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Helpful Tips for Crate Training Your Dog
Before You Begin...
Now that you have a new addition to your home and family, you must begin integrating him or her into your lives. Crate training is the most important (and most helpful!) process that you will undergo with your new companion. By crate training, you will be able to:
- Safely leave your pet at home unsupervised
- Curb excessive barking
- Avoid accidents
- Respond to your dog's "den instinct" -- instinctually, he NEEDS a space of his own
For some, crate training may take weeks, but for others, it may only take a day. It all depends on how consistent and firm you are during training.
Before you begin, you must find out what motivates your dog. Is it food? A toy? Petting and praise? Finding out your dog's motivation will also come in handy when you are teaching him tricks, and keeping him out of harm's way. It also helps to have toys or treats that have a different value to the dog. For instance, a dog treat might not be as valuable to a dog as a piece of cheese, or a tug rope might have less value to the dog as a bone. Using the toy or treat with the highest value will aid in making sure that your dog is responsive to the training.
There are two main varieties of crates - plastic and wire. A plastic crate can also sometimes be used as a travelling crate. If you opt for a wire crate, be sure to get a plastic insert for the bottom of the crate. Otherwise, your dog will be very uncomfortable and dislike being in his den. Try to make the crate as appealing and comfortable as possible. The crate should be large enough so that the dog can stand up, lie down and turn around comfortably.
You can also purchase special sets for your crate that will insulate and cushion your new companion while he's inside. You should always keep the crate in a high-traffic area of your home, so that you dog does not feel isolated. Dogs are pack animals, and they will become confused and upset if they are separated from their "pack."
Make sure that the crate is a safe haven for the dog. NEVER use the crate as punishment, and do not let your children disturb the dog while he is inside of it. You will compromise the appeal of the crate if he does not feel safe and secure inside. It is absolutely imperative that your dog associate only good things with the crate, like treats, praise and toys.
If you have adopted a puppy, do not crate him longer than he can hold his bladder and/or bowels. The general rule is that puppies can hold it for an hour per how many months they are. A 2 month old puppy can hold it for 2 hours, maximum. If you have adopted an adult dog, he should never be crated alone for longer than 8 hours.
- It may help to feed all of the dog's meals inside of his crate, so that he can become acclimated to being inside.
- You may wish to tie a bone or toy to the inside of the crate, so that he will be "rewarded" for being inside.
- Never immediately respond to your dog if he barks. If he is barking, wait 30 seconds until he has stopped. Then you may respond. If you immediately respond to him, he will associate barking with an easy way of getting your attention.
- If your dog does not go into the crate willingly at first, begin by putting a trail of treats to attract him inside. Once he is inside of the crate, use a word you will associate with it, like "crate," and give him praise, treats and/or toys.
- Once your dog is inside of his crate, you can try crating him for 15 minute periods while you are at home and within his line of vision. You should occasionally walk over and give him a treat while saying the word you want him to associate with the crate. To the dog, the crate should be a place where good things happen, so make sure that good things happen to him while he is inside! After he is comfortable with 15 minutes, move to a half hour, then an hour, and so on.
- After your dog is comfortable being in his crate for longer periods of time, you may then begin training him to be calm after you leave the house.
- Once your dog is inside of his crate, and has some toys to keep him occupied, go about your usually "leaving the house" routine. Grab your keys or purse, put on your shoes, say a brief goodbye to your dog, and leave the house. Make sure you leave using the same door you usually use to exit your home. Don't be apologetic about keeping him in his crate. He will pick up that you feel like the crate is a negative thing.
- When the dog begins to bark, wait until he has stopped for 30 seconds. Then, "return home," give him a treat and lots of praise. You may wish to let him out for a little playtime, but that is entirely your prerogative.
- Don't make a big deal out of leaving and returning home. When you come back, walk in, say "good dog," and give him a treat inside of the crate. If you want to let them out to play, don't excite them too much.
- After a few minutes of rewarding your dog, go about your leaving routine again. Extend the time before you "return" home. Keep doing this in cycles until your dog stops barking. The dog must be taught to understand that his silence in the crate will be rewarded by you coming home. (And, of course, lots of treats!)
But What If...?
- If your dog does not stop barking for more than ten minutes straight and becomes destructive in his crate, he may suffer from separation anxiety. You should see your vet to rule out any health causes, and for advice on how to treat it.
- If he barks intermittently for long periods of time, try "the blanket game" to teach him to be quiet. Give your dog the command for him to enter his crate, and when he is inside, close the door and put a blanket over it. He should likely begin to bark. Wait until he has stopped barking for 30 seconds, and then take the blanket off and reward him with praise. Start at 5 minutes with the blanket over him, and slowly graduate him up in time intervals. Be sure to be generous with the praise and treats. This will "reward" his quiet behavior.
- Adversely, sometimes a dog responds best when he is in darkness. When you leave, try putting a blanket over his crate -- but make sure that the blanket is not too thick, and that there is enough ventilation for him to be comfortable. Like birds, dogs will become quiet in the dark.
- If your dog had an accident in his crate and you know that he could have held it for the time he was in there, go to a vet. There may be something affecting his health. Dogs do not go to the bathroom where they sleep. (Your crate may also be too large!)
Keep Your Dog Entertained!
The following are just a sampling of the toys that are available for dogs and ideal for keeping them occupied while they are in their crate. Be sure to get the appropriate size for your dog.
I found all of the links by searching through the bestselling toys for dogs on Amazon -- I am not affiliated with Amazon in any way!
If you have a curious dog, try this toy. You hide the squirrels in the tree trunk, and your dog has to use his logic to get them out.
Put this in the freezer, and then smear some peanut butter inside. Give it to your dog when he is in his crate, and he will be too busy to notice you are gone!
Put some bite-sized treats inside of this ball, and after a short demonstration, put it in his crate. He will spend the duration of your time away rewarding himself for staying busy and being quiet! (This is for the LARGE!)