The Crate Training Process
Crate training your dog may take some time and patience, however it can be useful in many situations. If you have a new dog or puppy, you can use the crate to limit your puppy’s access to the house until they learn all of your household rules. A crate is also a safe way of transporting your dog in the car, as well as a way of taking them places where they may not be welcome to run freely. If you properly train your dog to use the crate, they will think of it as their safe place and will be happy to spend time there when it is needed.
Crate training can take days or weeks, depending on your dog’s age, temperament, and past experiences. It is important to keep two things in mind while crate training. One, the crate should always be associated with something pleasant, and two, training should take place in a series of small progressive steps.
Step One: Introducing your dog to the crate
Put the crate in an area of your house where the family spends a lot of time, such as the family room or the kitchen. Put a soft blanket or pet bed in the crate. Bring your dog over to the crate and talk to them in a happy tone of voice and position yourself down to their level. Make sure the crate door is securely fastened open so it will not hit your dog and frighten them.
To encourage your dog to enter the crate, drop some small pieces of food or treats near it, then just inside the door, and finally, all the way inside the crate. If your dog refuses to go all the way in at first, don’t force them to enter. Continue tossing the treats into the crate until your dog will walk calmly all the way into the crate to get the food or treats. If your dog is not interested in treats, try tossing a favorite toy in the crate. This step may take a few minutes, or a few days.
Step Two: Feeding your dog meals in the crate
After introducing your dog to the crate, begin feeding meals near the crate. This will create a pleasant association with the crate. If your dog is reluctant to enter the crate, put the dish only as far inside as they will readily go without becoming fearful or anxious. Each time you feed them, place the dish a little further back into the crate.
Once your dog is standing comfortably in the crate to eat their meal, you can close the door while they are eating. At first, open the door as soon as they have finished their meal. With each successive feeding, leave the door closed for a few minutes longer, until they are staying in the crate for ten minutes after eating. If your puppy begins to whine to be let out, you may have increased the length of time too quickly. If they whine or cry in the crate, it is imperative that you do not let them out until they stop. Otherwise they will quickly learn that the way to get out of the crate is to whine. Often times, giving your dog a basic command such as “sit” or “down” is enough to stop the whining in a positive manner while allowing them out on a good note.
Step Three: Crate training your dog at night
Put your dog in the crate using your regular command and a treat. Initially, it may be a good idea to put the crate in your bedroom or nearby in a hallway, especially if you have a puppy. Puppies often need to go outside to eliminate during the night, and you will want to be able to hear them when they show signs to be let outside. Older dogs should initially be kept nearby so that crate training doesn’t become associated with social isolation.
Once your dog is sleeping comfortably throughout the night with their crate near you, you can begin to gradually move the crate to the location you prefer.
A crate isn’t a magical solution. If not used correctly, a dog can feel trapped and frustrated. Other arrangements should be made to accommodate your dog’s physical and emotional needs. Also, remember that puppies under five months of age should never stay in a crate for more than four hours at a time. Puppies cannot control their bladders or bowels for long periods as they have not yet physically matured to that level.
If your dog whines or cries while in the crate at night, it may be difficult to decide whether they are whining to be let out of the crate, or if they need to be let outside to eliminate. If you followed the training procedures listed above, your dog has not been rewarded for whining in the past by being released from their crate. Try to ignore them. If your dog is just testing you, they will stop whining within minutes. Yelling at them or pounding the crate will only make things worse and can cause a negative affiliation with the crate. If the whining continues after you have ignored them for several minutes, use the phrase they associate with going outside to eliminate. If they respond and become excited, let them outside. This should be a trip with a purpose, not play. If you are convinced that your dog does not need to eliminate, the best response is to ignore them until the whining stops. Don’t give in, otherwise you will teach your dog to whine loud to get what they want.