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Crate training is one method of confinement that can be a useful tool for when you have a puppy or dog. Crate training can be beneficial in a variety of ways, including:
- As an aid for housetraining: with gradual training, a crate can be considered a dog’s “safe place”. Naturally, dogs do not like to go to the bathroom where they sleep and will generally try to avoid doing so. How do you decide how many hours your puppy can stay in its crate before needing to go to the bathroom? A general rule is adding 1 to your puppy’s age in months. For example, in general, a 3-month-old puppy can be left in its crate for a maximum of 4 hours before having another bathroom break.
- Getting your puppy or dog used to confinement. This is important as your puppy or dog may face a variety of scenarios in its life that will require it to be confined. For example, when it stays at a veterinary clinic, at a professional groomers, or when travelling.
- Preventing destructive behaviours such as damaging household items, digging, or garbage raiding.
- Keeping a dog or puppy safe. When you bring a new puppy or dog home, you are unaware of its behaviours or habits. In addition, if you own a dog that tends to get into things, crate training can be a useful tool. Crate training can help prevent your dog from getting into hazardous items or dangerous situations while unsupervised. In this way, you are keeping your pet safe while you are unable to watch him/her.
The goal of crate training is to teach your puppy or dog that its crate is a “safe place”. The crate should be seen as a place for napping, relaxing, and a place of security. Once comfortable, many dogs use their crates as an “escape” area that they go to when they want to be left alone. Therefore, it is important to make the crate a positive experience; crating should never be used as punishment.
A crate should be large enough that a dog can stand up and turn around comfortably. In addition, you should never leave your dog in a crate for more than 10 hours per day. It's important that your puppy or dog gets exercise, playtime, socialization, training time, and time to spend with you and your family. A crate is a useful tool to use when it is not possible to supervise your pet.
1) Introducing a crate
Put the crate in a popular area of your house, i.e., where you and/or your family usually sit (e.g., living room, family room, etc.). Add a blanket or bed to the crate to make it more comfortable. Leave the door of the crate open so your dog can explore and investigate it. Once your dog feels comfortable with the crate’s presence, throw some treats inside the entrance of the crate. Using treats will help your dog view the crate as a positive place. Allow your dog to come and go from the crate as he/she pleases by leaving the crate door open.
2) Getting used to the crate at meal times
At your dog's next meal, place your dog’s food bowl inside the very front of the crate. If after 15 minutes, your dog or puppy hasn’t approached the crate, move the food bowl a few inches outside of the crate. If after another 15 minutes, your dog still hasn’t approached its food, move the bowl a bit farther away from the crate (e.g., approx. 1 ft.). Keep repeating these steps until the food bowl is far enough away from the crate that your dog happily eats his/her food.
For subsequent meals, put the bowl or treats closer and closer to the crate each time, eventually placing the bowl inside the crate, and then towards the back of the crate. Still keep the door of the crate open during these steps so your dog can come and go freely.
3) Beginning to close the crate door
You can start to close the door of the crate during mealtimes once your dog is comfortable eating its meal in the crate. Open the door once the dog is done its meal. Gradually increase the amount of time your dog is left in the crate after he/she has finished eating.
4) Increasing the amount of time in the crate
While saying a command like “crate” or “bed”, get your dog to go into the crate by placing a toy filled with treats in the crate. To start, close the crate door for just a few seconds (i.e., around 3 seconds) when your puppy or dog goes into the crate. After a few seconds, open the door and let your puppy or dog leave the crate. Keep doing this; start with short sessions and gradually increase the amount of time your puppy or dog is in the crate with the door closed. During these training sessions, continue with your everyday routine/activities, coming back to your dog regularly to reward him/her (e.g., through praise or with treats) for calm behaviour.
- If your dog barks or whines while in the crate, do not immediately open the crate door. If you do, your dog will learn that they will be let out of the crate if they make a noise. An exception to this rule is if you have a young puppy or you think your dog might need to go to the bathroom. In this case, wait for a few seconds until your dog stops barking or whining and then quietly put your dog on a leash and lead it outside, and lead it back to the crate once it has gone to the bathroom. Reward your dog when it has settled and is quiet.
- Some puppies and dogs are very afraid of crates, regardless of the steps taken to ease their adjustment. In some cases, it might be better to use a different method of confinement, such as putting them in a bathroom, exercise pen, or using a baby gate to block off a room.
- Crating is a tool; in order for your dog or puppy to learn which behaviours are acceptable and which are not, it is important to take time to train your puppy or dog. We highly recommend reward-based training. This involves rewarding your dog (e.g., with a treat, praise, petting) when they do a behaviour that you like.
Davis, K. (2004). Crate confinement: is it a good choice for your dog? In The Canine Behaviour Series. Retrieved from http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&S=0&C=0&A=1696
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). (n.d.). Crate training your dog. Retrieved from http://rspcavic.org/health-and-behaviour/dogs/crate-training-your-dog/
Landsberg, G., Hunthausen, W., & Ackerman, L. (2003). Prevention of problems – dog proofing, cat proofing, and confinement. In Z. Youd & J. Rodenhuis (Eds.), Handbook of Behaviour Problems of the Dog and Cat (53-55). London, UK: Saunders.
White, L. (2009). Crate Training. In First Steps with Puppies and Kittens: A Practice-Team Approach to Behaviour (173-174). Lakewood, Colorado: American Animal Hospital Association press.