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Whenever pet parents bring a new puppy or dog into the family, getting them comfortable in the environment and familiar with the schedule and rules is an important first step. Reinforcing the rules of the house and training will help a puppy or dog get physically and emotionally adjusted into their new environment, which will keep them both safer and healthier than allowing them to have free rein all hours of the day.
Training a new canine can be overwhelming for both new and seasoned pet parents, but crate training is often an easy starting point because dogs instinctively want to go into a “den” to feel safe and secure. A crate can act as a den for a dog in times of stress, anxiety, or exhaustion.
In the wild, wolves will dig small but deep dens to protect themselves and their young. They naturally do this so predators can’t sneak up on them. Like wolves, dogs feel safer in den-like spaces. Crates are a great way to house train dogs because canines tend to keep their safe spaces clean. No one wants to sit or sleep in their excrement. Being in a crate teaches dogs bladder control and emotion management. As dogs begin to adjust and use their crates more and more, pet parents should be mindful of the time a pet is inside of a crate to avoid leaving the dog or puppy in too long. A puppy can only hold their bladder for a small amount of time. If they have an accident and have to sit in it for a long time, the crate will end up feeling like a punishment and other health or behavior risks may arise as a result
Here are some things to keep in mind before beginning crate training:
Make sure the crate is always used for and with positive reinforcement. Dogs should associate the crate with happy things like treats, comfort, or praise.
Never use the crate for punishment or negative reinforcement. If a dog begins to see the crate as a punishment area then they will try to avoid it. As pet parents try to reinforce crate training behaviors, if they fear the crate it could become a source of anxiety which, over time could cause more destructive or unsafe behaviors.
Establish a consistent daily schedule and set lengths of time a dog will be in the crate to start with and incrementally work up to longer periods, which should not exceed more than a few hours
Don’t leave a dog in a crate for frequent, prolonged periods. Long times in a contained area could cause the dog to lack self confidence or increase the risk of mobility issues.
When selecting a crate, some things to consider are:
what it’s made of
how big it needs to be
how much money is available to spend on it
Pet parents can find crates made out of metal, plastic, and fabric. The larger the dog, the more sturdy material they will need to be made of. Manufacturers don’t make fabric crates for extra large dogs, but pet parents can find fabric beds and covers to make metal crates more comfortable. Fabric and plastic crates are often used as travel crates, and metal crates are best suited as a home crate for everyday use.
For puppies, be prepared to buy larger crates as they grow or should invest in a sensibly sized crate for the approximate adult size that the puppy will grow into. If it is known the puppy will become a large dog, pet parents may still want to buy a smaller crate to begin with so the puppy feels secure and safe. Remember, dogs feel safer in smaller, den-like spaces. Blankets, dog beds, and toys can fill space in a crate to make it a comfortable and safe environment.
Be sure to select a crate size that allows a dog to fully and comfortably stand up, stretch out, and reasonably move around.
Now that there’s a crate, pet parents will be ready to begin training.
Set up a create in a corner or safe, quiet area of the home. Begin by letting the dog investigate the crate with the door open. Reward them with praise and a treat when step inside to help establish the crate as a “happy” place.
Begin leaving the dog in the crate for a few to ten minutes with the door open and gradually increase the time over the next few weeks. Always give praise and reward them for going in the crate and settling down. A reward can be their favorite treat, toy, or anything that makes them happy.
Throwing their favorite toy into the crate or giving them a chew toy or treat puzzle will continue reinforcing the idea that a crate is a safe, multipurpose area. If the crate is big enough, pet parents can sit inside with them and give the dog belly rubs or head scratches while they fall asleep. If the crate is too small, lay outside and put an arm or hand inside for the pet to lick and cuddle with. When the pet is able to relax in the crate, calmly close the door. If there is no negative reaction, quietly secure the latch and walk away. This should be a non-event, so if the dog reacts negatively simply undo the latch and wait for them to calm again.
Dog collars, clothes, and accessories can be a hazard to a dog in a crate. Make sure to remove any potential hazards if crate training with a puppy. Adult dogs, once used to a crate, should be more accustomed with how to interact with toys, blankets, or items in a crate with them. Taking their collar off before going in the crate is also a good signal for them to know it’s time to go inside, much like human nighttime routines before going to bed.
Leave the crate door open when the pet parents are home so the dog can go in and out whenever they want. Pet parents may find that dogs like hanging out in their crate.
When a dog is able to be enclosed safely in the create for an hour veterinarians and dog behaviorists are generally comfortable recommending that pet parents can leave them in the crate for more extended periods when they are not in the home. Pet parents should remember to incrementally work up time periods rather than locking animals in a create and leave. For example, while running errands or going to dinner. Don’t immediately leave a dog alone for 8 hours while at work, especially if they’ve never had to hold their bladder that long. Dogs don’t like to soil the place they sleep and can develop an infection if they hold it too long.
Crate training takes time. Expect to spend at least six months crate training. Also, dogs may go through training regression and have ups and downs, progress or accidents. Eventually, it will become second nature to them as long as the pet parent remains calm and consistent utilizing positive reinforcement.
Crate training is a great way to bond with a dog or new puppy. Remember to always make it a positive experience for them, and pet parents will be rewarded by having a house-broken dog that can self-manage many of their anxiety issues in their safe space.
If pet parents have questions about crate training or developing positively reinforced behaviors, they can chat with a Fuzzy vet or licensed behaviorist any time in the member app.