I First learned crate training for dogs in the early 1980s and has been a huge fan since then. There are many benefits to having a dog that is comfortable in its crate, not least the training and management of puppy houses. Imagine my surprise when I recently discovered an increasingly loud, visible, and growing opposition to crate. Granted, there is an unfortunate amount of abusive crates out there, and that is certainly not acceptable, but the vehement anti-craters are essentially against every crate that has ever existed. Seriously? Never?
There are so many advantages to having a suitable crate that I cannot list them all, but here are some of the most useful:
* Training and management of puppy houses. As mentioned above, house training for puppies (and even adult dogs) is made a lot easier with the proper use of a crate. Since dogs are naturally reluctant to pollute their own dens, it can be helpful to put your puppy in a crate for periods of time when he cannot be directly supervised, and then remove him from its designated bathroom space for quicker and easier access to accommodate far fewer accidents reliably. Crating also minimizes puppy chewing / destructive behavior when direct monitoring is not possible. Properly trained, most puppies and dogs can learn to see their crates as a very positive place.
* * Restricted activity. Most dog owners know the dreaded words of their veterinarian after an operation or other intensive medical treatment: “Your dog only needs to be limited in activity.” If your dog is already comfortable / happy to be in a crate, a time is more limited Activity is far less stressful for him (and you!) And his rehabilitation is likely to be more successful. (See “Rest Easy”, WDJ August 2015.)
* Transportation. We know that there are significant risks with loose dogs sitting in a car – both because of their potential to disturb the driver and cause an accident, and because of the increased risk of injury or death to the dog in an accident.
My own brother lost his beautiful Australian Shepherd in a car wreck; She survived the accident, but jumped out of the broken windshield and was killed by another car on the highway. A buckled box (or a harness and seat belt combination) could have prevented her death.
* Dog classes and competition venues. There are a variety of dog classes and venues where dogs are routinely crated when it is not their turn to work. It is generally expected that your dog can be placed in a crate if necessary.
* Behavior management. There are many situations in which a behavior management box can be of great use.
For example, our little mongrel Sunny is constantly competing for attention with Kai (our Kelpie), and because Kai consistently shifts against Sunny, he tends to lose in the attention game. We crate Sunny at night and Kai sleeps on the bed so that he can be with his people for a long time without having to take part in competitions.
If one of your dogs is having trouble protecting the food, feeding one or both dogs in the crates can remove this source of voltage. Some adult dogs still need to be detained for management purposes when their humans are away, and others find their crates comforting during stressful events like thunderstorms, fireworks, or visitors to the house. Others see it as the perfect place to store their toys when not in use.
* Decor. No, I’m not kidding – there are actually some very stylish dog crates that come in handy when doing a dual service like end tables, sideboards, coffee tables, corner cabinets, and more. You can decorate your house while putting your dog in a crate!
HOW TO CATCH A TRAIN
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to teach your dog to love their crate. If at any point you are stuck in the process, please contact a qualified, nonviolent professional for help:
1. For now, leave the box in its intended long-term location with a soft blanket inside and some toys and treats on the ceiling. The best introduction to the crate is when your dog can explore it on his own. (Make sure you untie the door so it doesn’t slam and startle you.)
2. After she got the chance to explore, with the box door still open, toss in some irresistibly tasty treats. If your dog is reluctant to go after them, throw them close to the door so that they can stand outside and just stick their nose in the box to eat them. If you’re exercising with a clicker or other reward marker, use your marker every time she starts eating the treat.
3. Keep tossing the goodies into the box one by one until it enters to get it. Mark each time she eats a treat. If she can easily enter the box for the goodies, mark it and offer a treat while she’s still inside. When she is ready to stay inside, mark up and move on.
If she comes out, that’s fine too. Just toss in another treat and wait for it to re-enter. Never try to force them to stay in the box.
4th If she walks into the box without hesitation, use a verbal cue when entering (e.g. “Go to bed!”) So that you can finally send her to the box with just one verbal cue.
5. When it stays happily in the box in anticipation of a time and a treat, gently move the door a little. Mark and treat. Gradually increase the movement until you have completely closed the door. Use a marker (click or “Yes!”) And give a reward every time you swing. Don’t Lock It! Mark and treat, then open the door.
Repeat this step, gradually increasing the amount of time the door stays closed before marking. Sometimes you can mark and reward without opening the door immediately.
6th If your dog stays in the crate for at least 10 seconds with no signs of fear with the door closed, close the door, latch it, and take a step away from the crate. Tag, return to the box, reward and open the door. Repeat this step, varying the time and distance you leave the box. Gradually increase the number of times you mark and treat without opening the door. However, remember that a marker is always treated.
NOTE: Don’t make each dog’s stay in the crate longer and further away from you. confuse longer stays with shorter ones. Some dogs become increasingly concerned when they find that they are “stuck” in the crate for an extended period of time each time they are in the crate. Randomize the length of each stay.
It’s a good idea to leave the crate open when you’re not actively exercising. Throw your dog’s treats and favorite toys in the box when she’s not looking so she never knows what wonderful surprises she might find there. You can even feed her meals in the box – with the door open – so she can see that her box is a really wonderful place. With the door open, she can relax in her box at any time.
There are many dogs and puppies that can do all of the crate training in one day. Others may need to be practiced for several days before they are comfortable and can stay in the box. Some take weeks or longer. If your dog or puppy is one of those crates that love slower, you may need to use an exercise pen instead to contain them for administrative purposes.
If at any point during the program your dog whines or worries about being in the crate, try waiting a few seconds to rest, then tag and then reward him. (If she doesn’t stop fiddling, she’s probably stressed out and you need to let her out despite her excitement.) Then back up a step or two in the exercise routine. you made it too difficult for her.
When she is fine at this level, increase the difficulty in smaller steps and vary the times instead of making it more difficult all the time. For example, instead of going from five seconds to 10 to 15, start with five seconds, then seven, then three, then eight, then six, then four, then eight, and so on.
However, if you believe your dog is experiencing separation-related behavior, stop crate training and consult a qualified, effortless professional.
Once your dog is crate-trained, you have a valuable behavior management tool for life. Respect it. If you abuse your dog by keeping him in detention for too long, too long, or using him as a punishment, you can easily ruin the good job you have done and lose your use of this invaluable tool. You really don’t want that!
IF ALL OTHER FAILS USE OTHER OPTIONS
So, if you have a box (and me!), Get it right. Consider whether you have other options, either temporary or long-term. When we first adopted our dog Sunny, he had not been crate trained and had some (luckily mild) behaviors related to separation that ruled out crate as an option. For the first few months, he slept in a practice pen next to my bed, initially with my arm over my side to reassure him that I was nearby.
Over a period of weeks I was gradually able to remove my arm from the pen and move the pen further and further away from the side of the bed. Our bedroom is really too small to fit a box comfortably so he was eventually trained in the box and is now happily sleeping in his box.
However, Sunny is still not 100% trustworthy in the house. If I leave him alone, it closes in my office (spacious compared to a box!) To keep him out of trouble, usually with his brother Kai and everyone else is fine. We were even able to remove the barriers originally put in place to prevent him from chewing up all of my books. Be a creative minimalist in using your crate!
The author, Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, is WDJ’s training editor. She and her husband live in Fairplay, Maryland, where their Peaceful Paw Training Center is located. Miller has written many books, including How To Care For Dogs: From Homeless To Homebound and Beyond Dogs: Give your dog a second chance at a top notch life. See Resources, page 24, for information about their books, dog owner courses, and dog trainer academies.