babies.
This strategy coupled with basic positive reinforcement obedience training will set the stage for a secure, balanced adult dog who is pleasant to be around, which is always the goal.
Purchasing the right crate
When you purchase a crate for your dog, the size is important. You want a space thatâ€™s not too big or too small. Your dog should be able to stand up, lie down and turn around comfortably in it, but it shouldnâ€™t be so large that he can easily use one end as his potty spot and the other end for sleeping and snacking. If you need to housetrain your dog, a crate large enough to have a bathroom at one end can actually slow down the process.
If youâ€™re unsure what size crate to buy, talk to a shelter volunteer, your veterinarian or your breeder about what you want to accomplish so they can help you pick the right size. If youâ€™re crate training a puppy, especially a giant breed, youâ€™ll probably want a smaller crate initially and then a bigger one as he grows.
When you bring the new crate home, place it in an area where your family spends a lot of time â€” not in an isolated spot, outdoors, a high-traffic location (can be stressful) or where your dog will experience temperature extremes.
Make sure thereâ€™s nothing hanging inside the crate that could cause your dog harm, and especially while heâ€™s still young and rambunctious, take his collar off before you put him in the crate so it canâ€™t get hung up on anything. As necessary, disinfect the crate with either mild soap or vinegar and baking soda and rinse it thoroughly.
Getting your dog used to his crate
If you purchased a crate ahead of time and itâ€™s there when your dog comes home, as long as he hasnâ€™t had a bad experience with confinement in the past, itâ€™s should be pretty easy to get him acclimated to his little den.
The first rule of crate training is to never, ever force your dog into his crate. You never want to force your dog into or out of his crate, because you can end up with an unmanageable case of separation anxiety or a pathological aversion to enclosed or small spaces. The crate should represent a safe zone for your dog, so you never want to make his safe zone feel unsafe.
The second rule of crate training is what I call, â€śItâ€™s all good,â€ť which means everything about the crate is positive from your dogâ€™s perspective. While youâ€™re getting him used to his crate, everything he loves goes in there, and the door stays propped or tied open so he can freely investigate.
Put treats in and around the crate, along with treat release toys, chew toys, food puzzle toys â€” all his favorites. I also recommend feeding him in his crate with the door open. The goal is to have your dog voluntarily go into his crate because everything about it is positive and fun.
Helping a hesitant dog acclimate to a crate
If your dog is nervous about her new little space or is fearful due to a past bad experience, youâ€™ll have to take things slower. A dog who has been crated as a form of punishment or has been locked in a crate for inappropriately long periods of time will need to be gently and patiently reintroduced to the crate.
Obviously, you want her to be in there comfortably with the door closed as soon as possible, especially if youâ€™re in the process of potty training. But until she gets the â€śitâ€™s all goodâ€ť message about her crate, youâ€™ll need to be extra vigilant about getting her outside to relieve herself at frequent, regular intervals.
Make sure to leave the door open (tie it open if necessary so thereâ€™s no chance it will close while sheâ€™s in there). Put food rewards around the outside of the crate and inside as well so she can get comfortable going in and out of her crate without worrying about being â€śtrappedâ€ť inside.
Once you sense your dog is comfortable inside her crate, feed her in there with the door open. Once sheâ€™s comfortably eating in the crate, close the door. Donâ€™t go far and keep an eye on her. At some point sheâ€™ll realize the door is closed and sheâ€™s inside her crate. Donâ€™t acknowledge any whimpering or barking she may do. Once sheâ€™s calm and relaxed, open the door and praise her.
When you start closing the crate door, leave it closed for very short periods of time (no more than a minute) so that she realizes sheâ€™s not â€śtrappedâ€ť and sheâ€™s not being punished. In the meantime, continue tossing treats into the crate several times a day to reinforce the association between it and good things.
Once your dog begins associating good things with her crate and sheâ€™s feeling more comfortable in there, you can close the door for longer periods. Be sure to leave something fun inside such as a treat-release toy she can focus on. Donâ€™t leave your house until your dog is completely comfortable in the closed crate while youâ€™re at home. You can gradually extend the amount of time you leave her in the crate, providing she’s getting consistent, frequent trips outside to potty.
Once sheâ€™s comfortable being in her closed crate when youâ€™re at home, you can begin taking short trips away from the house. If you need to leave your dog for longer than four hours, I recommend you use a dog sitter or a doggy daycare facility rather than crating her for long periods of time.
You want your dog to view her crate as a safe place to rest and be calm, so when she’s in there and you’re at home, resist the urge to energetically interact with her. When you let her out of her crate, give her a sit command and plenty of calm praise when she follows the command. Make entry and exit from the crate a calm, neutral experience and unassociated with any of your dog’s behaviors.
If youâ€™re struggling with crate training, I recommend talking with a positive dog trainer who can help you work through the problems youâ€™re experiencing.
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