In Providence, Rhode Island, we regularly get asked “Should I crate train my dog?” Many of the dogs we work with have either never been crate trained, destroy the house while the owner’s at work, or try to escape from their crate as soon as the owner leaves the room.
Outside of the dog-training world, crate training is a fairly controversial topic. There are two sides to this argument and the opinions on both sides are quite strong. However, in the world of dog trainers, there’s only one side to this debate: you MUST crate train your new puppy or new dog!
Crate training is a necessity for countless reasons, but I’ll only go over the most important. First, when you bring a new dog into your home, there’s going to be an adjustment period. During these 48-72 hours, your pup is trying to get accustomed to his new environment. One of the easiest ways to make sure this transition goes smoothly is to introduce the pup to the crate. When done properly, the crate will become your dog’s version of a bedroom. It’s where he’ll go to relax. Especially during that first week or two, he’ll be looking for a spot to lie down because he’ll be exhausted from all of the new experiences, smells, and people.
Among many other benefits, crate training will create a safe space for your dog when there is no one around for supervision. When you’re not home, while you’re sleeping, or while you’re distracted by other tasks, your dog will need somewhere safe to relax. The crate is really the only way you can guarantee your dog’s safety when no one is around to keep an eye on him. When it’s time to let him out, you want to make sure he’s calm. Don’t let him burst out of the crate like a bat out of hell. If you allow this, it will always happen, and it will affect other aspects of his life like going in or outside and getting in or out of the car.
Crate training is also crucial because it will help to establish boundaries with your new dog. Whether you believe you need to be the pack leader with your dog or you don’t subscribe to that belief, it’s important to understand that it’s your job to teach your pup how to navigate this crazy world. One important aspect of this is to teach the dog how to be respectful of personal space. We consistently get owners who want to stop their dog from jumping on people or being too demanding of affection. Crate training helps to teach a new dog these boundaries. Using the crate and eventually the place command, you’ll be able to teach your dog not to rush your guests and jump on them.
By crate training your new dog, you’re much less likely to ever have to deal with any sort of separation anxiety issues. When a young puppy is crated for the first few days, you’ll likely to hear some high pitched whining, crying, barking, and scratching at the doors. This is completely normal, and it’s important that you ignore it. As soon as you make the mistake of positively reinforcing these behaviors by looking at, talking to, touching, or letting your dog out of the crate, you will teach him that this is how he gets what he wants. Instead, make sure you wait until your dog has calmed down, and at that point, you can praise, reward, or let him out. By doing this, he’ll learn that calm behavior is rewarded.
One of the best benefits to crate training is how much it will help you during the potty training/housebreaking stage. Along with a consistent food and water schedule and a consistent bathroom break schedule, using the crate will help teach your dog not to go to the bathroom inside the house. Of course you’re bound to have some accidents in the house, so when this happens, don’t make a big deal of it. Take your pup out, clean him off, clean the crate out, and put him back inside. Just like with crate training, we never want to reward negative behaviors, so you don’t want to reinforce those moments by telling your puppy it’s ok or yelling at them which could cause submissive urination and a host of other problems.
Now that you’re aware of some of the more important benefits of crate training, it’s time to decide what type of crate to get. Unless you don’t mind buying a new crate every few months for a growing puppy, your best bet is to buy a wire crate as big as your dog will need when he’s full-grown. The crate should be 4-5 inches taller than your dog and 4-5 inches longer. He should have enough space to stand up without his back touching the top, and he should be able to do a full spin without getting stuck. I know many people want to give their new dog more space, but this is detrimental to the housebreaking process. If there’s too much space, your new pup will try to go to the bathroom in one end and sleep in the other. If your dog will eventually fit into the large wire crate, buy that one and use the divider to make it the proper dimensions for his current size. As he gets bigger, move the divider further and further back until you no longer need a divider at all.
It’s important, especially in the early stages, that your new dog makes positive associations with the crate. Therefore, you want to feed him his meals there. You can use some of his food to teach basic obedience commands like come, sit, stand, place, and down, but you should also give him some of the food in a bowl and allow him to eat it in the crate. This will help to teach your new pup that “good things come from this place so I should hang out here more often.” When he’s free, make sure you leave the crate door open so he can wander in there on his own if he likes. When you’ve properly crate trained your dog, you’ll find he chooses to go in there and lie down on his own.
Lastly, it’s critical that you understand that crate training is only one aspect of dog training. We constantly deal with crate training issues in Rhode Island, but we also get plenty of dogs in need of training who have been crate trained. Nothing will take the place of a solid and consistent obedience training program. In order to get your dog off leash reliable, a combination of socialization, crate training, and obedience training is required.
Warmest Woofs & Wags,