Good ol’ crate training, it can be one of the best items in your dog training arsenal. But a lot of new dog owners may not be aware of it or are using it inappropriately by using it as a place of punishment.
Crate training uses your dogs natural den instinct of creating a place to sleep, live and raise a family into a way of creating a place in your home the dog can retreat and feel safe and secure.
The benefits of crate training can be vast from creating a familiar and safe refuge during a child’s birthday party, while having guests over for dinner or a safe way to travel in the car. One of the biggest benefits is a quick and easy way to housebreak your dog.
Here are some steps on how to use and create a fun and healthy connection between your dog and their crate.
Choosing the correct size
Your crate should be large enough for your adult dog to be able to stand, sit and stretch out comfortably, but no more. Crates come in a variety of fashions, from a basic transportable plastic crate, a collapsible fabric crate, a rigid metal mesh crate or a unique handmade crate.
Ideally for a puppy, purchasing a crate that is big enough for when they are an adult but can be partitioned is best. This way you can adjust the size and as the dog grows, the crate grows with them.
A light weight crate that can be moved around the house or several crates in key locations is ideal for most people. Collapsible fabric crates are fantastic for those who love to travel with their pets.
Mastering the toilet training
Crating is one of the most effective ways to achieve a house broken dog. It works along the principles that a dog does not soil in their den, so in other words they do not mess where they eat and sleep. So by not making the crate size big enough to make one area for sleeping and other for eliminating, this limits their oppourtunity as to when they will go to the toilet, so as soon as a puppy wakes up, remove them from the crate and take them outside.
Remember the three times a dog is likely to eliminate is after play, after feeding and when awaking from sleep! Crate training will not teach the dog their toiletry manners but it will assist you greatly in doing so. A young dog must be supervised 100% of the time when they are out of their crate to avoid any accidents. Puppies will give you many signals that they are about to pee or poop and if an unfortunate accident occurs, roll up a newspaper and ‘boop’ yourself on the nose because you were not paying attention.
The crate also eliminates the oppourtunity for your dog to chew or display destructive behaviour when you are not able to supervise. This allows the behaviours to become extinct and the dog will either never learn this or will soon forget it.
When first using a crate, place it in the area of the house where the dog can still be viewed by the family such as next to the couch. This creates social isolation, so they are secured but are still in the presence of the family.
Sticking a crate directly in a laundry can associate the dog with the crate in a negative way. We first need to teach the dog to ‘love’ their crate.
Spend some time teaching your dog that the crate is a ‘happy place’ and at the beginning leave the door open. Be sure to place some comfortable bedding and a couple of toys (Toys that they cannot choke on when unsupervised) inside and make the whole thing appealing to the dog.
Bring your dog over to the crate and give the dog a command such as “crate time!” and throw something appealing inside such as a toy or food based treat. As the dog enters the crate to check the reward out mark the behaviour with a “YES!” and then reward with something else such as a different edible treat, a different more excitable toy, a belly rub or a fun game.
Only allow your dog to associate the crate with positive experiences 100% of the time. This is not a place to send your dog as a ‘time out’ for unwanted behaviours, anxiety, stress or aggression.
Time to secure
Once your dog is entering voluntarily or you may have even caught them taking a nap or two inside, it is time to begin securing the crate. Being with small intervals and slowly increase the time it remains secured.
Make this easier on your dog by placing them in their crate when they would be more likely to want to rest or spend some time alone. This might be after vigorous walk or training session or when they have a new toy or chewy treat.
This is a ‘no fuss’ deal, do not stress the dog by trying to offer soothing word or creating excitement in the dog. Calmly walk over to the crate, shut the door and walk away.
Exit and enter
Set your dog up for success for the crate by scripting your leaving and returning procedures.
When placing a dog in the crate before leaving try not always secure them at the same time as the dog will pair this pattern with you leaving. Also avoid prolonged and emotional goodbye as this just encourages stress related behaviours in a dog. This is the same on the return, remain calm and only release the dog once they are also in a calm state. Avoid running in through the door, calling their name and increasing their energy levels
Always aim for low key, no fuss exits and returns.
Whining and attention seeking
This can be the tricky part for a lot of handlers and the behaviour has to be approached differently on the age of the dog.
If a puppy is whining at 3am chances are he needs to go ‘potty’. A puppy cannot hold their bowels or bladder for no longer than 3 to 4 hours. Unfortunately like human parenting this is something we just need to deal with. Approach the crate calmly and do not offer the dog any reinforcement in the way of verbal communication, remember we want to limit the amount of reward for this behaviour. Take the puppy straight outside and let them eliminate. Once finished take them straight back and secure them. This is not the time to turn a short toilet break into a puppy cuddle or playtime.
An adult dog should just be ignored at all times, within reason. Understand that during these whines or barks any attention from you, being positive or negative is a reward and reinforcement for this behaviour because they got what they wanted, your attention. Ignoring it means no eye contact or verbal communication at all. By only releasing the dog when they are calm and relaxed (mind and body) they will begin to understand these behaviours get them nowhere.
A crate is also not a place for a dog that suffers from a fear or anxiety. Placing them in a crate during these periods of stress communicates a feeling of being trapped. The crate is to be used only for the positive only. Many dogs have become injured from trying to escape a crate from being stressed or fearful.
Crate training is a great tool to use and it is never too late to implement. Always try to understand the dogs state of mind when placing them in a crate and promote its use in a positive manner. Why not try crate training as a new way to work their minds? your dog may surprise you with just how popular and enjoyable it can be!