Crate Training – why you should do it, and how you should do it!
If a dog or puppy is taught to enjoy a crate, the crate becomes their own private, safe place (much like a bedroom), and with the right positioning, it can be a perfect den when the dog is tired or nervous. Creating or finding a den is a natural instinct for dogs, and this is why many dogs easily take to a crate.
Crate training has numerous benefits for owners. A correctly sized crate helps to teach the dog bladder and bowel control, as they have an instinct to not toilet where they sleep. This desire to keep the crate as a clean sleep area can make toilet training a lot easier and faster. Using a crate can prevent a dog or puppy from practicing unwanted behaviours when you are not able to supervise them directly. Those times might include at night, when you are at work (provided your dog gets plenty of exercise before and after, and the work day is not too long), or when you are trying to get on with things in the home.
Essentially, crate training can be very helpful for your puppy’s (or dog’s) development and it is helpful with the housetraining process. It is also a great way to protect your pup, and your home, when you cannot offer supervision. In addition, with travel, vets and kennels, the chances are your dog will have to go into a crate at some point in their life, and crate training will make this a much less stressful experience. Below are our top ten tips for crate training your pooch:
- Picking the right crate:
Crate size is crucial when it comes to toilet training. The crate should be just big enough for your puppy to lie down, stand up and turn in a full circle. If the crate is any larger your puppy may start to pee in one corner and sleep in another. Many of the wire crate options come with an adjustable back wall so you can adjust the size based on your puppy’s growth. If you choose a plastic or wooden crate, you can reduce the internal space using boxes, until your dog or puppy is fully house trained.
Plastic crates are very stable and often quite secure. They also can be lovely for sleeping as they tend to have solid sides and so keep the light out. However plastic crates can get very hot in summer due to the lack of ventilation. Wire crates vary hugely – some are very sturdy, whilst others are a bit flimsy and not suitable for escape artists. They are excellent in terms of ventilation but do not have the same private den feel (although you can get around this by placing a blanket over the crate to make it more secluded for sleep) and can be less safe with some types of collars. Wooden crates can be an excellent all-rounder. They often have solid sides with bars at the front, so they have both a secluded feel and good ventilation. They often look more aesthetically pleasing and can be fitted with a plastic liner for easier cleaning, however they are often more expensive, but can be used as furniture too.
- Make it positive:
Introduce your puppy or dog to the crate with treats and chew toys so they associate the crate with food and positive things. If your puppy thinks that good things happen every time they go in the crate, then they will instinctively go there to lie down.
- Introduce the crate gradually:
Leave the door open at first when giving treats in the crate, until they feel comfortable entering on their own. Shut the door for a few minutes at a time while your puppy is sleeping or eating/chewing on a treat or kong, and then open the door so they can exit when they like. Start with one minute, then two, then five, then ten. The more gradually you built up time in the crate, the more comfortable your dog will be. Once your dog or puppy sees the crate as their den and is comfortable in there, you can start shutting them in at night or for periods during the day.
- Make it familiar:
You can put your own clothing, sheets or favourite toys into the crate to make your puppy or dog feel more at ease, as the smell will be familiar. Puppies, especially on their first few nights in a new home, can be quite worried by being on their own for the first time, and your smell can be very calming (you can even use something that smells like their Mum if you have access to it).
- Make it a real den:
Try to make the crate as dark as possible as this will help your dog sleep. You can use a blanket draped over the crate to do this or you can buy a crate with some solid walls (or both). Dogs prefer to sleep in an enclosed area that is dark and cosy. If you leave the crate door open, you will often find that your dog or puppy will go and nap inside the crate of their own accord to get away from the light and noise of your home.
- Keep it short
This is especially important with puppies. A puppy under a year old has very limited bladder control and needs to be let out regularly to go to the toilet. Generally speaking a puppy can hold their wee for approximately one hour for every month in age. So, a three-month-old puppy should be given a break to toilet and play at least every three hours (if you are out at work, someone would need to come and let the puppy out every few hours).
- Toilet breaks:
If you are using a crate for a toilet training puppy, they will probably need to go to the toilet the moment you open the crate door. Make sure you are ready with your lead in hand, clip the lead on them as soon as you open the door, and take them straight outside to their toilet spot. Puppies learn much faster with routine and doing this will help cement that toilet training quickly and effectively.
- Never negative:
Never use the crate for punishment and never tell them off when in their crate. Doing so will create a negative association for your puppy or dog and the effects can ruin all of the positive work you have already done.
- Crate location:
With puppies, they will want to be close to you at night time, so keeping the crate near your bed can be very effective, as your smell and presence are comforting. This way they can also easily wake you if they need to be let out to go to the toilet. On the first few nights, your puppy may cry to sleep on the bed with you – do not reward this crying. You can open the door to comfort them, but you must wait until they are quiet, or they will learn that crying gets them what they want. Once they are older and happy sleeping on their own in a crate, you can move this to a quiet part of the main living space (or put a second crate there) so that they can choose to go into their crate for naps whilst still being around you and/or your family.
- Exercise, Exercise, Exercise:
If your dog or puppy is bottled up with energy the crate training process is going to be much more difficult. Make sure to go for long walks, play fetch or have a good long play before longer stays in the crate. If your dog is worn out, they will be quite happy to have a long sleep in the crate. However, no dog, regardless of age, should be in a crate for longer than eight hours.
If you put a mat or blanket into the crate that your dog or puppy likes, they will associate this over time with the comfort and security of their den – you can use this to your advantage by taking it with you to the vets, groomers or in the car to help them feel more relaxed in stressful situations. You can put it on the floor in the vets waiting room for them to sit on, on the exam table, in the boot of the car etc. The mat or blanket will feel and smell familiar and provide a little extra comfort and reassurance.