Find out how best to use a crate as an effective training tool. Dogsey Articles Editor Shadowboxer talks us through it: For many years crates have been regarded as an invaluable piece of equipment by breeders, groomers, veterinarians, exhibitors at dogs shows and trials, and others who travel with, or handle, dogs on a regular basis, but it is only fairly recently that the crate has started to find acceptance in the domestic situation. However, many pet owners still dislike the notion of ‘caging’ a dog, feeling that the use of a crate is cruel and may inflict psychological damage on their pets. It is hoped that by describing the crate, its purpose, its benefits, and how it should be utilised, some of the misconceptions and mistrust surrounding its use may be alleviated.
What is a crate?
A crate is a rectangular enclosure with a top and a lockable door. Some crates have a solid, removable base. The construction material is usually wire or moulded plastic and they are available in a variety of sizes to suit most breeds of dog. When purchasing a crate intended for use beyond the puppy/adolescent stage it should be large enough that the adult dog is able to stand and sit without its head touching the top, is able to turn around, and is able to lay down without being cramped for room. For puppies a moveable partition can be bought or made so that the crate is just the right size and can be enlarged as the puppy grows.
The purpose of the crate is to provide a secure, comfortable place of confinement for your dog. Correctly used the crate has many advantages and will be a boon and a benefit to both owner and dog. Rather than seeing it as a ‘prison’ your dog, who has inherited a ‘denning’ instinct from his ancient ancestors, will soon regard the crate as his own special place - snug, safe, private, and a very agreeable place in which to sleep and relax. This natural tendency to seek a den is obvious when dogs choose areas such as corners, behind chairs, or under tables in which to rest or to which to retreat when they are feeling unwell. Your dog will probably feel a lot happier in the shelter of his cosy crate than in an open basket.
Once your dog is accustomed to the crate you will find out just what an indispensable item it is. Housetraining your puppy should be a much easier and less stressful affair all round as, once you have established a toileting routine, the limited space in the crate will encourage both bowel and bladder control as the pup will instinctively try to avoid soiling its bedding. The effectiveness of the crate in promoting cleanliness is defeated if the space inside is large enough for the puppy to move away from his sleeping area to eliminate, so the partitioning of a large crate is advisable.
If you have to leave your dog for an hour or so you will have no concerns about him getting himself into trouble through inappropriate chewing or soiling in the house. He will be in far less danger from housebreakers if he is confined and not offering a physical threat. If you have workmen in and out of the house your crated dog cannot slip through an open door onto the street. If your dog is feeling overwhelmed by children or visitors his crate will be a haven of peace for him. When travelling it is much safer for the driver and the dog if the dog is in a crate rather than loose in the car, and he will be more likely to be welcomed at hotels and at friends’ houses if they know that he will be crated and thus will cause no problems. For the sick or injured dog that needs rest and quiet to recuperate the crate is the ideal solution.
It is far better to prevent your dog from getting into trouble in the first place than to have to keep correcting his misdemeanours and, as a crate will help immeasurably in preventing unwanted behaviour from occurring and bad habits being formed, this will mean far less stress for both of you.
The location of the crate is important. It should be in quiet corner of one of the main ‘people’ rooms in the house, e.g. the kitchen or the living room, so that the dog can see and hear what is going on and is in no way isolated from the household. The chosen spot should be draught-free and not exposed to excessive heat. The crate may be moved to the bedroom at night if desired.
If you are leaving your dog unsupervised in a crate be sure to remove his collar.
Crates are not the most attractive item of furniture, but special crate covers in a variety of fabrics can be purchased or made, or a lightweight blanket or a sheet can be arranged over the top and sides. Partially covering the crate is a good idea as it will make it more den-like, but be sure that in very warm rooms the cover is pulled back sufficiently to allow air to circulate. A board can be placed on the top of the crate, and there you have a new, and probably rather useful, new table! If you do use the crate top as a table beware of placing items such as hot drinks on top which may spill and hurt the dog, or any food, drink, or other item which may fall or be pulled into the crate and harm the dog.
Children should be made aware that the crate is the dog’s own, special, place. It is not for sharing and it is not a playhouse for them to be crawling in and out of or climbing on, and when the dog is in his ‘room’ he should be left alone. No poking fingers, sticks, toys, or food through the mesh and no banging on it either .While the dog should not be allowed to become over-protective of his crate (you should be able to reach into it when the dog is inside) his right to rest there undisturbed should be respected.
