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How to Crate Train a Dog: a Comprehensive Guide

Professional veterinary specialist with 10 years of experience. - Alisa Moor

publication time: 22:29

Contrary to the popular belief, a dog crate is not a prison for innocent pets. Instead, it is a cozy dog’s home, its individual lair, and just a safe place where a pup can hide from the rest of the world. Besides, crates are indispensable when you have to travel by car with your dog. Dog crate training is a time-consuming process, which requires a lot of patience. However, the result is worthy of your efforts. In our comprehensive guide, you’ll find detailed instructions and useful tips on crate training.

Table of Contents:

Choose the Right Crate
Crate Training: a Step-by-Step Guide
Common Difficulties Associated with Crate Training

Choose the Right Crate

A metal dog cage

Modern dog crates come in a variety of forms, sizes, and materials. There are stylish wooden kennels, lightweight portable plastic crates, and foldable metal cages available. Choose the one that meets your needs best. Irrespective of its type, a crate should be large enough for a dog to lay, stretching its legs, stand, and turn around.

Crate Training: a Step-by-Step Guide

You shouldn’t expect fast results when you start crate crating. Be prepared to the thought that the process can take several days through several weeks, depending on the pooch’s temper. Don’t try to facilitate it; instead, give your dog some time to get used to its small personal home. There is one golden rule: a dog must not associate a crate with punishment. Your goal is to form positive associations. Commonly, puppies are easier to train than adult dogs, but it is not impossible to crate train an older dog as well.

The First Encounter

To introduce a new crate to your dog, place it on the floor in the room that the pup spends much time in. Open the crate’s door and fix it; put a soft carpet, a blanket or a towel inside it. Let your dog get familiar with the new object, smell, and touch it (but don’t allow chewing it!).

Put some treats near the crate and let your pup take them. After that, throw a treat inside the cage (alternatively, you may use a dog’s toy). By doing so, you are encouraging the dog to step in. If it does, immediately praise it and give a treat. Irrespective of the results, stroke your dog and talk to it cheerfully and positively. This stage can last up to some days, until the pet starts entering the crate fearlessly.

Building Positive Associations via Feeding

Pets always associate food with security and people’s affection. The best way to make a dog accept its crate as a safe place is to feed it near the crate or in the crate. If your pup is still afraid of entering the cage, start with placing its food bowl near the door. Gradually, step by step, move the bowl closer to the entrance. End in placing the food inside the cage and encourage the pup to step in.

As soon as you see that your pooch feels comfortable to eat inside the crate, try to close the door for a while. Once the dog has finished with the meal, keep the door closed for some minutes. Increase the time gradually, and don’t forget to encourage the pet by stroking it and giving treats after it left the cage.
Some dogs start crying or yowling when they see the door is closed. In this case, you should let the pet know it doesn’t work. Open the door not until it stops crying. Otherwise, it will continue manipulating.

Form positive associations with crating

Crating without Food

The next stage is locking the dog inside the crate without food for a short time period. You may start doing this if you see that your pup experiences no fear or anxiety when crated. Lure the pet in the crate by offering it a treat and close the door. Stay near the crate for some time and watch the dog. If it doesn’t show anxiety, leave the room for 5-10 minutes, no longer. Then return, open the door, and praise the dog.

Repeat this exercise several times a day, gradually increasing the time. Be patient but persistent; don’t allow the pup to manipulate you by crying or scratching the door. Use positive reinforcement by giving treats and talking to the pet after each session. We can’t say for sure how long to crate train a dog, as it largely depends on its temper. It may take a couple of weeks until it stays quietly in the crate for 30-40 minutes with you out of sight. Once you achieved this goal, try to leave the dog in the crate for the night.

Leaving a Dog in a Crate Alone

The final stage is crating the dog while you are away. Your dog is ready for this if it can spend 30-40 minutes in the crate without showing anxiety or fear. Invite the pup to enter the crate as usual (use a special command and/or give it treats and toys), shut the door, and explain that you are going away for some time. Try to be quiet and reserved. Don’t be away too long – half an hour is enough for a starter. Repeat the training every day, gradually increasing the time.

Specialists recommend not to focus on the separation. On the contrary, you may place the dog in the crate 15-20 minutes before you leave. Stay in the room or in another room for some time. Behave as usual. After that, come closer to the pup and say something like “I have to leave, but I’ll be back soon. Bye-bye”. Try not to sound too emotional – your dog must not get excited. Then quickly go out and shut the door.

As soon as you return home, open the door and let the dog leave the crate. Again, don’t show any special emotions. You may stroke your pup and say something reassuring but try to sound calm and quiet. Repeat this exercise regularly; ideally; once or twice a day, until your dog accepts this as a routine. Keep in mind, however, that you should not keep it in the crate for more than five hours in a row.

Crating at Night

If you want your dog to stay in the crate at night, begin with placing the crate in your bedroom or somewhere around. Some dogs, especially young puppies may want to leave the crate just to answer nature’s call, so make sure you will hear it. Also, it will reduce the pup’s anxiety caused by the need for separation. Once your dog gets accustomed to spending nights in the crate, you may gradually move it to the place where it is meant to be.

Common Difficulties Associated with Crate Training

Crate training is not as easy as it can seem. Even if you know how to crate train a dog and do everything correctly, you still can face some problems, such as the dog’s crying and whining at nights or when you are away. To avoid frequent mistakes of first-time pup owners, read the tips below.

Crying and Whining: How to Prevent It

Sometimes, even well-trained pups begin whining when crated at night. In this case, you need to understand whether the dog really needs to go out for some reason (for example, to eliminate) or it is just testing you. The best approach is to walk the dog before crating to make sure it has done its business. If you are sure that whining is just a way to manipulate you, simply ignore it. Let the dog know that it doesn’t work. Usually, they understand this pretty fast.

To prevent this behavior at an early stage, never respond to the dog’s crying sympathetically or emotionally. Just ignore it and wait until it stops doing this. Don’t release it before it gets quiet. At the same time, don’t punish the pet for crying, as can cause a steady negative association with crating.

Besides, you must keep in mind that dogs shouldn’t be crated for too long. This is especially true for puppies, as they need to eliminate every three or four hours. Their bladders and bowels are still immature, so don’t make them stay in the dog crate all night long.

Separation Anxiety

If your pup suffers from separation anxiety, crating will not solve the problem at root. Yes, you can prevent some forms of undesired behavior with the help of a crate just by temporarily limiting the dog’s freedom. If the dog is locked in the crate, it won’t ruin the room while you are away, However, crating won’t make it stop feeling lonely and unhappy. Some active and stubborn pups will do their best to get out of the cage, which can cause injury. That is why you should begin with addressing the problem of separation anxiety itself. Once it is solved, you can proceed to crate training.

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