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Crate Training: A Step-by-Step Guide to Introducing Your Dog to a Crate

Crate Training: A Step-by-Step Guide to Introducing Your Dog to a Crate

Crate training is an important process for introducing your new puppy or dog to spending time in a crate. Done properly, crate training can help your dog feel safe and secure when confined, and can provide you with an invaluable tool for housetraining, preventing destructive behaviors, and more. In this comprehensive guide, we will walk through the step-by-step process of crate training your dog from start to finish.

What is Crate Training?

Crate training refers to the process of teaching your dog to happily spend time inside a crate when you need them confined for short periods. A crate provides a safe space that is just for your dog, and prevents access to the rest of the house. Crates are commonly used for the following purposes:

  • Housetraining puppies or adult dogs new to the home
  • Preventing destructive behaviors like chewing when unsupervised
  • Providing a quiet space for naps or downtime
  • Traveling safely in vehicles
  • Recovering from illness or injury where activity needs to be limited

With proper crate training, your dog will see their crate as a comfortable den where they can relax and sleep when you are away or occupied. The crate should never be used punitively.

Choosing the Right Crate

Selecting an appropriately sized crate is an important first step. Your dog's crate should allow them to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably, but no bigger. If the crate is too large, your dog may be tempted to eliminate in one corner.

For puppies, choose a crate that will accommodate their full grown size to avoid buying multiple crates. You can block off excess space temporarily. For adult dogs, measure from the tip of their nose to the base of their tail, then add 2-4 inches.

There are several types of crates to consider:

  • Plastic travel carriers: These are lightweight and easy to transport but provide less ventilation. They are best for shorter use.

  • Wire crates: Wire crates fold up for travel and provide maximum airflow. They allow your dog to see more of their surroundings.

  • Wooden crates: These provide a more enclosed, den-like environment for dogs that prefer privacy. However, ventilation is reduced.

Look for crates with secure slide bolt latches, carrying handles, and leak-proof bottoms for puppies. Place a comfortable towel or bed inside along with safe chew toys.

Crate Training Puppy

Crate training should begin as soon as you bring your new puppy home. Puppies under 4 months generally cannot be expected to control their bladder and bowels for more than 2-4 hours. Crate training will help teach control.

Setting Up the Crate

Place the crate in a high traffic area, so your puppy can observe the household activities while confined. The kitchen or family room often work well. Avoid areas with excessive cold, heat, or noise. Place a fluffy towel or dog bed inside for comfort.

Establishing Positive Associations

Your goal is for your puppy to associate great things with the crate from day one. Begin feeding your puppy their meals inside the crate with the door open so they can enter and exit at will. Scatter some food or treats around and inside the crate to encourage investigation. Allow the puppy to explore the crate at their own pace.

Next, place toys and treats in the crate and encourage the puppy to enter to play or eat. Praise and reward with treats for any voluntary time spent inside. Leave the door open until your puppy is regularly entering the crate happily.

Once the puppy is comfortable eating, playing and resting in the open crate, you can start to close the door for very short periods of 10 seconds to a minute. Reward calm behavior with treats slipped through the wires. Gradually increase the time spent shut inside.

Always open the door immediately if whining or barking occurs. If your puppy is ever unwilling to enter, avoid forcing them and go back to basics. Patience and positive reinforcement are key!

Lengthening Crate Time

Gradually build up the duration your puppy spends in the crate during calm waking hours. Positive reinforcement and distraction can help them adjust. Provide safe chew toys stuffed with treats and peanut butter to occupy teething puppies.

Once your puppy can sleep comfortably through the night with the crate door closed, place the crate in your bedroom for the first few months to ease the transition. Adult dogs adjusted to crates may not require this nighttime proximity.

Avoiding Problems

Puppies under 6 months should not be crated for more than 2-4 hours at a time, as they cannot control their bladders sufficiently. If your puppy whines or cries in the crate at night, they likely need to eliminate, so respond promptly and avoid scolding. Never use the crate for punishment or force a reluctant puppy inside. This will cause negative associations.

