Crate training is one of the most requested videos you’ve asked me to make. It’s a super useful thing to teach your dog, so here we go.
So I want to start this off for all the “crater haters.” Every time the subject of crates comes up there are a lot of folks that pipe up about how cruel and inhumane it is. Guys you’re coming at it totally wrong. You’re misunderstanding how a crate is used and you’re talking about what you like, not what a dog likes. If you think of it as a cage then that’s probably how you’re going to treat it and that’s not how it’s used. We humans have this whole thing with space and freedom. We like open floor plans and property with acreage. But dogs are denning animals. Ultimately they like it dark and close. And please understand that whether you use a crate or not your dog is probably denning up one way or another.
This is why dogs go under end tables and coffee tables, why they sleep under the covers, why they hang out under your desk, or hide below the printer stand when the neighbour fires up his leaf blower for the third time this week! For the other dogs this is why they like bolster beds, why they nestle into the cushions, why they sit under chairs, why they stretch out behind the couch. I mean sure: dogs love to lay in the sunshine and run in the fields too but at the end of the day they’ll end up denning up in whatever fashion they’re comfortable with in your home.
Even the most socialised, confident dog will den up somewhere whether it’s between their owners on the couch or lounging on their bed. When we leave our dogs in the kitchen during the day or in the utility room or in a guest room, we’ve created a den for them. A crate, then, is a safe and protected den for a dog to be in while we cannot supervise them. Of course there are some dogs who don’t need crates and have never used one but don’t mistake that for the norm; those are the outliers. the vast majority of puppies and newly adopted dogs will and do benefit from crate training and intelligent use of a crate. One thing along those lines I want to make crystal clear right off the bat is that we never ever use it as a punishment. It is not for timeouts. Don’t ever put them up when you’re mad at them. This only teaches them to fear and loathe time in the crate and you’ll be creating a ton of problems for yourself down the road.
A crate for sure isn’t necessary for every dog so let’s start by discussing some of the pros and cons to help you decide if it’s right for you. Crates are great for raising a puppy or for helping a new adult dog settle in. While they’re learning the ropes around your house a crate can help you control destructive behaviours. If nothing else, blocking access to tempting things like your shoes and underwear may be worth the effort. Crates are a necessity for quick and effective error-less house training for puppies of course, but even adult adoptees—even if supposedly potty trained—should still go through the full house training regimen.
For mature dogs that are through the potty training process a crate is rarely a necessity. Many can be home alone or out during the night. The exception is when there’s a specific behaviour problem you’re trying to address; then a crate may be a helpful component to your treatment plan. Make sure you involve a consultant for these cases. Even for those dogs that don’t need a crate, being crate trained is a good character trait for a dog to possess as they may be called upon to go into a crate at times nonetheless.
For example if they’re staying somewhere while you’re out of town, or at the vet’s or even at the groomer’s they may need to spend time in a crate. A crate is also the safest option when travelling. A crate can be a reliable and familiar place in the car for your dog, and for busy dogs they can’t interfere with you while you’re driving. At home it’s important to have areas of inclusion and areas of confinement or isolation. We need to be able to control our dogs’ stimulation and to compartmentalise it to the places we want.
It’s irresponsible to just leave that up to chance. We don’t want them jazzed up in the family room at night and we don’t want them wasted out in the yard when we’re trying to interact with them. Using a crate as part of your practice would help. In any case a crate shouldn’t be used for extended periods. Crates do not provide any outlet for pent-up energy. If your dog is spending time in a crate you’ve got to make sure you’re countering that confinement with constructive use of physical exercise and mental stimulation.
A crate can be an efficient management tool but don’t make the mistake of making it your babysitter. Think of it like a crib or a playpen. We move through similar stages with babies: cribs, toys, diaper champs, and high chairs, so we need to be working through the same kinds of stages with our dogs. Ostensibly your dog should grow out of the need for it with guidance and support. There are several types of crates out there so here’s a basic rundown of the main categories. Plastic flight crates are kind of the original standard for crates. Plastic crates are great for a dog’s first crate. The plastic is easier to clean up when there are messes, and for big messes you can disassemble the crate to really get in there. Plastic crates are generally warmer and drier. It’s very easy to throw a blanket on it to darken it even more and this can be very soothing for many dogs.
