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Getting a new dog acclimated to a new environment can be a little stressful for both you and Fido, and crate training can benefit both of during that process. Crate training is simply teaching your new dog to go into a crate when you tell him to, and to stay there until you let him out.
“Inhumane!”, some folks cry. “Cruel!”, they fume. How would you like to be cramped into a tiny crate for hours on end? Well, frankly, no human wants to be put into a crate for hours on end, because that would be inhumane and cruel. But the fact is, once dogs get used to a crate, it becomes their den: a cozy, warm ancestral cave that soothes their anxiety, cradles them to sleep, and keeps them safe. Train him properly, and your dog will go willingly and happily to this comfortable place at night and after a long outdoor romp in the morning when you head off to work.
Dog Day Afternoons
Dogs mostly sleep during the day. And if your new dog or puppy isn’t sleeping, do you know what he’s probably doing? He’s probably getting up to no good, rummaging through the garbage, drinking out of the toilet, jumping on the furniture, barking at passersby, pooping on your sisal rug, and worst of all, chewing on things like your new couch, the newspaper, or your shoes. And you know he’s going to pick the $200 Gucci’s over the $7 Target flipflops, right? Because that’s just how dogs roll.
So you get home, find all of the destruction, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. Your dog lives in the present moment, and if you punish him for something he did hours ago, he won’t make that connection. He will not make the connection! He’ll think you’re punishing him for what he’s doing at that very moment, which is looking for some lovin’ after not seeing you all day. Pointing to the destruction and shouting at him will do absolutely nothing except make your dog think that you’re not a very stable pack leader, and that maybe he should step up to the alpha role because you’ve obviously gone mad. Unless you are at home with your dog 24/7 x 365, you can probably expect a long row to hoe in stopping the destructive behaviors that occur while you’re away.
And that’s where crate training comes in handy. The crate is an excellent tool for keeping your dog – and your stuff – safe while you’re away so that when you’re at home, you can observe and correct behaviors you don’t like. Imagine heading off to work each morning, knowing that you won’t come home to the aftermath of a dog party.
Once your dog has figured out the lay of the land, you can either wean him off the crate altogether or simply remove the door and let the crate be his cozy den.
Other Benefits of Crate Training
While crate training is a great tool for keeping your pup out of trouble when you’re away from home until she learns what’s expected of her, it’s also a good way to housetrain your dog. Dogs don’t like to pee or poo where they sleep, so keeping her in a crate at night helps her learn to control her bowel and bladder so that she can go longer between “business” trips. When you let her out of the crate each morning, the first stop should always be the back yard. Over time, she’ll learn to wait until morning to drop the kids off at the pool, which means that once you eliminate the crate, you won’t have to worry about waking up to find little gifts lying around the house.
Having your dog crate trained also makes you a welcome guest at motels and friends’ houses, and it can help your dog survive a car accident – and prevent him from causing one.
The Nuts and Bolts of Crate Training
Obviously, the first step in crate training your dog is to choose a crate. You want one that provides sufficient room to stand up and enough space to turn a tight circle before she settles in. If the crate is too small, she’ll be uncomfortable. If it’s too big, she might be okay with going potty in a distant corner, and nobody wants that.
Wire Crate vs. Plastic Crate
While wire crates are fine, dogs tend to prefer the plastic ones because they’re more den-like, and they’re programmed to like that dark, safe environment. But you can also toss a blanket over a wire crate to cozy it up a bit.
Duration of the Stay
Once your dog is an adult, around 18 months, he’ll be able to stay in the crate for up to 8 hours without getting restless or having an accident, although by that time, he should be trained well enough that you can confidently give him full run of the house while you’re gone. But keeping the crate around and putting him in it every now and then is good practice for traveling, in the event you want to keep him in the crate while you’re in the car or leave him in the motel room while you gad about town.
Puppies will need to be let out more frequently. The rule of thumb is that a dog can stay in the crate for one hour for every month of age plus one hour, for up to 8 hours. So a 3-month-old dog can stay in the crate for up to four hours.
Whiling Away the Hours
Give your dog a couple of chew toys to keep her occupied while she’s in the crate. A Kong stuffed with peanut butter or another puzzle toy will help prevent boredom and keep her little mind and jaws active. She’ll also need some water if she’s going to be in the crate for a long time, and you can find all sorts of clever non-spilling water receptacles specifically designed for dog crates.
Socialize & Exercise!
Give your dog plenty of exercise and quality attention before putting her in the crate and upon taking her out. Active dogs that are crated should get a good half hour to an hour of aerobic exercise before going in and again after coming out. A healthy dog needs plenty of exercise and socialization to prevent destructive or aggressive behaviors, so make sure your dog is tuckered out and loved up before you crate her.
Before you leave your dog in the crate while you’re away, you’ll need to fully acclimate him to the crate and properly train him on the protocol. Find several reputable resources on the Internet and choose a method that makes sense for you and your dog. While there are a number different crate training methods, the common thread is that you need to approach crate training gradually and make the crate a highly desirable place to be.
When NOT to Crate a Dog
Don’t crate a dog that has separation anxiety or other anxieties, such as a fear of thunder or loud noises, because he may injure himself or overheat trying to get out. If your dog has diarrhea or is vomiting, don’t crate him for obvious reasons, and don’t lock him up until he’s gone pee and poo. Don’t crate your dog if it’s hotter than blazes and your A/C is on the blink, and never crate a dog wearing a correction collar or other contraption that could get caught on the crate and choke him.