To Crate or Not to Crate? All about Crate Training
One of the earliest memories of dogs I had as a child was seeing them in crates, being driven to the vets. Because of that, I associated crates with discomfort, so when I finally had a puppy, I didn’t want a crate, but more on this later. While many trainers advocate crate-training, there are those who don’t, particularly animal rights activists. So, To Crate or Not to Crate?
Some of the wildly held beliefs are that it makes the dog uncomfortable, anxious, depressed, antisocial, and in some cases, aggressive. On the other side are those who say dogs in the wild like living in dens and a crate is the closest thing in our homes that represents the safety and independence a dog in the wild would feel.
So who do we listen to? Are dogs being maltreated if left in a dog crate, or is it unnatural not to provide a crate? The answer I believe is both, and the key to this is balance. A crate is neither good nor bad, it only depends on how you use it. At the end of the day, you want to do what is best for your puppy, and some puppies looovvvve crates, while others don’t. More often than not, the puppies that suffer as a result of crating have not been trained right. All the negative aspects of crate training happen with abuse. If you train them right, none of the ill-effects will be experienced. This article will show you briefly, how to train your dog correctly with a crate.
To Crate or Not to Crate? The Benefits of Using a Crate
Before you can buy into the idea of crate training, we need to establish the advantages. If you find you can do without these, can forgo the crate, but let’s see what they are before you conclude.
One of the major benefits of using a puppy crate is house training. A crate is a small place reserved mainly for sleeping, and dogs don’t eliminate where they sleep. For this reason, many trainers prefer to use crates. Obviously, this plan isn’t fool-proof; if you leave your puppy in a crate all day it will let loose at some point, bed or not.
While you don’t need a crate to house train your dog, it is an effective way to do so. For more information on house training, check out our blog post.
Traveling and Transportation
When carrying your dog around, you ideally ought to use a crate, in order not to lose it in transit or make other people feel uncomfortable if using public transportation. When you need to take your puppy to the vet or even more likely from the vet, you would need to carry it in a crate. While some people leave their dog in the back seat and crack a window open, you might not want to risk that with a puppy.
I love traveling, and it is always great when I have the opportunity to take my dog with me. But if you are taking a flight and you want to carry your dog along, you will have to put it in a crate. If your puppy is uncomfortable with crates, it will make the experience very traumatizing.
Remember how I said I was put-off using crates early on? Well, as it so happened, I was once given a dog with a disturbing past. I have no idea what his previous owners did to him, but he was scared of strangers. So, we had to get him a crate, and when he was in there, he felt so calm and free, like nothing in the world could touch him! Who was I to deprive my dog of what he needed to feel secure? Sure, this went on while we trained him to socialize better, but in the meantime, we needed a solution. Now the phobia is gone, but he still loves his crate.
A crate can also keep a dog safe from dangers in the house, either from household objects, or visitors who don’t have much knowledge on how to treat animals, including overly enthusiastic children.
How To Train With A Crate
Now that you know some of the benefits of using a crate, let’s proceed with the how.
1. Choose the Right Size Crate
The first thing you should do is choose the crate that is the right size for your puppy. A puppy crate should have room enough for your puppy to turn, sit, lie down and play a little, but not so big that it would be tempted to poop in a corner and sleep on the other side without a care in the world. This would defeat the aim of using the crate. The crate should also feel small enough for your puppy to feel secure, similar to a den in the wild. As your dog grows, so should the crate.
2. Get Your Puppy Excited About the Crate
Now, for the real lesson. When you think of your bedroom, what comes to mind? Comfort, seclusion, peace of mind, sleep, freedom. Your puppy should have the same feelings about his/her crate. It should be comfortable, a place to play, eat, and just chill.
To sell the idea of the crate to your puppy therefore, you have to make it appealing. What you can do is take a toy it likes and shove it in there. Your puppy will either play with the toy inside or bring it out. If it brings it out, gently collect the toy and place it back in the crate. Soon, it will figure out that if it wants to enjoy its toy in peace, it has to stay in its crate. Another step is to give it food inside the crate. Always remember to praise your dog every time you see it resting in the crate or walking in of its own accord, or because you put a treat in there.
3. Closed and Open-Door Practice
In the first part of the training, please leave the crate door open. A crate is not a prison cell. It is intended to secure the puppy in a fun place and not to hinder it from enjoying itself. So, sit with your dog while it plays inside the crate and then after a while, shut the door for a few seconds. Prolong this time as you see fit, gradually moving up to ten minutes or so, while you are seated outside. You’ll soon notice that your puppy is too engrossed with its toy that it doesn’t notice your presence. Close the door and step away, a few minutes at a time, again building up to ten minutes then twenty, etc.
4. Manage Toilet Breaks
In order to make the crate comfortable, put a bit of soft bedding, like a towel. There are two habits you don’t want in the crate: the first is your puppy eating up the bedding and the other is toileting inside. It is therefore advisable not to leave your puppy in there for too long. Older dogs can manage a few hours, but puppies often max-out after an hour or two when they are awake. As I mentioned earlier, forcing your puppy to stay here for too long will force it to relieve itself inside the crate. Take your dog out for breaks at adequate intervals and first thing in the morning, if it slept in the crate all night.
Alternatives To Crate Training
No matter how hard you try, some dogs will never be comfortable in a crate! If you try putting food inside the crate and its favorite toy yet the puppy doesn’t go inside, don’t force it. There is a chance your puppy had a bad experience with confined spaces, or it doesn’t like the look or feel of the crate. Whatever it is, you will need to find an alternative.
Crate and Play Pen Combo
This is my absolute favorite. Place the crate inside a playpen or safe zone, and you may choose the leave the crate door open almost all the time. The crate would be reserved for sleeping, while the playpen will have paper pads and some toys. Your puppy is then free to take the toys into the crate and have its fun in there. If you have space in your home to give your puppy its own room, you can use that instead of a pen. This system satisfies both parties – those for and against crate training.
Use a Bed and Nothing Else
I have not crate trained all of my dogs, some just sleep in their room with a bed in the corner. These were the dogs who hated going to the vets by the way, so I had to bring the vet to them. Pampered pups! This is a perfectly acceptable way of housing your dogs. You might also choose to include a dog door so it can go out and relieve by itself.
Hire A Pet Service
If you don’t want to leave your puppy all alone while you go off to work (which you shouldn’t if your dog isn’t in a playpen or crate), hire a professional pet service or a dog-sitter. They will keep your dog company during the day and you can handle the rest at night.
Crate training is likely to remain a divisive subject for years to come, but we hope that when owners learn to do it positively, their puppies will be well trained, emotionally healthy, and easy to travel with. If you’re not convinced, try one of the alternatives above. Whatever you choose, make sure the health and safety of your dog are not compromised.