Crate Training 101

My name is Hanzo, and I’m a one year old St Bernard Mutt.  North Shore Animal League shipped me from Tennessee when I was 4 months old, and I was adopted by Dog City to join the resident St Bernards, Papa Yama and Papa Masa. I’m studying as an apprentice helper dog, and my job is to relax our canine friends with my playful personality.  Most of the day, I wrestle with young dogs that need stimulus and exercise.  Thanks to my friends at Dog City, I stay fit and agile, and despite my high energy adolescent stage, I have managed to not destroy the couch and my human’s shoes.  

One of the key components in managing potty training and destructive behaviors of young dogs is crate training.  Humans often feel guilty about confining us in a crate, but dogs are den animals– this means we find safety and comfort in our own small space to find solace.  

Since we don’t live in the woods, in modern living, the crate acts as a substitute to this need for safe confinement.  It also serves as a fantastic house training tool because we are clean animals and do not want to eliminate where we eat and sleep.  If a crate is introduced properly, it acts as a training tool to address and prevent behavioral issues such as chewing on your furniture and separation anxiety.  

Here are some tips on how to choose the correct crate and introducing the “den” to your dog:  

Choosing A Crate

Variety of crates are in the market– from wooden, decorative versions to plastic airline crates that have sides and are more enclosed than metal crates.  The amount of time a dog spends in the crate, your dog’s personality, and the temperature in your home should be taken into consideration when choosing a crate.  

Plastic Airline Crates:  These types of enclosed crates are a great choice for fearful, anxious dogs that suffer from separation anxiety.  It makes the dog feel safer, because it’s dark, warm and cozy. It’s less ventilated, so it’s not recommended for heat sensitive brachycephalic breeds such as bulldogs or heavy undercoated dogs, and giant breeds.

Metal Crates:  The metal crates have removable plastic trays at the bottom and are easy to clean.  This type of crate is also suitable for breeds that tend to get hot as it’s well ventilated.  

Many metal crates comes with dividers which are suitable for growing pups for adjustment to their physical growth.  Towels or sheets can also be placed as a roof on the metal crates to create a den like atmosphere.  But if you are placing soft material on the crate, make sure that you dog will not pull it inwards for shredding and consumption.  

Wooden Decorative Crates:  These crates are not recommended for puppies or driven, high energy dogs that can chew the wooden bars.  The dog’s ambition to Houdini can cause injuries on the dog.  While it’s stylish and visually appealing, reserve the use of these types of crates until the dog has surpassed his or her destructive, high drive stage.  

Size:

The crate should be just large enough to stand up, turn around, and lay down.  When purchasing a crate for a young dog, get versions that comes with dividers that can be moved to accommodate growth.  The crate should never be too large for the dog.  We will pee or poop in the corner and take a nap away from our poop.  The point of crate training is to discourage the dog from eliminating in their den.  

Where should the crate be located?:

The crate should be in a centrally located where the dog is able to see and smell the action in the home.  The crate should never be placed in an isolated area.  

This encourages the dog to enjoy their independence, and to not become needy, which can cause severe separation anxiety issues.

Bedding:

While it’s tempting to provide soft bedding, do not provide soft material until the dog has bladder and bowel control.  Dogs have a strong instinct to keep their den clean, and bedding of any sort can absorb urine, leaving the crate “clean” by pushing the material away.  Once the dog has proven to keep their crate clean, provide bedding to make it comfortable and further appealing.  

Food and Water:

Dogs will not soil the area that they eat.  In the early stages of crate training, feed the dog in the crate to reinforce this instinct.  Food should not remain in the crate all day.  Remove the bowl within 15 minutes of offering.  Water bowls will be spilled in the crate– provide a cage cup that fastens to the crate to prevent spillage.  Water should be removed several hours before bedtime for good housebreaking practice.  

Introducing the Crate

You’ll need the following supplies to resume crate training:

  • High value soft treats
  • A long lasting chew toys: Antlers, stuffed kong, or non splintering bones
  • Cage cup
  • PATIENCE

STEP 1:

After showing treats to the dog, place a trail of high value soft treats from the back of the crate to the entrance gate.  Close the gate so the dog cannot get to the treats.  Allow your dog to long for it.  

STEP 2:

When the dog is interested in the contents of the crate, open the door and allow him in.  The dog should be encourage to go in on his own.  Supplement this action with a command such as “Go Home”.  Allow him to eat the treats, toss in more and encourage the dog to go in and out, praising profusely every time he willingly enters.  Be patient during this step, as the whole exercise must remain positive.

STEP 3:

Once your dog enjoys the game of going in and out of the crate, give the dog the lasting chew toy and close the gate briefly.  Praise and give him more treats.  If he protests, turn your back on him and ignore him until he is quiet.  When he is quiet, praise and give more treats.  NEVER release the dog when he is crying.  By doing so, you are inadvertently being trained by the dog to be released if he protests.  

STEP 4:

Walk away, give it a few minutes, and return to the dog and praise him for remaining silent or being interested in the chew toy.  Gradually increase this time and stay out of his sight.  Return, praise and provide more treats only when he is displaying appropriate behavior.  

REPEAT STEPS 1-4 above for a few days.  

 

For crate training to be successful, introduce the crate only when you will be home until he is acclimated to the process.  This will insure the dog does not associate being crated with being home alone.  Go slow, and be patient.  At the early stages of crate training, don’t provide soft toys, as a young, ambitious dog can consume it. Only provide appealing toys and bedding once they prove that they are not destructive. 

With persistence and consistency, you will soon have a dog that enjoys quiet time.

Many dogs enjoy being crated for their whole adult life even if they have mastered the art of potty training and have matured beyond their destructive phase.  I recently graduated from my crate as I’ve mastered the art of potty training, but I still try to fit myself into my old, tight crate.  It makes me feel safe, and I love it!