The crate should be comfortably furnished with a blanket or rug. It is a good idea with a new puppy to place in the crate a piece of material that carries the scent of his dam and litter mates, together with an old, unwashed, article of your own clothing, such as a t-shirt or vest. You should also have a ‘crate toy’, that is one special toy which the dog gets only when he is in his crate.
The crate routine should start as soon as the puppy comes home. Establish a word to be used for the crate so that the puppy will learn what the crate is and where it should go when it hears the word. If you plan eventually to dispose with the crate select a word suitable for future use such as ‘bed’ or ‘place’ in order that your dog does not need to learn a new command at a later stage. Give your command in a happy, enthusiastic voice “ Rover, Crate” and lure him in with a food treat. Once in give him the treat, and lots of praise for his bravery and let him come out. Do not close the door on the puppy yet, practise the going in and allowing out several times. You can also encourage pleasant associations by feeding the puppy his meals in the crate.
By observing your puppy you will quickly get to know when he needs a nap. Take advantage of this time and pop him into his crate, being sure that he has recently relieved himself outside. Give him his special crate toy, close the door and sit down where the puppy can see you. If he starts making a fuss, and you are sure that he does not need to toilet, then ignore him. When as he is quiet and relaxed open the door, but do not pet or console him. By ignoring his fussing and letting him out only when he is quiet you are teaching the puppy that barking or whining will not get him what he wants. His apparent distress is unlinked to any fear or dislike of the crate, it is simply that he would rather be with you - which will not always be possible. As he begins to feel at home in the crate practice going out of the room for brief periods, and return only when he is quiet. The initial periods of crating should be quite short. Once he has accepted the crate the length of time he spends in it, and the length of time that you are absent from the room, can be very gradually lengthened. Always praise him enthusiastically for going in and again, more quietly, when you let him out. Leave the crate door open when the pup is not inside so that he may enter freely.
A crate should never be used as a place of punishment for misbehaviour and a dog should never be left in a crate for hours on end. It is not a substitute for training and if you train your dog properly he should never be a nuisance or destructive. A crate will simply be another convenient aid to training, and your dog’s private quarters. It should be remembered that the purpose of a crate is a way to contain your dog only when you cannot watch him, not when you cannot be bothered or simply do not feel like watching him.
There are a few safety measures that should be followed when using a crate. Ensure that the crate is well constructed and has no sharp edges or protruding pieces of wire that may cause injury to the dog. Check the door. If pressure from the inside can push the door outwards at the top and bottom opening edge then there is a danger that a dog might force one of these weak areas and become trapped by the neck or leg. If you are leaving your dog unsupervised in a crate be sure to remove his collar. Buckles and chains can become caught and cause serious injury and even death as the dog attempts to free itself. Ensure that the gaps in the mesh and around the door and the frame of the crate are not so wide that your dog can slip a foot through, and do not leave tempting items close to the crate when your dog is inside as he may try to force his paw out to reach them. Do not leave the dog unsupervised in the crate (or anywhere else) with a bone, rawhide, or any toy or foodstuff that may possibly cause choking.
It is my opinion that acceptance of the crate and also housetraining can be accomplished more quickly and more easily if the puppy is allowed to sleep in his crate beside your bed at night. A second crate, furnished in the same manner as the day crate can be used, or move the single crate into the bedroom when you retire. The puppy will be comforted and reassured by your presence, the bonding process will be accelerated, and you will be able to hear him if he wakes during the night. Being very reluctant to soil his bedding the puppy will whimper or cry to alert you that he needs to go out. Take him out immediately and, when he has obliged, bring him straight back in and back into the crate. If the crying continues and you are positive that he does not need to eliminate, then ignore it. A few disturbed nights are well worth it in the long run. If you cannot, or do not wish to, have a crate in your bedroom then leave doors open so that you can hear the pup during the night should he need to go out.
Dispensing with the crate
A crate need not be a permanent fixture. Once good toilet habits are instilled and the chewing stage is past then leave the crate door open and see how things go at night, or when someone is around during the day, or when he is very briefly left alone. If all goes well and he seems reliable then the crate can be removed. The substitute basket or bed should be placed in the same spot as the crate and should contain the same bedding. You may well find that he will miss his den but he will, in time, resign himself to being without it. Even if you do not intend always to use a crate this early training will be a blessing should it become necessary in the future. A dog will usually readily accept the reintroduction of a crate even if he has been a long period without one.
It is hoped that this article has clearly explained the purpose and the correct use of the crate and that, if you introduce one into your home, you will find, as so many others have, that it provides you with peace of mind and your dog with a fine and private place of his own.
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