The Ultimate Guide to Crate Training

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The right way to look at a crate

First and foremost it is not a punishment, and to look at it as such would be very detrimental to you and your dog. You can and should be utilizing your crate as a safe space. Think of it like wolves to a den. A comfortable space that is safe and secure to be able to relax and block out the outside world.

The set up

Creating the wolf-den like space. If you have a wire crate (which I recommend) I would suggest starting your crate training by covering it with something light and breathable like an old sheet. Leave part of the front open and make sure there is enough airflow for ventilation, especially if the temperature is warmer. Additionally if it is warm you can always add a desk fan on the floor somewhere near the crate but out of reach. You can put a dog bed or towels inside the crate, but if your pup is a chewer they should loose blanket privilege. You can always try adding a rubber mat if they need something but can't handle soft and fluffy. Putting your crate in a quieter space, against a wall or near a corner will always help with that new den feeling!

When to use it

This will largely depend on your circumstances. Puppies should be utilizing a crate quite often and be sleeping in a crate until they are fully housebroken. Puppies and dogs that need to be kept under a watchful eye for whatever reason should be put in a crate whenever you are not able to watch them fully. Dogs that struggle with separation anxiety should be put in a crate at least a few times through out the day while you ARE home, to help baby step them into being ok by themselves. Do not be afraid of it, and definitely don't only use it while you are away or going to the vet. They will quickly learn that every time they go in the crate something bad happens (you leaving or going to get poked and prodded by strangers). The best way to combat that is to put them in a crate and nothing bad happens, in fact, you aren't even leaving the house! You just want to make dinner and eat it without having to mind the dog!

The SECRET TRICK for stopping barking in a crate

Ok. This is a game changer folks. If you have a dog that barks a lot in the crate, you have probably tried yelling (which doesn't work), walking over and telling them it's ok/giving them a treat or toy to occupy them (which is actually reinforcing their bad behavior!) or letting them out because you can't take it anymore (definitely reinforcing bad behavior!) As a bonus this also teaches them that they just have to try harder and be louder and EVENTUALLY you will let them out.  First, make sure your crate is covered with a sheet or something similar at least 90-95% so they can't see you. For some dogs, even popping your head around the corner or looking at them (even if it's to yell) is allowing their barking to 'win' your attention. With the crate pretty much fully covered, when they start barking or whining, tell them "Quiet" in a firm tone and toss a tennis ball or something similar at the crate. This allows your cue "Quiet" to be tied to a consequence (a more-surprising-than-loud noise touching the crate). This snaps them out of the panic mode, and puts you in ultimate stealth mode. If they know you're coming, they will stop but only until you leave again, which can get frustrating very quickly. If you think of their barking their head off as a bomb of anxiety, then stopping them as SOON as they start to make a peep (and cutting it off before it escalates) is cutting the proverbial fuse before the bomb gets a chance to explode. This gives them the opportunity to experience that being alone and being in a crate is actually nice and peaceful, but for dogs that have never been in one, or need to be retrained, you may have to show them how awesome it can be. They just can't see it that way until they can learn to quiet their mind and take a moment to look around and see that everything is ok, and you are not going to come running because they are having a tantrum. You can't reason with a screaming kid with his fingers in his ears the same as you can't just yell at a dog barking it's head off. Be consistent, and no matter what, never let them out for whining or barking under any circumstances. You should have at least a 2 minute window of silence before opening the door. Doing this consistently you will see an almost immediate effect. Within a few days they should not be barking at all.

Using a crate for making it through the night/Potty training

Whether it's a puppy, a newly adopted dog, or one that struggles with making good decisions while the rest of the house is asleep, putting your dog in a crate at night will help. Taking away their water and food by 8:00 (or 2-3 hours before you go to bed) will help. Consequently going for a walk or having a heavy duty play session right around this time will help get them tired as well. Then they can get water right after then be done for the night, then take them out for a potty break as the last thing you do before you go to bed. If they have been quiet for at least a couple hours, but start to whine, definitely let them out, go directly outside to potty, then right back in the crate. First thing you do in the morning should be letting them out to potty, and don't be afraid to put them back in the crate afterwards while you get ready for the day (or go back to bed depending on the time). This will teach them that waking up early doesn't mean anything super fun will necessarily happen and it will encourage them to sleep longer in the future if they don't REALLY have to get up. Making it as dark in the room as possible will help push the limits of your sleep time as well. Expect young puppies to be up around 5-6am until they are about 14 weeks old, and it should slowly get later and later as they get older (if your schedule permits). 

Timeout Space

If your dog is making bad decisions, putting them in a crate can also be utilized as a timeout space. This immediately changes the environment of the bad behavior and stops the fun/excitement/escalation of whatever trouble they were previously getting into. Think of it as taking away the reinforcement of interaction with you (or the other dogs) than the actual space being the consequence.

Just Because Time

Giving your dog some 'meditation time' to have their own space and sit quietly is really good for them psychologically. Even if nothing is happening, teaching them about healthy separation before it becomes a problem, giving dogs space from each other if you have more than one, and giving yourself some time to not have to worry about them will be beneficial to all.

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Andrea Robinson