Why a dog crate?
A dog crate is a cage usually made of wire and its purpose is to provide custody for reasons of safety, house-breaking, protection of property, travel or illness. You may think that putting your pet in a crate is cruel or inhumane and might cause your pet to resent you or to be psychologically damaged. However, dogs view a crate very differently than us humans.
As your dog sees it, the crate is his little room or space – a “cosy den”. The crate helps to satisfy the “den instinct” inherited from his den-dwelling ancestors and relatives. Your pet will enjoy the feeling of security he gets from his crate and a reduction in anxiety because he knows that’s his space. It may take a few days or up to a couple of weeks to get him completely used to the idea that it’s his personal area but when he does he will happily go to it of his own accord. Your dog wants to please you and you want to enjoy him. The crate can help you achieve a better relationship with your pet by preventing unwanted behaviour when you aren’t available to supervise him.
The advantages of using a crate
- You can enjoy peace of mind when leaving your dog alone, knowing that nothing can be soiled or destroyed and that he is comfortable, safe and not developing bad habits.
- You can house train your pet more quickly by using the close confinement to motivate your pet to wait until taken outside, since canines naturally avoid soiling their den.
- You can travel with your pet without risk of the dog getting loose and becoming lost or interfering with safe driving.
- Your dog can enjoy the security and privacy of den of his own to which he can retreat when tired or stressed.
- Your dog can avoid much of the fear and confusion caused by your reaction to problem behaviour.
- Since he can more easily adapt to staying in unfamiliar places as long as he has his familiar “security blanket” along, your pet can be included in family outings, instead of being left behind alone.
Purchasing a crate
There are a number of companies offering them and you can see some of them on our list of competitors link above and make the comparisons for yourself. They can also be purchased at some pet shops. We advise you to get a wire crate that includes a removable metal floor pan. Plastic crates can also be used, although some dogs will chew the plastic and some plastic floor pan crack due to the acid in the urine and of course this looks tatty too. For your pet’s comfort, look for one with a smooth floor not ridged. Make sure it is large enough for your pet to stretch out on its side and to sit or stand erect. If you have a puppy, it is more economical to buy a wire crate that will accommodate him as an adult but while he is a puppy put a box in the crate to reduce his area so that it is snug and he doesn’t use one end to do his business and the other end to sleep. A movable wire or pegboard partition can be made or purchased. For bedding, use an old blanket or buy a washable crate pad. So you will be looking at paying between £20 and £50 for your crate (plus carriage) depending on size but this is a real bargain compared to the cost of replacing a sofa, woodwork, carpeting etc.
Where should I put it?
Because canines are pack and social animals they like to be with the pack in that social environment so try to place the crate in an area where the family spends a lot of time like the lounge kitchen or family room, etc. The top of the crate can serve as extra shelf or table space. At night, move your puppy’s crate into your bedroom so you can hear him if he needs to go out.
Crating a puppy
A young puppy will usually have no problem accepting the crate as his space. Any yelping or whimpering at first is probably caused, not by the crate, but by adjusting to an unfamiliar place. Try not reward barking or whining with attention! If you are sure he doesn’t need to eliminate, ignore him until he is quiet, then praise him or take him out of the crate. Do not leave meals in the crate or feed your puppy immediately prior to confining him. Most puppies will spill water left in the crate. Do leave a safe chew or toy in the crate for your pet. Close your pet in the crate whenever he must be left alone or can’t be closely supervised by a responsible person. Never crate your pet longer than you know he can wait to eliminate, and definitely less than 4 hour intervals during the day. If you occasionally must be gone longer than this, place the crate with the door open in an enclosed area such as a bathroom or laundry room. Put newspapers on the floor of the room to enable easier cleaning of the area. Your puppy should soon stop eliminating overnight and then may be crated in his regular place.
Crate training dogs over 6 months
Often problem behaviour in this age group is the result of feeling insecure when left alone. A crate can actually help alleviate this anxiety, but it must be introduced gradually and in a positive way. The dog’s first association with the crate should be as pleasant as possible. First secure the door open so that it can’t suddenly shut and frighten the dog. Encourage your pet to enter voluntarily by tossing a treat into the far end, praising him enthusiastically once he enters, then letting him come right back out. Once he enters the crate confidently, coax him to lie down and relax, using treats if necessary. Shut the door briefly, while you sit beside the crate or when there are people in the room. Again, don’t reward barking or whining, with attention.
When you feel your dog will remain quietly in the crate, leave him alone for 15 – 30 minutes. If all goes well, you can leave him for longer intervals. Eventually, you may no longer need to shut him in the crate, but he will probably appreciate still having access to his special place.
Does the crate always work?
Most of the time but there are some dogs (normally adults) that do not want to feel confined and a few will even mess in their crate.
Use – don’t abuse!
Children should be taught that the crate is a special room for the pet and that they should not pester the dog or pup when it is in the crate or use the crate as a play area.
