Many owners are unsure about the idea of crate training. Admittedly the first time I came across a dog that was put in their crate at night to sleep or when the owners went out due to its anxiety, I remember thinking to myself that I could never do that to a dog.
Then I learnt about the benefits that crate training your dog can provide and, since this first exposure to one, I have since seen how much a dog can love their crate as it is their own safe little haven to escape to, just like a wild dog would view their den.
Rather than seeing their crate as a horrible restriction, an appropriately prepared dog will see their crate as a place of relaxation and comfort. It becomes a home away from home and provides a safe and secure place for your dog to rest, without the risk of injury and/or escape. This helps to reduce the stress for you and your dog, whilst travelling, going on outings and is also a useful way to keep an injured dog rested or safe.
Crate training can also assists greatly with toilet training as dogs don’t generally soil their beds. This is further advantaged by preventing the dog from wandering unsupervised throughout the house, providing opportunities to sneak off and eliminate.
How to crate train your dog
Successful crate training cannot be achieved be simply locking your dog in the crate and hoping for the best. Some dogs take a little while to acclimatise to being confined and may perceive the activity as exclusionary/punishment.
Start by placing the crate in a central area, where the dog is comfortable and still able to interact with family members. A quiet corner of the lounge/family room or in the same place as the dog’s current bed is preferred. To promote the dog’s feeling of security in regard to the crate, ensure that children do not climb in or on top of it.
Our first aim is to build a positive association with the crate; this is exclusively done with the DOOR OPENED and may be achieved by;
• Feeding your dog in the crate
• Giving the dog bones, pigs ears, chew toys in the crate
• Hiding treats and other toys in the crate
• Offering praise / reinforcement when the dog approaches / enters or lays down in the crate
• Placing the dog’s bedding in the crate
Whilst in the early stages of training, we never close the crate door until the dog is calm and comfortable. Like all training programs, the length of time taken to achieve this relaxed attitude, will vary between individual dogs and will be greatly influenced by socialisation levels and past experience.
Once we are happy with the dog’s attitude to the crate and its readiness to go inside, we may start closing the dog for short periods of time. We must remember to reward appropriate behaviour and ignore any inappropriate responses such as whining, scratching, etc. The dog should never be let out of the crate if it is demanding you let it out, wait until the moment it quietens down and THEN reward that behaviour by rewarding and letting them out.
As the dog becomes more comfortable with the crate, you should extend the time the dog remains in there, with the door closed. Never use the crate as punishment and always facilitate calm and relaxed behaviour whilst inside.
It is also recommended to establish a cue / command for going into the crate (e.g. bed / crate), as well as ensuring the dog does not leave the crate without being released / commanded. This ensures that you can send the dog to its crate at a distance and also prevents the dog from bursting out before you can attach a lead.
Choosing a Crate
When selecting a crate, it is important to find one that is appropriate for the size of your dog. The dog needs to have sufficient room to stand up, turn around and lay down, while not being so big that it is cumbersome to store / transport, reduces the security experienced by the dog or effects toileting control.
If purchasing a crate for your puppy, you may want to plan ahead and select a size that is also going to be suitable for them as an adult. If doing this, you may want to use a divider to reduce the area in the early stages of their life. Many of the collapsible wire crates come with these as a standard fitting.
There are 3 common types of crates recommended for student’s use; the one best suited to your dog will vary according to your individual circumstances, as well as the breed and behaviour of your dog.
Soft crates are light weight, easy to carry and most fold down to a convenient size. They are great for small dogs or those who are completely comfortable with the crating experience. They are not recommended for dogs that chew or are likely scratch or push their way out of their crate, when they want to get out or become excited / aroused by the activity of nearby dogs / people.
Airline Approved Crates
Airline approved crates or Vari kennels, provide a safe alternative for dog that tend to be reactive and / or require more secure housing. They are made of a lightweight plastic and include windows / vents for increased airflow / cooling. The double pinned door also ensures that dogs cannot push through the mesh or bend it in the corners to escape.
The main disadvantage with this type of crate is that it does not fold down and requires a significant amount of storage / transporting space. If your dog requires a large size, you should ensure that your car will accommodate the crate, prior to purchase.
Collapsible Wire Crates
Collapsible wire crates are well ventilated and fold down flat for convenient storage and transport. They enable the dog to have a clear view of its surroundings and most brands come with optional covers to provide added security or protection against inclement weather.
While suitable for the vast majority of dogs, wire crates are not recommended for dogs that are highly reactive and/ r tend to destructively chew. While some brands may provide adequate security, most will bend/break under moderate – heavy pressure. This may cause significant injury to your dog and/or result in them escaping from the crate.
An added benefit to wire crates is that many come with a divider for use during puppyhood. If you do have a new puppy, read our articles on how to puppy proof your home as well as the importance of puppy socialisation.
About the Author: Lara Shannon is co-Host of Pooches at Play and has completed a Certificate III in Dog Behaviour & Training with the National Dog Trainers Federation. Lara also runs her own dog walking, dog minding and dog training business in Melbourne’s Bayside area.