The Joys of Crate Training
Some people will just look at the heading of this article and be emotionally turned off at the idea of “caging” an animal. Some of you have dealt with the negative connotations of crate training in the past, or have simply all the pessimistic implications and have made up your minds. I am hoping that today I can change a few minds with some truths about crate training and utilization.
Many dogs are alive, simply because crates allow them to be free from destruction and danger. Not only are chewer’s euthanized at an alarming rate throughout this country every day thousands of dogs die because of consuming the wrong things.
There are toxins all over the average household, cold and flu medicines, gum, nutmeg, batteries, and plants that are a death sentence for dogs that eat them.
Bored dogs shred sofas and remote controls, they inadvertently swallow underwear, razor blades or batteries. And, if their owners are lucky these dog will only require expensive and painful obstruction surgery to save their lives. Obstructions are dangerous and kill dogs every day! For a look at more check out our other article the 10 Strangest Things Eaten by Dogs.
Dogs with separation anxiety hurl themselves through windows, dig under fences, climb fences and get out only to be hit by cars or picked up and taken by animal control to local shelters.
Crates save lives and if used correctly can calm nervous dogs. Not to mention they assist in potty training and help calm dogs at the vet and/or the groomer or anywhere else they will potentially be crated in the future.
Everything can be abused, and I realize that everything has side effects. I have seen dogs with buckle collars that have grown into their skin and I know there are people who don’t believe in vaccines for people or animals, but you have to weigh the risks.
Most people don’t crate their dogs for 20 hours a day, most people have common sense, however there are some people who abuse animals and over crating is occurs. However, if you are reading this, chances are you are not in the population of animal abusers.
Crates provide safety, for the dog and for your things. They provide many people with a much needed break from puppyhood and an insurance of safety while they are away. For your dog, they give him his own space a place to go and relax and a place to get away from other animals, kids, or company. A crate should be your dog’s home away from home, or home inside a home.
Dogs are den animals and as such they like the enclosed feeling and safety that a crate provides. Some dogs like wire crates, some like plastic crates. However, most dogs must be taught that their crate is a safe haven and a place to relax.
In the beginning crate training may seem difficult and your dog probably won’t like it. He may protest and cry each time he is put in his crate or even howl or scream. But for most dogs the duration is short, if the behavior is not rewarded. If however the human comes running and lets the screaming dog out of the crate he is taught to scream louder and longer the next time.
Most people make the mistake of taking their new dogs or puppies and immediately closing them into the crate sometimes for extended periods, but this can make acclimation more difficult.
The crate should be taken apart if it is plastic and broken down into a half where treats and toys can be placed and the crate can be explored. Metal crates can have their doors propped open and blankets laid down while treats and toys are tossed inside (never leave a blanket with a dog unattended or it may get shredded and swallowed).
The door, ideally, should never be closed until the dog is comfortable and is happily going in and out of the crate regularly.
I recommend clicker training and clicking when the dog enters initially and then teaching the dog that the longer he stays the more clicking and rewards can be accumulated.
Once acclimated to his new digs, you can swing the door shut behind him (not latching it yet) and click. As his comfort level rises you can expect him to stay for a longer period of time.
Once you feel comfortable that he is enjoying this new game you may begin closing the door and latching it. Click as soon as you latch the door and then take a treat and drop it at the back of the crate. If he stays without panic, click and reward for a few moments or minutes depending on the tolerance level.
Next the game becomes to rush into the crate, and sit at the back and wait to be clicked and rewarded. The crate should be a place of games and fun.
At this point I begin to introduce music to the environment. I always recommend leaving the radio or television on while you are gone and this gets him use to the stimulation while you are still playing the game. He should be going into the crate and going to the back and sitting or laying down and waiting for you to reward. You may now begin extending the time that it takes you to deliver this reward extending for longer and longer until he seems comfortable with waiting. He knows it’s coming!
Next, start to leave the room but come back quickly and often to reward. If you see apprehension you can discontinue the training session after a happy, easy command like sit and begin again later.
Continue to work on having him sit or lay in the back of the crate while you leave for different intervals of time until you can easily leave him for several minutes without any signs of distress. If he does bark or whine, do not return to him until he is quiet. He must realize that only being silent will elicit a response from you.
Then teach I him to sit and stay at the back of the crate while I open the door. I don’t want a dog that bum rushes me when I open the door and could potentially knock me or a child down. I continue to click and reward as long as he stays in position when the door is opened. Then I give him a release command so that he may calmly exit.
Continue this training until you can leave him for extended periods of time. Continue to go back in and reward with treats at the back of the kennel for good behavior and also when the crate door is opened. As you reach success you can leave him without stress, knowing that he is happy to be in his home.
This is a good way to teach puppies and adult dogs and even dogs that have had former trauma in crates, however the later may take longer to desensitize to the new environment.
Always leave the radio or some music on and make it a fun experience.
Don’t leave a dog for more than 8 hours or so, and illicit some help from neighbors, family and friends to come and let him out during the day if needed. It is better to crate a dog and pay a neighbor to attend to him, than to risk his death or injury!
Some people say their dogs break out of crates. I respond by saying: there are aluminum, indestructible dog crates that even Houdini dog couldn’t break out of! They are made specifically for hard to contain dogs and they even resist injury. They are expensive but so is the thousands of dollars of damage a dog can do! They are cheaper than one obstruction surgery and they are worth it if you need it!
With some positive reinforcement and some crate related games you can overcome almost any dog’s fears about being in a crate.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.