How to Crate Train Your Dog

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Although many people think crating a dog is cruel, canines often take well to crates and see them as a safe place. Crates also take advantage of your dog’s instinct to refrain from eliminating where they sleep.

In this article, we discuss how to crate train your dog. We also examine the following topics:

  • The Benefits of Crate Training. 
  • Are Dogs Den Animals?  
  • When Should I Start Crate Training My Puppy?
  • How Long Can You Crate a Dog? 
  • How Long Does Crate Training Take? 
  • Choosing the Right Crate.
  • Crate Training a Puppy.
  • How to Crate an Adult Dog. 
  • Should I Put My Dog in a Crate at Night? 
  • How to Crate Train a Dog Who Hates the Crate
  • How to Crate Train a Shelter Dog.
  • Should You Crate Two Dogs Together?
  • Crate Training Top Tips.

The benefits of crate training 

There are several benefits to crate training your dog.

  • It’s your dog’s own intimate space.
  • Provides a safe space for your dog to relax in.
  • It can help with house training.
  • Easier to transport your dog when you need to.
  • Keeps them safe after any surgery they may have.

Are dogs den animals? 

Some people claim that dogs are not den animals, since they spend more than 95 percent of their lives in the open. But The American Humane suggests dogs use dens as they like to have a space to retreat to if they feel insecure.

Wild dogs will actively search for dens when they’re due to give birth, and mothers will raise their pups in them.

When should I start crate training my puppy?

You can begin crate training young puppies from eight weeks old when they’ve left the litter. Dogs eight weeks of age are unlikely to be aversive to the crate so training may be easier. Some puppies are even born in crates, as many breeders provide them for whelping.

How long can you crate a dog? 

Crating dogs during the day is different from crating them at night. Long periods in the crate during the day can damage a dog’s physical and mental health.

You can crate a healthy adult dog for up to eight hours at a time, providing they get a good amount of mental and physical exercise. However, try not to make this an everyday occurrence.

Puppies should spend a maximum of five hours in the crate, depending on their age. The younger they are, the more difficult it is to control their bladder, and regular potty breaks are essential.  

Pro tip: A general rule of thumb is one hour for each month of age for puppies. For example: your puppy is one month oned = 1 hour of crate time. If your puppy is four months old = up to 4 hours of crate time.

How long does crate training take? 

The time it takes to crate train your dog will vary depending on your dog’s temperament, retrospective experiences, and age. Some dogs may take days or weeks, while others may take months. Be patient with your canine.

Choosing the right crate

The first thing to consider when purchasing a dog crate is size

Dogs have an instinct not to eliminate where they sleep, so confining them to a crate can help your puppy learn how to control their bladder. 

Make sure it’s large enough for your dog to stand up and turn around in. But if it’s too big, it may feel it’s OK to eliminate in one corner and go to sleep in another. 

Secondly, you’ll have to choose the type of crate you want.

Metal wire crates

Metal crates are well ventilated, durable, and easy to clean. It’s an excellent option for sociable dogs, as it provides them with a 360-degree view of their surroundings.

Plastic crates

Plastic crates aren’t the most attractive option, but they’re easy to clean and durable. They often have a solid roof and three solid sides, while the door is wire. Anxious dogs and those who like privacy may prefer this type of crate, as it’s a quiet enclosed space.

Wooden crates

Wooden crates blend into your home and look like a piece of furniture. Dog owners often place them beside the couch, as they double as a table. They have a wooden frame and top with wire sides to contain your canine.

While these crates are aesthetically pleasing, they’re not easy to clean and can be heavy.

Fabric tent crate

Lightweight and portable, fabric “tent” crates are a good portable alternative. Not ideal for puppies unless they are under supervision because they are harder to clean and not secure if you have a chewer or escape artist. 

Crate training a puppy

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Step 1: introducing your puppy to the crate  

Place the crate in a room where you and your family spend a lot of time. This makes it easier for your puppy to become familiar with it. 

Leave the crate door open, and every time your puppy shows interest, offer them a treat. Encourage your new puppy to go into the crate by praising it for its investigative behavior and throwing a few treats inside.

You can make your puppy feel more comfortable around the crate by putting their bedding, treats, and toys inside. 

Step 2: feeding your puppy meals in the crate 

Once your puppy goes inside the crate and they’re happy, you can close the door. Avoid locking the door at this point, as this may frighten your pup, and you may lose progress.

Being in a crate can be a daunting experience. Feeding your dog its meals inside can make it much more pleasant, and it’ll help diminish any reservations about the crate. It can also help take their mind off the closed door and increase the time they spend inside. 

Step 3: practice with longer crating periods

After some door closing practice, begin to extend your pup’s time in the crate. You can achieve this by providing a long-lasting chew treat or feeding meals inside. You can close the door and lock it once your dog is comfortable.

The first time you lock the door should only last a couple of minutes. It’s also a good idea to stay near the crate, so you can release your puppy if it looks distressed. Don’t release your pup if it starts to bark, as it may begin to associate barking as a way of being let out.

If your puppy seems settled, you can gradually increase the time they spend in the crate while you’re close. Some dogs will tolerate staying in the crate longer than others. Once your dog can happily stay in the crate for 30 minutes, you can begin leaving the room.

Step 4: crating your dog when left alone

Once your puppy is happy to be left inside the crate for a long time in your presence, you can begin to leave the house or room. To start with, leave the room for short periods, and gradually increase your absence.

