Crate Training Your Dog

Dogs have always had crates in one form or another. Wild dog packs make their dens in caves or dense grottos because they feel safer there. So why do so many people oppose the idea of crating their family dog? Crate training can be misunderstood and even misused. However, when used properly, crating offers an excellent way for your dog to learn how to relax and find their own space. Below are some ideas about selecting the proper size and type of crate as well as proper usage.

Selecting a Crate

Selecting a Crate

Most people choose one of two types of crates:

  • The collapsible wire mesh type, with mesh on all sides and a tray in the bottom.
  • The plastic Vari-Kennel used to transport dogs on airplanes.

We at CPR recommend the plastic, or airline type of kennel. It is safer for the dogs, and provides more of a true "den" environment that they love. It also keeps in the hair that GSDs are famous for shedding. 

In crates, at least, size does matter. Your crate must have enough room for your dog to stand, sit, turn around, and sleep comfortably.

However, if you have a puppy, there is one more size factor to consider. Some puppies are fine in a large crate. Other puppies figure, "Hey, can I mess up this side and still have plenty of room on the other side for sleeping!" 

If you don’t want to buy a small crate now, only to buy another larger one a few months down the road, consider partitioning the crate somehow. This allows room for growth without providing too much space.

 

Positioning Your Crate

If you want to hear howling, put the crate in the laundry room, and go watch TV in the family room. Guaranteed to bring the house down.

Dogs, especially German Shepherds, are social animals, so the crate must be where you spend the most time. This is true even if you’re leaving. As a dog becomes accustomed to her crate, she will go relax in it when she needs a break--as long as you positioned so she can monitor your activity.

Some people put their crate in the family room every morning, then carry it to the bedroom at night. Other people just leave it in the bedroom, only crating the dog when they go out or at night when they all go to bed. Some people have two crates: one in the bedroom and one in the family room. However you choose to configure your situation, remember your dog should sleep in the same room you do. This allows the dog to develop a sense of trust and security.

Furnishing Your Crate

Put a bed and/or blankets in the bottom of the crate. Don't be surprised if the bedding gets chewed. It is not a good idea to put an heirloom quilt as the doggie bedding! You can get cheap blankets from Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Always include some toys or comfort objects for the dog. Some people have special treats, safe chews such as a nyla-bone, or toys that are only given when the dog is in the crate.

Tip: If you’re using the collapsible wire crate, the plastic tray clacks against the bottom of the mesh as the dog moves around. Very annoying in the middle of the night. Slide a towel or two between the bottom of the tray and the wire to muffle the sound.

Training

Crate training can take days or weeks, depending on your dog and your situation. Take your time, and allow crate training to happen in a series of baby steps.

1. Introduce your dog to the crate.

Sit by the crate and call your dog over in a cheerful tone. Throw a treat or favorite toy just inside the crate. If your dog goes in and takes it, throw in another treat or two. Do not coax or lure your dog into the crate. You should be relaxed and positive, but be careful to not over-do the praise or your dog may feel nervous. Help your dog to learn that this new situation is normal and safe.

If your dog refuses to go in, don’t force it. Put a few more treats in there and casually walk away; she may be willing to enter the crate if you’re not nearby. It may take some dogs a few days to feel comfortable being inside the crate.

Tip: Make sure the door isn’t clanging around--more than one dog has been scared off by the door closing on him. In fact, consider taking the door off when you begin and adding it back on later.

Continue this process until your dog goes into the crate happily and willingly. It helps to have a command such as "Kennel" or "Crate" so the dog has a name for this event.

Some dogs figure it out quickly and go stand inside the crate whenever they want a treat or attention. By all means, reward them for this act!

Once she’s in the crate, drop a treat through the bars as you pass by and tell her she’s doing a good job in the crate. Reward her every few second or minutes if she stays inside longer.

This step should last as long as it takes for your dog to go in the crate on her own, which might be an hour and might take a week.

2. Close the door.

The next step is to close the door when the dog is inside the crate. At first, just close it for a moment and reopen it, rewarding the dog while she is still in the crate.

Gradually lengthen the amount of time you have the door closed, staying outside the crate and acting like everything is just as normal as can be. Casually reward during this time and reward your dog once the door is open.

Some people feed the dog inside the closed crate. Other people offer a special bone or toy for use only in the crate. These are both great suggestions. Do whatever it takes to make the crate a positive experience for your particular dog.

3. Walk away

Once the dog is comfortable in the crate with the door closed, step away for short periods. Stay in his sight, just not outside the door. Do normal activities that your dog is accustomed to watching you do.

Just as you gradually increase the time the dog is in the crate, gradually lengthen your time away from the crate with each repetition. Step into another room and continue to keep a casual profile. Walk back in and toss in a small treat, then go back out.

With a little practice, most dogs quickly become comfortable with life in the crate. The best sign is when your dog chooses to take a nap in the crate. Bravo! Your objective is leave your dog in the crate long enough for her to relax and lie down.

4. Go out.

    Once your dog can reach a state of relaxation while in the crate for 30 – 60 minutes, it’s time to leave him alone. Just as you worked up to everything else, gradually work up to leaving the dog. Go out for a few minutes, then return and act like nothing happened. Do NOT release the dog upon entering your home. Wait ten minutes or until the dog is calm and then casually open the door. Do not make any fuss over the dog. Over time, increase the amount of time you are away.

5. Release the dog.

Don’t leave or return like you’ve been away for a year. Upon returning, go about your normal business and allow enough time for your dog to calm down once again in his crate. After your dog is calm, toss in a treat and briefly tell them hello. Wait a few more minutes, and then release. This is one area where much anxiety develops for dogs. Keep a relaxed attitude, and you’ll both do fine.

Keys to Success

If you want crate training to succeed, keep the following points in mind.

  • Never use the crate for punishment. Crating should always be positive.
  • Ignore whining, unless you thinking it may be the "I need to GO!" type of whine. Most dogs will whine when you crate them. If you acknowledge the behavior in any way (even negative), you reinforce it. Never release a dog because she whined or barked.
  • Limit the amount of time your dog is crated. If your dog is crated all day, and again all night, it’s too much. How long can puppies be crated? Very young puppies (8 to 16 weeks) can be crated two or three hours at a time. Puppies from four to 12 months should be okay for four to five hours. If you are gone 8 or 10 hours a day, you should consider an older dog or dog sitter.

There is plenty of information on the Internet about crate training. Just go to your favorite search engine (such as www.google.com) and search for "crate training."

Good luck and enjoy your dog!

Article by Betsy Morris and Molly Moore of MAGSR with edits by CPR. Reprints permitted as long as you give us credit!