Crate Training 101: How Do I Use It To Help My New Dog?

Crate Training 101: How Do I Use It To Help My New Dog?

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Humans love wide, open spaces. That’s why open floor plans, high ceilings, and California King beds are so popular! But dogs are den animals. They need a dog-sized space to call their own where they can sleep, relax, and feel safe and secure.

And that’s where crates come in.

Crate training plays on your dog’s den instincts and gives him a place to call his own in your home. (Plus, it makes leaving your dog at home a whole lot easier!)

But what, exactly, is crate training? How does it work? And how can you use it to the advantage of you and your dog?

What Is A Crate—And What Is “Crate Training”?

Spaniel in crate

Alright, so first things first—what, exactly is a crate? And, taking things a step further, what is crate training?

Let’s start with the crate. A dog crate is an enclosed space with a door, usually made out of metal or wire (although there are also crates made out of plastic or fabric, which are typically used for travel purposes). Ideally, a dog crate should be just big enough for a dog to stand up and turn a full circle without feeling constricted. The walls and door of the crate are typically constructed from bars (as opposed to solid material). That way, dogs can easily see out of the crate and there is plenty of airflow to keep them comfortable.

Crate training is…well, exactly what it sounds like. The first part of crate training is getting your dog to stay in the crate for extended periods of time. But the ultimate goal of crate training is to train your dog to view the crate as a safe space—so that they actually enjoy spending time there and go to the crate on their own.

The Benefits Of Crate Training

Puppy crate training

All right, so now that you know what crate training is, let’s talk about why, exactly, you should do it.

Some of the benefits of crate training include:

  • It helps with house training. There will be times when you have to leave your dog home alone—and the last thing you want is to come home to a nice “surprise” right in the middle of your living room rug. Crate training is a great way to house train your dog. Typically, dogs won’t relieve themselves in the crate. So crate training is a great way to get them on a regular outdoor potty schedule—and make sure they don’t have any accidents in the house.
  • It makes your dog feel safe and secure. As mentioned, dogs are den animals. Crates act as a makeshift den and give dogs a sense of safety, security, and privacy.
  • It can help your dog with anxiety. If your dog feels overwhelmed, they need a place to retreat and calm down. Crates give them that space to take a break when things in your house get overwhelming (for example, when there are loud noises outside or you have guests in the house).
  • It’s great for traveling. Traveling can be stressful for dogs. But if they’re comfortable in their crate, you can use it to transport them from place to place—and keep stress to a minimum.

How To Crate Train Your Dog

Alright, now let’s get to the good stuff—how to crate train your dog.

Step 1: Dog meets Crate

The first step of the crate training process is introducing your dog to their new crate.

Line the bottom of the crate with a soft material (like a towel or blanket) to make it more comfortable, then set up the crate in an area of your house where you and your family spend a lot of time (like the living room). Leave the door open (or take the door off completely) and let your dog wander in as they feel comfortable.

If your dog doesn’t seem interested in the crate, you can encourage them by leading them into the crate with treats. Start by giving them a treat, then placing treats on the floor closer to the crate. As they continue picking up the treats, put a treat right next to the crate’s entrance. Once they take that treat, throw a few treats into the crate until they feel comfortable and walk in on their own.

Step 2: Give Your Pup Meals In Their Crate

Dachshund Eating Dog Treats

Once your dog is comfortable going in and out of the crate, start feeding them their meals in the crate. This will make them even more comfortable and help them associate something positive (meals) with being in the crate.

If your dog is super comfortable with the crate, you can place their bowls towards the back. If they’re still a little hesitant, try placing their bowls close the door. Don’t put their bowls further into the crate than they’re comfortable entering. As they get more comfortable, continue moving the bowls further back until they’re at the back end of the crate and your dog is fully inside while they’re eating.

Once your pup is happy and comfortable eating their meals in the crate, try shutting the door for a few minutes. As they become comfortable with the eating behind closed doors, continue increasing the amount of time the door is closed until they’re comfortable being in the crate for 10 to 15 minutes during mealtimes.

If your dog starts whining or crying, you might have increased the “closed door” time too rapidly—and may need to scale it back. Just make sure to wait until they start whining or crying to let them out. You don’t want your dog to think that whining and crying is their ticket out of the crate!

Step 3: Increase Crating Time

Black dog crate training

Next up? Getting your dog comfortable with being in the crate for longer periods of time.

During this stage of training, only crate your dog while you’re at home. Leaving your dog in the crate alone too soon can backfire and cause anxiety—which will make it harder to get them properly crate trained.

Call your dog over to the crate, give them a treat, and then point inside the crate and give them a command (like “crate” or “kennel”) to let them know you want them to go inside. Once they enter the crate, give them another treat and some praise, and then shut the door.

Sit next to the crate for five minutes. Then, get up and go into another room for five minutes. Then, return and sit next to the crate for another minute or two before letting them out.

Repeat this process multiple times a day. Each time, increase the total amount of time they’re in the crate—and the total amount of time you’re out of sight in the other room. The goal is to get your dog comfortable staying in the crate for 30 minutes while you’re out of sight in another room.

Step 4: Crate Your Dog While You’re Away

Once your dog is comfortable being in the crate for extended periods of time while you’re home, it’s time to start crating them while you’re away.

The process of getting your pup in the crate is the same. The most important thing to keep in mind is building up crate time slowly. You can’t go from crating your dog for 30 minutes while you’re home to crating your dog for six hours while you’re gone. Your dog needs time to adjust, so be patient!

When you get home, your dog is going to be excited to see you. But it’s important to stay calm and relaxed; reacting with too much excitement or enthusiasm can make your dog start to anticipate your returns, which can increase anxiety when they’re in the crate.

How NOT To Use Crate Training

Little White Dog

Clearly, crate training has a lot of beneficial uses for you and your pup—but only if you do it right.

Here are a few major crate training dont’s you’ll want to avoid during the training process (and beyond):

  • Don’t use the crate as punishment. Your dog’s crate should feel like a safe space—so you should never, ever, EVER use it as punishment. If you do, your dog will start to feel fear around the crate and won’t want to go inside.
  • Don’t force your dog into their crate. If you want to effectively crate train your dog, they need to enter the crate willingly. Never force or pressure them to go inside. Instead, let them get comfortable and go in when they’re ready.
  • Don’t leave your dog in the crate for too long. Dogs aren’t meant to stay in their crates all day long; it can cause depression, anxiety, and behavior issues. Only leave your dog in the crate for short periods. If you need to be away for longer periods of time, hire a dog sitter or dog walker to get your dog out of the crate and give them the love and attention they need.
  • Don’t crate your dog forever. Crate training is a temporary solution. Once your dog is housebroken and you trust them to roam freely while you’re away, you can stop crating them—and just let them use the crate at their leisure.

Keep Your Dog’s Crate Stocked With BarkBox

Little White Dog With BarkBox

Stocking your dog’s crate with treats and toys is a great way to get them comfortable. And a great way to keep your dog’s crate stocked? BarkBox, of course!

With BarkBox, you’ll get a carefully curated selection of toys, treats, and chews delivered to your door each month. And then, you can deliver those toys, treats, and chews straight to your pup’s crate!

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