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Every dog parent needs a good dog crate and in most cases, your furry best friend does too. Dog crates are as beneficial as they are versatile.
They can provide a comfortable and safe space for your dog to rest, help during transportation, help in house-training and in preventing destructive behavior, and they can also safely limit your dog’s mobility whenever necessary.
However, if a dog crate is not used correctly, the dog might feel frustrated and trapped so caution has to be taken when using one.
For instance, do not let him stay inside the crate for too long, and never use it as a punishment.
The dog will begin to associate it with feelings of fear and anxiety, thus defeating the whole purpose of crate training.
Guide to Crate Training
Before we begin, it is important to go into this step-by-step training process with realistic expectations.
It could take days for some dogs and weeks for others.
Ease your dog into it, and do not be in a rush to get him to get in and stay in by skipping ahead.
Ensure your dog gets enough exercise before crating him for long periods, to make sure that it doesn’t get to a point where he is relying on joint supplements due to problems like joint degeneration or obesity caused by lack of exercise.
In addition, remember that if you are using the crate as a management tool for any behavioral problems, the goal is to work through those problems so you don’t have to confine him for long periods of time.
Crate-train your dog only until the training has served its purpose.
After that, he should choose to go the crate voluntarily.
Step 1: Introducing your Dog to the Crate
The best place to place the crate is in an area of the house where the family hangs out a lot like the family room, so he is surrounded with familiar faces–faces that give him a sense of security.
Make the crate a bit more comfy by placing a towel or a soft blanket in it.
Remove the door or ensure that it is completely out of the way, and let him explore the crate.
If you’re lucky to have an eager dog, he might start using it immediately.
If you’re not, try tossing treats, or a favorite toy just inside the door to encourage him to get inside.
Keep tossing the toy or the treats further into the crate, until the dog can walk inside calmly to retrieve his toy/treats.
Step 2: Scheduled Meal Times inside the Crate
After a successful introduction to the crate, start putting his food near the crate at regular meal times.
The point of this is to teach him to associate the crate with the things he loves.
Push the feeding bowl just inside the door and keep pushing it further into the crate each meal time until you get all the way to the back of the crate.
Needless to say, this might not be necessary if your dog completed step 1 successfully.
You could just start this step by pushing the food dish all the way to the back of the crate, or as far as he is willing to go.
Leave the door open, and ensure that he is standing inside comfortably and eating without any anxiety or fear.
Once he is accustomed to having his meals inside the crate, close the door gently while he is still eating and open it as soon as he is done.
Increase the length of time that you leave the door closed for a few more minutes after every successful feeding.
Step 3: Alone Time
Once he is used to comfortably having his regular meals inside the crate, you can start confining him for short periods while you’re home.
Sit next to the crate with a treat in hand, and give them a cue to enter the crate, such as “bed” and point to the crate.
After he gets in, applaud him, give him the treat, then close the crate door.
Sit there silently for 5-10 minutes and then leave the room for a few minutes.
Come back, sit silently for a few more minutes before letting him out of the crate.
Repeat this a few times a day, gradually building up the time he stays in the crate with you out of sight.
Step 4: Leaving the House
If your dog can stay comfortably inside the crate for about 30 minutes with you out of sight, he is ready to be crated when you go out for short periods of time.
While getting ready to leave, give him your regular cue to get him into the crate and a treat after.
Close the crate and leave the house without any lengthy or emotional goodbyes.
When you get back, let the dog out of the crate and try not to celebrate or be over-enthusiastic.
This will only increase his anxiety every time as he waits for you to return.
Keep crating your dog for short time periods when you’re around so he doesn’t associate the crate with being left home alone.
Step 5: Crating your Dog at Night
Use your regular cue and a treat to get him into the crate.
If you have a puppy, put the crate in your room or in a hallway nearby for the first few nights.
This is a good idea because you want to hear him whining to be let out since they naturally need to eliminate during the night.
Even though older dogs have better bowel and bladder control, it is still a good idea to keep him close overnight for the first few nights, so he doesn’t feel isolated.
Once he is sleeping in the crate comfortably through the night, you can start moving the crate further away from your room towards a preferred location, if you want.
If you choose to let him sleep in your room or in a hallway nearby, that’s great too as it will establish or reinforce the bond between you and your dog.
Making Noises inside the Crate
Barking, whining or whimpering while inside the crate could mean that your dog needs to be let out to eliminate, or he could be trying to manipulate you to let him out of the crate.
Use your discernment to figure out which one it is, but never reward these shenanigans by releasing him out of the crate.
This will teach him that that is his ticket out of the crate.
If you have followed the above steps and he is still whining to be let out, the best course of action is to ignore him completely and he will probably stop.
Resist scolding him as it might upset him further.
Separation Anxiety or Aggression
If your dog gets extremely anxious or aggressive when you try to confine him, let him out immediately and consider seeking professional guidance from a certified animal trainer or behaviorist.