- The use of a dog crate is NOT RECOMMENDED for a dog regularly left alone all day, although some individual animals can tolerate it. If it is attempted:
- The pet must be well exercised before and after crating.
- The crate must be equipped with a heavy, non-tip dish of water.
- Your pet should get lots of attention and complete freedom each night.
- If you do not have time to take a puppy or dog outside to eliminate and exercise as recommended here, you should reconsider getting a do as a pet. Crate or no crate, any dog consistently denied the attention and companionship it craves, may still find ways to express bored anxiety, and stress
IMPORTANT IF YOUR PET SHOWS ANY SIGN OF ANXIETY IN THE CRATE USE THESE STEPS UNTIL YOUR PET IS HAPPY IN THE CRATE.
If An anxious Pet is left un-trained and alone in the cage it could cause permanent damage to the cage or to your pet
Crate training your dog may take some time and effort, but can be useful in a variety of situations. If you have a new dog or puppy; you can use the crate to limit his access to the house until he learns the entire house rules – like what he can and can’t chew on and where he can and can’t eliminate. A crate is also a safe way of transporting your dog in the car, as well as a way of taking him places where he may not be welcome to run freely. If you properly train your dog to use the crate, he’ll think of it as his safe place and will be happy to spend time there when needed.
Selecting A Crate
Your dog’s crate should be just large enough for him to stand up and turn around in when full Adult size if the crate is to be used for the life of your pet
The Crate Training Process
Crate training can take days or weeks, depending on your dog’s age, temperament and past experiences. It’s important to keep two things in mind while crate training. The crate should always be associated with something pleasant, and training should take place in a series of small steps – don’t go too fast, as this can cause anxiety in you pet and an overall fear and dislike of the new crate.
Step 1: Introducing Your Dog To The Crate
Put the crate in an area of your house where the family spends a lot of time, such as the family room.
Put a soft blanket or towel in the crate. Bring your dog over to the crate and talk to him in a happy tone of voice. Make sure the crate door is securely fastened opened so it won’t hit your dog and frighten him.
To encourage your dog to enter the crate, drop some small food treats near it, then just inside the door, and finally, all the way inside the crate. If he refuses to go all the way in at first, that’s okay – don’t force him to enter. Continue tossing treats into the crate until your dog will walk calmly all the way into the crate to get the food. If he isn’t interested in treats, try tossing a favourite toy in the crate. This step may take a few minutes or as long as several days.
Step 2: Feeding Your Dog His Meals In The Crate
After introducing your dog to the crate, begin feeding him his regular meals near the crate. This will create a pleasant association with the crate. If your dog is readily entering the crate when you begin Step 2, put the food dish all the way at the back of the crate. If your dog is still reluctant to enter the crate, put the dish only as far inside as he will readily go without becoming fearful or anxious. Each time you feed him, place the dish a little further back in the crate.
Once your dog is standing comfortably in the crate to eat his meal, you can close the door while he’s eating. At first, open the door as soon as he finishes his meal. With each successive feeding, leave the door closed a few minutes longer, until he’s staying in the crate for ten minutes or so after eating. If he begins to whine to be let out, you may have increased the length of time too quickly. Next time, try leaving him in the crate for a shorter time period. If he does whine or cry in the crate, it’s imperative that you not let him out until he stops. Otherwise, he’ll learn that the way to get out of the crate is to whine, so he’ll keep doing it.
Step 3: Conditioning Your Dog For Longer Time Periods
After your dog is eating his regular meals in the crate with no sign of fear or anxiety, you can confine him there for short time periods while you’re home. Call him over to the crate and give him a treat. Give him a command to enter such as, “kennel up.” Encourage him by pointing to the inside of the crate with a treat in your hand. After your dog enters the crate, praise him, give him the treat and close the door. Sit quietly near the crate for five to ten minutes and then go into another room for a few minutes. Return, sit quietly again for a short time, then let him out of the crate. Repeat this process several times a day.
With each repetition, gradually increase the length of time you leave him in the crate and the length of time you’re out of his sight. Once your dog will stay quietly in the crate for about 30 minutes with you out of sight the majority of the time, you can begin leaving him crated when you’re gone for short time periods and/or letting him sleep there at night. This may take several days or several weeks
Step 4: Crating Your Dog When Left Alone:
After your dog is spending about 30 minutes in the crate without becoming anxious or afraid, you can begin leaving him crated for short periods when you leave the house. Put him in the crate using your regular command and a treat. You might also want to leave him with a few safe toys in the crate. You’ll want to vary at what point in your “getting ready to leave” routine you put your dog in the crate. Although he shouldn’t be crated for a long time before you leave, you can crate him anywhere from five to 20 minutes prior to leaving.
