A Crate Can be a Safe Haven for Your Canine Companion

Relaxing in your favorite chair is a pleasure you look forward to. A crate can provide just the same haven of comfort to your dog. It’s natural for a dog to use a den as a refuge, and a crate can serve as an excellent substitute, becoming a warm, safe, quiet hideaway.

Good crate training can make both your life and your dog’s much easier. If you introduce him to the crate in a positive manner, it can become a valuable tool for you as well as a source of security for him. Keep in mind, though, that crates can be abused: if the dog feels he is being punished or abandoned to the crate, he may never be comfortable in it. You must also balance his time in the crate with quality time spent with you.

What to look for when choosing a crate

Plastic ‘Airline’ crates with solid sides create a true den-like environment. They provide adequate ventilation, good shade, and are easy to clean. Some dogs prefer a more closed environment, while others may chew through the plastic walls. Look for strong, easy-to- operate doors and latches.

Metal grates are well ventilated, but heavy. They can be broken down for storage or transportation. Some dogs do not like them because they are too open, while others prefer them because they can easily see all around them. Dogs who panic can really damage themselves if they paw or chew on the hard rails.

Mesh kennels are fairly new on the market and are lightweight, breathable, attractive and highly portable, and usually break down easily for storage. They’re only good for older dogs who have proven themselves trustworthy not to chew or claw their way through the mesh.

How do I crate train my dog?

Whether you’re training a young puppy or an older dog to use a crate, time and patience are crucial. Every dog is different, and each is going to react in his own unique way. Pups can be easier to train, while some older dogs might have past memories of crates and will either love them or hate them. Crate training usually takes one to three days if you are consistent, persistent, patient and kind.

Before starting, consider these general rules and precautions:

  • The crate should be big enough for the dog to stand up, turn around and lie down in.
  • Never leave a collar on a crated dog – he can hang himself too easily.
  • All interactions with the crate should be positive.
  • Always praise your dog when he enters the crate – all steps in the right direction should be rewarded.
  • Keep the crate available to your dog so he can choose to go in whenever he wants.
  • Whining and barking can be ignored, or stopped with a ‘startle’ noise and a firm “quiet.”
  • Do not “coo” or look at the dog when he is complaining – this rewards bad behavior.
  • Do not shove him in the crate and abandon him, thinking he’ll just get over it.
  • Do not put your dog in the crate and leave the house until he has proven that he accepts it. Even then, leave for only short periods, and gradually increase the time you’re away.
  • If your dog soils the crate, it could mean the crate is too large, or he was in it too long. It could also mean he wasn’t eased into the training and is stressing out.

Day One

The crate should be on the floor with the door open or off, and in an area commonly used by the family (in the bedroom at night). Begin by throwing toys beside and inside the crate while playing with your dog, and feed him in front of or inside the crate, placing the bowl as far in as he will tolerate.

When your dog is sleepy, put him inside the crate and lie down on your stomach with your head blocking the doorway. Pretend you’re napping, too; block your dog’s attempts to escape. Stay calm, and don’t make eye contact. Within a few minutes, he should lie down and sleep, especially if a nap is what he needs. As soon as he falls asleep, go about your business, but leave the crate door open. Be aware that when he wakes up, he will need a potty break.

Day Two

Keep throwing toys and occasional treats into and beside the crate, and feed him as far inside as he will tolerate, but don’t shut the door unless he’s comfortable.

All naps should be taken inside the crate. As a cue, say “kennel up,” or whatever other word or phrase you prefer. Reward him with a treat and a warm voice after he obeys the command and gets into the crate.

Day Three

Repeat the above steps. While watching TV, reading, or at the computer, put the crate beside you, ask your dog to “kennel up,” and give him a few toys. Shut the door. If he barks you can either ignore him or stop it with a “startle,” a short sharp noise like a clap, an intense (but not loud) “hey,” or a light smack to the side of the crate. Dogs will typically only challenge you three to five times and then submit, so be patient. When he has been quiet for a little while, let him out and praise his efforts. Lots of short periods in the crate will help him understand that it doesn’t mean you are leaving him for hours, and he will be more cooperative about going in. Vary the time by confining him two minutes one time and 15 the next. Try to increase the periods your dog stays in the crate, and the distance you are away from it. This will ready him for the longer times you have to be gone. Do not expect young puppies to be good in a crate for much longer than the length of a nap – they just don’t have that much bladder control.

Remember that all dogs are different – some won’t flinch at crates while others can easily be frightened. If the initial introduction is fun and comforting, your dog will come to enjoy his den as much as you enjoy your favorite armchair.

Crate training has many advantages:

  • Keeps your puppy safe and out of trouble when you can’t watch him.
  • Keeps him safe and contained in the car, and when traveling in general.
  • Wonderful for potty training, since pups will not naturally soil their den.
  • Gives you a break when you are overwhelmed by puppy energy.
  • Helpful when visiting or at the vet’s as it gives the pup a place to feel safe.
  • Helps calm insecure or nervous dogs, and those frightened of thunder.
  • Fends off separation anxiety by teaching your dog to be alone and to entertain himself.
  • The crate becomes a familiar home that travels with him everywhere.

Keep in mind that:

  • The crate is not a replacement for responsible training – avoiding problems does not teach.
  • Never use the crate for punishment, as this creates anxiety.
  • A dog can panic and hurt himself if not properly trained to a crate.
  • A dog left too long in a crate, day after day, can become bored, sensory-deprived, destructive, anxious and/or depressed, and may exhibit compulsive disorders.
  • If the crate doesn’t offer adequate ventilation, the dog can become overheated.

Crate suppliers Pet Gear ( www.petgearinc.com ) – nice soft-sided crate with liner and removable bottom for accidents Pet Mate ( www.petmate.com ) – strong, good quality crates Precision ( www.precisionpet.com ) – has puppy panels so crate can grow with the dog Ruff Wear ( www.ruffwear.com ) – has dog tents called Mutt Huts.