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How to Crate Train Your Dog or Puppy

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Puppy in Crate - Photo of Dog in Kennel
Photo © TheGiantVermin on flickr

Crate training is a method of house training your puppy or dog. The crate is used to keep your dog confined when you are not able to supervise him. Since most dogs will not go to the bathroom in the same place they sleep, your dog will most likely try to hold it when he is confined to his crate. This prevents him from getting in the bad habit of having accidents in your home.

Here's how to crate train your dog:

Choose a Crate for Your Dog

There are several different types of crates to choose from, including a wire cage, a plastic pet carrier, and a soft-sided canvas or nylon crate. The wire crate is the most commonly used. It allows your dog to see what is going on around him, and many have an extra panel which allows you to make the crate bigger or smaller depending on the size of your dog. This type of crate is collapsible, and it has a sliding tray in the floor which makes it easy to clean.

The plastic pet carrier is also a good option for crate training. This is the kind you most often see used for airline travel. The drawback to this kind of crate is that it is enclosed on three sides, so it does not let in as much light as a wire crate. It is also a little harder to clean.

The soft-sided crates are a good option for dogs who are not big chewers. These are lightweight, so they are great to carry along when you are traveling with your dog. The problem with the soft-sided crates is that a dog who likes to chew or scratch at the sides will be able to break out. It is not a good choice for young puppies.

Whichever type of crate you choose to use, size is important. The crate should not be too large. You want your dog to have enough room to lie down comfortably and turn around. If the crate is too big, your dog may use one area of the crate to sleep and another spot to eliminate. Many of the wire crates are sold with a divider. This is perfect if you are crate training a growing puppy. The divider allows you to confine your puppy to a small area of the crate, and then make the crate larger as your puppy grows.

Introduce Your Dog to the Crate

Crate training should be kept very positive. Introduce your puppy or adult dog to the crate slowly. Put something soft in the bottom of the crate, along with some of your dog's toys. Throw some treats inside. Let your dog explore the crate at his own pace without forcing him to go inside. Praise him and give him a treat when he goes in on his own. Until he seems comfortable with his crate, keep the door open and let your dog wander in and out as he wishes.

Confining Your Dog in the Crate

Once your dog is comfortable going in and out of the crate, it is time to start getting him used to being confined. Throw some treats in the crate, and once your dog is inside, close the door. Wait a minute or so, and as long as your dog is quiet, let him out of the crate. Slowly extend the amount of time you leave your dog in the crate while you are at home until he is comfortable being confined in the crate for up to an hour or more.

Once your dog is comfortable with being confined, begin to get him used to be left alone while in his crate. When he is calm in his crate, step out of the room for a few minutes and then step back in. Gradually build up the amount of time you are out of the room until your dog or puppy is comfortable being left alone in his crate for an hour or more.

The "Don'ts" of Crate Training

There are a few simple rules to keep in mind to make crate training successful. First, never use your dog's crate to punish him. Your dog should consider his crate a happy, comfortable, and safe place. If you use his crate to punish your dog, chances are he will be fearful and anxious when left in it.

It is also important that you never let your dog out of the crate while he is whining or barking. He should be completely calm before you release him. Opening the crate while he is barking or whining simply teaches him that if he makes enough noise, he will be let out. Making this mistake can lead to many sleepless nights as you wait for your puppy to settle down.

Finally, never leave your dog crated for longer than he is physically able to hold his bladder or bowels. You cannot expect the impossible. Puppies can usually hold it for no more than 3-4 hours. An adult dog who has never been house trained should also not be left for longer than 3-4 hours. Older dogs may be able to hold it a little longer. Dogs should not be left crated for more than this length of time without being taken out for exercise, playtime, and time to cuddle with you.

Is Crate Training Cruel?

Many people are concerned about whether it's cruel to leave their dog in a cage for any amount of time. Most dog trainers agree that it is no crueler to leave your dog in a crate than it is to leave a baby in a playpen or crib. Crates allow dog owners the peace of mind of knowing their dog is safe when they are not there to supervise.

Also, dogs are known to be den animals. They like having a safe and secure place to call their own. If crate training is done correctly, crates can provide this safe haven. Dog owners often report that their dogs continue to seek out their crates long after house training has been accomplished. For others, once the dog is able to be left alone for several hours without having an accident or becoming destructive, they stop using the crate and allow their dogs free run of their homes while they are out.

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