Crate Training


"Dog Watch" - The Newsletter for Dog People

Reprinted with permission. Copyright 2001.

Dogwatch (Catwatch). Englander Communications LLC.

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CRATING: Linking the crate to the good things in life leads to success

Many people believe that their dogs view crates as cages and, as a result, will not consider crating their beloved buddy. Yet, a crate to a dog is far from a prison; it’s often a safe and secure sanctuary. If introduced properly, many dogs come to love their crates.

Dogs are descendants of wolves and, as such, are den animals that naturally crave dark, snug spaces. To love a crate, though, a dog has to get used to it gradually and associate it with treats, praise from his human companions, long safe naps, and protection from prying toddlers and pesky pups. What’s not to love?

Why crate your dog?

When Siberian Huskies get bored, they will find something to do.

A crate not only can be a safe haven but it can guarantee that a puppy will make no mistakes. Because dogs usually will not eliminate and sleep in the same location – assuming the crate is the right size and the dog isn’t ill – crates can make house-training straightforward, says Ilana Reisner, DVM, director of the Behavior Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. A crate also prevents your dog from chewing the furniture and provides an easy way to transport and house him for travel to places he may not otherwise be permitted, such as hotels.

Which crate is best?

Crates are available in molded plastic or collapsible metal. Plastic ones are permitted by airlines and provide a darker, more den-like cabin. (This type is recommended and preferred by Adopt A Husky). The crate should be only large enough for your dog to stand, turn around, and lie down in without being cramped, but not much bigger than that. If the crate’s too large, he may choose to eliminate in a corner, and it may not provide a cozy, protective atmosphere. Use either a smaller crate when your dog is small or fill part of a larger crate with a cardboard box or barrier secured in the back. A soft, washable towel or blanket can add a sense of comfort and security, particularly if it holds your scent.

Puppies and crates

Introduce your puppy to the crate by throwing a few treats into it and allowing him to go in and enjoy them. Repeat several times, praising his boldness. After several frolics into the crate, gently close the door for 30 seconds or so, praising him if he’s calm. Gradually increase the time in the crate over several days to an hour; feed him periodically in the crate.

“If he whines or barks, do not reward him with attention, and try not to open the crate in response to his protests; instead, wait until he’s quiet to praise or release him,” Suggests Reisner, who is a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. Keep the crate close to the family, moving it to your bedroom at night (or, if possible, use two crates). But what if your dog still fusses?

“Go backward in your training program and reduce the time your dog is crated. Also, consider what might be done differently next time; perhaps he needs more exercise before crating or a new chew toy in the crate,” Reisner says. It’s normal for very young puppies to whine at times, as most are experiencing separation – both from their mothers and littermates and from their new family – for the first time. A crying puppy also may need to urinate, so a quick run outside can help. Reisner suggests crating the pup randomly during the day while you are home (so that he does not learn to associate the crate only with separation), rewarding him with a treat when he goes in but making little fuss when he comes out. Leave the room for longer periods and eventually leave the house for an hour or two, putting him in the crate 15 minutes before your departure. Never leave the puppy in the crate for longer than an hour more than his age in months, Reisner suggests. Thus, a three-month-old pup can learn to be left for up to four hours. If you are gone for most of the day, however, a puppy-proofed room or gated area is preferable to a crate, she says.

Older dogs and crates

Crating an older juvenile or adult dog that’s not accustomed to crates can be a greater challenge, especially if the dog is from a shelter where it was confined. Go very slowly, following the same strategies as with puppies. If the dog still seems distressed by the crate, Reisner suggests videotaping the crated dog when you’re not home to help determine whether the distress continues through the day. If so, the crate may not be a humane option.

“Not all dogs are amenable to being crated, and some get so upset they can hurt themselves by rolling the crate or bending its bars. Dogs with unknown histories sometimes develop severe barrier-related anxieties,” she says. If the dog needs to be confined because of chewing or house-training but is just too anxious when crated, consider an alternative. However, Reisner says that elimination accidents inside do not always indicate house-training lapses but can be caused by the extreme distress of separation anxiety or even thunderstorm phobia. Confining a dog whose ‘accidents’ are the result of distress can make things worse, she says, and a temporary course of anti-anxiety medication and a training program to reduce the anxiety may be best.

“For dogs that simply don’t like crates, try an exercise pen, also called an ex-pen, which resembles a small, indoor fenced area,” Reisner says. Put the crate into the pen but without its top and door; put paper on the floor in the pen, if necessary. That may encourage the dog to sleep in the crate but eliminate on the paper. The dog may or may not learn to accept the crate. Or, dog proof a room and use baby gates on top of each other to close it off, Reisner suggests. “But never close the door to confine a dog who suffers from a barrier anxiety.”

The trick is to take as much time as the dogs needs and keep linking the crate to the good things in life: snacks, snoozes, and security.