Don’t make your departures emotional and prolonged, but matter-of-fact. Praise your dog briefly, give him a treat for entering the crate and then leave quietly. When you return home, don’t reward your dog for excited behaviour by responding to him in an excited, enthusiastic way. Keep arrivals low key. Continue to crate your dog for short periods from time to time when you’re home so he doesn’t associate crating with being left alone.
Part 5: Crating Your Dog At Night:
Put your dog in the crate using your regular command and a treat. Initially, it may be a good idea to put the crate in your bedroom or nearby in a hallway, especially if you have a puppy. Puppies often need to go outside to eliminate during the night, and you’ll want to be able to hear your puppy when he whines to be let outside. Older dogs, too, should initially be kept nearby so that crating doesn’t become associated with social isolation. Once your dog is sleeping comfortably through the night with his crate near you, you can begin to gradually move it to the location you prefer.
Potential Problems Too Much Time In The Crate
A crate isn’t a magical solution. If not used correctly, a dog can feel trapped and frustrated. For example, if your dog is crated all day while you’re at work and then crated again all night, he’s spending too much time in too small a space. Other arrangements should be made to accommodate his physical and emotional needs. Also remember that puppies under six months of age shouldn’t stay in a crate for more than three or four hours at a time.
If your dog whines or cries while in the crate at night, it may be difficult to decide whether he’s whining
to be let out of the crate, or whether he needs to be let outside to eliminate. If you followed the training procedures outlined above, your dog hasn’t been rewarded for whining in the past by being released from his crate.
Try to ignore the whining. If your dog is just testing you, he’ll probably stop whining soon. Yelling at him or pounding on the crate will only make things worse. If the whining continues after you’ve ignored him for several minutes, use the phrase he associates with going outside to eliminate. If he responds and becomes excited, take him outside. This should be a trip with a purpose, not play time. If you’re convinced that your dog doesn’t need to eliminate, the best response is to ignore him until he stops whining. Don’t give in, otherwise you’ll teach your dog to whine loud and long to get what he wants. If you’ve progressed gradually through the training steps and haven’t done too much too fast, you’ll be less likely to encounter this problem. If the problem becomes unmanageable, you may need to start the crate training process over again.
Attempting to use the crate as a remedy for separation anxiety won’t solve the problem. A crate may prevent your dog from being destructive, but he may injure himself or damage the crate in an attempt to escape from the crate.
Separation anxiety problems can only be resolved with counter-conditioning and desensitisation procedures.
You may want to consult a professional animal behaviourist for help or try your self, with our help chapter below.
Dogs with separation anxiety exhibit behaviour problems when they’re left alone. Typically, they’ll have a dramatic anxiety response within a short time (20-45 minutes) after their owners leave them. The most common of these behaviours are:
Digging, chewing and scratching at doors or windows in an attempt to escape and reunite with their owners.
Howling, barking and crying in an attempt to get their owner to return.
Urination and defecation (even with housetrained dogs), as a result of distress.
Why Do Dogs Suffer From Separation Anxiety?
We don’t fully understand exactly why some dogs suffer from separation anxiety and, under similar circumstances, others don’t. It’s important to realize, however, that the destruction and house soiling that often occurs with separation anxiety is not the dog’s attempt to punish or seek revenge on his owner for leaving him alone, but is actually a panic response, not unlike a Human Panic Attack
Separation anxiety sometimes occurs when:
1. Dog has never or rarely been left alone.
2. Following a long interval, such as a vacation, during which the owner and dog are constantly together.
3. After a traumatic event (from the dog’s point of view) such as a period of time spent at a shelter or boarding kennel.
4. After a change in the family’s routine or structure (a child leaving for college, a change in work schedule, a move to a new home, a new pet or person in the home).
What To Do If Your Dog Has Separation Anxiety
For a minor separation anxiety problem, the following techniques may be helpful by themselves.
Keep arrivals and departures low-key. For example, when you arrive home, ignore your dog for the first few minutes, and then calmly pet him.
Leave your dog with an article of clothing that smells like you, an old tee shirt that you’ve slept in recently, for example.
Establish a “safety cue”–a word or action that you use every time you leave that tells your dog you’ll be back. Dogs usually learn to associate certain cues with short absences by their owners. For example, when you take out the Rubbish, your dog knows you come right back and doesn’t become anxious. Therefore, it’s helpful to associate a safety cue with your practice departures and short-duration absences.
Some examples of safety cues are: a playing radio; a playing television; a bone; or a toy (one that doesn’t have dangerous fillings and can’t be torn into pieces). Use your safety cue during practice sessions, but don’t present your dog with the safety cue when you leave for a period of time longer than he can tolerate or the value of the safety cue will be lost. Leaving a radio on to provide company for your dog isn’t particularly useful by itself, but a playing radio may work if you’ve used it consistently as a safety cue in your practice sessions. If your dog engages in destructive chewing as part of his separation distress, offering him a chewing item as a safety cue is a good idea. Very hard rubber toys that can be stuffed with treat and Rope toys.