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For most pup families, crate training is a lifesaver. Having a happy pup in an enclosed space while you’re out and about can mean the end of recurring clean-ups every time you come home.
However, crate training doesn’t just benefit you - it’s helpful for your dog, too. If you ever find your pup curled up in a corner, sleeping under the bed, or huddling inside blankets, there’s a reason. Most dogs naturally prefer “cave-like” environments that make them feel safe and secure. If introduced and set up properly, a crate can fill this need for them.
Whether you’re training a new puppy or adult dog to use a crate, there are some tried and true methods when it comes to getting them used to it. Don’t expect your pup to accept it right away, but by following these “dos and don’ts,” they should come around in no time.
1. Do find the right size
Choosing the right size crate will help your dog feel safe and comfortable - like it’s their space. If your dog is still growing, you can start with a crate that’s a bit oversized to avoid having to replace it during their first couple years. Some animal shelters will even let you rent crates so you can trade up as your pup grows.
Don’t use a crate that’s too big or small
A crate that’s too small will prevent your dog from standing up and stretching their legs. A crate that’s too big will allow your dog to use one end as a bathroom and retreat to the other side.
Their crate should be a healthy balance; they should be able to stand up and move around, but they shouldn’t be able to walk multiple paces from one end to the other.
2. Do create a “pup” space
Most dogs feel safe in familiar, enclosed environments. Instead of introducing their crate as a stark, empty space, show them a crate where they can relax and feel secure.
Putting a bed inside the crate and a blanket over the top will make them feel right at home. Leave the door open while you’re there so they can explore on their own. You might find they prefer lounging in the crate over laying on the couch or even your lap.
Don’t use the crate as punishment
Putting your dog in their crate as punishment is the quickest way to them associating “crate time” with negative experiences, meaning they’ll probably never grow to love and accept it. Your dog should enjoy their crate, not fear it. “Time out” spots should be located in a completely separate space, away from their crate.
3. Do use treats and praise
Your dog should associate their crate with positive experiences. Start by leading them into the crate with healthy treats. Once they’re fully inside, reward them with another. Always use positive reinforcement when your dog enters the crate on their own.
Don’t force your dog inside
Forcing your dog inside the crate will leave them scared and anxious. As soon as they’re pushed inside, they’ll immediately want to resist. In their minds, the crate will be associated with punishment.
Always let your dog enter the crate on their own. Patience and lots of praise are the keys here.
4. Do slowly increase crate time
Start by introducing your dog to their crate for 20 minutes at a time and build from there. Once they’re comfortable with at least 30 minutes in the crate, you can start leaving the house for short periods. Slowly building them up will prevent fear or anxiety from forming.
Your dog should trust they’ll be let out of their crate at some point. If you start with hour long-periods or more, they’ll be completely unaccustomed and frightful of the new change.
Don’t leave your dog in their crate all day and night
No matter how much your dog comes to enjoy their crate, never leave them in all day or night. Your pup needs exercise and human interaction. A crate can’t provide that.
If you’ll be gone at work all day, hire a dog walker to stop by in the afternoon or leave your dog at daycare. Always make sure they have time to get out, interact with the world, and exercise during the day.
5. Do leave toys in the crate
Your dog should always associate their crate with positive experiences. Leaving them alone all day with no mental stimulation can lead to separation anxiety and extreme boredom. Try leaving puzzle toys inside the crate to keep them entertained all day long. You can even make your own and switch them out from day to day.
Don’t leave them with bones
Toys with treats are great, but leaving your dog unmonitored with a bone in their crate can be dangerous. Chew time with bones should always be done in short increments with you watching to prevent them from swallowing pieces whole or consuming too quickly.
Remember to keep their safety as your top priority. If you’re going to leave a bone in their crate, make sure you’re there to watch.
6. Do transition away from the crate
At some point, your goal should be to feel comfortable leaving your dog in a larger space - perhaps a closed off room in your home. As your dog learns not to chew or destroy your belongings, try transitioning away from the crate so they have more space to move around while you’re away.
Don’t rely on the crate
If putting your dog in a crate is the only way to keep them from tearing up the house, there’s an underlying problem. Instead of relying on the crate to keep them from making a mess, solve the real issue. Were they never properly potty trained? Do they suffer from boredom or separation anxiety?
Your dog could simply need more exercise during the day to keep them from pulling out the trash or destroying your shoes. Don’t punish them with a crate before considering whether or not you’re doing all you can to keep them happy and healthy.
Try it out
With treats, toys, and a lot of patience in hand, you’re ready to get started with crate training. Remember to:
Choose the right size crate
Create a pup space
Use treats and praise when training
Increase crate time slowly
Leave toys inside while you’re gone
Gradually move away from the crate
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