Crate Training

Introduction: Crate or carrier training is an effective tool in training puppies or older dogs. Dogs are reluctant to defecate/urinate in "their bed." Because of this natural behavior, crate training can be used to prevent and aid in treatment of problems such as house-soiling. Realize, however, that any dog left too long in the crate may urinate and defecate no matter how much training has taken place. Crate training can also be used for dogs that suffer from separation anxiety (see E68) and have the tendency to destroy things in the house. The amount of training necessary depends on the ability of the owner to be consistent and how reluctant or willing the pet is to use the crate. Starting dogs young is better and easier, but almost any dog can be successfully trained to use a crate.

Getting Started: The main goal is to make the crate a "den" or safe haven. If a dog is reluctant or nervous about being in a crate, pushing it too fast will make matters worse. The crate should be large enough that the dog can stand up, hold its head up, and be able to turn around. Oversized crates are good, but may make house-training more difficult because the dog can urinate or defecate at one end and still be distant from its messes at the other end.

Step #1: Start by making the crate a fun place. Take the door off and place the crate in an area where the dog likes to rest such as the living room, bedroom, basement, etc. At first, it will be easier to train in an area frequently used by the owner, such as in the living room next to the couch. Every time the dog gets a treat or a new toy, place it in the crate and let the dog enter to retrieve it. Once the dog is used to entering the crate, move on to step #2.

Figure #1: Crate training with the door removed. Make the crate a fun place for the dog to spend time by placing familiar blankets, toys, etc. in the crate.

Step #2: Now, place the door back on the crate, but do not close it yet. When the dog is accustomed to the door, close it for short periods of time while the dog is inside (i.e.. 30 seconds, 1 min., 2 min., 5 min., 10 min., 30 min, etc.). Slowly increase the amount of time the door is closed. If the dog gets nervous or stressed because the door is closed, move back to a point when the dog was comfortable. Some dogs may cry or whine to be let out. If they do cry, wait for them to be silent, if possible, even if only for a few seconds, before letting them out. Most dogs will usually settle down after a few minutes. Once the dog is accustomed to being in the crate for longer periods, it is time to keep the pet in the crate overnight. If overnight works well, there should be little trouble in keeping the dog in the crate while the owner is out of the house. If a dog is locked in a crate and is stressed out, signs such as bleeding toenails, bleeding gums, scratches on the face, urination, or defecation may be noted. When any of these signs are noted, the dog is not quite ready to spend extended time in the crate, and it will be necessary to start over at a point where the dog was more comfortable.

Figure #2: Crate training with the door on and closed. Once the pet becomes accustomed to being in the crate with the door on, the crate can be used for sleeping, traveling, and training.

Because it prevents destruction to household objects, crate training is crucial with separation anxiety problems. However, crate training alone often will not solve the anxiety problem, and other behavior techniques and medical intervention may be necessary.

Summary: Crate training can be very useful for many occasions and also allows the dog to have its little den. It is important to reinforce crate training as the dog gets older so that if it is ever needed, it will be less stressful for both the owner and the dog. If a dog does spend significant amounts of time in the crate, it will need to go to the bathroom and be very energetic upon exiting. Because of this, it is important to immediately let the pet outside to go to the bathroom and for the owner to have plenty of play/exercise time with the dog. No matter how well crate-trained a pet is, if it is left in the crate for an excessive period of time, it may urinate and/or defecate in the crate. These accidents should not be punished and do not reflect a failure in the crate training process. They only signify that the pet can only handle shorter blocks of time in the crate.