Wheaton_iStock_000037576334_LargeCrate training can help you instill confidence in your pet and give him or her a safe, happy place. It can also assist with other necessary training.

However, crates are too often misunderstood and used in ways that are punitive – such as punishing a puppy when he or she has an accident or chews up a shoe. It can also become a way to keep an inconvenient puppy out of the way for hours. Used punitively, the crate takes on a negative association for the pet which leads to behavioral challenges .

For those new to crate training, how can you be sure you’re using it correctly and making it a place of happy retreat for your pet?

Best Practices in Crate Training

In most cases, pet owners are introduced to crate training methods after adopting a new puppy. Used appropriately, crates are excellent for short-term training of an eager, insecure young dog.

One of the best uses of crate training with a puppy is housetraining, since dogs do not like to eliminate in what they perceive as their den or sleeping spot. Crates are also useful in soothing separation anxiety and other fears that can develop when a puppy is not yet comfortable in a new place or properly trained.

Use our best-practice guidelines when introducing your young pet to his or her crate. Be forewarned, though that this process takes time, so put on your patience cap and maintain a steady, gradual approach to see success.

  • Begin by selecting a size-appropriate crate that your pet can stand up and move around comfortably in, but not so spacious that it loses its den-like quality.
  • Line your pet’s crate with cozy blankets and add a few favorite toys and treats.
  • During the next day or two, simply leave the crate door open and allow your pet to become familiar or even curious about the crate. A great way to do this is to feed your pet his meals at the back of his crate.
  • When you want your pet to enter the crate, use a verbal command/cue, such as “find your bed” or “inside.” If your pet enters the crate, reward with a treat and verbal praise.
  • Practice this game a dozen or more times as you consistently reinforce the verbal cue, “inside” or “bed.”
  • As your pet gets more comfortable, try closing the door for a minute or two. If your pet seems very nervous or agitated, wait a while before trying again.
  • Once your pet can comfortably relax in the crate with the door closed, try keeping the door closed for 15-20 minutes at a time, while staying in the room (a good time to do a cleaning chore or two). You may wish to place a treat-filled Kong toy or dental chew in the crate as a positive distraction.
  • Take breaks every 10-20 minutes to go outside (especially if you are still “potty training” your new puppy) or take a break from the crate.
  • Eventually, you can leave your pet in his new “bed” crate overnight or up to 2-3 hours during the day, while running errands.
  • Keep in mind that the crate isn’t a kennel or substitute for your attention. Avoid leaving your pet alone in the crate for more than 4 hours.
  • The important thing to remember is to reinforce the idea that the crate is a happy place for your pet to be. This is why it is critical to begin the process of closing the crate door while you are still present in the room. It helps to avoid the association that being in the crate means being left alone (which can encourage separation anxiety).

    It’s very important that you do not use the crate as a means of punishment. We cannot stress this enough. Instead, use positive reinforcement for correct behaviors, and distract attention away from negative behaviors (like barking or whining).

    Crate training, ultimately, is for the benefit of the pet, rather than the convenience of the owner. It helps a pet gain confidence and creates a sense of security that can be tremendously beneficial. A crate-trained pet can also be a huge help when you are ready to take your pet with you on your travels.

    If you would like more tips on successfully crate training your pet, the Pet Experts of Wheaton Animal Hospital are here to help!