Whether you have just brought home a new puppy or adopted a dog, providing a safe environment to rest are important for you and your pet’s relationship and emotional wellbeing. Many dogs that end up in shelters are there because of repeated housetraining accidents inside and or destructive behaviour. By learning the basics of crate training, and what you can reasonably expect from your dog, these problematic habits can be avoided.
Talk to your Vet
Before starting any kind of training, have your dog checked out by a veterinarian. Housetraining, or teaching your dog where and when to go, can be difficult if the dog is experiencing any kind of medical issue. Urinating more than usual or in numerous areas both outside and inside could be a sign of an underlying medical condition. Drinking more water than usual could be a sign of a urinary tract infection, or possibly a more serious medical problem. Runny stool is not normal, even in puppies, and may be caused by a medical condition or parasitic infection. Dogs with separation anxiety, or an extreme fear of being left alone, may have medical issues contributing to the anxiety. Any unusual symptoms should be mentioned to your vet during a consultation. The vet will be able to determine if any medical issues need to be addressed and what to do about them.
Why crate train your dog?
Crate training teaches your dog to spend time in a kennel or crate. Dogs are naturally den animals, meaning that their natural instinct is to find a quiet area where they can escape when needed, rest, and recuperate from the day. By providing a crate to sleep and eat in, you are giving your dog the perfect den. Most dogs won’t eliminate where they sleep and eat, so crate training can be a big help with housetraining. A crate also provides a dog with a safe place to go when scared or nervous. Plus, crates can be a great way to keep a dog out of trouble when you are not at home or are unable to provide proper supervision. Staying in a crate can prevent your dog from chewing furniture or shoes, or getting into rubbish bins or urinating in a less than ideal place in the house.
Crate training tips
Crates, especially when beginning training, should be just large enough for dogs to sit, stand, lie on their side and turn around comfortably. For large breeds, select a crate that can be sectioned off so that as they get bigger you can increase size of the crate area. If a crate is too large, your dog may try to eliminate in one area and sleep at the other end.
Aim to make the crate one of your dog’s favourite areas of the house. You can feed meals in the crate as well as use the crate for bedtime and naps. You may also want to give your dog a special chew toy that can only be enjoyed while in the crate. Make sure this is a toy that can be safely played with while unsupervised. Avoid using the crate as a place of punishment, such as time-outs for bad behaviour. To get your dog comfortable with spending time in the crate, start by firmly saying a command or cue word, such as “crate” or “kennel,” and placing your dog in the crate. The cue word will help your dog to eventually associate the word with going into the crate alone, so that over time he will go into the crate without being physically put there by you. Give your dog a treat and lots of praise immediately, then close the crate door for about 5 minutes. Praise your dog again once you let them back out. Over several days to weeks, gradually increase the amount of time your dog spends in the crate.
Words of caution
Crates can be a wonderful way to keep your dog safe and comfortable, but its important to know your dog’s limits. No dog should spend the majority of the day in a crate. Puppies especially should be limited to the amount of time they spend there to avoid elimination accidents and future behaviour issues. A good rule of thumb for the maximum amount of daylight hours a puppy should spend in the crate at a time is to add one to the puppy’s age in months. For example, a two-month old puppy should spend no more than three hours straight in a crate during the day. After three hours, give the puppy a break from the crate, go outside to eliminate, and provide some time to play before putting back in the crate.
Dogs with separation anxiety can be difficult to crate train, and their anxiety behaviours may actually worsen if you attempt to keep them in a crate. Discuss your dog’s behaviour with a vet. Your dog may need a combination of anxiety medication and behaviour modification therapy, which is a different form of training to help dogs over come some of their anxieties, before crate training can be successful.