Many dog owners cite crate training as the most stressful phase they went through with their new pooch. Whether you have brought home a new puppy who doesn’t quite have control of his bladder yet, or you have taken in a rescue who may suffer from separation anxiety, crating is a necessary step in your dog’s development. It may feel like you are being cruel or punishing him but, if done correctly, your dog will come to see his crate as a safe haven instead of a puppy prison.
The goal with crate training is to create a space that your dog enjoys spending time in, that keeps both him and your house safe either during the day while you are at work or at night while asleep. Crate training can also be helpful for transporting your dog in the car or in the event of an emergency. Check out this list so you can be sure what to do and what not to do to have a successful crate experience.
1. Do NOT leave your dog in a crate for hours upon hours the first time.
DO gradually build up the amount of time your dog is in the crate.
It won’t always be possible, but if you’re able to take a weekend or a time when you have a couple days off to work on crate training gradually, it will pay off in the end. Start by tossing some treats in the crate and let your dog go in and out without closing the door. Feed your dog in his kennel or crate (also with the door open) to get him even more used to it.
Once your dog will happily go in and out of the kennel, add a verbal cue to your dog’s kennel training (such as “crate” or “kennel”) and closing the door. Work up to a few minutes with the door closed and you out of the room, then an hour, then multiple hours. A good general rule from the ASPCA for puppies is:
—8–10 weeks: 30–60 minutes
—11–14 weeks: 1–3 hours
—15–16 weeksL: 3–4 hours
—17+ weeks: 4–5 hours.
If your dog is afraid of the kennel, go slow and use highly motivating treats. Don’t push him into it, or yell at him for being scared. Sometimes it takes awhile for a dog to get used to a crate.
2. Even if your dog is older, DO NOT leave your dog in a kennel all day, every day.
DO provide proper exercise and training for your dog.
The kennel or crate isn’t a substitute for exercising or training your dog. It can be a great management tool while you work on training, but be sure to still work with your dog on the chewing or house training issues and give her plenty of exercise. A tired dog is less likely to get into trouble in the first place!
3. Do NOT use the crate as a punishment.
DO create a safe haven for your dog.
Your dog should see their crate as a happy, den-like place where they can sleep and relax. Make it comfy with a bed or blanket and leave a toy or bone in there to give them something to do (though be careful about what toys/bones you leave in there if you have a dog that destroys those things and could choke on small pieces). If you decide to do a doggy time out, don’t use the crate.
4. Do NOT put your dog in a huge crate.
DO put your dog in an appropriately sized crate.
It might seem counterintuitive, but the crate should be big enough for your dog to lay down, stand up, and turn around, but that’s about it. Especially if you are using it for potty training, a smaller crate space means your pup is not likely to pee where he is going to sleep. You can buy a bigger crate for a smaller dog to grow into, as long as you block off the extra space.
It can also be important to consider what type of kennel you might want. Wire? Plastic? Collapsible fabric? Fancy built-in kennel that blends into your decor? It really depends on your personal stye and how much your dog likes to chew.
5. Do NOT let your dog out because he or she is whining.
DO wait until she is quiet.
Dogs are smart — if they whine and you let them out, they are more likely to whine just to get out in the future because they know it works (and we think we train them!). If your dog starts whining when you go to let them out, wait until they stop (even if it’s just for a couple seconds) until you open the door.
It can also help to leave and arrive as quietly and calmly as possible. This will keep the overall environment calm, and make arrivals and departures less excited and less anxiety-inducing.
6. Do NOT use a crate for separation anxiety.
DO seek professional help with this issue.
Using a crate for severe separation anxiety can make it worse, and a dog may injure himself trying to get out. Separation anxiety is a complex issue that ranges from mild to very severe, from barking and chewing to urination and trying to escape. If you think your dog has separation anxiety, check out this resource from the ASPCA and seek a professional positive reinforcement based trainer for help with this issue.