Your dog's home within a home
Why would I want to crate my dog?
Dogs are den animals. Their natural instincts are to seek a small, closed and secure place to sleep and hide. For the same reasons we feel safe in our houses, our dogs enjoy the security of their crate. We as their owners can enjoy the peace of mind knowing they are not destroying our house or worse- harming themselves by chewing electrical wires, ingesting non-edible items, or getting into household chemicals or garbage. Many dogs that are left alone in their home unattended each day end up in the ER at some point in time to have something foreign removed from their stomach or intestines. Some even die. The single biggest perk to crate training has to be a housebroken dog! Dogs naturally do not want to soil the area where they live and sleep and will usually attempt to hold it for as long as they are in their crate. It is essential to use the crate fairly when housetraining to avoid setbacks- never crate your dog for more than 4 hours without a potty break if it can be avoided, and especially not if they are not yet housebroken.
But isn't crating cruel?
If your dog is not properly adjusted to its crate, left inside too long, or the crate is used as a punishment, sure it is cruel. However if used correctly it can be a great tool for both training your dog and keeping him safe and happy. In fact, a dog that has been crate trained will often go to his den on his own when he is ready for a nap or just wants some privacy for chewing on a toy or relaxing.
Choosing a crate
These days you can get a crate in a number of styles and sizes. The rule of thumb for choosing a size is to pick a crate that has enough room to stand up, turn around without a struggle, and lay down comfortably- he doesn't have to be able to stretch out. If you have a puppy, you can choose to buy a crate that will be correct for his adult size but if he is not housebroken you must partition the crate so that he does not soil his crate and begin a bad habit. There are plastic, wire, and mesh crates out there and a type is really up to you. Most dogs do just fine in a wire crate but some dogs prefer the closeness of a plastic-sided, or "airline" crate. If you travel often via plane this is the kind to get- make sure it's rated for flying. Mesh crates are good for supervised crating only, as a dog could tear the fabric if he really wanted out. Wire crates are fairly all-purpose and come in different types- some with doors on two sides, some with dividers to grow with your puppy, some with and all come with pull out trays for easy cleanup.
Acclimating your dog to the crate
The crate should be a fun, safe place. Initially, your dog may be afraid of this object or unsure what to do about it. Work several times a day to introduce him to it. Take a treat and place or toss it into the crate. When your dog goes into the crate, praise "Good dog!" and "Good crate!" and let him come back out. Once he is easily and willingly going in for the treat or toy, begin closing the door, sometimes. Don't leave, don't lock it, just hold it closed. If he's quiet and good, praise and let him out after a minute. If the dog fusses, ignore him and wait for him to stay calm for a minute. Then praise and let him come out. Take baby steps. When your dog is comfortable, raise your expectations a notch. Leave him longer, lock the door, and walk away. Increase the amount of time you leave him from 1 to 5 minutes, then 10, 15, 30, 60, and then increasing an hour at a time. Associate the crate with good things- feed him in it, give him good treats that he doesn't get at other times.
At NO TIME should your dog be left in a crate outside without supervision. He needs to be able to get out of the sun, away from people or other animals that might hurt him as well as other dangers. Do not leave any sort of "choke" or prong collar on the dog, it may get caught and choke him. Only leave toys and bedding in the crate that the dog will not choke on or injure himself with. Rawhides and stringy towels can cause an obstruction, and hooves and cooked bones can splinter and even puncture the mouth and throat. Make sure that there are no wires sticking out and that your dog can't get a paw or other body part stuck anywhere in the crate. If your dog shows severe signs of separation anxiety-digging and clawing or biting at the wires, pacing, panic- don't leave him until he is comfortable there. You may consider safe treats like Kongs ™ filled with peanut butter or treats (see our Kong Recipes page for creative tips), or hard chew toys that can't be broken into pieces. Frozen treats (commercial or homemade) last a while and provide good entertainment to a bored pup.
© 2005 Crystal Collins