Crate Training Adult Dog

The same positive reinforcement methods work well for crate training both puppies and adult dogs new to crates. Maintain consistency and patience. However, there are a few differences to expect with adult dogs:

  • Adult dogs have better bladder and bowel control, so can start with slightly longer crating durations.

  • Rescue dogs may have previous negative experiences with crates requiring reconditioning. Go slowly.

  • Adult dogs are less apt to investigate new objects. Make the crate inviting with treats and bedding.

  • Setbacks like whining or soiling may indicate separation anxiety. Consult a trainer or veterinarian.

  • Adult dogs do not need to be crated overnight but may benefit from an adjustment period sleeping near their owner.

The crate training process for an adult dog can take several weeks to months depending on their background. While crate training, confine your dog in a dog-proofed room if leaving home until the crate is mastered. Be patient and understanding of any anxiety.

Using the Crate for Housetraining

Crates are enormously helpful in housetraining both puppies and adult dogs because most will not eliminate where they sleep if possible. Follow these housebreaking tips using a crate:

  • Any time you are away at work or unable to supervise, place your dog in their crate rather than allowing free roam.

  • When you return, immediately take your dog outside to their designated potty spot. Offer lots of praise for pottying outside.

  • Limit water 2-3 hours before crating to help avoid accidents. Provide stuffed chew toys.

  • If your dog has an accident in the crate, do not scold them. It is a potty training failure, not misbehavior. Adjust your schedule.

  • When home but occupied, use baby gates, tethers and leashes to restrict access to the entire house until fully housetrained. Watch for signs they need to go out.

  • Extend the time in the crate and areas of the home slowly as housetraining progresses. This can take several months for adult rescues.

Crating During the Day

Once your dog is comfortable spending short periods in their crate with the door closed, you can start leaving them crated when you are at home but occupied or away for short periods. Start with seconds to minutes at a time:

  • Crate your dog for 2-3 seconds while sitting in the same room. Use a cue like “kennel” or “crate” and reward with a treat. Release.

  • Work up to crating for short periods of 5-30 minutes while home. Reward calm behavior.

  • Practice crating your dog when leaving the room, while watching TV, doing chores etc. Vary the lengths of time.

  • Keep training sessions positive and upbeat. Never use the crate for punishment.

  • Avoid crating your dog for longer than they can comfortably hold their bladder or bowels to prevent accidents and negative associations.

  • Provide interesting chew toys and food puzzles with hidden treats to occupy dogs while crated. Rotate toys to keep them interesting.

Crating Your Dog When Leaving

As your dog masters being crated with you home for increasing periods, they will be ready for you to crate them when leaving the home:

  • Establish a consistent crate cue like “crate time!” or “in your house” to signal impending departure.

  • Use a favorite treat or Kong to encourage entry into the crate before leaving. Vary treats to retain novelty.

  • Vary your routine before and after crating your dog when leaving home to discourage anticipation.

  • Keep initial departures brief to accustom your dog to your absence. Limit crating to 2-4 hours for young puppies and dogs still in housetraining.

  • Record any vocalizations to identify if your dog experiences separation distress after you leave. Seek professional help if severe anxiety occurs.

  • Reward calm behavior upon your return with praise and a treat. Never let your dog out if they are anxious, excited or barking. Wait for them to relax.

Crating Your Dog at Night

Most puppies under 4 months and some adult dogs initially benefit from sleeping in a crate near your bed at night. Follow these tips for successful nighttime crating:

  • Place the crate in your bedroom but not directly next to your bed. You want some separation.

  • Make sure your puppy has pottied right before bedtime and limit water intake 2-3 hours prior.

  • Provide a soft blanket or bedding inside the crate that retains your scent for comfort.

  • If whining occurs, softly reassure your puppy but avoid rewarding the behavior by letting them out.

  • Never allow young puppies to eliminate in their crate overnight. Set an alarm and take them out every 2 hours.

  • Try to preempt potty needs by taking your puppy out anytime they become restless. Reward potties outside.

  • Once your puppy sleeps soundly through the night, you can gradually move the crate out of your bedroom if desired.

