Crate Training

Today is one of those days I’m glad my dog loves her crate. She is not a puppy, she has been house trained for years, and she doesn’t destroy anything in the house. But  boy am I glad I taught her to love her crate years ago, because today she needs to be in her crate. She injured herself while playing yesterday, and I have made an appointment for her to see her veterinarian today. In the meantime, she needs to rest comfortably and not move around.

Depending on what treatment she may need, she may have to spend time in a small cage at the vet clinic. safetyzone0004When you think about it, that’s very much like a crate. Yet another reason I am glad she feels relaxed about being confined to a small space like that; it will make her experience at the clinic that much more pleasant.

Finally, depending on what may be wrong, she may have to avoid activity for some number of days to come. And that means lots of time in her crate. But it won’t be a struggle and she won’t go stir crazy, because her crate is one of her favorite places. 

My dog is also used to riding in the crate in the car. This is safest for her (even a small fender bender could send her sailing through the windshield) and for me as the driver. For those with a baby or small children, the crate is the best place for your dog when you’re riding together in the car.

The crate also comes in handy when we visit friends and relatives, and we we stay in a hotel that accepts dogs. Because my dog likes her crate so much, I know she’ll be relaxed and at ease in the new environment because she can stay in her portable “room.” And I can avoid her getting into trouble or the embarrassment of her having chewed something up.

A crate can also double as a Safety Zone if you are have kids, if you are expecting visitors to your home who have kids, or if you are going to visit a household with children. Kids and their own dogs are in the highest risk group for dog bites (yes, they are at higher risk than postal workers or animal control officers), and a Safety Zone is an essential tool for decreasing the chances of a dog bite in your family.

Nowadays most people use a crate to house train a puppy or new dog, and to keep their pooch out of trouble when they can’t supervise. Crates are wonderful tools for both. Occasionally I encounter people who want to crate their dogs for hours on end, or who try to solve a serious problem like separation anxiety by keeping their dog in a crate. Those, of course, are ill advised and can border on abuse. 

How long can a dog reasonably be left in a crate (large enough to stand, turn around and lie down in)? The standard formula is hours = age in months plus one for puppies, with no dog spending more than about 5 hours at a time in their crate. (Picture being in a tiny coat closet for that long, with no way to relieve yourself, and you’ll see things from your dog’s point of view.)

Associate the crate with meals, treats, and feelings of calm (by building up the time gradually). Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re having trouble, since bad habits form quickly. I also think it’s helpful to put going into the crate on cue, so that you don’t have to push, carry or place your dog there. You can just say “crate”‘ and your dog will hop right in. To do that, hold your dog by the collar, facing the open crate. Toss a tidbit into the back of the crate. Pause. Say, “Crate,” and then (not at the same time) release the collar. Do that 6 or 7 times in a row. Then hold the collar, dog facing crate, say, “crate,” now watch your dog hop in and then toss the treat in to the back. Works like a charm. Be generous with rewards for a couple of weeks at least, and intermittently thereafter, and your “crate” cue will remain strong.

Provide a safe, edible chewy for your dog (see Busy Buddy toys in the links column to the right) when he’s relaxing in the crate. That prevents whining, keeps him occupied, and teaches him that wonderful things happen when he’s in his crate. You’ll be glad you put the effort into teaching your dog to love this valuable training and management tool. And long after he’s house trained, you will likely find all sorts of other uses for it.

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