Should I crate train my puppy?
Simple answer is YES!
What is it?
Dogs instinctively like a small space or den like environment for a sense of security or in times of stress. You may see your dog take themselves off to sit under the coffee table or under a chair. They are looking for a small space for a variety of reasons eg thunder or fireworks, stressful situation or they’ve just had enough and taking themselves off to a quiet spot.
A crate is like a portable kennel but is fully enclosed. It should be big enough for the dog to stand up, turn around and lay down. If it’s too big the dog may start toileting at one end and sleeping at the other, which is counter productive.
The crate is not to be used as a punishment. It is a safe positive place for your dog.
Why should I do it?
You don’t have to crate train if you don’t want to but the benefits of rate training are many….
Toilet Training – the pup won’t want to soil his crate so should alert you and you take the pup outside and reinforce the toilet training process. Having a pup sleep in his crate overnight is great and the alert to toilet may come in the early hours of the morning but it will be worth it in the long run.
Travelling in the car – keep the pup secure (which is required by law) and he’s in his safe place so this helps to calm him during car travel.
Going away on holidays – staying at a friend’s place or a b&b? Crates fold down flat so take it with you and it’s his safe secure spot to avoid drama’s in the house and settle him overnight in his home away from home.
Teaching boundaries – crates are a great way to have the pup in the home & family environment but confined if you can’t keep an eye on him for example if you’re preparing meals. It is also a really good way to teach children that the crate is the dog’s space and is out of bounds for them. This is super important. When a dog goes to his crate or bed he has had enough and wants to be left alone.
Medical issue/post op – a case I see quite often where a dog has had a cruciate operation for example and requires weeks of confined rest. If a dog has never been crate trained this can pose a stressful problem for dog and owner. You don’t want his first crate experience to be when he’s sick or injured. If the dog has been trained it’s a far easier situation to deal with.
I also use crates for my girls when I have them working with me or at competitions. It gives them their own space to relax and have a break.
How do I start?
Ok so the type of crate to start is important. I always recommend starting with a wire crate especially for pups as they tend to chew and scratch.
The soft material type crates can be used later when the pup is fully trained and comfortable in the crate environment.
Set the crate up with a nice comfy blanket or bed in it and maybe a favourite toy or two. Everything about being in the crate needs to be a positive experience.
Leave all doors open so the pup can step in and explore and come out as he wishes. Pop some food in the crate or a small bone to chew on. All of these appetitive things will help to create a positive association with being in the crate.
I find it useful to start putting a cue or command to the action of going into the crate so pairing the word “crate” or “in your crate” or whatever you choose , with the action makes it clear and can be used as a command. Clarity in training is far more effective.
Once the pup is going in there willingly I would start to close a door for a short time and open when the pup is quiet. Reward the quiet calm behaviour.
Build this slowly and progress to closing all doors. Make sure the pup has something to do in there. Depending on the pup this can be a fairly fast process but don’t rush it. Others take more time and you do not want the pup to have a bad experience and not want to go back in.
For a puppy the crate can be placed in your bedroom at first, which is more of a comfort for a young dog and slowly transitioned out to other areas thereby gradually teaching the pup he’s ok on his own in his crate. Great way to get that independence training underway!
It is usually much easier to crate train a puppy but you can train older dogs. You may train and not use it all of the time but once a puppy is trained the groundwork is done.
I teach crate training as a standard topic in all puppy training. I’ve also had vets tell me how much difference the training makes if they have dogs who need to stay at the surgery for a day or overnight. Because they stay in a crate-like pen. So if they’re used to it they won’t be as stressed.
So my advice is to crate train your pup so the foundation is there. Even if you think you won't use it, I bet you do. Most clients do and are grateful to reap the benefits of it.