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Northampton Veterinary Clinic

Crate Training

Close Up Image of a Brown Dog's Paws

Crate training has long been accepted by professional trainers and veterinarians as one of the quickest and least stressful ways to mold desirable behaviors in dogs.

Although many new dog owners initially reject the idea of using a crate because they consider it cruel or unfair to the dog, a crate helps to satisfy the dog’s denning instinct while being the answer to many problems faced by dogs and their owners.

Crates come in a variety of sizes proportioned to fit any type of dog. It should be just big enough for a dog to stand up, lie down, and turn around in. Its purpose is to provide confinement for reasons of safety, housebreaking, prevention of destructive behavior, or travel. The crate is a place for the dog to be when no one is around to supervise. It is the dog’s bed and sanctuary.

Why use a dog crate?

When correctly and humanely used, a crate can have many advantages for both you and your dog.

You can…

  • Enjoy peace of mind when leaving your dog home alone, knowing that nothing can be soiled or destroyed – and that she is comfortable, protected, and not developing any bad habits.

  • Housebreak your dog quickly by using the confinement to encourage control, establish a regular routine for outdoor elimination, and prevent accidents at night or when left alone.

  • Effectively confine your dog at times when she may be underfoot, over-excited, or bothered by too much confusion or too many children.

  • Travel with your dog safely and be assured that she will more easily adapt to strange surroundings as long as she has her familiar “security blanket”

Your dog can…

  • Enjoy the privacy and security of a “den” of her own, to which she can retreat when tired, stressed, or ill.

  • Avoid much of the fear, confusion, and anxiety caused by your reaction to problem behavior.

  • More easily learn to control her bowels and to associate elimination only with the outdoors.

  • Be spared the loneliness and frustration of having to be isolated, in the basement or outdoors, from indoor family surroundings when being restricted.

  • Be more conveniently included in family outings and trips instead of being left behind alone.

Because dogs are highly social animals, it is important that they are indoors much of the time, even when you are not home or are sleeping and cannot interact with them. Your dog needs to feel like she is part of the family, and that feeling of belonging comes from being included in family activities and living in the house even when her family might not be there.

A crate allows you to leave her in the house when you are away, or unable to supervise her. If she were to spend large amounts of time outside, she would likely start to exhibit problem behaviors such as barking, digging, fence jumping, and chewing. These problems can be avoided by keeping her inside and making her an integral part of your family.

Use but don’t abuse

Confinement in a dog crate is not recommended for a dog who must be frequently left alone for extended periods of time. Four or five hours while you go shopping, or overnight so you can sleep without having to worry about what the dog is doing is fine.

If the dog must be left for longer periods of time, she should be confined to a larger area, such as a basement, secured room, or exercise pen. Crate or no crate, any dog constantly denied the human companionship she needs and craves will be lonely and will find ways to express anxiety, depression, and stress.

Crate specifics

Crates can be obtained from most pet supply stores, some department stores, or you can check the newspapers to see if you can find a used crate at a lower cost. The cost of a crate may seem expensive at first glance, but remember that it should last for the lifetime of the dog. Also, compare it to the cost of losing furnishings and carpets to a dog’s unrestricted behavior.

To size a dog for a crate, stand the dog next to the crate. The top of the crate should extend 2 inches above the dog’s shoulders. The end of the crate should be 2 inches from the dog’s rump. If the crate is too big, your dog will learn that she can eliminate in one corner and sleep in the other. If your dog is a puppy, you will need to estimate her adult size and buy a crate that she will fit in as an adult dog. Then put cardboard boxes and replace them accordingly to make the size appropriate for your puppy.

Introducing the crate

Place the crate in the most often used room in the house, such as the kitchen or family room. At night, move the crate into your bedroom. Make the crate as comfortable as possible, with a blanket or towels for bedding if they won’t chew it. Leaving the door open, try to coax your dog into the crate using a phrase like, “Get into your bed.” Place a treat in the crate and praise the dog when she goes into it. Let her leave immediately if she chooses. Spend time by the crate, talking to the dog and petting her as long as she’s in it. Stop this attention when she leaves the crate.

Once she seems comfortable going in and out, close the door with her in it and some treats inside. Stay with her, talk to her, and give her treats if she seems nervous. At first, confine your dog for short periods of time. If she whines while inside the crate, do not let her out. If you do, you’ve just taught her to be vocal to get her way. Wait until she becomes quiet, then release her. As she begins to positively regard the crate, the time periods can lengthen. Soon the dog will find comfort and security in her “den.”

Crate training a dog can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a week. Puppies usually accept their crate quicker than adult dogs, but with persistence and patience, any dog can view their crate as a safe haven. Although not an answer for all behavior problems, and not a substitute for time spent training one on one, a crate can help your dog form positive behaviors and become an important member of your family.