Crate training a dog may seem like a very simple task; after all, all that is needed is a dog and a crate he fits into. Yet, when it comes to crate training correctly, much more is required than that. Crate training requires knowledge from the moment dog owners step into the store to purchase a crate and this knowledge will accompany them until the day the dog is successfully crate trained. People may have different views about crates depending on their personal experiences and their perception on limiting a dog’s space. This guide should help clarify the correct use of crates and explain how crates can benefit dogs and dog owners the most.
The Purpose of Crates and Crate Training
The most common use for crate training is for house training / housebreaking a puppy. Puppies have a natural instinct to not want to soil the areas where they sleep, eat and drink. In simple words, the crate offers a small enclosed area where the puppy doesn’t feel comfortable soiling. It’s this natural reluctance to potty that ultimately helps the puppy attain better bowel and bladder control. Crates can also be great management tools. Indeed, when a puppy is in a crate, he can’t be chewing on the remote, scratching doors or tilting the garbage can. Thanks to the crate, dog owners can leave the room knowing that their puppy is safe, secure and out of trouble.
Crates though aren’t only used for puppies. Adult dogs can be crated trained too. Many dog owners crate their dogs when they leave the house because it gives them peace of mind. Other dog owners use crates as management tools to keep dogs away from rambunctious children or guests who aren’t that fond of dogs. A few others use crates to keep their dogs safely contained in the car or to simply transport their dogs from one place to another.
Choosing the Right Crate
It’s very important for puppy owners to choose the right crate. If a crate is too large, it loses its purpose as a house training aid. A large crate may encourage the puppy to soil in one corner and sleep comfortably in the other. A crate that is snug, but at the same time spacious enough for the puppy to sit, lie down and turn around comfortably is what is needed. Dog owners concerned about their puppy growing quickly and needing a larger crate over a short period of time, may want to invest in a crate that has dividing panels that can be removed as the puppy grows. Older puppies and adult dogs that are fully house trained may be allowed the luxury of larger crates.
Nowadays, crates come in different styles and materials. The wire crate remains a popular choice for potty training because it allows the owners to see their puppy through the wires so they can watch for any pre-potty signs. Most wire crates also offer a convenient tray that can slide out for easy access and cleaning. Plastic crates are good for travel, and because they are covered, they offer more privacy for dogs who get easily stimulated by sights around them. Dog owners looking for a nice crate that blends well in their surrounding house decor, may appreciate the looks of wooden crates. Lately, there has been an increase in popularity for aluminum crates as several have a reputation for being escape-proof.
Making the Crate a Great Place to Be
After choosing the right crate, it’s important to teach the puppy or dog that the crate is a wonderful place to be! A great way is by placing all sorts of goodies inside. The crate’s door should be left open so the puppy can access all the tantalizing treats and toys found inside. During this delicate discovery phase, it’s best not to lock the puppy inside yet. Doing so, may cause the puppy to panic and feel trapped. Instead, a better idea may be putting the dog’s food bowl in the crate. Once the puppy is inside the door can be closed. Then, only once the pup has finished eating, the door can be opened. This way, the puppy or dog learns that great things happen in the crate. Day after day, the puppy starts loving the crate and will often enter it on his own will. A crate should never be used as a place for punishment.
Also important is to prevent the puppy or dog from associating the crate with social isolation. If every time the dog is placed in the crate, the dog owner leaves, the dog may start dreading being in the create because it’s associated with being left alone. It’s not a bad idea for dog owners to keep the dog crated when they are home every now and then. Giving the dog a safe bone to enjoy in the crate can be helpful during these quiet times. The puppy or dog should also be gradually desensitized to brief absences and then gradually longer ones. A crate door should never be opened when the puppy or dog is actively whining, barking or pawing. Doing so will reward these behaviors.
Crate Training Puppies
While crates are great aids for the potty training process, there are certain rules to follow. Generally, puppies under the age of 12 weeks are too young to be potty trained in the crate because they haven’t attained much bladder and bowel control. These young puppies fair better in an enclosed area where there are washable floors. Their food and water bowls should be kept in a corner and their potty area on the opposite side. Crate training them at this age may set them for failure and cause messes. Puppies over 12 weeks though can start some crate training basics under close supervision.
Puppies should be placed in the crate with a safe toy only after they have recently eliminated. The puppy owners should stand nearby and wait for the next potty time which can be anywhere between 15 minutes to several hours depending on the age of the puppy. Hopefully, the puppy will give signs when it’s time to go by engaging in certain pre-potty behaviors such as awakening from sleep, whining, barking, sniffing around, circling and pawing at the cage. Adhering to a schedule though may be a good option. It’s best to take the puppy out before he shows desparate signs of needing to urgently potty and then soiling on his way out. It’s not a bad idea to keep the crate nearby a door.
Certain puppies may pose more challenges than others when it comes to crate training. Puppies from pet stores are used to soil in their cages and will continue to do so in their crates. Toy and teacup puppies have tiny bladders and will need to be taken out very frequently. Hounds have a superior sense of smell and will detect areas of previous accidents, causing them to feel compelled to soil over them over and over. Patience is required with these challenging pups.
How Long Should Dogs be Crated?
Puppies that are in the process of being potty trained should not be crated for longer than they can keep it. This means that if the puppy owner must leave the house for a while, it’s best to keep the puppy in an enclosed area where he can potty as needed, rather than coming home to a miserable crated pup sitting on a wet, dirty mess. Generally, according to the Humane Society of the United States, puppies under six months shouldn’t be crated for longer than three to four hours at a time.
Adult dogs who are house trained can be confined in the crate for several hours at a time, but it’s best to crate them after their exercise needs have been met. A long walk, a training session and a few games may be needed to tire an active dog. A tired dog will likely prefer to sleep in the crate rather than bark, whine or try to chew his way out of the crate.
How long is too long though? The answer is that it depends on the dog’s age, breed and energy levels. Six hours in a crate may feel like a very long time for a high-energy dog selectively bred to work all day; however, an older dog, or a dog of a calmer disposition may happily spend those six hours snoozing in total comfort. As a rule of thumb, veterinarian Jennifer Messer claims in an article for Modern Dog Magazine that in general dogs can be crated overnight and then for up to half a day as long at the dog’s exercise and social needs are met when out of the crate.
The Bottom Line
Successful crate training takes patience, consistency and time. It’s important for dog owners to learn how to use a crate correctly so they can start on the right paw. Once puppies attain better control of their bladders and bowels they can be given more and more freedom without worrying about messes.