Crate Training: Introduction & Tips

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Your new dog might have been housetrained at its last home, or he might never have been trained.  After having been in an animal shelter or rescue, his world has been turned upside down and he may have forgotten old habits and could use a refresher. If you have adopted a new puppy, he will need the training from scratch.  Different approaches may need to be made depending on if you have adopted a puppy or an older dog.  The best, most efficient and easiest way to house train your new puppy or dog is crate training.  Crate training will require time and patience on your part, but having a house trained dog is necessary.

terrier mix in a crate

Step 1: Introducing Your Dog to the Crate
It is important to create positive associations for your dog with his crate.  Set up your crate in an area of the house where the family spends a lot of time, such as the living room.  You should make the crate a comfortable, welcoming place for your new dog.  Put in a nice cozy dog bed.  If it’s a puppy, it might be her first night away from her litter mates or mom, and a snuggly crate can be a reassuring location.  Encourage your dog to investigate and enter the crate by using a happy tone of voice and treats.  Do not force your dog into the crate.  If she is reluctant, try tossing treats or a favorite toy into the crate.  If she does not enter the crate the first time, it’s okay—just continue praising her for investigating the crate.  Some dogs will enter almost immediately while others may take days.

Step 2: Feeding Your Dog His Meals in the Crate
If your dog is still reluctant to enter the crate, put her food as close to or as far inside the crate that she will comfortably go, slowly moving it deeper into the crate at each feeding.  If your dog is comfortably entering the crate, feed her so that she is completely inside the crate.  Once your dog is comfortably standing and eating inside the crate, close the crate door while she is eating.  The first time you do this step, open the door as soon as she is done with her meal.  For each subsequent feeding, increase the time she spends in the crate in small increments until she is comfortable being in her crate for ten minutes or so after eating.  If she begins to whine while in the crate, you may have increased the time she spends in the crate too quickly.  Next time, try leaving her in for a shorter period of time.  Do not let your dog out until she stops whining.  Otherwise, she will learn that whining and crying is her ticket to getting out and she will continue doing so.

Step 3: Conditioning Your Dog to Crate for Longer Periods of Time
Once your dog is comfortable eating her meals in the crate, you can begin confining her for short periods of time while you are home.  Call her over to the crate and give her a basic command to enter, such as “inside” or “kennel.”  Praise your dog, give her a treat, and close the crate door.  Sit quietly next to the crate for five to ten minutes, and then exit the room so that your dog cannot see you.  After a few minutes, return, sit quietly next to the crate for another five to ten minutes, and release your dog.  Again, do not let her out if she is whining.  Repeat this process several times a day and slowly increase the amount of time she spends in the crate with you out of sight.  Once she is comfortably crating for thirty minutes or so, you can begin crating her for short periods of time while you are out of the house or begin crating her at night.

Step 4: Crating When Your Dog is Left Alone and at Night
After your dog is comfortably crating for thirty minutes or so while you are home, you can begin crating her while you are gone for short periods of time.  Have your dog enter the crate with the regular command and treat that she is accustomed to.  You may want to consider leaving her with some safe toys while you are gone.  It is advised that you kennel your dog at different points during your “getting ready to leave” routine.  You may crate your dog from five to twenty minutes before you actually leave and then make your goodbye brief, relaxed, and uneventful.  When you get back, remain relaxed and do not reward any excited behavior from your dog. Keeping your departures and arrivals as low-key as possible will help avoid increasing your dog’s anxiety about being left alone. Continue to crate your dog for short periods of time while you are home so that your dog does not associate the crate with being alone.

If you would like to crate your dog overnight, you may want to move the crate into your bedroom or a nearby hallway just during training. Puppies typically need to eliminate during the night, and you will want to be close enough to hear her whining if she needs a potty break. Older dogs should initially be kept closer so that they do not associate the crate with social isolation. Once your dog is comfortably crating overnight with the crate near you, you can begin moving it gradually further away.

Housebreaking Tips

Use the following tips and techniques in conjunction with crate training in order to housebreak your dog:

• The amount of time that your new dog can be kept in its crate will need to start at short intervals and then gradually lengthened. Once trained, an adult animal can control its bladder for up to 10 hours at night.

• Puppies cannot be left in crates more than three or four hours at a time. A puppy will need time and training to develop the muscles. Plan on taking your puppy out 45 minutes after it eats or drinks.

• When your new dog is out of her crate, keep your eye and leash on her. If she starts to relieve herself, tell her “no!” and quickly grab the leash or the dog and rush her outside.

• When your dog relieves herself in the specific or appropriate place, praise her verbally, and perhaps with a small treat.

• Keep in mind that smaller dogs have smaller bladders and might need to go out more often than large dogs.

• Do not punish your dog for any accidents in the house, as it is not an efficient mode of training and can traumatize your dog, causing her to fear you.

• Make sure that you carefully clean up any accidents with an enzymatic cleanser that will remove any trace of the waste, as animals are inclined to eliminate in areas that smell of urine or feces.

• All dogs will have accidents inside—it’s through your consistent training, praise, and routine that you will minimize them till your pet is 100% housebroken.

Potential Crating Problems

• Too much time in the crate:  If not used correctly, your dog can feel trapped and anxious while in their crate and the benefits of crate training will be lost.  Your dog should not be crated for more than 40% of their day.  Your dog should not be kept in the crate all day and all night.  Puppies under six months of age should not spend any more than three or four hours in the crate because of their small bladders.

• Whining:  At first, it may be difficult to determine if your dog is whining because she wants out or if she is whining because she needs a potty break.  If you work to avoid reinforcing the former, it will increase the likelihood of the latter.  Do not reward your dog for whining (by letting her out or paying her attention) and do not punish her by scolding him.  The best thing to do if your dog is whining is to ignore her.  If you suspect that your dog is whining because she needs to eliminate, use the phrase she associates with potty breaks and see if the whining stops or if she gets excited.  If she gets excited, take her out to eliminate but do not play with her as the sole purpose of this trip should be eliminating.

• Separation anxiety: Crate training is not a solution for separation anxiety.  Thought the crate may keep your dog from being destructive, she may injure himself attempting to escape the crate.  Separation anxiety can be helped by medication, counter-conditioning, and desensitization.  Consult a professional behaviorist and your veterinarian in order to work out a treatment plan.

For more useful information, please download our free Dog manual.