Lots of vets, dog behaviourists and owners recommend crate training your new dog. Whilst some worry that a crate is like locking them in a cage, done properly it should be a cozy, safe space for your dog to sleep where you don’t have to worry about them getting hurt.
Why crate train?
Lots of dogs feel much safer in an enclosed ‘den’. A crate can very easily be turned into a den-like area- try placing blankets over the top to enclose it. This gives them a space they can call their own and can feel comfortable. You can also use Adaptil or PetRemedy diffusers nearby to make the den even more cozy and secure.
If you’ve got a puppy, or a naughty older dog, sometimes it’s worrying leaving them at home on their own. They could go through the bin, fall off something, or even wreck the carpet or sofa. Being able to shut them away safely and without any stress is an ideal way to keep them safe.
For very young puppies, crate training helps with their toilet training. Dogs will naturally avoid toileting in their bed – even when they’re very young they climb out of the nest to toilet.
If you can shut your new puppy into their bed/crate they’ll hold their toilet for as long as possible to avoid accidents, which makes life much easier for you. You can let them sleep for an hour and turn your back to take the kids to school or cook dinner without worrying that they’ll wake up and start wondering around the house to find a secret place to toilet and undo all the hard work you’ve put in with toilet training.
Almost all behaviours are harder to stop if they’re not nipped in the bud as soon as they arise. Dogs naturally need to chew, and it’s up to us to spot them chewing the pen, the chair legs, or the plastic bag and redirect them onto something more suitable.
This is all very well, but just as with toilet training you need to be able to turn your back for a minute or two – even if it’s whilst they’re asleep. Crating them means that they’re left with only appropriate chew toys and they won’t be finding something else to practise on when you’re not looking.
Preparation for Travel and Vet Visits
Crating your new dog prepares them for being restrained in a similar way during travel, when they might have to be shut away and isolated. It’s also good learning for hospitalisation at the vets. In fact, we can tell whether a dog has been crate trained by their willingness to walk into a kennel and curl up to sleep!
When can I start crate training?
The sooner you start crate training, the easier it will be, so it’s best to make it a habit from the day your dog comes home for the first time. Don’t worry if it’s already too late – it’s still possible, just a little harder.
How do I crate train?
Finding a crate
Although it can be tempting to buy your dog the biggest crate out there, this is not ideal. It needs to be big enough for your dog to get up and turn around, and ideally is small enough that your dog fills most of the space.
This may mean buying several crates as your large-breed dog grows, but it will make the job of toilet training much easier if the whole crate is ‘bed’ rather than the crate acting more like a kennel – with a bed at one end and space for toileting, playing and food and water as well.
The crate should be placed somewhere warm, and where the family spend a lot of time, but nowhere too noisy- next to the sofa is often a good bet. Place a dog bed or blanket into the crate.
Tempting your dog in
Sprinkle kibble or treats near the door of the crate, and some inside. Don’t worry if your dog is wary of going in at first- just keep edging the treats closer and closer to the crate until he’s going in and out confidently.
Another option is to try getting him excited in a favourite toy as if to play a game, then throw the toy into the crate – chances are your dog will follow. It doesn’t matter if they pick up the toy and walk back out, the important thing is that they went in willingly.
Encouraging your dog to stay in the crate
At first, keep feeding your dog kibble or even a whole bowl of food in the crate. You can start nudging the door closed whilst he eats, then open it as soon as he has finished. Over time, gradually increase the amount of time the door is shut for by leaving it closed for a minute or two after he finishes his meal. If he starts whining to be let out, ensure you only open the door once he stops- you don’t want him to learn that whining will get him let out!
Once he’s happily in there for ten minutes after a meal, you can start practising going in without a bowl of food. Tempt him in with a treat when he’s sleepy, then shut the door. Sit nearby quietly. If all is ok, you can leave the room for a few minutes. Then come back and sit with him for a bit before you let him out. This is so he doesn’t associate you coming into the room with being let straight out, as this can cause problems later.
Continue building up the amount of time your dog is left alone, and move on to being out of the house altogether- at first just for a few minutes and later for longer. Remember to build up slowly to avoid your dog being fearful of the crate, and make sure you always associate the crate with something positive, like food.
Done properly, crate training can provide a dog with a safe space to call their own as well as give you a little freedom to leave the house without worrying what you’re going to come home to!
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