Crating While Away From Home

One of the advantages of crate training your dog is having a familiar, transportable space for them when leaving home for trips or visits. Follow these tips for smooth travels with your crated dog:

  • Set up the crate in your destination home or hotel room just as it is at home. Include bedding with your scent.

  • Bring along your dog’s favorite toys and treats to help them settle.

  • Covering the crate can help some anxious dogs feel more secure in unfamiliar locations.

  • If flying with your crated dog in cargo, avoid sedating them unless absolutely necessary, as it can hinder temperature regulation.

  • Ensure your dog has pottied before confining them in their crate when away from home. Avoid long crating periods.

  • Take your crate trained dog on frequent short car trips to get them accustomed to motion.

  • Never leave your crated dog unattended in a vehicle or location with environmental extremes. Ensure adequate ventilation.

Troubleshooting Common Crate Training Problems

While most dogs can learn to tolerate crate confinement, issues sometimes arise. Here’s how to troubleshoot some common crate training problems:

Whining/Barking

  • Ensure crate is appropriately sized without excess room. Dogs may act out if crated too long.
  • Confirm dog is fully pottied before crating. Puppies need more frequent breaks.
  • Reinforce calm behavior before releasing dog from crate. Never reward whining.
  • Desensitize to triggers like departure cues or crating locations to reduce anxiety.
  • Use background noise like music to help calm anxious dogs when crated.

Escaping

  • Check for faulty crate construction or broken parts allowing escape.
  • Ensure you have properly secured all latch mechanisms. Some dogs are clever escape artists!
  • Remove wire crate base tray that gets chewed or digs under. Use a solid floor.
  • Keep dog exercised, provide enrichment in the crate, and avoid excessively long crating periods.

Soiling

  • Thoroughly clean all soiled bedding and crate trays to avoid smell encouragement.
  • Rule out medical issues leading to loss of bladder or bowel control. Consult vet.
  • Confine to smaller area when leaving dog crated for long periods.
  • Adjust schedule to allow more frequent outdoor potty breaks.

Chewing

-Provide ample exercise and enrichment. Rotate toys to prevent boredom.

  • Avoid placing collars on dogs in crates as they can get caught while chewing.
  • Use bitter tasting anti-chew sprays on crate bars. Test that they are non-toxic if licked.
  • Remove bedding and toys if dog ingests items while crated. Only use solid chew toys.

Aggression

  • Never reach into crate or open the door if dog is growling. Doing so rewards the behavior.
  • Use treats to positively reinforce calm behavior before opening crate and entering area.
  • Identify and minimize triggers for aggressive response, such as approach, door opening.
  • Seek help from a professional trainer/behaviorist for aggressive crate behavior. Do not use punishment.

Making the Crate a Positive Place

With time, patience and consistency, you can make the crate a place your dog loves spending time using these positive training tips:

  • Make it comfortable. Include soft bedding with your scent and a few safe, enriching toys.

  • Create only positive associations with the crate through rewards, play, and meals.

  • Establish a consistent crate routine using cues like “crate” or “kennel up!”

  • Respect your dog’s need for occasional crate breaks to stretch their legs on longer days.

  • Keep sessions brief at first so your dog doesn’t associate the crate with interminable boredom.

  • Provide highly motivating chews or food puzzles with hidden treats when crating for longer periods.

  • Always reward calm crate behavior. Release your dog only once relaxed.

  • Avoid using the crate solely when you are leaving. Crate for varying periods when home as well.

  • Set up the crate near family activities so your dog can observe the action while crated.

With time and consistency, your dog can come to see their crate as a relaxing oasis and safe zone in your home. Proper crate training provides a lifelong skill that benefits you and your dog.

Conclusion

Introducing your dog to a crate successfully requires patience, consistency and tons of positive reinforcement through their favorite treats, toys and praise. While the process takes weeks to months, the investment is well worth it in the end. Proper crate training can help with potty training, preventing destructive behaviors, travel and more. Make the crate a place your dog loves spending time, and you will have a invaluable tool that benefits you both for years to come.

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