Proper crate training and a structured crate protocol are essential. Some owners have a preconceived notion that crating a dog is unfair or “punishment,” and that is simply incorrect. That misguided notion alone, leads to countless dogs entering animal shelters each year and resulting in large veterinary bills (as a result of eating household items when their owners are not home). Not only is the proper use of a crate a good way to keep your dog safe at night or when you are not home, but it is a critical component to housebreaking.
Most dogs love crates because it provides them “their own space,” much like a dog’s den. This is very naturalistic, making them feel safe and secure. Begin crate training right away in order to make a positive association with the crate. Never force a dog into the crate, rather use treats or a special toy that they only get when they enter/stay in the crate. Note: make sure your dog does not destroy and consume inedible items in their crate (ex. toys, blankets/bedding, etc.).
Crate Training – Size of Crate
The crate should be large enough for the dog to stand up, move around, and stretch, but not so large that they can move to one side of the crate, go to the bathroom, and then lay on the other side of the crate. This would undermine the whole purpose of the crate for housebreaking.
Crate Training Your Puppy or Adult Dog
The key to crate training is to take advantage of every possible opportunity to help your dog make a positive association with the. In conjunction with that, we want to avoid all unintentional reinforcement if/when your dog objections to being in the crate. Here are some ways we are going to positively condition your dog to the crate:
Feed your dog each of their meals in the crate. Dogs love to eat, so they will look to their crate as a happy place.
Provide your dog a high value treat (Kong stuffed with peanut butter, etc.) or special toy that they only get when they go in the crate.
Have your dog spend short intervals of time in the crate when you are home; do NOT just put them in the crate when you leave for long periods of time.
Build on duration. Start with short frequent intervals and progress from there.
Avoid All Unintentional Reinforcement
“My dog whines in the crate, what do I do?”
It is not uncommon for puppies to whine when they first learn to stay in the crate. Ignore the whining as long as they are not hurting themselves by trying to escape the crate. Whining occurs because they want out of the crate and/or your attention, so it’s important we don’t unintentionally reinforce this.
What does your puppy view as reinforcing? Do not let your puppy out while they are still being vocal, ignore until they quiet down. As soon as they are silent, you can open the crate. If you let them out while they are crying, you are teaching them that persistent crying will eventually get you to let them out. Common reinforcers are: providing a treat when they are whining or talking to them (which provides the attention they are seeking). Even direct eye contact is an engaging reinforcer. Therefore, simply ignore your puppy until they quiet down and then let them out. The duration and frequency of whining should diminish and eventually go extinct.
The most problematic of whining is when it occurs at night and disrupts your sleep. A possible option is to place the crate in a room on the other side of the house or on a different floor in the house. This should help drown out the noise. Some owners have reported great success in putting the crate in the bedroom with them. Even though they are still crated, the puppy stops crying because they can hear/see their owners. I would only do this if you don’t mind having your dog sleep in the bedroom with you forever, because it would be a hard habit to break later on.
Structured Crate Protocol
Now that your dog is comfortable with the crate, it’s important that we make this a structured event for your dog. This is one way to teach your dog the very important life skill of impulse control. No one wants a dog who can not settle down during times of high excitement. Self-control is a learned skill that we must teach our dogs.
State dog’s name then the command “Crate” and use gentle leash pressure to guide your dog in crate. As soon as he starts to move, release leash pressure. The goal is to teach your dog the “Crate” command so he can be sent to crate without the need for a leash.
We want your dog to be calm when entering and exiting the crate; your dog should not barge out of crate. He should only exit the crate when instructed to do so (using the release command of “Free”).
Use opening and closing of door to clearly communicate to your dog if he is doing the right thing. Closing of door=hyperactive/pushy behavior; Opening of door=calm/desired behavior.
We are not using treats/food during this protocol because that will only add to hyperactivity. You can reward your dog with calm verbal praise (ex. Good boy or Good girl) and exiting the crate is its own form of reward.
This structured crate protocol should be used every time your dog enters/exits the crate. Dogs should be crated when unsupervised and at bedtime.
Crating provides much needed structure and routine that dogs thrive on. It is also very naturalistic for a dog to have a “den” of their own to feel secure and sleep in.