How To Crate-Train Your Dog
Crate-training a puppy makes house training easy! It also gives your puppy a safe, comfortable place to be when he or she cannot be closely supervised. Having a crate-trained dog also makes car travel easier and safer for both you and your pet. If your dog is trained properly, it decreases the likelihood that he or she will be distressed about confinement should it ever be necessary for hospitalization, grooming or boarding.
Is Crate Training a Dog Hard?
Crate-training a dog while young is usually easiest, but dogs of any age can be trained. As long as they have had no frightening or unpleasant experiences in a cage and developed a fear or phobia of confinement, this training should be relatively clear-cut. Dogs that are fearful of the crate will be harder to train, but with enough patience and understanding, they can usually eventually be crate-trained.
Tips for Crate Training and Things to Keep in Mind
If your dog acts afraid of the crate, confinement or being alone or if your dog resists being placed there, DO NOT FORCE them into the crate. Contact your veterinarian immediately for assistance. Your pet may have some form of separation distress or other fear or phobia associated with confinement or being left alone. If that is the case, your pet will need appropriate treatment by a professional; forcing them to experience confinement is likely to make the problem much worse.
Some important points to keep in mind:
- If your dog has had no uncomfortable exposure to a crate and thus has developed no negative feelings about confinement, you will want to be sure that confinement to the crate is always associated with something positive.
- The crate should be large enough for the dog to stand up, turn around and lie comfortably stretched out. If you have a puppy that will grow into a large dog, you can buy the crate in the size that will be needed when the canine is fully grown. Block off part of the crate for the first few months to keep the confinement area small so as to make housetraining easier.
- Never punish your dog by placing him in the crate!
- Toss your dog’s favorite treats into the crate several times daily to encourage them to enter. Don’t begin closing the door of the cage until they start to enter willingly and eagerly.
- Feed your dog every meal in the crate, leaving the door open at first. Only after the dog seems comfortable in the crate do you want to close the door. Be sure to open it again soon after they have finished eating.
- Once you can close the door and the dog seems comfortable, give your pet longer-lasting treats such as a stuffed Kong, rawhides or other food puzzle toys.
- Take care with their bedding. Some dogs may ingest towels or blankets, which can lead to foreign body obstruction.
- In the beginning, be sure that periods of confinement are very short and slowly work up to leaving the dog in the cage for longer periods of time.
- At first, do not leave home while the dog is in the crate. Practice “crate time” while you are moving about the house or in another room.
- Be aware that signs of discomfort in the dog may be subtle. Signs include low whining, excessive salivation and lots of lip-licking and/or whining.
- Never force them into the crate if it appears even somewhat uncomfortable about going into it.
- Keep in mind that puppies need to eliminate often and as a general rule of thumb should not be confined for more than an hour per every four weeks of life. For example, an eight-week-old puppy should not be left for more than two hours, a 12-week-old puppy for more than three hours and so on. During the nighttime, most puppies can be left a little bit longer than this guideline suggests.
- Verbally praise your dog every time you see him entering on his own or resting or playing there.
- Never release your dog from the crate when it is whining or barking. Ignore him completely (this means don’t make eye contact with him, scold him or say anything to him) until it is quiet for a few seconds. Then allow him out and next time do not leave him for such a long period of time. If the problem persists, speak with your veterinarian.
- Never try to use confinement to manage your dog if it has separation anxiety. This will worsen the anxiety and can lead to severe injuries to the pet.
Having a dog that is crate-trained can be very helpful, but some may be more difficult than others to train and may need a more directed and specific approach to their training. Please see your veterinarian for more information about safely crate-training your dog.
Valarie Tynes, DVM graduated from Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine. She currently lives in Sweetwater, Texas and practices at Premier Veterinary Behavior Consulting.