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Crate Training

CARE highly recommends crate training your adopted dog. Crate training keeps your dog safe and helps him feel less anxious. It makes the adjustment period to their new home easier. It also makes housetraining go much faster. Crating a dog is kind, not cruel. Dogs are den animals, so most of them love the crate. There are a few exceptions, but for the vast majority, crate training is the best thing you can do for them.

Why Crate Train?

  • It makes housetraining much easier and faster because dogs do not like to use the bathroom in their sleeping area.
  • It keeps your dog safe while you are away from home. She can't swallow anything harmful if she's crated.
  • It keeps your home safe from your dog while you are away. She can't chew up your favorite shoes or pull down the blinds.
  • It helps your dog be less anxious when left alone. Too much freedom means too many choices and too many chances to get it wrong, which leads to anxiety.
  • If your dog ever needs to stay overnight at the Vet's office, she will be more calm about being there if she's already crate trained.
  • If your dog is injured or sick and the Vet orders that she be kept still as much as possible, the crate is the easiest way to do that.
  • It makes traveling with your dog easier.
  • It gives your dog a "safe place" to go when she is anxious about a thunderstorm or visitors or even other household pets and/or children.

What Crate should I buy?

There are several different types of crates. Airline crates are the most secure because this is the type used to securely fly pets in the cargo section of the plane. Wire crates give your dog more visibility to what is outside the crate. While most people prefer wire crates, many dogs prefer the coziness of the airline crate. It often decreases anxiety to limit visibility to the outside world. The airline crate has this ability built-in, but you can also throw a blanket over a wire crate to get the same result. Another reason many dogs prefer the airline over the wire is that the removable plastic tray of the wire crate scares them. Then again, some dogs dislike the solitude of the airline and prefer the openness of the wire crate. I have one of each so my dogs can choose! There are also fabric crates available now. These are best for the adult dog who is already crate trained. Puppies and untrained adults will probably chew right through them.

In addition to the right type of crate, you also need the right size. A dog's crate should be at least big enough for her to stand up, turn all the way around, and lie down comfortably in. Buy a crate big enough for the size your dog will be full grown. Puppies' bladders are not developed enough to go all day without having to urinate. Plan to come home at lunch to give them a potty break, and make sure there is enough space that they will not have to lie in it if they do have an accident.  

Where do I put the crate?

This is really personal preference. Most dogs prefer to sleep in the same room with the rest of their family. However, you can put the crate anywhere. You can even blend it in by using it like furniture. Put a piece of butcher block over the top of a wire crate, and use it in the kitchen as extra counter space. Put a board over the top of it, sit a lamp on it, and use it as an end table in the living room or bedroom. They even make crates now that already look like furniture.

How do I crate train?

You've chosen the right crate and put it where you want it in your home. Now, how do you introduce your dog to the crate?

Red in a wire crate

Ideally, you would gradually introduce your dog to her crate, slowly building up to longer amounts of time being left in there. However, few of us have the time to crate train the ideal way. We can't take a week off from work for crate training. Fortunately, most dogs take quickly to the crate, so the slow method isn't usually necessary. It is helpful to start on a weekend or whenever you will be home for much of the day so that your dog's first experience with the crate is not associated with you leaving for 9 hours.

Your dog should walk into the crate on her own, not be pushed in. 
You don't want to get into a struggle because this will only stress you and your dog out and make the crate seem like a bad place from the beginning. With a leash on her, drop a delicious treat in the back of the kennel so that she will go in to get it. Hint - dog biscuits are not a delicious treat for most dogs. Think liver, chicken, beef... As soon as she grabs the treat, lead her back out using the leash. Repeat this over and over again for about five minutes, then take a break. 

Step two is to repeat this process but close the door for a couple of minutes each time before leading her out. Note - it is very important not to let her out if she is barking, whining, or thrashing around. Wait until she is calm to open the door. Otherwise, she will learn that barking, whining, or thrashing is what causes the door to open, and you don't want that. Build up to leaving her crated for longer periods of time, such as while you are at work. You may have only a day or two to work up to this, but that's ok if you make the crate a positive experience for your dog. Stuff a Kong toy and leave it with her in her crate. It's like a pacifier for dogs.

At bed time, be sure she has had a bathroom break because she is in there for the night. The only exception is a young puppy who needs bathroom breaks in the middle of the night. This is also the only exception for responding to barking or whining. If you know your dog truly does need to go to the bathroom, you can respond to her request in the middle of the night. When in doubt, take her out! We owe it to our dogs to give them adequate opportunities to eliminate outside of their sleeping area. To avoid teaching her a bad habit, put her on leash, take her out to do her business, then immediately return her to the crate and go back to bed. Otherwise, ignore any barking, whining, or thrashing around in the crate. It may take a few nights, but eventually she will learn that she's not going to make you open the door, and she will settle down. If you let her bark for 15 minutes and then give up and let her out, you will make life very hard for yourself. She will learn that if she just barks long enough, she will wear you down, so she will bark LONGER the next time before giving up. Dogs are manipulative, so keep in mind that she is not trying to get out because the crate is cruel or scary. She is trying to get out because she would rather be where you are. If you let her out when she does this, she is manipulating you! It can also lead to separation anxiety if she becomes dependent on being with you all the time.

There is one important exception to this rule. If your dog is tearing the crate apart trying to escape, let her out and stop the crate training for now. This dog is extremely anxious and could seriously injure herself trying to get out. This is not a crate training issue. It is an anxiety issue. Consider hiring a professional behaviorist to help your dog overcome her anxiety. In the meantime, use an alternative method of confinement, such as dog-proofing and closing her in one room in the home. Confinement is important for your dog's safety. If you think it's cruel to confine a dog, think about the cruelty of them being electrocuted when they chew through an electrical cord or having their stomach perforated when they swallow a dangerous foreign object!

Warning - Kongs and similar durable toys are the only appropriate items to leave in her crate. Other toys can be torn apart and become a choking hazard. Also, remove your dog's collar when she is crated because it could get caught on the hardware and strangle her. If your dog chews bedding, the crate will have to stay bare until that habit is broken because swallowing pieces of fabric can be fatal.

It's also good to feed your dog her meals in the crate, at first with the door open, and later with the door closed. Dogs love to eat, so this creates a positive association with the crate for your dog. "Crates are great! There's FOOD in there!" 

Everything in Moderation

Crates are an excellent tool for keeping your dog safe and for maintaining a good relationship between you and your dog. However, like any tool, they can be abused. Overcrating your dog is cruel. Dogs need exercise, companionship with others, and a stimulating environment to be happy. A dog who is kept in a crate all the time is an abused dog! Your dog will be happy to spend 9 hours in her crate while you work, as long as she gets quality time outside the crate when you get home.

Additional Resources

The Ideal Way to Crate Train

An Illustrated Guide to Crate Training
P. O. Box 715 •  Lexington, SC 29071  •  (803) 622-9813 •  caretoadopt [ at ]