Plastic crates are usually better for cars; some even have systems to strap them down. Some have top loading options for smaller dogs. Plastic crates are the only option for flying if your dog is not allowed in the cabin. Most plastic crates are compliant with airline safety standards and plastic crates have lots of affordable options. Wire crates are probably the second most common and useful kind of crate.
They easily fold up for storage or transport. They offer more vision and more circulation. They can get kind of heavy as they get bigger, though. You also cannot take them on planes. Wire crates are suitable for use in a car. Wire crates also have a lot of affordable options. Soft sided crates fold up as well but they’re made of lighter materials like nylon, vinyl, and aluminium. These are best for travel and convenient set up in hotels or campgrounds. They’re not recommended for the crate training process, or for a dog with distress or an anxiety. These are best for dogs who’ve been trained and are comfortable in a crate. Soft sided crates are affordable but on the higher end. Fashion crates are made of finer grade materials and are made to look like furniture.
Some are even custom integrated into existing furniture. These are also best for a dog that’s already accustomed to a crate. These are great for inclusion time and, as you might imagine, fashion crates tend to get kind of expensive. Heavy duty crates are best for extended transport. They’re used mainly by owners that travel with their dogs regularly such as those that travel to competitions or trials. These are the safest option in the car; they’re built to withstand a full-on car crash. Heavy-duty crates are amongst the most expensive of all the options.
X-pens are also a great addition to your arsenal. They’re a fabulous way-station for your integration routine. They’re awesome for puppies and small breeds. It’s a great inclusion space when you transition from a crate. They’re movable and portable— these just fold up like a wire crate. They’re not for larger dogs or for highly energetic dogs, and dogs are always supervised in these as they can learn to get out. We typically train this too; we don’t just toss a dog into one and hope for the best. Many puppy experts recommend that you start with both a plastic crate and a wire crate and these will be used at different times.
One is for inclusion when the dog is crated but is still in proximity with the family, and one we call a “quiet crate” which is covered for, well, quiet alone time. If you can only afford one then a plastic crate may be the better choice initially. If you’re adopting an older dog that is crate trained a wire crate might be just fine. Once you’re through some of those tougher early phases you should be able to progress into soft sided, fashion, or heavy-duty if you desire.
The baseline is that your dog needs to be able to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably in the crate. This is an easy prospect if you’re adopting an older dog that’s pretty much done growing, but for puppies that can be a little more difficult. Wire crates usually come with a movable divider so you can effectively start the crate small and then enlarge it as the puppy grows. This way you only have to buy one wire crate. For your plastic crate you’ll have to get one big enough to last a little while. Ostensibly once your puppy’s potty-trained you may not need your plastic crate. We won’t cover potty training in this video as it’s way outside the scope. If your dog has had a previous bad experience with the crate or is suffering from isolation distress or separation anxiety you will need to seek help from a trainer or behavioural consultant. Don’t try to force the issue or you’ll just make it worse. For the rest of the doggies out there though it’s usually a pretty straightforward process. We want our dogs to view the crate as a safe place.
It should be pleasant and inviting, so we need to habituate them to it. A neutral response is sufficient but a good Conditioned Emotional Response is even better. As with all training there’s a timing issue: monitor and control their energy and don’t try to work on crate training during peak arousal times. Work with them, spend time with them and wear them out first. Your first line strategy is praise of course. As we’ve said numerous times on this channel your voice is your number one training tool.
Consider using a consistent phrase as a cue to go in. As with everything in training pairing a word or phrase will help direct their attention towards where it needs to be. Tie the door back initially so it doesn’t scare the dog. Doors can swing around randomly and clink and clang on the crate potentially frightening sensitive dogs and setting your work back. Now this video is already gonna be kinda long so we’ve got two great crate training progressions you can use and these will be separate Power Tip videos. Along with our Kong training video you should be able to get your dog habituated and even interested in no time. We’ll link to those videos in the YouTube description.
