Crate training is most commonly used with dogs, but it can be useful for any pet.
Contentment during confinement is an important life skill for puppies and dogs.
A crate for a pet is like a crib, travel sleeper, or a playpen for a small child. It is a safe area, often associated with resting and sleeping. Crating and confinement training are not cruel and when done properly most pets derive comfort and security from their crate. Often the crate and bed can be brought along during travel, allowing the pet to have a "home away from home."
Crate training can start at any age. Starting early usually makes training easier. The vast majority of pets can and should be trained, but a small number may experience true distress when confined. If you try the training suggestions here and your dog shows distress such as prolonged vocalization, eliminating inside the crate, trying to escape, salivation, rapid continuous movement, or you are concerned, consult your veterinarian before continuing with your training plan.
Your dog needs daily social interaction and physical and mental exercise to remain healthy. Crating or planned confinement to an exercise pen, a pet-proofed room with a baby gate, or similar small area is an excellent management tool for times when your dog cannot be supervised or needs a quiet rest period. Make sure your dog is receiving plenty of healthy exercise and interaction. Extended periods of confinement are not healthy for animals. Confinement is not intended to be continuous or represent the majority of any pet’s time budget.
Different crates have pros and cons.
Metal Box Style Crates:
The crate should be large enough for the dog to comfortably lay on his side stretched out. For puppies, you will need a smaller crate and then increase the size as the puppy grows. Some crates come with a divider designed to make the crate smaller when the dog is young, then increase the size gradually as the puppy grows larger. The crate should be the size of a bed, not a bedroom.
If you choose a pen or a room with a baby gate, expect your puppy to need an area for elimination such as a litterbox or potty pads.
For travel, smaller crates are better because if the crate is jostled, such as a rapid braking maneuver in a vehicle, there is less risk of the animal being thrown inside the crate and injured. Larger crates are often chosen for confinement in the home.
Positive reinforcement training is the best way to help pets learn about confinement. Before a training session, make sure your dog has had:
Place the crate in a quiet area of the home near people. In some cases, families choose to have one crate or pen in the main living area of the home and a second in the bedroom for sleeping at night.
Make the crate a place for quiet enjoyment. Think of ways to encourage happy, still behavior. Ideas for how to do this include:
At first, leave the crate door open when providing these happy quiet experiences. Gradually, begin closing the door and walking away. For example, open the door, place the food toy inside. When the puppy or dog goes into the crate, close the door and walk away while the dog is chewing or playing with the food toy. Often when they are done playing they will rest.
For older animals if the crate is new, you may need to begin by doing these exercises beside the crate rather than inside it. Then gradually over a period of a few days or a few weeks, move closer and closer to the crate for quiet fun time and sleep time.
It is normal for some dogs to vocalize briefly, try to open the crate door, or act fidgety when confined, especially when confinement is new. Observe from a distance. If the behavior lasts a short time and does not include distress signs (prolonged vocalization, eliminating inside the crate, trying to escape, salivation, rapid continuous movement ), try waiting a short time and see if the pet will settle. Letting a dog out when they are whining or scratching will teach the animal that you will open the door when they whine or scratch. This can create problems because the pet learns to ask for attention rather than learning to settle on its own. However, if signs of significant distress are present, you will need a new plan. If you are not not sure, make a short video of the behavior and share it with your veterinarian to help you determine if you should wait it out, or if your pet is experiencing true distress and training should be discontinued.
If your puppy or dog has been quietly resting and wakens and is fidgeting or vocalizing, assume they need to eliminate. Take your puppy outside for a quiet, calm elimination break on-leash. Avoid letting the puppy run through the yard or play. Once they have eliminated, praise them and place them back in the crate with a small treat. In a few minutes, they should settle down and sleep again. Calm, quiet, brief elimination breaks will teach your puppy how to communicate when it needs to go out but that waking the family during the night will not lead to playtime.
Young puppies will often need a break during the night to go out until they are old enough to hold their bladder and bowels through the night.
Once your dog is willingly going into the crate, it is time to introduce a cue to ask them to go into the area. Set up a few training sessions each day and repeat the procedure anytime you will be placing your pet in the crate.
Practice from greater and greater distances until your dog will happily run to their crate from anywhere in the home.
Contributors: Monique Feyrecilde, BA, LVT, VTS (Behavior)
© Copyright 2020 LifeLearn Inc. Used and/or modified with permission under license.