The use of a dog crate when I was a kid was not ever heard of. Now, almost everyone with a dog uses a crate, or has one available. Should you use one? How do you use one? Will the dog like it?
Teaching your puppy to call his crate “home” will have long term advantages. Once your puppy is fully trained, you will no longer need to use it as a “baby sitter.” However, it is important that your adult dog continues to have positive experiences with his crate as you may need it to restrict your dog’s activities following surgeries or as he recuperates from an illness.”
The crate should be thought of as a man made “den” for your dog. Wild dogs when not hunting or playing spend up to 16 hours sleeping. A snug, safe underground den is the ideal “safe place” for him to rest. Your dog’s crate should be his place to be safe and secure when resting, getting away from the rest of the household, or hiding if necessary from thunder. Often, when the crate is left available for the dog that no longer needs it for training purposes, will be found sleeping in it with their heads hanging out of it.
In order for the crate to be a happy place for your dog, it needs to be the right size. It should be large enough so the dog can stand up and turn around easily. Any smaller and it may create anxiety and any larger when the dog is a puppy may encourage them to eliminate at one end and sleep at the other end. It should have good air circulation and a nice comfy bed. You can make a larger crate smaller by purchasing one made just for this purpose, or using big bumpers on the sides and back making the “nesting” area smaller. As the dog gets bigger, the crate gets bigger.
Introducing your dog to a crate should be done slowly and patiently. Of course, some dogs will totally get the concept right away and love it from the beginning. Others may need quite a bit of time to understand that this crate belongs to them, and is a good thing! You need to make sure that you aren’t using the crate for anything other than positive experiences.
Put the open crate in an area of the house where there is activity. Attach the door to something so it won’t hit the dog by mistake. Make sure the inside is attractive. Let the dog check it out and don’t try to put him in it first thing. After the open crate is no big deal, put some treats and toys inside as incentive for the dog to check it out. Eventually he will go inside voluntarily and be comfortable in it. Treats are a great help during this process.
When the dog is comfortable in the crate with the door open, go ahead and close it with you staying by the door. You can expect him to stay in it, with the door shut for about 15 minutes the first time, depending on his age and acceptance. Work up to a longer period of time with you eventually moving out of his sight. You shouldn’t leave the dog in the crate for more than 4 – 6 hours at a time. He can stay longer at night, usually up to 1.5 times as long as during the day.
A crate is not for punishment or a solution for separation anxiety. It may keep him from chewing or being destructive, but he may hurt himself trying to get out of the crate. You should contact a local, well respected trainer with help for behavior issues.
Your dog’s crate should be a place he wants to go. He should view it as a safe, secure, and comfortable part of the house that is all his! It should make him a happy and confident part of your family!