For most humans, the thought of being confined in a small space is the stuff of nightmares (seriously… just watch the “Buried” trailer and tell us you’re not totally freaked out). But with dogs, it’s a little different.
Far from feeling claustrophobic, dogs actually like small spaces; it makes them feel safe and secure. Dogs are den animals, and if you want to make them comfortable, you need to give them a den—in the form of a crate.
In addition to giving your pup his own little chill zone where he can make himself at home, but crates also help with house training and to manage destructive behaviors, particularly when you leave them alone.
But you can’t just stick a crate in your living room and expect your dog to run inside. Just like anything else, getting your dog comfortable with a crate will take some time, energy, and patience.
Let’s take a look at how to successfully crate train your dog (and save yourself a lot of headaches in the process):
But really, is crate training a mean thing to do to my dog?
First things first: crate training isn’t inhumane. Before we dive into how to crate train your dog, let’s first dispel a popular misconception—that crate training is somehow cruel or inhumane.
If you think of your dog like a person, then putting them into a small, confined space does seem cruel. But dogs aren’t people. Instead of feeling scared or overwhelmed in the crate—like a person would—with the right training, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a place where your dog feels happier than snuggled up in his crate.
Now, like anything else, there is a right way and a wrong way to use a crate; sticking your pup in the crate for an entire day or using it as a punishment is definitely not something you want to do. But as long as you’re responsible with your crate training, there’s nothing cruel or inhumane about it—in fact, it’s just the opposite.
How do I choose the right crate for my pup?
The first step in effective crate training? Choosing the right crate.
There are plenty of different crates on the market (plastic crates and metal crates and travel crates, oh my!), but the type of crate matters less than the size. The crate should be just large enough for your to dog to stand and turn comfortably. Any smaller and it will be uncomfortably tight; any larger and it won’t feel cozy enough for your pup to feel safe. Plus, since one of the main purposes of crate training is to get your dog housebroken, you don’t want it to be spacious enough for them to go to the bathroom on one side of the crate and snuggle up for a nap on the other.
If you’re crate training a puppy or young dog, buy a crate that they can grow into, then block things off so they don’t have too much space to wander or to use their crate as a makeshift potty.
The do’s and don’ts of crate training
Once you’ve chosen the right crate for your pup, it’s time to start crate training! Let’s look at the do’s and don’ts of effectively crate training your dog:
DO start slowly
The last thing you want to do is bring a crate home and immediately lock your pup inside. He needs time to get used to the idea of the crate and to get comfortable inside—so if you want to successfully crate train your dog, you need to go slowly.
When you first bring your crate home, put it in a room where you and your family spend a lot of time, like the living room. Line the bottom with a few cozy blankets and then leave it there. Some dogs are naturally curious and will walk right into the crate and start sniffing around; others may be a bit more apprehensive. If your dog is the latter, make the deal a little sweeter by putting his favorite toy or a yummy treat inside.
The point is, you want your dog to get comfortable moving in and out of the crate. Once he’s comfortable, then you can start training him to stay in for extended periods of time.
DO make mealtime crate time
One of the easiest ways to train your dog to stay in his crate? By feeding him his meals there.
Put your pup’s food at the back of his crate; that way, he has to walk all the way inside in order to get his munch on. The first time, leave the crate door open. After that, start closing the door while he eats. At first, you’ll want to open the door as soon as he’s finished eating. As he gets more comfortable, you can tack a few minutes on to each meal before you open the door.
DO increase time slowly
Once your pup is cool with eating his meals in the crate with the door closed, it’s time to start leaving him in his crate for extended periods of time.
Call your pup over to the crate and tell him to go inside. Once he’s inside, give him a treat and a healthy dose of praise, then shut the door. Sit outside the crate where he can see you for a few minutes (5 – 10 should do) and then walk into another room for the same length of time. Afterward, come back in and sit next to his crate for a few minutes before letting him out and giving him a treat.
Keep doing this several times a day, increasing the time until your dog is perfectly content staying in his crate with you in the other room for 30 minutes. Once you hit the 30 minute mark, you can start leaving him in the crate for longer periods (like when you leave the house or when you’re asleep).
DON’T leave your pup in the crate for too long
You want your pup to stay in his crate for extended periods of time, but you don’t want to leave him in there too long.
If you’re crate training a puppy, never leave him in there for more than a few hours at a time. Puppies can’t hold their bladder or bowels that long, and leaving them in the crate so long they’re forced to have an accident is a) cruel, and b) extremely detrimental to the training process.
DON’T use the crate as punishment
Whatever you do, don’t ever, ever, EVER use the crate as punishment. If you do, your dog will develop a serious complex about the crate and refuse to go inside.
Crate training is a great way to make your dog feel safe and secure in your home while keeping accidents and destructive behaviors to a minimum. And now that you know the ins and outs of crate training, the crate will be your pup’s new favorite place in no time.
For more information on the specifics of *how* to crate train your pup, visit this article!
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