A crate is a useful tool when having a puppy in the house, or when needing somewhere to place your dog while you have guests over. Crates are also excellent for traveling; both by car, bus, train and plane, and it is something worth considering for all dog owners.
You can’t just put your pup in a crate and hope that things will work out, however, but instead you need to work with your dog to have the crate become a positive experience – a place where the dog will want to be – rather than a punishment method for when he or she is misbehaving.
Achieving this can take time and effort, but it is important to remember that there are no shortcuts, or you could end up traumatizing your dog – ruining his or her chances of learning to love the crate.
Related: Crate Mat Review.
Getting the Right Crate
The first thing to think about is to get a crate that fits your dog and the purpose for crating your dog. When you purchase a dog crate, make sure you have a proper look at the measurements – regardless of whether you are buying from a pet store or shopping online – and compare those to your dog’s measurements.
Do not simply rely on the breed suggestions on the product, as not all German Shepherds are exactly the same size, and nor are all the Pugs, Chihuahuas or Border Collies (see our Border Collie dog food guide). Having your dog measured before you start shopping for a crate will make the process a lot easier, especially if ordering online where you can’t have your pup try it first.
Your dog should be able to sit, stand and turn around inside the crate, without too much difficulty, and these are good pointers to look for if unsure of whether a crate is big enough for your pup. This also tends to be a requirement when you fly with a dog in a crate, and it is always better to get one that is slightly too big than slightly too small.
Plastic, Steel or Soft-Sided Crates?
The material is also something you need to decide about, and whether you require a plastic crate, a steel crate or a soft-sided crate. If the crate will mostly be used at home, you might want to consider a crate with steel bars, as these are lightweight yet sturdy, and they allow your dog to see what is going on around them.
They can also be folded and stored when not in use, or when transporting them from one location to another. There is also the benefit of them looking less bulky and more discrete than other crate options, which makes it ideal for keeping at home as part of the house décor.
A plastic crate is ideal for dog owners that hope to use the crate also when traveling, as they can’t collapse, and because they are approved for air travel. If you do intend to travel by air, you do need to make sure that it is IATA (International Air Transport Association) approved, but most larger plastic crates are.
Soft-sided crates are easier to break out of, due to the material, and are best suited for transporting small dogs, or for larger dogs that are already used to being in a crate (and that behaves well while inside one).
Preparing Your Dog’s New Crate
Once you have picked a crate; taking size and type into consideration, it is time to bring it home. Place the crate somewhere in your home where it is quiet and calm, yet where the dog does not feel too cut off from the rest of the pack. This could be a corner of the living room, or perhaps in the kitchen, or anywhere where the dog can feel relaxed and wind down, without feeling left out.
The crate should be comfortable for the dog to be inside, so buy a crate liner, or use blankets and/or pillows to give your pooch a soft and comfy place to hang. Keep in mind that a dog should not be crated for long periods of time, and use should be restricted to when the pup needs a break while being housetrained and you are not home (providing that you won’t be away for too many hours).
You can also try adding something with your scents – such as a used t-shirt or sweater, as that could help keep your dog calm, especially in the beginning.
Take the door off (if removable) before introducing your pup to the crate and keep it off for a while, in the beginning, to avoid having your four-legged friend think of the crate as a puppy prison, and instead to see it as a cozy den where he and she can recharge the batteries.
Slow is the Way to Go
When initiating crate training, it is crucial to let it take the time that it takes for your pup to grow accustomed to it. For the first few days, you will just want to leave the crate there, and let your dog explore it on its own. Do not physically put your pups in the crate, and just continue as normal as your doggy explores. Some dogs are naturally curious and will check it out right away, and other dogs might need a couple of days before they’ve worked up the courage to get close.
If you notice that your dog seems reluctant to check out the crate, you can start training more actively after the first couple of days. Try throwing a toy or a treat into the crate and praise the dog as he goes inside to get it.
The door should remain off or open and repeat the exercise a few times a day until the dog walks inside the crate willingly. What you are trying to achieve is to have your fur baby associate the crate with something positive (playtime or treats), as it will aid in motivating him or her to go inside even when no treats or toys are offered.
Crate training should always be done with patience and plenty of time to go over the various steps, and it is preferable that you continue with the process explained here for a few days at least, before starting to practice being inside the crate with the door closed. Once your dog is comfortable in the crate, you can put the door back on, have your dog go inside, close the door for only a couple of seconds, open it again and provide plenty of love, praise, and treats.
Let your pup know what a fantastic job they did, even though the door was only closed for a second, and then slowly start leaving the door closed for longer and longer.
Leaving the house while the dog is inside the crate should be the final step, and there it is also a good idea to start with only stepping outside, then coming back inside again followed by praise and treats. Baby steps, like they say, is the pace you need to go with in order to reach maximal results in your crate training process.
It is so easy to become impatient and want to skip to the part where your dog can stay in the crate while you run to the store or head out for a couple of hours, but patience pays off in this case, and you will be repaid with a dog that won’t try to chew himself out and that will feel safe and happy even when you are away.
The Dog’s Private Space
All family members, and especially children, should be sat down and explained to how crates work and what they are good for. It is important that everyone is aware of the crate being your dog’s private place inside the house, and that nobody should bother the dog while he or she is in there.
Don’t reach in a hand to pet the dog, and don’t go inside the crate. This is a strategy to help your pup understand that if he needs some alone time or a break from playing – the crate is where he will want to go. It is crucial for dogs to be able to take a break when needed and to have somewhere to hide away when wanting to rest.
Making sure the crate provides your dog with this option will make your dog want to go inside the crate, and it will aid in teaching him to love it. Crate training does not have to be difficult and it should never be unpleasant for the dog, which you can make sure of by choosing the right crate, lining it with soft materials, letting the crate training take the time it needs to take and by being patient.
Every step has its purpose, and while it might seem time-consuming and frustrating at first – you will be repaid a hundred times over once having a dog that will sleep calmly in the crate when asked to.