Are you thinking about crate training your puppy or dog? There are some important benefits—to both you and your dog—of this useful management and training tool, as well as defined steps to take when you crate train a dog.
Do know that crate training is not for every dog and every owner. Your dog’s temperament, your tolerance for destruction, and even your living environment will dictate when or if it’s appropriate. Crate training can be used on a new puppy and even an older or adopted dog. (It’s never too late for an old dog to learn new tricks, as the saying goes.)
It’s important to crate for the right reasons, not to punish a dog or as a babysitter for 12 hours a day. You should also know that not all dogs take to crate training. This is particularly true for adopted dogs whose past makes it unbearable for them to be in a crate. Your dog’s behavior toward and when in a crate will clue you into whether it is a good choice. Just remember to listen when they speak!
So let’s take a look at the reasons for crate training, different crates you can use, and how to go about training your dog to welcome their time in the crate.
Why Crate Train a Dog
While some are adamant that crate training is harmful or cruel to a dog, there are a number of benefits. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons that crate training is undertaken.
It’s a fact that dogs do not like to take care of business where they sleep. It can be easier to train a puppy to control their bowels and bladder by utilizing short stints of time in a crate, slowly increasing the crate time as their control increases.
Overall, crating a dog helps to reduce the number of accidents that occur inside. By taking them out as soon as you release them from the crate, they will learn to associate the crate door opening with their need to go outside to take care of business.
Limits Access to Areas of the House
Whether you have a new puppy that isn’t yet aware of the rules or a grown dog that is mischievous, a crate can be the perfect place for your pet. Crates keep your dog contained, out of harm’s way, and keeps them from doing damage throughout the house.
Dogs are naturally curious and can become bored easily, especially when left alone for longer periods of time. A crate provides a place that is all their own, and a confinement means they won’t be tearing up the house or making chew toys out of the beautiful new boots you just bought.
Safety and Security for Your Pet
A crate is a respite for many pets. It’s a place all their own where they can go when things get too hectic, loud, or overwhelming for them. A crate offers a place of safety and security, a comfortable place to nap, and where they can avoid the kids or other pets in the house. It is their haven.
Whether you want to routinely take your dog along on your travels or just want to take them to the park down the street or lake in the next county, transporting your dog in a crate is the safest way. Overall, crate-trained dogs make it much easier to take your furry friend in your car, SUV, or in the back of a truck. (Note: Many states now require animals be secured when in unenclosed vehicles, like truck beds, open-air Jeeps, etc.)
Should you decide to travel farther afield, airlines require crates for larger dogs traveling in the hold or onboard animal carriers (smaller, soft-sided versions of a crate) for smaller dogs traveling within the airplane’s cabin.
Additionally, while traveling, you may find yourself in a home that isn’t particularly dog-friendly or where you have a need to be gone for longer periods of time and your host isn’t willing or able (in the case of an apartment or condo) to have a dog roaming freely inside or out. Conversely, if you choose not to take your dog on your travels and they need to be kenneled, having them used to a smaller confined space will make their transition to boarding that much easier.
Selecting a Crate for Your Dog
There are a variety of crates available for dogs, both in size and material. The choice will depend on the size of your dog, budget, and aesthetics.
For puppies, you can either graduate to new, larger crates as they grow, or buy a crate based on the size they will become. If choosing the latter, purchase a crate (usually metal) that has an adjustable back wall or divider wall, which can be moved to accommodate growth. Buying a too-large crate that doesn’t adjust will mean your puppy has room to sleep and use the crate as a bathroom. Definitely not something that you want happening.
For adult dogs, the crate should be big enough to allow them some movement. They will need to stand up and stretch and be able to turn around and find a comfy spot to relax in, so make sure both the height and length of the crate is appropriate. Again, don’t go too big or they will be tempted to urinate or defecate in the unused portion.
If you cannot take your furry friend with you to buy the crate or are buying online, then make sure you get their measurements. With your dog standing, measure from the tip of their nose to the based on their tail. To this measurement add two to four inches to find the correct length of the crate. Secondly, with your dog in an upright sitting position, measure from the floor to the top of their head. Add two to four inches to reach the minimum height of the crate. (You can buy a taller crate, but don’t be tempted to buy a longer one!)
4 Types of Dog Crates
The crate you choose will be dependent on a variety of considerations.
- Budget: Crates can range from $35 for a small metal/wire crate to over $1,000 for a fancy wooden dog crate credenza.
- Dog Size: Smaller dogs may feel more secure in an enclosed crate, while others are perfectly content to watch the world go by in an open-side crate.
- Dog Type: Thick and heavy coats usually demand an open-air crate, while small or less furry dogs need more enclosure.
- Temperament: Destructive dogs won’t do well in fabric or wooden crates, curious dogs can learn to open latches or zippers, while nervous dogs may want enclosed sides.
- Travel Requirements: Different modes of travel demand different criteria. While a metal/wire cage may be fine for some dogs in the back of an SUV, it won’t work on an airplane.
- Collapsibility: If space is an issue and you need to break down your crate when you’re home, then metal/wire or fabric crates are better options.
- Looks: If having a large metal or plastic box in the middle of your living area bothers you, then something more decorative will be your choice.
Let’s look at the options…
Probably the least attractive of the options, and the noisiest, they are often the most affordable.
For ease of use and storage, the majority of metal/wire crates are collapsible, meaning they are easy to break down and store under a bed, behind a couch, or in a closet. They come with a large metal pan on the bottom that can easily be removed to clean. These typically come with a single door on the front of the crate for entry, although some models have an additional entry on the side or top of the crate. Many models have divider panels that can be adjusted for puppies as they grow.
