Crate training, when done right, is a tool that can help your dog feel safe while also enabling you to teach her the house rules. Yay, everyone wins!
It’s important to go through this process the right way, however (not to mention, armed with lots of patience!)
So, with that in mind, here are 7 dos and don’ts to remember when crate training your pup:
1. DO choose the right size crate
Choosing the right size crate goes a long way towards making your dog feel as comfortable as possible in her new den.
The crate should be large enough for her to sit, lie down, and turn around in comfortably. It should not be so large that she could easily use one section as a toilet, however. Goldilocks comes to mind: it should be “just right.”
2. DO make it a home
Make sure you put some comfortable but durable bedding inside for her to sleep on. It needs to be tough because young pups can’t be trusted yet not to chew, and you don’t want her swallowing bits of bedding and having to make an emergency trip to the vets!
Toys are also a great thing to put in the crate with her. These will be a great pastime for your dog, as well as a diversion from chewing on her bedding. Of course, these must also be durable, so go for hard rubber numbers like the Kong. This particular toy is hollow so your dog can get the added benefit of spending glorious minutes trying to get out a tasty treat from inside.
3. DO use food to help you
Food is your friend when it comes to crate training. When she is first checking out her new abode, place treats around the outside to give her an immediate positive association with the new object. Then, put some inside so that she has to enter to reach it.
You can also feed her main meals inside the crateto further increase her enjoyment of it – delicious puppy food + crate = crate heaven!*
Feeding her in the crate is a great way to practice closing the crate door, as she will be so distracted by what’s in her bowl that she won’t be focused on what you’re doing. You should only start to do this when it is clear that she is relaxed and happy when in the crate.
The first time you do this, you should open the crate door as soon as she’s done with her meal. Each time, you can add a minute to the length of time you leave it closed. When she’s still getting used to the closed crate, you should always be where she can see you.
*Always supervise her while she is eating in the crate.
4. DO learn to read your dog’s body language
When you’re going through crate training, you need to be able to read your dog’s body language.
If her tail is relaxed, her ears are up, and she approaches the crate calmly or goes inside of her own accord, then she’s probably ready to move on to the next stage of training.
You’ll know she’s scared or anxious if, when in or around the crate, her tail is tucked beneath her legs or her ears are back against her head. This means you still have some work to do on getting her used to the crate.
Don’t encourage your dog inside the crate or close the crate door when she’s already showing anxious behavior. If you do this, she will simply continue in this negative state inside the crate.
Instead, help her to see that it’s a place of safety and all things positive by introducing her to it very slowly, talking to her soothingly, and giving her plenty of praise and treats.
5. DON’T keep her crated too long
Once she’s used to her crate, you shouldn’t keep her crated for more than 2 hours. Puppies need frequent toilet breaks, and if you leave her longer than this, there is a high risk of her soiling her crate.
Besides that, she will also simply get bored, and this may lead to her showing anxious behavior such as chewing or whining.
6. DON’T reward whining
If your puppy begins to whine while in the crate, it can be a sign that she needs to eliminate. So, you should act but do so without fuss – take her directly outside to see if she needs to go potty. If she does not go, place her back inside the crate. If she begins to whine again, this time you can ignore it until she stops.
The key is not to reward her for this behavior. You don’t want her to make the association that whining equals attention.
Make sure you do keep track of how long she has been in there, as she could also be whining out of boredom.
Covering the crate
Some dogs feel anxious in open, wire crates and do better with a cover. You can try covering the crate to see if this improves the situation.
Ideally, you should use a proper crate cover rather than a towel or a sheet, as these can be pulled inside the crate and chewed on.
7. DON’T make it a punishment
If you find yourself telling off your dog and sending her to the crate, this is not the right move. Never crate your dog as a result of bad behavior.
Remember, it needs to be her safe haven where she can feel at ease, not a prison. If she feels negative about it, she will begin to dislike her crate and feel anxious, and thus it will lose all the benefits as a training tool.
Crate training needs to be done right in order to be effective. Once your dog sees the crate as a place of comfort security, it can be a very useful tool for house training, preventing destructive behavior, and for travel.
Remember that it’s important to get the right size crate and make it comfortable for her. When you’re introducing her to the crate, use food to help her gain a positive association with it. It’s also necessary to be aware of what her body language is telling you – if she’s nervous, you may be going too fast.
Once she’s used to the crate, avoid keeping her crated for more than two hours at a time, and if she whines, simply take her out to go potty and put her back inside the crate.
Finally, never use the crate as a punishment. If she sees it as a negative space, she will feel anxious, and you will not be able to use it as a training tool.
Stick to these dos and don’ts and you and your pup will make great progress.