Are crates good for dogs? Some pet parents do not like the idea of crate training because they do not want their dog confined to a crate. To crate or not to crate is often a question asked to us. Beloved dog owners feel bad putting their pets in what seems like a cage with no escape. However, if used correctly, crate training a dog can provide them with a sense of security. Crates are also useful tools for potty training and obedience training for your dog.
Use positive reinforcement to teach your dog to enjoy their crate. This way, they will view their crate as a safe and comfortable place they can retreat to when they are anxious or tired.
Benefits of Crate Training Your Dog
When used properly, dog crates provide a lot of benefits for both you and your dog. The benefits of crate training your dog is the same as any benefits of dog training: a more disciplined and attentive dog that listens to you.
For one thing, crates are a super useful tool for potty training a new puppy. Once your dog gets used to the crate, you can use a portable dog crate to take your dog to the vet or on an airplane.
Crates are great places for your dog to retreat to during stressful events such as holidays or family get-togethers that can be too much stress and activity for your pup.
Crating your dog while you are out running errands will give your peace of mind that your pup is not getting into anything harmful in your home like toxic cleaners or something they can get hurt on. Crates also help to protect your home while you are out. This is particularly true if your pup is a chewer.
How to Crate Train Your Dog
Step 1: Familiarize Your Dog with the Crate
You want your dog to have a positive association with their crate. For this reason, you may want to place some comfy blankets, toys, or treats in the crate.
Leave the door open and let your dog explore the crate themselves when you first get the crate. This way, your pup will be able to get acclimated to the crate and will develop a positive association with going inside the crate.
You may want to use clicker training to let your dog know you want them to go into the crate. Every time your pup goes in, use the clicker and give them a dog training treat. This will help them get used to the crate and let them know that is what you want them to do.
Another way to get your dog acclimated to the crate is to feed them in the crate. When your dog gets more used to eating in the crate, you can start closing the door while they eat. Make sure to open the door as soon as they are done.
Step 2: Increase the Amount of Time Your Dog is in the Crate
When you begin crate training, your pup may only want to stay in the crate for a few moments at a time. As your dog gets more comfortable in the crate, you can increase the length of time you keep them in the crate with the door closed – as long as they are comfortable.
To begin, use toys or treats to entice your dog to go into the crate. Close the door for 10-15 seconds at a time. Then, open the door to let your dog or puppy out of the crate. Once out of the crate, give your dog a treat and try it again. The goal is to increase the amount of time to 15 minutes.
Some important things to remember when crate training your dog is that your dog may not be comfortable right away. Crate training takes time, so make sure to lengthen the amount of time slowly, and stay with your pup until they are fully crate trained. Be gentle when you close the door to the crate – we do not want to cause your pup to cry for you when they are left alone with the door shut on them.
If your dog is playing with their toy or eating their treats, it is a good sign your training is working. It gets even better when your dog enters the crate without any toy or treat. If your dog is whining or anxious, you may want to slow down.
Give them more treats or make the time shorter. You may also want to mix up the time from longer to shorter time frames. For instance, if your dog seems comfortable with 15 seconds, try 30 seconds next time, then only 10 seconds the time after that.
Tip: Use Cues for Training Your Dog to Go in and out of the Crate
Once your dog is used to going into the crate on their own, add a cue. You can say “crate” or “in,” then place a treat in the crate. Do this until your pup goes into the crate on cue. Next, try this cue without tossing the treat in. Once your dog starts going in on cue without a treat in the crate, then you can feed them the treat.
Once your dog gets used to the cue for going into the crate, add a release cue like “out” or “release” to let your dog know it is okay to leave the crate. This step helps to train your dog to leave the crate calmly when you are ready, not as soon as the door is open.
Do the same procedure as the cue in, toss the treat on the ground at first. Once your dog gets used to the release cue, you can slowly phase out the treats until your dog obeys strictly on the cue alone.
Step 3: Increase the Distance Between You and the Crate
In addition to increasing the amount of time your pup is in the crate with the door closed, you will also need to increase the distance you are from the crate. Start slow, by closing the crate door, walking halfway across the room, then walk back, open the crate, and give your dog a treat. Keep doing this until you can completely leave the room, and your pup does not get anxious.
