A crate, or dog cage, is one of the most useful pieces of dog equipment you can have; however, it’s also one of the most misunderstood and misused. Firstly, it should be pointed out that you should never use a crate for punishment – the dog should see it as his safe, quiet zone, his den if you like.
The TopReview team all use crates for our dogs, and the Malamutes are fed in theirs so as to prevent any food-related fights breaking out – we all know what Alaskan malamutes can be like – right?
CRATE TRAINING PUPPIES
Crates are invaluable if you have dogs. What happens if a dog-phobic friend pops over for coffee? You have the builders round? Have to go out for a few hours? Need to take them on a short flight across the country? Whilst a dog should be well behaved enough to remain loose in the house, getting him used to using a crate means you have both options at your disposal. A crate is also useful for keeping your dog calm and quiet after an operation, such as a bitch spay, or if, as has happened with us, you’ve broken a glass vase and need to clean up the glass before pup hurts his paws.
The younger your pupster is when he becomes familiarized with his crate, the better, but the training principle is the same with an adult dog – it just may take a little more patience on your part!
WHAT SORT OF CRATE SHOULD I GET FOR MY DOG?
A metal, collapsible cage using a tray flooring works well, so long as the crate is big enough for your dog to stand, turn, and extend out. Many dogs feel more protected if there is a blanket draped over the crate, keeping it dark and den-like; obviously, make sure there’s airflow and that he doesn’t overheat. Playpens or barricades can be effective provided that they’re indestructible and escape-proof.
WHERE SHOULD I PLACE THE CRATE?
Since dogs are social creatures, a perfect place for your crate is an area where the family spends time, such as a kitchen, living room, or in a bedroom where the puppy can sleep at nighttime. However, this needs to be balanced with the need for peace and quiet, so a hallway may not be such a good place.
HOW TO MAKE CRATING A POSITIVE EXPERIENCE
Most dogs select a small area, such as the corner of a room, beneath a sofa or bed, where they prefer to sleep and relax, and wild dog, or wolf packs, have cozy dens to sleep or raise their pups in. So, by nature, dogs like to be in a secluded area.
The trick to crate training a pup, or even an adult dog, is to make the crate their favorite spot by creating a positive experience, showing them that not only is the crate fun, but safe too.
Encourage your pup to associate feeding time with going into the crate. Pop his food bowl in the crate at mealtimes, and allow him to seek it out. During these initial steps, never close the door on him, but let him come and go as he chooses. Put in a favorite toy, and some comfy dog-friendly bedding, and sit by the open crate door and fuss him, make it fun, fun, fun.
Use a command word so that he learns to associate that word with going into his crate. One member of the team who shall remain nameless uses the command ‘snuggle time’ – so, really any word will do, just make sure you stick to the same one.
When it’s pup naptime, pop a few treats in his crate, and encourage him to go in – remembering to leave the door open still. Sometimes, pups can panic if they wake and can’t find you, so he needs to be able to wander in and out at will.
THE NEXT STAGE
When he is completely happy with going into his crate, and only then, can you start thinking about closing the door. At first, only close it for a minute or two, and remain nearby, just in case of puppy panics. There’s no set time for this stage to be reached. Some dogs get there within hours, some take days, so be patient and don’t despair if it takes your furry pal a little longer than most. A crate is so useful that it’s worth taking the time to get the basics in place.
It is important, however, not to respond to eagerly if your pup does start vocalizing. Dogs can learn bad habits as easily as good, and in some cases, even easier. So, by always running at the smallest whimper, you’re teaching him that if he makes a noise, he’ll gain your attention, which, after all, is what puppies crave. Use your judgment as to how distressed your puppy is. Mild complaining doesn’t always need a response, but yelps or shouts of pain and real distress demand your attendance.
Don’t allow your pup to associate you going near the cage with being released. Once he settles and is becoming used to having the crate door closed, just walk near the crate, ignoring your pup. Try standing closeby while talking on your cell phone, or doing chores, anything to teach him that just because you’re near his crate, it doesn’t mean release time.
Gradually, you can leave your dog in the crate with the door closed for longer durations – while you take a quick shower, or watch your favorite soap on TV. Always keep one ear open for sounds of distress, however, and be ready to jump if they grow in intensity. Having the radio playing quietly in the background can reassure a sensitive pup that he’s not really alone, or a calming plug-in diffuser designed to relax dogs can help.
Keep going with this stage, leaving him for longer periods, until you feel ready to pop outside; the backyard at first, just so you can run back if necessary, but as he becomes comfortable with this routine, drop in on a neighbor, or dash to the local shop. Don’t make your departure into a big deal as this can raise his anxiety levels – toss him a biscuit and leave quickly and quietly. As before, take it slowly and gradually build up the length of time you leave him.
When it’s time to release your pup, wait until he’s behaving nicely before letting him out; this way, you’re not rewarding any misbehavior. upon release, give him a little fuss but keep things calm, and there you go – one happy, contented crate trained pup.
POINTS TO REMEMBER
- Never use a crate for punishment
- Always make sure that your pup has done his toilet before leaving him in his crate for too long. Dogs hate messing where they sleep, and the need to eliminate can be a source of distress for a young pup if he is forced to go in his crate
- Never leave a dog alone with a toy that could potentially cause harm. Make sure any balls can’t be chewed and swallowed, and remove any choking hazards, such as rawhide chews from the crate if your pup is being left
- Don’t leave your pup in his cage for any length of time without providing access to fresh drinking water – you can purchase water bowls that clip securely onto the bars of the cage
Are you starting to train your dogs? Need more tips? Check out our guide on how to use a clicker to train your dog, and how to train your dog to stop barking.
This is an excellent video, featuring the cutest pup – but remember the crate training principles are the same whatever the age of your dog: