Crates and Crate Training (Part One)
Ever watched a dog try to dig a hole in your floor before settling down for a nap? That is because dogs are den animals. Their instinct is to find a nice protected area to sleep in. That means walls at their back and sides so they only have to defend one approach.
Crate training utilizes this instinct by giving the dog just such a place to sleep. The crate provides the dog with a den to call home. Now, crates can be abused — the crate is not a place to put the dog as punishment or to keep the dog for extended periods of time. Used properly, however, the crate becomes the dog’s room, and the dog will voluntarily enter it for a nap or to escape company.
Types of crates. Crates come in two basic types, wire and solid sides. Wire crates tend to make dogs feel trapped and they can become aggressive when in the crate. This sometimes happens with solid side crates, but much less often. Solid sided crates also protect the dog from drafts better. The disadvantage is that they can get hot in hot weather. However, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. Recently, there have also been fabric crates for sale. These are for keeping well trained dogs confined at outdoor events. Do not purchase one of these to train a dog with. Most dogs will go right through them if the dog is not trained to respect a crate. Finally, there are metal crates. These are very expensive and are used only for dogs that chew right through a regular crate. Hopefully, you will never need one, but they do exist and they do work to contain dogs no other crate holds.
Size of the crate. The size of the crate is crucial, especially if you are using it to housebreak the dog. Resist the urge to buy a huge crate for your puppy or dog. The crate should be big enough for the dog to stand up in, turn around in, and lay down stretched out. That is it. For a puppy, it is acceptable to buy a crate sized for the adult of that breed. You then must buy one of the crate dividers on the market and use it to reduce the space the puppy had to just enough for him to stand up, turn around, and lay down. As the puppy grows, you move the divider back until it is not needed any more.
Why size matters. Remember that the dog is seeking a den, and the crate should approximate the kind of space a dog would pick. Additionally, most dogs will not mess in their den, so this makes house training much easier. As long as you let the dog out at reasonable intervals, the dog will not mess in the crate. The exception is a dog raised by someone who did not let the dog out appropriately, making the dog live in filth. Many puppy mill puppies are extremely hard to housebreak for this reason.
Introducing the crate. The best introduction to the crate is to feed the dog inside the crate. When the dog finishes eating, remove bowl and dog and take the dog outside for a potty break. Several times a day, throw a treat into the crate and tell the dog “kennel” as he goes into the crate to get it. Do not shut the door during these training sessions, and let the dog out immediately. Soon you will be able to tell the dog to kennel and he will enter his crate. Always give him a treat for doing so on command.
When to use the crate. When you get a new puppy, you should crate the puppy any time you are not able to directly supervise it. That means pay attention to it and what it is doing, not watch tv while the dog runs around the room. Obviously, you do not want to keep the dog crated all the time, but that means you have to watch the puppy and take him out when he needs it. It also means that you must watch to make sure he does not chew cords, furniture, and whatever.
As the puppy gets older, he can be trusted outside the crate for longer periods without such close supervision. At some point, the puppy will need to be crated only during the night and when you are out of the house. Adult dogs may continue to need crating during the night and when you are gone for the rest of their lives, or they may become reliable enough that it is not necessary. Each dog is different.