Only increase the time your puppy is left alone if it’s calm. If your dog becomes stressed, leaving its sight will only cause more upset.

How to crate an adult dog 

It’s possible to train an adult dog to use a crate in the same way as a puppy. Like with puppies, this has to happen gradually. Any sudden exposure to confinement can make the crate feel like a punishment. 

Should I put my dog in a crate at night? 

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It’s a good idea to crate your dog at night, as it stops them from damaging your property and eating anything harmful. However, your dog might be happy eating its meals or resting in the crate during the day. But, spending a night inside may still be distressing for them, and it may cause some whining or barking. 

Pro tip: Put the crate beside your bed. This can help your pup feel more secure as they are still close to you and don’t feel alone.

How to crate train a dog who hates the crate

Several things may cause a dog to hate the crate.

  • Using the crate as a punishment.
  • The crate is too small for the dog.
  • The crate doesn’t contain toys, bedding, or food.
  • Forcing the dog into the crate.
  • Crating for too long.

Try to rectify any actions that may have caused the aversion. Start over and check the crate is large enough for your dog. Then, make your dog feel comfortable by furnishing the crate with their bedding and favorite things.

Make a positive association with the crate using plenty of treats and praise. Avoid forcing your dog inside the crate, and instead coax them in with a treat or toy.

Pro tip: Clicker training/shaping your dog to go in the crate on its own or on command can help too.

How to crate train a shelter dog

You can train a shelter dog in the same way as a dog or puppy. However, shelter dogs are particularly vulnerable and may appear more anxious or fearful. 

During night crating, it’s best to keep your dog close until they become more comfortable with the crate.

You might notice behaviors such as whining, bar chewing, howling, or pacing. Ignore these behaviors initially to try and judge your dog’s intentions. If you conclude that you’ve considered your dog’s needs and the behavior continues, they may need behavioral therapy.

Troubleshooting 

Sometimes you may experience bumps in the road while you’re crate training. 

Too much time in the crate

Dogs who spend too much time in the crate can become anxious outside the crate. They can also develop behavioral issues or suffer physical damage to muscle tone and joints.

Avoid leaving your dog in the crate for an extensive amount of time during the day. If you’re anticipating a long day at work, consider hiring a dog walker or asking a friend to check in with your canine.

Pro tip: Other options are to set your dog up in an exercise pen with more space, or a single room that has been dog-proofed.

Separation anxiety

Dogs are social animals, and they usually thrive in the company of humans. A dog with separation anxiety may prefer wire crates, as they can see you from all directions when you’re close. The location of the crate is also essential for anxious dogs.

Another way to tackle distress is by providing a comforter. This could be a cuddly toy or favorite blanket. There are also toys specially made for anxious pups, which mimic their sibling’s heat and heartbeat.

Evaluate your crates location

Choose a space away from any drafts or heat sources, as these can cause discomfort. 

You can have multiple crates, or move the crate around the house if this benefits your dog. For example, if your dog is easily distressed, having them sleep close to you may help. 

If your dog is easily disturbed by movement or noise, put the crate somewhere quiet at bedtime. You could set up a motion sensor camera that will alert you if your dog stirs so you can monitor their behavior.

Take a look at this video below, which discusses the importance of crate location.

Barking and whining

There are two types of barking: distress barking and demand barking. Barking in the crate isn’t a problem unless it persists and becomes stressful for your canine.

Distress barking: A distress bark is a mixture of whining, howling, and barking. Sit close to their crate and try to calm them down by petting or talking to them. Avoid taking them out of the crate as this will reinforce the behavior.

Demand barking: This is usually a simple bark that dogs learn to get their way. It often happens because owners take their dogs out of the crate when they bark. Aim to ignore this type of barking and let your dog settle on its own. If your dog struggles to settle there are several things you can try.

  1. Avoid giving your dog a treat or food to quiet them down, but give them one as soon as they’re silent. If your dog knows the ‘quiet’ command, use it and provide them with a chewy treat once they obey. 
  2. Look at your crate setup. Is there anything that needs changing? Is your dog too close to a window or a heat source, etc., that may be making them uncomfortable?
  3. This type of behavior can also happen due to a lack of physical or mental exercise. Give your dog plenty of opportunities to burn off all their energy before bedtime.
  4. Does your dog need to go potty? Creating a bedtime routine is a great way to stop your dog from needing a nighttime potty break. 

Should you crate two dogs together?

Never crate two dogs together

Even if they have grown up side by side. Crate training aims to give your dog a safe haven. Sharing a crate could compromise your dog’s feeling of safety, which can cause stress. This can suddenly turn into aggression, even if your dogs are best buddies.

Crate training pro tips 

  • Reward your dog every time it investigates or enters the crate. 
  • Give your pup long-lasting chewy treats or feed them their meals inside the crate to increase the time they spend inside. 
  • If your dog barks, quiet them down before releasing them.
  • Don’t leave your dog in the crate for long periods during the day.
  • Provide your dog with plenty of mental and physical exercise before crating them at bedtime.
  • Don’t use the crate as a punishment.
  • Finally, be consistent and have fun. 

Key takeaways on crate training

Crates are helpful tools that help limit your dog’s access to the house and stop them from chewing things that they shouldn’t. The crate training process can be scary for your dog. But when taught in the right way it provides a safe place to spend time. 

Never use the crate as a punishment. This will shatter any positive associations your dog has made with it. If you ever have doubts, seek help from a professional dog trainer.

Kate Basedow, LVT
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