Now, add time to your distance. Begin with 15-30 second increments of walking away from the crate until you can be away for 5 minutes. Then, if your dog is comfortable, you can gradually increase the amount of time away from the crate to 10 minutes of being away from the crate. If your dog gets anxious, go back to shorter durations until they get comfortable.
Step 4: Crating Your Dog When You Leave & For the Night
When you are getting ready to leave the house, you can crate your dog anywhere from right before you go to 20 minutes before your departure. It is a smart idea to vary this amount of time and don’t make leaving an exciting or prolonged activity. Just crate your pup and leave quietly. The same goes for your return.
Do not reward your pup for getting overly excited or rambunctious when you get back. Wait for your dog to calm down, then let them out of the crate. Keep crating your dog for shorter periods while you are home, so they don’t associate the crate with being home alone.
If you use the crate for your dog to sleep through the night, you may want to start with it in your bedroom or an adjacent room. This is especially important if you have a puppy because you may need to get up during the night to take them out to go to the bathroom.
Even if you are crating an older dog, you don’t want your pup to feel isolated, so keeping them close is a good idea. Once your puppy has gotten used to sleeping in their crate, you can start to move the crate slowly to another place that you would prefer to keep it.
Crate Training Tips: Do’s and Don’ts
Crate Training: What Not to Do
If you are training young puppies for the crate, don’t leave them in there for more than 3 hours because they need frequent potty breaks. Even if you are crate training an older dog, it is not a good idea for them to be left alone to leave them inside all day long.
Leaving your dog in the crate for long periods throughout the day can cause depression and anxiety. If you are out of the house at work for most of the day or go for long periods, it is better to get a pet sitter than to leave your dog alone in a crate.
You want your dog to have a positive association with their new home. For this reason, it is not a good idea to use the crate for punishment. If your dog begins to develop a negative association, it will be much more challenging to train them to use it.
If you are going to leave the house for a short period, don’t make a big fuss about leaving. Instead, let your dog play with their toy or treats and quietly depart while they are busy with their toy.
What if Your Puppy Whines?
If your dog is whining while they are in the crate during the night, you may not know if they need to go to the bathroom, or they feel uncomfortable and simply want out. If this is the case, you may want to wait a few minutes and see if the whining stops.
If your pup is just testing you, they will likely stop whining after some time. You will need to ignore them until the whining stops, or you will be teaching them that whining for a long time gets them what they want.
Some dogs are naturally anxious. You can give your dog calming treats to handle their separation anxiety. Here is a brand we recommend: Zesty Paws Advanced Calming Bites.
If, however, your dog needs to go potty, they will likely continue to whine and may begin to cry more. If you think this is the case, use the cue you have been using for going outside to eliminate.
If your puppy responds with excitement, take them out. If your puppies whining becomes too much to handle, you may have to start the whole crate training process all over again.
Crate Safety, Go Naked!
One important thing to note is that your dog should “go naked” in their crate, meaning all collars, leashes, and ID tags should be removed. This is because these items can get caught in parts of the metal components and cause your dog to strangle.
Crate Training: What to Do
Make sure to use a ton of praise and treats when crate training. You will also need to be patient with your pup. Start with short training spurts, then build up to longer durations at your dog’s pace, not yours.
Take your dog outside to play and eliminate before you begin any crate training session, and again as soon as you are done with the training session. Do so will also be helpful in potty training your puppy. Your puppy will begin to learn that potty time comes right after crate time.
Final Thoughts on Crate Training Your Dog
When used appropriately, crates can provide your dog with a great sense of security, a place to retreat to when tired or anxious, and a safe place to curl up in when you are away. Crates are great for several different types of training, and travel or bedtime.
Just make sure to progress through crate training slowly and at your dog’s own pace. Also, do not keep your dog inside the crate for prolonged periods. You can keep your dog inside the crate at night to teach them to sleep through the night. You can also keep your dog inside the crate while you are out from time to time.
However, if you are going to need to keep your pup in their crate for more than 8 hours per day frequently, you should consider alternatives such as a pet sitter, because your dog can develop anxiety and depression if kept alone in a crate too much.