While the name might sound a bit harsh, crate training has become a popular and simple way to help your dog with toilet training, and give them a safe space of their own.
In short, it’s about getting your dog familiar with an enclosure (or “crate”) where they may sleep or spend the bulk of their time. Rather than focusing on locking them up, it can actually be a comfort for animals who love routine and security. Saying that, it is vital to get the training right. Handled wrong, it can accidentally enforce negative associations with the space and make the whole process stressful for everyone.
In this article we’ll take you through the reasons why crate training is good, and the best way to train your puppy or adult dog.
Why You Should Consider Crate Training
- While it might seem mean to us, dogs often like being in an enclosed space. It makes them feel secure. Think of it like giving them their own bedroom. It can also be useful in keeping them calm while travelling.
- That sense of ownership helps with toilet training. They think of the space as their den, and don’t want to get it dirty.
- Feeling safe and in control of their environment reduces stress speed-eating, which is often a result of fears their food will be stolen.
- Finally it can keep your dog safe and relaxed during thunderstorms, fireworks, or other stressful occasions.
Isn’t it Cruel?
Not if done properly. Crates make your dog feel like they are in their den. Dens are a small, safe, secure areas that are also usually dark. The RSPCA even recommends crate training. Like all things through, if poorly done, it can make your dog feel frustrated, anxious, and depressed.
You can train both puppies and adults to like crates, but it will probably be quicker with puppies. It is essential for the crate to be a positive association for your dog, not seen as a punishment.
How to Crate Train
- Start by keeping the door open and always feeding them in their crate. Place the food inside and wait for your pup to enter and start eating. Close the door while they are eating, but open it again just as they finish.
- Try to get them to enter the crate before the food and reward the behaviour. Associate a word with this like “crate” or “basket” which will be a valuable command later.
- Keep the door closed after feeding for slightly more extended periods each time. Slowly work up to longer periods. Remember that a puppy may need to go to the toilet every two to three hours.
- Broaden the association to beyond meal time. Giving the command, and when your pup enters the crate, reward them with treats and praise.
Other Tips & Tricks
- Keep the length of time in a crate as varied as possible. Otherwise, your dog will think there is a routine and expect to be let out at the same time.
- Ignore any excitement each time you open the crate. Wait until they’ve calmed down before you greet or reward your pup.
- Expect some whining and scratching and be careful not to reward it. The next quiet period is when to reward your dog and let them out. You can check that whining is not because they need to go to the bathroom by putting them on the lead and taking your dog to their toilet location without any reward play or attention. If it turns out not be from that, return them to the crate.
- Including some toys or long-lasting treat dispensers (we featured some here) can help keep your dog occupied.
- Problems can also be caused by excessive time spent in the crate. A negative association with the crate will mean they never want to enter or stay there.
Crate Size & Type
Choosing the right size crate for your dog is important. They need to be able to stand up, turn around, and sit down. But too much space and they’ll be able to use one end as a toilet and the other as their bed. If you have a large or giant breed dog, they will grow a lot from puppy to adult. This means you will either need an adjustable crate or multiple sizes as they grow.
Crates are either hard plastic or metal. You can make the metal crates more den-like by covering the top and sides with a blanket or sheet. Check out our guide on how to choose the best dog crate.
For more on training and behaviour: