Crate Training

To crate train a Cat, mostly for secure and stress free travel, go here!

For Dogs:  In the wild, wolves will generally raise a litter of pups in a den. The den might be as large as a cave, or as small as a shallow hollow under the roots of a fallen tree. Here, the growing pup feels secure from weather and other predators as it grows into a neonate. Initially, the mother wolf will lick the perineal area of the pups to stimulate urination and defecation, swallowing these excretions. The next time she goes hunting, the mother wolf urinates or defecates far away from the den, so that no odors will attract predators to her puppies. As the puppies grow larger, they begin to develop bladder and bowel control, so that they also will not soil the den area. With the help of a crate, you can house train your pup, harnessing these natural instincts.

Crate training will help you:
1) avoid expensive damage to your house from a pup,
2) provide safety to your pup when you are away from the home,
3) make your pup feel secure when you are away,
4) speed the house training process,
5) make it easier for your dog to travel,
6) improve the relationship with your dog by avoiding situations requiring punishment,
7) improve relationships with friends and relatives you might want to visit with your dog,
8) improve relationships with your house mates.

The best crate will be one that mimics a “natural” den. The pup will feel more secure in a covered, quiet, darkened, and comfortable environment. A bad example is a wire crate typically used at dog shows or pet shops; the ‘open’ feeling the wire crate provides instead makes the pup feel trapped and vulnerable. A good example is a plastic crate typically used to transport animals on a plane. Make sure there is enough room in the crate for your pup to stand up and turn around and for you to provide a water bowl. Too much room, however, and the pup will urinate or defecate in one corner and sleep in another. If the crate is too large to accommodate a growing puppy, you can ‘tighten it up’ by temporarily placing smaller cardboard boxes within it, or purchasing a crate with a removable wall.
Desensitize the puppy to the crate by placing the crate in the vicinity of the puppy and letting it inspect it on its own. Feed the dog in the crate without closing the door; play games around the crate and encourage the dog to go into the crate during these play sessions. NEVER use the crate to confine the dog after punishment and NEVER crate the dog as punishment. The dog will learn to resent the crate and any sense of security the crate could have provided the puppy will be lost.

Limit the crate times to short sessions at first, gradually increasing them to a maximum of six hours as the dog matures. Remember that the pup’s ability to hold its urine depends on its ability to develop a larger bladder, and this may take several weeks or months. If you are unable to get home at lunch, you might need to enlist the help of a friend or neighbor to let the dog out of the crate during this adjustment time. When you arrive home to walk the dog, open the door of the crate, pick the pup up and carry it outdoors to the area you want it to relieve itself. You must pick the dog up so it does not simply run out of the crate and soil the carpet in the house. If you carry the dog to a desired spot, you might achieve association with an area you would prefer the dog to use. Consistently, use a phrase or command that you would like the dog to associate with the act of elimination, such as “Hurry up!” or “Do your thing!” Repeat the phrase gently and often, until the dog has performed. Once the dog has eliminated in the desired area, reward it with lavish praise. The more you are able to reward the dog for the eliminating in the appropriate area, the sooner the association will be made.

If a ‘mistake’ occurs in the house (as they will), never punish the dog unless you are able to catch the dog in the act. Remember that dogs do not understand temporal relationships well. So, you should not punish the dog after the act; only during the act (refer back to the earlier discussion on appropriate punishment). The popular advice of ‘rubbing the puppy’s nose in it’ is also useless; the puppy will be confused as to why you are exhibiting this ‘bizarre’ behavior and might begin to distrust you. Remember to use the advice discussed previously and simply deliver a firm, surprising, verbal reprimand. Sometimes, if the “No!” is loud and surprising enough, the act of elimination might also be interrupted. Then the puppy can be moved outside and encouraged to perform in the appropriate area.

Other Crate Training Tips:

  • Water should be provided at all times. If the pup frequently knocks over the water bowl, or drinks the water too quickly, you can put ice cubes in the bowl instead. Or you can freeze several tupperware containers full of water; the pup can drink the water as it melts, and it is not likely to make the crate uncomfortable if he knocks it over.
  • You can move the crate around the house, as needed. Keep it in the kitchen while cooking or eating dinner, or move it into the bedroom at night.
  • Use the crate often and for variable lengths of time. For example, if you need to talk for a while on the phone, use the restroom or take a short nap, the puppy should be crated.
  • Place a clock radio (tuned between stations for a hissing sound) in the vicinity of the crate to provide ‘white’ noise, which is effective in masking other noises that might rouse the pup. A fan also provides some ‘white’ noise.
  • After any rough play, puppies will feel the urge to urinate; take them outside after play bouts to improve the chances of successful, appropriate, elimination.
  • Play with the puppy before crating it. Usually, after a short play time, puppies are more likely to fall asleep.
  • Spend some time petting the pup and talking quietly to it after placing it in the cage so as to encourage sleep. As the puppy becomes drowsy, close the door gently and attempt to move away quietly. If the pup wakes as you move away, remain still until he falls asleep again.

While dogs of any age can be trained using the methods above, older dogs may take more time to train. You may want to remove the top of the crate until the dog becomes comfortable eating and lying in the bottom portion. Remember: the process is the same no matter what age the dog is, but you may need to go slower and be more patient with an older dog.