I was at the park the other day waiting for my students for one of my classes when a 2 month old Australian-German Shepherd mix came to greet me. The owner started to ask me some questions about potty training. I asked him if he was crate training his dog. I was shocked when the owner told me the breeder told him not to crate train the dog, because those dogs should not be crate trained. I was a bit thrown back because I have never met a professional in the pet industry that didn't recommend crate training. Along with potty training, there are many other benefits to crate training. Crate training helps reduce separation anxiety. It also helps manage behavior problems such as barking and lack of self control. It also helps maintain social order in the family. Plus, dogs that are properly crate trained handle stressful situations, such as a visit to the vets office, groomers, kennels, and travel better than dogs who have not been crate trained. So let's talk a bit about crate training.
It is my guess that this particular breeder had a stigma on dog crates. Some people view putting a dog in a crate the same as a hamster in a cage. I have talked to many clients that felt the same about putting their dog in a create, until I explained the proper way of using a crate. First we want to view the crate as a training tool, not a living area. Yes, dogs are den animals and we want them to feel their crate is a safe place to be (same as a baby in a crib or a toddler in a playpen), but the idea is not to have the dog spend their days locked in their crate.
It is important to remember that a crate is meant to be a training tool only and is not meant to be used for punishment. Before you determine the length of time you want your dog to be in the crate, beware of your dogs temperament, age, training, physical and emotional state. Adult dogs can be in a crate for as long as eight hours on occasions. When puppies are involved, they should not be crated longer than the number of months old they are plus one. Meaning if your puppy is 3 months old, they should not be crated for more then 4 hours.
The hardest part about crate training is getting the dog accustomed to the crate. Of course, the younger the dog the easier it will be. When introducing your dog to his new crate, take a couple of days placing toys and treats in the crate and allow your dog to enter the crate on his own to get them. It is also a good idea to feed your dog in the crate. Place the food bowl in the back of the crate and leave the door open. This will give your dog a positive association with the crate. Once your puppy is comfortable in the crate be aware if the dog barks or cries. If the dog needs to eliminate, take him to his appropriate area to eliminate. If the dog is fussing to get out of the crate, ignore the dog. It is better to ignore the dog then to approach and say "no". This can be rewarding the encourage future barking. A puppy should not be put to bed in the crate if the house hold is still up.
When a dog has been properly crate trained, the crate can be used as a training tool for different behavior problems as mentioned in the beginning of this blog.
Housebreaking: As mentioned earlier, dogs are den animals and do not like to mess in their areas. This gives the dog motivation to "hold it" while in the crate.
Separation Anxiety: The crate can be used as the dog's "safe area" when left alone. The length of time for the dog to be left alone should be below the dogs threshold for anxious behaviors.
Management: A crate can be a dogs "playpen". A dog can be kept in a crate for short periods when the dog can not be watched by the owner. This ensures that the dog will not have housebreaking accidents or other unwanted behaviors in the house.
Re-Ranking: The crate can help establish the social order in the house. The owner will communicate leadership to the dog by assigning the crate as a sleeping place at specific times during the day.
Barking: Teaching a dog that silence is rewarding. By placing your dog in his crate, he will earn his freedom when the barking stops. The dog will learn the connection between falling silent and getting out.
Self-Control: The crate can be used to teach the dog that when he stops barking, whining, fussing, etc. and gets control of himself, freedom is earned.
So as you can see, learning to use the crate properly has so many benefits for both your dog and his training process. By starting crate training early on, your dog will become so comfortable in a crate you will have no reason to feel guilty for having your dog in there. The crate will always be a positive experience for the dog.
Don't Hate the Crate