I had a conversation yesterday with the owner of a young dog that was having problems. His dog was soiling in the house, chewing (several pairs of shoes, chairs, a desk, and rugs) and had a high level of general anxiety. I asked if he had tried to crate train his dog. He responded that he bought a crate at Petco when the dog was young but it didn’t help with her problems. Further questioning revealed that there was never a process used to introduce the crate to the dog and, understandably, the dog had been traumatized when left alone in the crate for extended times.
Benefits of crate training
Throughout a dogs life there are times when they will likely be exposed to a crate (a vets office, a groomer, car or airline travel, or during boarding). By insuring that your dog is familiar with a crate they will be able to take advantage of the benefits of a crate:
- A safe shelter where they feel and are protected from outside elements
- A great place for safe transport in vehicles
- A place to fully relax similar to a den for wolves or wild dogs
- Eliminate or control negative behavior (barking, chewing, messes, etc.)
- Reduce anxiety
While a crate can be invaluable for training your dog, if used improperly, it can also create rather than relieve anxiety. Some important points about use of a crate:
- The crate should be just slightly larger than your pet. Crates that are too large don’t work.
- It should never be used for punishment or immediately following a correction when it could be perceived as punishment.
- Dogs need to be familiarized and trained on a crate before they are left for an extended period.
- Be realistic about how long a dog can stay in a crate. It is unreasonable to believe that a young dog can hold their bladder or stool for 8 hours. Guidelines for how long you can reasonable expect to leave your dog in a kennel can be found at the Petmate website
- Cleanliness is important. If a dog has had an accident it should be throughly cleaned before it is used again.
Introduction of the crate
Young dogs are curious and will naturally find a crate if it is introduced to its living space. By placing a favorite toy or treat in the crate you can also make the space inviting. Initially, the door should not be closed when your dog enters the space. After the dog is acclimated to the crate, close the door while you stay near for brief periods. The periods can be extended gradually then you can leave the immediate area for brief periods. Because dogs are pack animals, keeping your dog in a crate while you or other family members are proximate will make them feel that the crate is their own space within your pack.
Dogs may whine or bark initially. Try to ignore this behavior and go about your regular business, generally it will pass if it is not acknowledged. Even negative attention at this point will reinforce it.
Placement of the crate
Having your crate in a central location is key. Your dog wants to feel that it is a part of your pack so placing the crate in a family room or bedroom where you spend the majority of your time is key. Don’t attempt to place the crate in a basement or unused area as this can fuel separation anxiety. Acclimate your dog to a crate in your home for several weeks before you attempt to use it is a car or other vehicle for transportation.
When used properly a crate is a wonderful tool that can help shape the behavior of your canine companion and get you on the road to creating a great citizen.