Dog crates can be a great way to give your dog their own safe and secure space. They can help you transport your pet and ensure they are comfortable and safe at night.
To ensure a crate works for you and your dog, you need to train them to use it and ensure they see their crate as a positive place. Your dog should view their crate as a personal den that they can go to when they need to rest or need comforting.
Both puppies and older dogs can be trained to use a crate, although it may take slightly longer with a normal dog. Here’s how to make crate training a success.
Choose the right dog crate
The first place to start is to choose the right crate for your dog, which means taking into account a few different factors.
Size of the crate
You need to ensure that the crate you’re purchasing provides enough room for your dog to stand up, turn around and lie down in. You also need to factor in space for any bedding and a water bowl.
If you’re buying a crate for a puppy, you can either get a crate to suit them now and replace it as they grow, which can be expensive, or you can buy a crate that is likely to work for them as an adult. This means estimating their size slightly and potentially adding a divider so they aren’t overwhelmed by the extra space when they’re small.
There are a few different types of crates on the market, so it’s worth seeing what type will suit your dog.
Metal dog crates
A fairly traditional option, metal dog crates are a good option as they provide great airflow and you can adjust how visible your dog is with the use of covers. They can also be folded down, making them easy to transport if required. They can rust over time but you typically get a good amount of use out of them.
Plastic dog crates
Plastic dog crates are portable and lightweight options that are typically suited to smaller dogs. They provide less visibility than metal crates, making them a good choice if your dog is shy or reactive. They can also get quite warm during hot weather, although typically the top can be taken off if required.
Fabric dog crates
There are a few different types of fabric dog crates available. Some look like typical animal carriers while others are more like a pen. They are a good lightweight option, great for travel and typically inexpensive. However, they aren’t the most durable option so may not be great for dogs that like to chew or paw or at their crate.
Furniture dog crates
Furniture dog crates are where the crate is built into a piece of furniture, which can be ideal if you have minted space. However, you can only make the crate as big as the item of furniture, which may not be ideal for your dog. They are also not suitable for travel, which can mean your dog ends up feeling anxious in a new environment.
Find the right place for your dog crate
Once you’ve got your crate, you need to find the best place to put it. Ideally, the crate should be somewhere quiet and out of the way so your dog can relax. This will mean that is the best place for your dog to go if they are anxious.
You should also set it up with blankets or bedding to make sure it is as comfortable as possible.
Training your dog to use their crate
Before starting to crate train your dog, there are a few things you should keep in mind:
- Never use the crate as a punishment
- Be patient
- Persevere with your training method
- Make sure the crate is as inviting as possible for your dog as possible
- Don’t leave your dog in their crate for too long
- Ensure they can access their crate most, if not all of the time
- If your dog gets stressed at any point in training, go back to the previous step
- Reward your dog for quiet behaviour in their crate rather than getting angry if they make noise
Getting your dog used to their new crate
Once you’ve set up the crate, you should allow your dog to investigate it. Make sure the door stays open and they can explore it in their own time. When they do start investigating, reward your dog in the best way for them to reinforce the positive behaviour.
If your dog is a bit wary of the crate, this is fine too. Leave them to it and keep rewarding them when they go near it. You may also want to put their favourite toy or some treats near (but not in) the crate so they are happier being close to it. You can start to move their toy or treats inside the crate when they get more confident.
When your dog is perfectly happy going inside the crate on their own, it’s time to move on to the next stage.
Making the crate a positive experience
You can now start to feed your dog their meals inside the crate. This helps them to associate the crate with something good.
Use the same word when you want them to go in the crate, such as “bed” or “crate”, and once they are inside, give them their food. After a while, your dog may automatically go to their crate at mealtimes.
When your dog is used to eating their meals in their crate and is happy being in there with the door open, you can start to close the door for small periods. Close the door after you’ve given them their food and open it again before they’ve finished to start with.
If they get anxious when you close the door, just partially close it at first to allow them to get more comfortable.
Keeping the door shut for longer
If your dog is happy to have the door shut during meal times, it’s time to start closing it for longer periods. Do this very gradually, building up the time the door is closed so your dog is happy to settle in their crate after they’ve eaten.
If your dog shows discomfort, you may need to go back to leave the door open and work toward this step when they are happier.
Stepping away from the crate
When your dog is happily starting to settle in their crate with the door closed, it’s time to start stepping away. You should start by walking away just a few steps before going back to the crate.
If your dog starts to get excited or show signs of stress that you’ve moved away, only go back to them when they have calmed down. You should also reduce the distance you go when you do this next time so they don’t react.
This may take a bit of time but when your dogs are fine with you shutting the door when you’re moving around the room or leaving the room for a few minutes while they’re eating you can go onto the final step.
Using the crate outside of feeding time
Next, you should start getting your dog comfortable with staying in the crate outside of feeding time. Your dog should now know the command you use to get them in their crate so use this and reward them when they go to their crate.
When they’re happy going to their crate when they’re not being fed, get them to sit or lie down and then close the door for a short amount of time. As before, start with a short period of time and reward them for staying calm.
Build this up so they are happy with the door being shut for longer and then you can start to move away slowly.
Once they are happy in their crate you can start to use it at certain times, such as at night or if you’re going out. Make sure they have something to keep them occupied, like a toy or enrichment feeder when they are in their crate.
When using the crate at night, make sure you stick to the same routine to stop your dog getting from anxious.