The decision whether or not to crate train your dog is a personal one and can be quite a divisive topic within the pet community. While there are benefits to using a crate, it is not for every dog and is often used incorrectly with harmful consequences for dogs. So, how can you determine if crate training is right for your dog?
Table of contents
- Benefits of crate training
- Crating cons
- What not to do
- Choosing the right crate
- Crate training basics
- Setting your dog up for crate success
- Bottom line
Benefits of crate training
There are many reasons why so many pet owners choose to utilize a crate for their dog. And while crate training can have advantages for dog parents, proper use of a crate can also be safe and beneficial for dogs.
Dogs have natural instincts to seek out a comfortable, quiet, and safe place when the environment around them becomes too loud or overwhelming. Properly located and arranged crates can serve as a haven for dogs to decompress and retreat from a busy household. For rescue dogs, the Alliance for Therapy Dogs notes that a crate can provide a safe space to adjust to their new surroundings, as well as the luxury of not having to fight for their own space.
Crates can be extremely useful potty-training tools, according to Windermere Veterinary Services. Typically, dogs try to avoid soiling their sleeping quarters. They learn to hold their bladder while they are in their crate, so training efforts can be more effective, and you may have to clean up fewer messes.
Some dogs have a habit of getting into trouble while left unsupervised, chewing on furniture and digging through the trash. These destructive behaviors cannot be addressed overnight. A crate can be helpful in preventing home destruction while you are still in the midst of training. Ideally, your dog can eventually be trusted to stay at home alone.
Dogs can also be clumsy and accident-prone. Crating your dog while they are unsupervised can eliminate any risk of your dog climbing on furniture and hurting themself. Although homes should be pet-proof, crating can also prevent your dog from getting into cleaning supplies and becoming sick.
You never know when it will come in handy for your dog to be comfortable in a crate. Fear Free Pets notes that crate training can minimize stress and discomfort for both you and your dog if you need to evacuate or travel in an emergency. Overnight veterinarian or kennel stays, as well as house visitors like handymen can be unpleasant experiences. Knowing that your dog can safely and calmly stay in a crate during these situations helps keep stress to a minimum.
Crates are not for every dog and are often misused. Improper use can jeopardize the health and safety of your dog.
- Cooped up for too long – Many of the issues surrounding incorrect crate use involve keeping a dog in a crate for too long and or too often. A dog kept in a crate for too long does not get enough exercise, mental stimulation, or social interaction. This can result in many physical and mental health issues, ranging from obesity and joint discomfort to stress.
- Risk of injury – If your dog is not comfortable with a crate, locking them inside can trigger panic. While a crate may prevent your dog from being destructive or having an accident in the house, they may injure themselves attempting to escape the crate.
- Heightened stress – Being forced into a crate or kept in a crate for too long or often can make stress and stress responses worse. Dog parents often turn to crating their dog with separation issues, as these dogs are prone to destructive behavior when left alone. Crate training does not address separation issues or any other form of stress, and can actually make these responses worse, warns AKC.
What not to do
It is important to understand that the crate is not a solution for unwanted dog behaviors. Putting your dog in their crate will not eliminate their habit of digging through the garbage or chewing holes in your socks. Addressing these behaviors requires dedicated training, and a crate should only be used in a supportive capacity while you are in the midst of training your dog.
Further, crates should never be used as a form of punishment, emphasizes the Humane Society. If you only put your dog in their crate when you are mad and yelling at them for doing something wrong, they will develop negative associations with the crate. This can lead to severe stress and fear in your dog.
Dogs should not spend excessive or extended periods of time in their crate. Our canine companions require regular exercise, mental stimulation, and social interactions to lead happy, healthy lives. Too much time spent in a crate can be boring, lonely, and restrictive. It is also cruel and unsafe to keep young puppies, particularly those under six months of age, in their crate for more than three to four hours at a time. Young dogs cannot go very long without potty breaks and play sessions.
Pet parents should consider changing their schedule, hiring help, or bringing their dog with them to reduce the amount of time their dog spends in the crate each day. In the long run, dog owners who wish to only use a crate temporarily can gradually progress from the crate to an enclosed space like the kitchen before their dog can be trusted with full access to the entire house.
Choosing the right crate
There are several different types and sizes of crates, each better for certain dogs and situations than others. It is important to consider your individual dog and needs when selecting a crate.
Hard-sided plastic crates are typically used for travel. Apart from some small ventilation holes, these crates are largely solid and provide your dog with privacy and physical safety. They are also more portable than metal or wire crates, while sturdier than soft-sided fabric crates.
