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Crate Training Q&A

We hear so much about crate training but how do you know how to use the crate correctly? And what can you do to ensure your dog likes his crate? For these questions and more, we turned to our friends at Life is Dog.

How do you know if your dog needs a crate?

When introduced correctly in a positive way, crates are terrific for house training. They can also be used to keep adult dogs and puppies safe in your home when you’re not supervising them. Not every adult dog needs a crate. If they don’t damage things in the house, they may not need one. My dogs aren’t crated. They usually lounge on the sofa but they have the option to go into their crates if they want.

Do you recommend using a crate in the car?

For the car, I’d recommend using a pet seat belt or a vari kennel (a secure travel crate).

When is a crate NOT appropriate?

Crates are not helpful if your dog has fear of isolation or has severe separation anxiety. In those cases, seek professional help with behavior modification, and they may be able to help you introduce a gated area or x-pen in a positive way.

Be sure you’re not crating your dog for excessive period s of time without exercise, potty breaks, and mental stimulation. This can lead to frustration and behavior challenges.

What is the maximum time a dog should be left in a crate?

The maximum time for an adult dog would be four to five hours. For a puppy, they can be left in a crate one hour for every month of age. For example, if your puppy is 12-weeks-old, he should be able to be in a crate for around three hours. At night he may be able to sleep in a crate for six to eight hours, with one to two bathroom breaks.

Can you explain why crate training is essential (as opposed to just starting to use a crate)?

It’s very important to build positive associations with the crate, so that your dog can be calm and comfortable while crated and even find it enjoyable.

Using a crate “cold” (i.e., without acclimating your dog to it first) can lead to disaster, creating anxiety and resistance from dogs. This could potentially lead to long-term bad associations with being crated and/or being left alone.

What are some tips you can share for crate training?

Keep the door open at first and use high-value treats (ex: small pieces of cheese, chicken, or hot dogs) and a marker (a clicker or word of praise) for going in or alternatively begin by tossing a treat in and mark and reward for going in. Repeat this in many short sessions.

Be patient. Build a foundation slowly. Work in baby steps mark and reward as your dog sits, then progress to down. Add duration, working up to 15 seconds. Then begin jiggling the door handle and adding closing and opening to get your dog accustomed to the sound. See the video for next steps closing and opening door.

Next, work up to adding duration with the door closed but stay close by. Mark and toss treats in the crate.

When you reach 15 seconds in front of the crate successfully, begin to step a foot away for a split second and return. Mark and treat. Build on this work up to going out of the room for a split second. Then increase duration. Never increase duration and distance simultaneously. One “d” at a time.

If the dog barks, whines, or paws, you just need to go back to the last successful step.

What are some common misconceptions about crate training?

Crating is not cruel when done appropriately. Is safer than leaving a dog to practice bad habits, and it can be well loved and enjoyed by the majority of dogs. It is a natural, den-like behavior that dogs are predisposed to. Many folks eventually take the door off the crate, as their pups frequently enjoy going in to relax.

A crate should never be used as punishment. It keeps them safe and secure until you have practiced trust and they have earned freedom in new spaces or alone. This helps lead to a well-adjusted and trusted dog.

What else can you do to help your dog be happy in his crate?

• Crate for short sessions and sometimes while your home so that it’s not predictable and so that it’s associated only with you leaving.

• Don’t make a big thing of leaving and returning.

• Use special treats like a stuffed Kong when you leave. Try out different Kong recipes. This gives your dog a mental activity to enjoy while they’re in their crate.

• You may also consider feeding your dog his meals in his crate to further build a positive association.

How long does crate training usually take?

A puppy or adult dog can typically be trained in about a week, if they have no prior bad associations with a crate. Remember that each dog is different. It may take longer, depending on the dog. Work at your dog’s pace and build trust and positive associations. You may have to undo some negative experiences, so be patient.

If your dog has any fear of the crate, go slower with crate training and back up a step or two as needed. If your dog is struggling with crate training or has signs of separation anxiety, seek professional help.

What size crate is best?

Don’t get a crate they can grow into if house breaking is a goal. Get a suitable crate that they can comfortably stand up and turn around in. If the crate is too big of an area, this could result in potty training accidents. In general, dogs will not eliminate in areas they sleep.

What should I know about setting up the crate?

• Don’t leave leashes or harnesses on while crating. This is dangerous, as they can get caught in the crate wires.

• You can cover the crate with a sheet make it more peaceful, but be sure there is good ventilation and it’s not too hot.

• If you’re getting a puppy from a breeder, ask them to send a shirt or item that has been with the mom and place this in the crate to help provide comfort. If training an adult dog, use a shirt or item you have worn.

• You can try using bedding in the crate. However, if the pup chews or is destructive, remove this for safety. Be careful about toys or bedding that could be ingested or broken.

• If possible, get two crates. Place one in a living area where you spend the most time and the other in your bedroom. During crating, you can play soft music or leave the TV on softly. Music such as country, reggae, or classical have been shown to have the most calming effects because they are similar beats to a dog’s heart rate.