Keep a baggie or bowl of treats on the crate so it’s relatively easy to pre-bait the crate. Also a chew toy or other items will be needed and should be handy. Don’t work on crate training with your dog unless you have food rewards and toy rewards ready. Set this up and make it convenient for you or you probably won’t do it. Routines are awesome but try not to make your initial training follow a predictable pattern.
You want to destabilise the patterns of coming and going to short circuit expectation. This will preserve the integrity of whatever training you do with the crate. Don’t let your dog make a habit of demanding to be let out if your dog is barking for you to open the door in those early phases, here’s how you fix it: Crate training is labour-intensive but it reduces the possibility of problems later on. Be patient, practice until your dog enters their crate willingly. Depending on the dog this could take several days. Don’t rush it; the dog will tell you how fast to go. Practice until your dog is alright in the crate for about 30 minutes before leaving the house. This will minimise stress when you do leave. Make the first leaving a short one, maybe an hour or so. Finally if you make a big production out of letting your dog out you potentially create a couple of situations: 1) you condition your dog to be super aroused when you let them out. These dogs will launch out of the crate at you like a torpedo.
2) the dog starts to feel like being out of the crate is better than being in the crate. These dogs will become more reluctant to go in as time goes by so be enthusiastic about getting into the crate but be just kind of neutral about letting your dog out. Line your crate with a soft towel or mat. If your dog is chewing up beds, a towel might be a better option until chew-toy training is under wraps. We’ll put some good liner recommendations in the YouTube description. Puppies being potty trained should never be created longer than they can reasonably be expected to hold it. The general rule of thumb is one hour per month plus one so at two months you’re looking at approximately two to three hours three months three or four hours four months four to five hours and so on. Until potty training is sewn up consider coming home on a lunch break or have someone let the puppy out. Adults don’t need as many potty breaks although as we mentioned all newly adopted adult dogs should still undergo a full potty training regimen including crate confinement. Don’t leave food in the crate.
There is no situation where your dog should require food in the crate. As we’ve mentioned many times before dogs should not be free fed, they should be on routine, timed feedings. And your dog should never be crated so long that they require food available in the crate anyway. The only time food is available in the crate is when we’re toy-feeding them to habituate them to being inside it. This is a temporary situation during our training progression. Water is a little different. If your dog is only in the crate a couple of hours at a time water is not necessary, although if you’re a working stiff and your dog spends several hours a day in there you may want to consider making water available. In this case do not use a bowl, get a water bottle. This is a lot less messy and more compact without taking up internal real estate. I’ll link to some options in the description. However, for those dogs that spend long hours alone you may want to consider making a bigger Den Apartment.
For adult dogs you can give them more room to hang out, and the puppy version actually includes a toilet that will expedite your potty training. These were recommended and designed by world-class behaviourists and trainers. Check out the simple plans for a puppy apartment on both Dog Star Daily and Open Paw, and I’ll put links in the YouTube description. We mentioned our recommendation that you have two crates initially: an inclusion crate in a room where you spend the most time and a quiet crate.
This is another method for managing energy. There will be times when your dog needs to settle down for a nap in a dark quiet place and there are times when your dog can hang out with the family but still needs to learn how to occupy themselves. Since they’re supervised, this is a good time for a chew toy and later on this will be a good opportunity to use that X-pen. However you set things up—one crate or two— set up the flow so that you can move your dog around easily. Don’t put their crate in the upstairs back bedroom. Especially if you’re potty training you need to be able to get them outside quickly and easily.
Set up your house to make it easy for you or you won’t get it done. Alright guys! This should cover the majority of your crate training conundrums. If you run into any bigger snags make sure to buddy up with a local trainer to help you iron out those kinks. Now question for you: what are some ways your dog dens up whether it’s in a crate or otherwise? Also what are some other things you’d like us to make videos about in 2018? Let us hear from you in those comments. Good luck with your crate training, don’t forget to thumbs up this video, and as always keep learning, keep practising, and we’ll see you next time. Thanks for watching! .
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