The openness of a metal/wire crate allows for good air flow, perfect for hot weather climates or dogs with a heavy coat. On the flip side, that openness can also be a stress point for some dogs because they can easily see their surroundings or people coming and going. Crate covers (often decorative) are available if you find your dog has these issues.
Plastic crates serve dual purposes. They can be used for everyday crating and travel.
They are perfect for the back of station wagon or SUV or the bed of a truck (harnessed to the bed in some fashion). The hard sides of a plastic crate prevent your dog from seeing too much and getting anxious, and from getting too cold. If you buy one that is airline approved, then it can also be the carrier of choice when your animal needs to travel in the hold of an airplane.
Plastic crates are lighter in weight, making them more portable than their metal/wire counterparts. They often have the option of attaching food and/or water dishes for either home use or travel. They are good in colder climates or for dogs that chill easily. And because of their solid sides, they’re a good solution for dogs that get upset by being able to see their surroundings or people while crated.
Plastic crates are harder to clean, and the plastic can absorb smells over time, meaning they may need replacement more often. They are also space hogs, as they can’t be broken down like a metal/wire or fabric crate.
Fabric crates typically combine the best assets of both metal/wire and plastic crates.
Fabric crates are made with a rigid frame and soft, flexible canvas or non-rip nylon siding. These soft-sided crates are easily collapsible, transportable, and make storage a snap. Their four sides often have zip-on/zip-off fabric windows revealing mesh siding, so that you have a choice of a total enclosure, partial enclosure, or open enclosure. This makes them good for hot and cold climates, for use at home, or while traveling.
These are harder to keep clean, retain odors, and will not last as long as metal/wire or plastic crates. Some dogs have been known to chew and even claw holes in the fabric or mesh that are big enough to escape.
Let’s face it; crates are not exactly a decorator’s dream. They are utilitarian and pretty darn unflattering with most home interiors. But there are now alternatives, and your guests might not even know that you have a dog crate in the room!
Decorative dog crates are typically made from wood and serve as a piece of furniture in your living room, family room, bedroom, laundry room, or even outside. They come as side tables, end tables, coffee tables, and credenzas, in cherry, maple, antique white, espresso and even designer colors.
This is not the best option if you have a destructive dog or one who has any bladder control issues. They are also more expensive than the models above.
How to Crate Train Your Dog
Crate training is just like any other type of training, whether it is potty training, learning to walk on a lead, or even teaching your dog to do tricks. The common thread is that it takes time. Do not expect your dog to hop in its crate at command the first time. And do expect them to bark, whine, or cry while they get used to it.
The idea is to gradually introduce the crate to your pet and take small steps at first. You’ll have a happier dog (and happier neighbors) if you do.
Start by putting in a blanket, towel or dog bed in the crate—preferably one they use regularly. Leave the door to the crate open and let them explore. Should they ignore the crate altogether, bring them over and talk or play with them in front of it. Bribe them with treats, if need be. Take your time. It may take days to get them just to go inside.
2. Let Them Know It’s Their Crate
In addition to putting their blanket into the crate, you can also add a favorite chew toy. Make it feel like home.
You can also feed them meals in it once a day to get them used to going inside. Start with the food at the door and each day move it further into the crate. Make sure you leave the door open while they eat those first few days. After they are fully inside for a day or two, you can begin to close the door. Leave them in the crate for a short period of time after feeding, extending the time each day.
3. Crate Your Dog While Home
The next step in crate training is to put your dog in the crate while you’re home, other than at feeding time. Teach them a command to enter the crate. It could be “enter,” “bed,” or even “crate.” If they balk, bribe them with a treat. Either way, make sure you praise them for their actions when they’re in.
Stay with them for 5-10 minutes and then walk away. When you return, sit next to the crate for 5-10 minutes and then let them out. (More praise here goes a long way.) Lengthen the time away each day until you reach 30-45 minutes.
4. Crate Your Dog and Leave
Now comes the big test. Put them in the crate—treat, praise and all—and sit with them for a few minutes. Then spend a few minutes wandering around within their sight. Then leave quietly for 30-45 minutes. Again, lengthen the time each day.
When you get home, quietly let them out of the crate and take them outside.
5. Nighttime Crating
Now it’s time to crate them to sleep at night. Keep them within earshot, but not necessarily in the same room. You’ll need to be able to hear them if they have to go outside.
Start by taking them outside to eliminate. Then put them to bed with the same treat and praise routine. If they whine early on, do your best to ignore it. Giving in will only make crate training your dog more difficult. If you find them whining in the middle of the night, it is usually a sign they need to go outside. Quietly take them outside and then return them to the crate with as little fanfare as possible.
Much like children learning to sleep through the night, you most likely will have to put up with some whining and crying and the occasional 2 a.m. wake-ups. This is just a normal part of crate training. Take it in your stride, as it will make your life easier in the long run.
The crate should be a place that your dog is willing to go when needed. It’s unwise to use banishment to a crate as a punishment. Repeated use in this manner could make your dog unwilling to use the crate at all.
While some people find crates to be cruel to animals, it’s not the crates themselves, but owners. Dogs cannot be left in a crate indefinitely. How much time they can tolerate will vary from dog to dog and the situation. Do not crate your dog for 12 hours a day while you are at work. It’s not healthy for them, and you could create a barking, whining monster that becomes antisocial and/or withdrawn.
With puppies, their bladders are just not capable of lasting more than 3 to 4 hours without urinating. As they age and become house-trained, the length of time will increase, but don’t push the limits early on. You’ll have a mess to clean up, and they will be less willing to enter the crate when the time comes.
Adult dogs can certainly stand longer periods of time in the confines of a crate, but for the dog’s health and welfare and your own, make sure that you are aware of their ability and limits and that they get plenty of exercise and movement when not crated.
Best of luck with your crate training!