Some pet parents shudder at the thought of crate training their dogs. But despite what some people may say, crate training isn’t cruel when used appropriately, and can actually satisfy many dogs’ need for a den-like sanctuary.
According to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, the American Dog Trainers Network and many veterinarians and breeders, crate training your dog — whether they are a young puppy or an adult dog — offers several benefits:
- Short-term management — A crate, or indoor kennel, can be used similarly to how you would use a playpen for a crawling baby. Another way to think about the crate is as a leash with walls. It’s a safe place for your puppy or dog for a short time to help keep your pet out of trouble — and your home and possessions from being destroyed — when you need to be away from home or are too busy to keep a close eye on them.
- House-training — Especially if you have a new puppy, crate training can be an effective house training tool, helping to teach your puppy to eliminate outside. In the wild, dogs (and their wolf ancestors) are naturally reluctant to soil their dens and will leave them to eliminate. Crating takes advantage of your dog’s natural instinct to not eliminate in their den, and allows you to gradually teach them that the entire house is their “den.”
- Resting or sleeping place — A crate gives your dog a safe place to sleep, have “down time” or recover from an injury or surgery. It also serves as a mobile indoor dog house that can be moved from room to room as necessary.
- Traveling — A kennel is one of the best ways for your dog to travel, whether by car or plane. When you’re driving, your dog can be a significant distraction. So instead of letting them loose in your vehicle and potentially jumping around, have them travel in their crate. They will be less distracting for the driver and much less likely to cause an accident.
Choosing a crate for your dog
Most dog owners choose either a collapsible metal-wire crate with a tray floor or a plastic traveling crate. While a molded plastic kennel may seem more den-like, you can also cover a metal wire crate with a blanket (assuming your dog won’t pull it inside to chew on) to provide a greater sense of safety and security.
When it comes to crates, size matters. Based on the size of your dog, the crate should provide enough room for your pet to stand up, turn around in a small circle, and lay flat on their side comfortably.
If you’re buying a crate for your puppy, you could purchase a small crate now and potentially a larger crate in several months. Or you can buy a larger crate and simply block off part of it so your pup doesn’t use an area of the kennel for elimination.
Place your dog’s crate where your family spends time
Since dogs are social animals, consider placing your dog’s crate in a room where you and your family spend time. The kitchen, family room or a bedroom where the dog sleeps at night are good choices, provided your dog won’t be overstimulated by noise and activity. The location should help encourage your dog to enter the crate on their own without feeling lonely or isolated.
Length of time in a crate varies with age
How long you can kennel your dog at one time varies with the dog’s age. One rule of thumb used by veterinarians and professional dog trainers is no longer than one hour for each month of age, up to nine to 10 hours at most. However, others advise no more than four to five hours at a time in a crate for any dog. The exception is nighttime, because when dogs sleep, their body systems and elimination slow down (just as our bodies do).
Crate training don’ts
Crate training isn’t a panacea and can be easily misused. Here are five things you definitely don’t want to do when crating your dog.
- Don’t leave your dog’s collar on when they are crated — unless it’s a safety breakaway collar. A collar or its tags can get caught on the crate and cause injury to your pet.
- Never, ever use the crate to punish your dog. They will only learn to avoid the crate, either refusing to go in or becoming agitated when wanting to be let out.
- Don’t “store” your dog in their crate for hours and hours on end.
- Don’t let children, adults or other animals tease your dog when they are in their crate.
- Don’t delay the start of crate training. It’s best to start getting your puppy used to their crate as soon as you bring them home. Note that the younger they are, the more frequent potty breaks they will need, so long stints in the crate might not be the best idea at first.
- Don’t kennel your dog in a crate if they are vomiting or have diarrhea.
Finally, dogs that suffer from separation anxiety or other phobias should not be confined to a crate. These dogs will benefit from specific therapy, and you should discuss this situation with your veterinarian and possibly a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.
Your dog’s crate should be like their ancestral wolf’s den — a safe, warm place to rest and relax. Crate training is a great way to keep your dog safe when you’re not home to supervise them. The key is to use a crate appropriately and to associate it with positive experiences. In a future post, we’ll review key steps for positively crate training your dog.