Nowadays using a cage or crate for young dogs (and older dogs) has become common place and there are a host of reasons why it works well for dog and human alike. In this article I’m going to look at why the crate works so well in early training, how to introduce it in a positive manner, and also take a look at some different products available on the market today.
Before I get started, to be clear, this post is about puppy crate training, ie introducing a crate to your dog, it is not about toilet training, which is one of the great reasons to crate train, if it’s the toileting aspect that you’re most interested in take a look at my blog post here.
Why use a crate?
Dogs are den animals, a den is a safe place where they can sleep, rest and rear pups. The crate or cage provides the same safe haven that they need to be able to relax confidently. A crate provides a clear boundary of the area that belongs to the dog and that which does not. Once introduced to the crate your ability to manage various aspects of training and behaviour are going to be so much easier and successful. Toilet training, stopping chewing furniture and household items, separation anxiety, building confidence and ensuring his safety all come hand in hand with positive crating. It also gets your dog used to the idea of a cage before you travel with him, as a cage in the boot of a car is the safest and most comfortable way to transport your four legged friend as he grows.
There are hundreds of different crates available on the market today, they can be sorted into three basic types:
- Metal cages – typically they will fold flat for transport and storage, they will have a removable plastic tray in the bottom and have one or more doors which can be locked as necessary.
- Plastic kennels – more substantial and provide more of a den-like feel, will usually have at least one door with a mesh cover.
- Fabric crates – lightweight and foldable for easy storage and transport. Usually have a zipped mesh door at the front. Not suitable for all dogs as they can be chewed or torn open by a dog determined to escape.
To begin with we need to find a cage of the appropriate size for our pet. If it is for a young dog, it will need to be suitable for the size he will grow to as an adult. Ideally the cage will be big enough for your pet to stand up, turn around, but not too much bigger than that, especially if you are using the crate as part of your toilet training method, one of the advantages of using a metal cage is that you can divide it in the early days to make it smaller and suitable for a pup, then remove the divider as he grows.
Introducing your dog to the crate
It is really important to introduce the crate gradually and positively, we want our pet to associate the cage as a safe haven where he can rest uninterrupted and happy. Never send your pet to the crate as a punishment, that is not going to make a positive association. If you have young kids it is important that they understand that the cage is the territory of their pet, and they must not go in or annoy him while he is in there.
To start with bring the cage home, assemble it and leave it so that your dog can investigate at his own pace. He will want to look, smell and explore, don’t make a big thing about it, let him do whatever he wants in his own time.
Next think about what you are going to call the crate – for your dog’s purposes – it doesn’t matter what, so long as it is consistently the word that you (and anyone else who will be responsible for your pet) uses to indicate that you want him to go in there. Bed, crate, box, whatever, but decide on one early on and stick with it!
Next make it a comfortable place, consider what bedding will be best, include a small hookable water bowl and maybe put a toy and/or chew in there. Once your dog is comfortable with this new thing in his environment you can entice him in and out, very gradually, never close the door, just let him go in and out a few times until he is happy. Use food to encourage him to go in and stay long enough to eat the treat, slowly building up the time. You can then aim to have him in there while you close the door, only momentarily, then give lots of praise. This can then be built up gradually until he can stay in for ten or more minutes.
Don’t rush, little and will often get the fastest results! If there is any whinging or barking make sure he has had a chance to go to the toilet, otherwise ignore the whinging, you don’t want to ‘reward’ barking or crying by letting him out to play.
Once you can leave him in for ten minutes with the door closed you can work on moving away. Again, slowly does it, just moving elsewhere in the room at first, for a few minutes, and eventually when you can leave the room. When you return keep it low key, wait a while before letting him out, ignore him, then let him out after a couple of minutes. Slowly you can build this up to where he can be left for a couple of hours, and eventually overnight if you plan for him to sleep in there.
A word of warning with young pups though, they cannot control their bladders or bowels until 12 weeks of age, so do not leave them locked in a cage overnight before that age, or they will have no choice but to soil in their bedding, and that can be detrimental when you do come to use the cage for toilet training.
Keep everything upbeat, and vary the times and length of time he spends in the cage, don’t only use it when you are going out and you should soon have a pet who has his own safe place where he can relax and enjoy his ‘down time’.
My own dogs each have a metal cage, they have had them since pups and they see them as the place where they eat, where they sleep, and where they go when they just want to chill out. The doors are only ever closed at nighttime, the rest of the time they come and go as they please. I’d love to hear feedback from you as to which crates you use, the pros and cons, and any questions about the method I’ve outlined in this post, as always feedback is welcome using the box below.