What is it?
A crate is one of the best training tools that you can use with your dog. A crate provides a place for your dog to go when you can’t dedicate 100% of your attention to your dog’s whereabouts or activities. Most crates are either made of plastic or of metal so that they are easy to clean and have a lot of ventilation. When you are choosing a crate, make sure that your dog is able to stand up and turn around comfortably in his crate. If he can’t do that, you will need to get the next size up.
Conversely, if you have a puppy, you will want to make sure that his crate isn’t too big to start with. One of the many benefits of crate training a puppy is to teach him to “hold it” so that you can make sure that he is going potty in the appropriate place. If the crate is too big, your puppy might have enough room to go potty in one corner of the crate while sleeping and playing in the opposite corner, which defeats the purpose of learning how to “hold it.” Luckily, many of the medium to large crates can be fit with a divider wall in the middle. You can keep the puppy’s space small when he’s little, and then gradually move the divider as he gets bigger.
Why should you crate train your dog?
Prevents Bad Habits from Forming
Teaching your dog how to relax in his crate will keep him out of trouble and prevent bad habits from forming when you can’t be there to interrupt him. Think of all of the mischievous things that he could be doing if he were to be left unsupervised: jumping on furniture that he’s not supposed to be on, chewing on your shoes, or having an accident in the other room, barking out the front window, counter-surfing in the kitchen…the list can go on forever! One simple tool can help prevent your dog from practicing all of those behaviours and save you an untold number of training hours trying to “fix” a problem.
Teaches Alone Time
Some dogs are naturally good at entertaining themselves and being alone for portions of the day. For other dogs, this is a skill that they need to be taught, just like any other behaviour. It’s cute when your puppy follows you around the house, and there are certainly times when we want to encourage that! However, it’s not as cute when your dog is having a panic attack on the other side of the bathroom door during your morning shower. Teaching your dog how to settle in a crate, enjoy his alone time by giving him a yummy bone to chew on, and entertain himself goes a long way to preventing anxiety down the road. It’s also a nice way to give yourself a break from a busy puppy!
Whether you plan to travel with your dog or leave him behind in a boarding kennel, he will most likely be spending some time in confinement during your trip. If he is coming with you, most buses and trains, and all airlines require your dog to be confined in a crate or travel bag during the ride. This is to prevent your dog from being a nuisance to other passengers or being in the way of transportation workers trying to do their job. Similarly, if your dog is staying in a boarding kennel while you’re gone, he will most likely be confined in some way during meal times and at night. If your dog has never been confined before, it can be very stressful to be suddenly stuffed into a travel crate or boarding kennel. That is stress on your dog that you can easily avoid by crate training from an early age.
Isn’t being in a cage a punishment?
There are some people who worry that using a crate or similar confinement area is too harsh for their dog. It’s all about how you use the crate. For example, imagine that you have accidentally given your dog too much freedom in the house and he has an accident. If you were to scold him and put him directly into the crate while you’re angry, then yes, we all agree that the crate is being used in a harsh way that will probably make your dog avoid the crate in the future.
However, using a crate proactively instead of reactively can do wonders for your dog’s training. If you start by pairing the crate with yummy bones and fun toys, your dog will enjoy hanging out in there. He won’t be bothered when you ask him to settle in his crate when you’re busy, and then you can gradually allow him more freedom in the house as he adjusts and learns the rules. By training this way, you are drastically increasing the probability that he will make choices that you like while simultaneously minimising the chances of a mistake. The dog is happy because all interactions with you and the crate are fun and lead to good things, and you are happy because you have a well-behaved dog and all of your belongings are in one piece. Win, win!