We are frequently asked "Shall I get a crate for my puppy even though I don't want to put my puppy in a cage?"
If dog crates were designed to look like little houses it would probably be easier to convince people that they are not cages!
First let's talk about what a crate really is and how crating can improve your relationship with your dog or puppy.
Centuries ago, when dog's were still wild animals, they slept in dens which were usually shallow holes dug in the ground hidden away in places safe from predators. These were small, dark places with just enough room to turn around in and lie down comfortably.
After centuries of breeding and domestication, dogs still retain some of their original instincts. One of these instincts is the need to have a den. A small, cozy place of their own where they feel safe and secure which is a place for them to go for rest, peace and privacy. A crate is our modern version of a dogs den.
With a safe, cozy place to stay, crates can make training a lot easier. Toilet training goes much faster and destructive behaviour such as chewing becomes easier to control.
Travelling by car, train or plane is safer in a crate and many hotels, B & B's, Guest Houses are more willing to accomodate crated dogs.
Where to buy a crate - local pet store is proabably the best place as they will be able to advise on the size of crate required for specific breeds and take into account the fully grown size of your puppy.
What style of crate - the most popular crates are made of moulded plastic or welded steel.
Plastic crates are two piece units with ventilation windows and welded steel doors. Lightweight and portable they are best suited for storage and travel and meet regulations for air travel. Quality varies so you must ensure you obtain one that can resist chewing.
Welded steel crates are more durable and most are collapsible for storage and travel. These wire crates also provide better ventilation and are easier to clean.
What size should I buy - A crate only needs to big enough for your dog to stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably. Ideally long enough for your dog to stretch out on it's side and go to sleep.
Growing puppies can be problem as we can't all afford to buy a crate for every stage of growth. If a crate is too large it can make toilet training harder however some crates come with dividers so that the space can shrink and expand to suit the puppy's space as it grows.
How does a crate make house training easier - Puppies are born with an instinctive desire to sleep in a den which is safe, secure and clean. Puppies will seek out an area to relieve themselves that is far away from where they eat, sleep and play. Using a crate takes advantage of this instictive behaviour and helps the puppy to learn to control itself in between trips outside.
During the first few months a puppy will require almost constant supervision, something that is not always possible if we are at work during the day or out with friends in the evenings and at weekends. Using a crate helps prevent 'little accidents' as your puppy will not want to use it's den as a toilet and if regularly walked and exercised house training will be a lot easier.
My puppy is chewing everything - In the same way that you can prevent 'little accidents' when your puppy is unsupervised, the same applies to destructive behaviour and helps you control a dog that chews or gets up to mischief in your absence. If in a crate a puppy or dog is restricted to the toys you give it to play with and saves damage to carpets, doors, sofas, kitchen units, stairs, shoes, slippers, hats, coats, gloves...............the list is endless!
How do I get my puppy to use a crate - We often hear "I tried him in a crate but he cried so much that I let him out again. He doesn't like a crate and I feel bad / sorry for him!"
If children and puppies were in charge they would run free all the time with no restrictions or limitations. As children and puppies don't have the maturity to deal with this freedom and are not equipped to understand or deal with the dangers they have to learn to accept periods of confinement.
Learning to 'accept' these limitations even if they don't like it straight away is the key point here and even if your puppy cries and whines for the first few days they will begin to accept the crate and learn to love and enjoy their personal space and home within a home.
Puppies go through periods of activity and rest during the day, there is no reason why resting cannot be done in a crate like a baby sleeping in a playpen or crib.
With a regular schedule of exercise and feeding you can control your puppies periods of rest and play. If you put your puppy in a crate when he is tired and ready for rest he will get used to his new bedroom much faster and will in time go to bed without commands.
Initially your puppy should only be expected to stay in a crate for two hours at a time, overnight or when you are away from home. When out of the crate your puppy will need plenty of playtime and at least an hour of your attention where they are encouraged to feel loved, explore, romp and play in their new home and with their new family. This helps them understand that crate time is only temporary and not a punishment.
Favourite toys, blankets and treats make a crate into a 'special place' and a pleasant place to stay. Use a small treat every time he enters the crate or even throw treats in for him to jump in after it. If you want to use a command such as 'bed' or 'kennel' over time if this is repeated with each treat your puppy will associate 'Bed' + Crate = Treat, this will take time and patience but you will get there in the end.
Having encouraged use of the crate you can now work on your puppy staying in the crate quietly - without the need to lock the door. Make his 'room' comfortable with a soft but hard to chew / destroy blanket or bed. Give toys on a rotation basis to make them interesting and varied, they will also last longer!
When puppies are teething they love to chew so ensure that all toys are going to be able to withstand the constant gnawing of sharp puppy teeth.
Dogs learn quickly when good behaviour is rewarded and behaviour that has no reward often disappears quickly. It will be normal for your puppy to bark, whine, howl and throw a tantrum when first being crate trained. If you let him out because you feel bad you have rewarded the bad behaviour and he will do it again because crying got him out last time.
Your puppy is not in pain and is not upset or crying when crated initially so don't allow your guilt to ruin any good work you may have already started.
Many puppies will simply stop crying after a short period of time and will find something better to do like sleep or play with a favourite toy. Subborn puppies may need a harsh soundin "NO!" and a rap on the top of the crate to stop their tantrums but whatever you do don't take him out until he has stopped crying.
Can an adult dog be trained to use a crate - Absolutely, and frequesntly an adult dog will learn quicker than a puppy and come to cherish their own personal space if none existed previously.
Feed meals in the crate and use treats to encourage them to jump in and out of the crate. Leave the door open and allow them to investigate the crate in their own time.
Aagin it should be comfortable so a favourite bed or blanket plus any toys will help create a 'special place' for them.
Once your dog has a den they will enjoy spending time in their crate and will often be found there during the day or in the evenings enjoying their own time away from the noise and chaos of a busy family home. TV's, radios, vacuum cleaners, children playing or even family arguments can be distressing for dogs and a private place is invaluable if your dog wants to get away from any human interaction for a short while.
Can dogs be afraid of crates - If used incorrectly a crate can be an instrument of fear. Used correctly a crate is a wonderful training tool and all dogs, from puppies to adults, should have one.
Dogs are descended from wild canines and it is in their nature to seek out a small, cozy, safe haven to sleep, eat, play and rear puppies. Our domesticated dogs appreciate a safe haven and their own 'room' where they can seek refuge and rest.
A crate is the best tool for house training as it relies on a dogs innate urge not to urinate or defecate in it's own den. Even a young puppy will move away from it's bed to relieve itself.
Usually a puppy or dog or goes to the toilet in their crate is sick or was left for too long and simply coudn't wait any longer.
Crating a puppy or dog over night or when the family is away during the day also supprts a passive form of discipline by peventing an energetic or curious dog from chewing items in the home. It is also invaluable when you have visitors or repairmen in the home and need your dog to be safe and secure at these busy times.
Bad crate discipline occurs when we overuse or misuse the crate or it is used to 'get the dog out of the way' on a regular basis. Crating your dog for eight hours overnight or while you go to work is not cruel, especially if the dog has been given plenty of exercise and the chance to go to the toilet before crating.
Some Hints for Crate Use
As with all of our advice we would urge you to discuss any particular concerns you may have with your vet.
Trina Mobile: 07712 799957
Jeremy Mobile: 07749 695754