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For pet owners, a crate may offer several benefits such as: aiding with house training (as dogs do not like to soil the area where they sleep), limiting their pets’ access to the rest of the house, and as a safe way to travel.  However, for a dog, a crate is much more.  Dogs are instinctively den animals.  Their crates serve as their “den.”  Dogs prefer using their crates as a safe place to sleep or take refuge, just as they would use a den to do so in the wild.

Crating Precautions

It is important for owners to foster that sense of security that a dog feels about their crate rather than creating a mood of feeling trapped or frustrated.  Some common mistakes that would cause a dog to experience anxiety while crating them would be: to use a crate as punishment, to leave a dog in their crate for too long without getting human interaction or exercise, confining puppies in crates for longer than 3 hours (which is too long for a puppy to be expected to hold his or her bladder).

Picking the Right Crate for Your Pet

A crate should be the right size for your dog, which would allow your dog to stand up and turn around comfortably.  A crate that is too large may be more difficult to use while house training a dog, since the dog may have room to potty in one corner and sleep in another.  Some options for puppy owners are: renting a smaller crate from a local animal shelter until their puppy is full grown, and then purchase a crate that is the right size for their full grown dog or simply blocking off the excess crate area while the puppy is small.

Crate Training Tips

Crate training should only take days or weeks depending on each individual dog.  Owners should make sure that the process is a positive one for the dog and that they are going at the dog’s pace and not forcing it.  Here are some simple steps to make the process go smoothly:

  1. 1.       Introduce the dog to their new crate- Place the crate in an area where the dog is comfortable and make the crate a relaxing get-away by placing a blanket, towel, toys, and/or treats inside.  The dog will become naturally curious about the crate and want to check it out.
  2. 2.       Feed near the crate- A dog will begin to develop a positive association between the crate and meal times, if fed nearby the crate.
  3. 3.       Start with short intervals- Owners should first crate their pets for short periods of time while still home, to get them used to the idea.
  4. 4.       Crate when leaving home- Once the dog has shown that he/she can be crated for longer and longer intervals without anxiety, then they are ready to be crated while the owner leaves home.  Owners can use a command and/or treat routinely to prompt their dogs to enter the crate.
  5. 5.       Crating through the night- At first, owners should place the crate near their bedrooms, so their pets can feel secure that they are close to their owners while still crated.  Puppies and older pets should be let out to potty even during the night, as their bladders are not capable of holding through the entire night.  The owner can then incrementally move the crate further and further away from the bedroom, once the pet has become accustomed to sleeping in the crate overnight.

Potential Side-Effects

Although crate training does offer many benefits to both owners and pets, owners should be aware of some side-effects along the way.  While crate training, puppies especially, may whine or cry.  Although it is important to make sure that you are not reinforcing the whining behavior by letting the dog out of the crate prematurely, it is also important to give the pet plenty of opportunities to potty.  One way to do so would be to have potty breaks at specific times so the pet has a routine, and knows to expect a potty break at a certain time rather than whenever he/she whines.  Another possible side-effect is separation anxiety, which may be managed through consulting with a professional animal-behavior specialist.  If a pet is displaying signs of hurting himself/herself while attempting to escape the crate or of being especially destructive, please seek help for your pet in order to overcome their separation anxiety.

Information obtained from Human Society 8/17/11.  For more information on this topic and many others, please visit their website at: www.humanesociety.org