Crate training is one of those doggy details that you’ll find a lot of mixed opinions about.
Some people think crates are flat-out abusive. In Sweden and Finland, for example, it’s only legal to use a crate in specific cases, like during transport or illness. Others believe that crates are a valuable tool for a variety of scenarios and training opportunities, including house training and teaching a dog to be alone. As a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, I fall somewhere in between the two extremes. Crates aren’t necessarily a bad thing and, in some cases, they can make life with a dog (a new-to-you dog, in particular) much easier.
Puppy guardians will find the crate more useful for training purposes than the guardians of older dogs. Still, there are some reasons you should crate train an older dog, such as for preparation in the event of emergency. Think about the recent wildfires in Northern California or the hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. If you’re trying to escape in an emergency with your most valuable items, your capacity for managing your dog will be limited. Having them inside a crate will keep them secure, as long as they’re crate trained.
The best reasons to crate train an older dog
- Security in a disaster or emergency situation
- Safe transportation via car/train/bus/plane
- Easier veterinary visits and long-term care in case of illness or injury
- Providing a comfortable and safe location in high-stress environments
Crate training a dog of any age can be tricky because being trapped in a tiny box is, in a word, scary! However, many dogs that are properly introduced to a crate may truly enjoy their relaxing time inside. I know one high-strung cattle cog who, in addition to being crated for a few hours at a time while his mom is at work, chooses to hang out in his crate frequently in the evenings, weekends and overnight.
Hence, it’s important to crate train properly. Because crates don’t come with instruction manuals, they can easily be unintentionally misused, causing your dog severe distress.
Rules for successful crate training
- Never leave a dog inside a crate for longer than three hours at a time (with the exception of overnight).
- Make sure the crate is large enough for your dog to comfortably stand up, lie down and turn around in. If you’re not working on housebreaking, the more space the dog has inside the crate to get comfortable, the better.
- If you have a very young or very tiny puppy whose bladder is underdeveloped, never leave them inside a crate for longer than they can hold their urine.
- The same goes for a senior dog with a weak bladder that needs to urinate frequently.
These training tips can help your dog love the crate
- Never force your dog inside the crate or close them in it for longer than they’re ready for. They must choose to go in on their own.
- Help your dog to choose to go into the crate by throwing a treat, leaving a bully stick or pig’s ear or placing a puzzle toy filled with high-value treats (i.e., peanut butter, hot dogs, chicken) inside.
- Gradually increase the period of time your dog spends in the crate. Begin by luring them in, closing the door for a couple of seconds, then letting them back out. Repeat this several times, then increase the interval by a few seconds. Repeat, slowly increasing the time they spend inside with the door closed.
- Place soft bedding inside the crate and provide access to water.
- Remember to NEVER leave your dog inside the crate with the door closed for longer than three hours at a time. The one exception to the rule is crating overnight, which is okay as long as your dog is a good nighttime sleeper.
If your dog is having trouble adjusting to the crate and begins to howl, dig, or bite at the bars, consult a Certified Professional Dog Trainer.
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