Soft-sided fabric crates are popular for traveling with smaller dogs. Light, flexible, and often resembling a bag, these crates are portable and easy to store. They also usually have mesh walls, making them fairly well-ventilated with moderate privacy. In addition to suiting small dogs better than large dogs, fabric crates should also only be used for dogs who are comfortable in a crate and do not chew. Fabric crates are not durable for heavy use and destructive dogs.
Metal wire crates tend to be more permanent options, at least for larger dogs with larger crates, as these are not very portable. Many do collapse and fold into a more portable and storable shape. These crates are well-ventilated, lower profile, and durable, although it is possible for dogs to hurt themselves if their collar gets caught or if they attempt to escape.
As far as sizing goes, a dog should be able to comfortably and easily stand, sit, lay down, and turn around in their crate. If your dog is growing, opt for a crate size that will accommodate their full adult size. Most wire crates can be adjusted as your dog grows. A crate that is too large for your dog can allow them to designate a far corner as a potty, and will not provide the small, cozy space they desire.
Crate training basics
Crate training can take days or weeks, depending on your dog’s age, temperament, and past experiences. Regardless, training should consist of a series of small, gradual steps, urges the Humane Society. Expecting your dog to warm up to the crate too quickly can set you back significantly and lead to fear and stress. Consult your veterinarian or a professional dog trainer when considering crate training your dog.
Set up and introduction
Place the crate initially in an area of your house where the family spends a lot of time. This will help your dog avoid feeling isolated. Use soft blankets or a comfortable bed, and keep the door propped open at all times. Let your dog explore the crate at their own pace, encouraging them to enter the crate by dropping some small food treats nearby, then just inside the door, and finally, all the way inside the crate. Continue tossing treats or a favorite toy into the crate until your dog walks calmly all the way into the crate. Speak to your dog in a soft, happy tone. It is crucial that you never force them to enter the crate.
Feed meals in crate
Once your dog can calmly enter the crate, begin feeding them their regular meals near the crate. This will create a pleasant association with the crate. Each time you feed them, place the dish a little further back in the crate, eventually progressing to placing food all the way at the back of the crate. Next, briefly close the door while they’re eating. With each successive feeding, leave the door closed a few minutes longer, until they’re staying in the crate for 10 minutes or so after eating.
Practice increasing duration
Give your dog a voice cue to enter, such as “crate.” When they enter the crate, praise them, give them a treat, and close the door. Sit quietly near the crate for five to 10 minutes and then go into another room for a few minutes. Return, sit quietly again for a short time and then let them out. Work on gradually increasing the amount of time your dog is in the crate while you are home but out of sight.
Crate while you’re away
Once your dog can spend about 30 minutes in the crate without becoming anxious or afraid, you can begin leaving them crated for short periods when you leave the house. Vary the moment during your “getting ready to leave” routine that you put your dog in the crate. This will help get them comfortable with anything, so they do not become too dependent on a predictable schedule. It is important to not make your departures and arrivals emotional and prolonged. Continue to crate your dog for short periods from time to time when you are home, so they do not associate crating with being left alone.
Crate at night
Initially, it may be a good idea to put the crate in your bedroom or nearby in a hallway. You can gradually move the crate out of the bedroom to a more favorable location if you would like.
Setting your dog up for crate success
Not all dogs embrace the crate immediately. For those who are hesitant about crate training, there are things pet owners can do to set their dog up for crate success.
It is important to emphasize that the crate should always be associated with something pleasant. You can help your dog warm up to their crate by using treats either to entice your dog into the crate or to reward them for going inside on their own. You can also give your dog a special or food-dispensing toy while they are in their crate. Some dogs also respond well to verbal praise with soft, upbeat tones. Rewarded behaviors become habit.
Your dog’s crate should be cozy and quiet, located in a removed area of the house and equipped with a comfortable bed, blankets, and or any favorite toys. Make the space as appealing and calm as possible. Leave the door open and the crate constantly accessible so that your dog feels free to come and go as they please. Be sure to leave your dog alone when they go in their crate to maintain their safe space.
Crate training your dog can be a great tool in your pet parenthood toolbox. However, crates are often misused and dogs can significantly suffer if they are not comfortable in the crate before being locked inside. It is essential that owners seriously consider the pros and cons of dog crates, and use responsible, positive techniques for crate training if they decide to pursue it. Seek advice from your veterinarian or a professional dog trainer when considering crate training your dog.