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Crate training? Here's how to help your dog enjoy his space

December 01, 2020
photo of dog in crate

Those sad puppy-dog eyes may tell you a different tale, but crating can be a positive experience for dogs.

Dogs are denning animals, and a crate can serve a purpose. Not unlike a teenager’s basement hideaway, providing a crate gives the family dog a cozy, comfortable space where he can relax and have some downtime when he needs it.

Sure, their enclosures are smaller than what we humans would like for ourselves. But dogs seek out small, enclosed spaces for their dens, and that’s how most dogs like it.

What are the benefits of crate training?

  • If you’re heading to the vet or traveling, helping your dog feel good about getting into his crate makes the journey that much easier.
  • Crates give dogs their own space. Once it clicks with a dog that a crate is his, he may start going in voluntarily, whether you’re leaving for errands or heading off to bed.
  • Crates can be a refuge when your dog is overwhelmed, scared or anxious. Crating can provide a cue for dogs with separation anxiety to self-soothe. If they have a secure space to settle down, that’s a good alternative to tearing apart your couch cushions.
  • Because dogs don’t like to soil their sleeping quarters, crating is also helpful with house-training a puppy or a new dog.

What’s the best way to crate train a dog?

Whether you’re starting with a puppy or taking in an adult dog, start crate training right away. While some dogs latch on almost immediately, don’t be discouraged if it takes longer for your four-legged friend. Puppies need time and patience, and adult dogs may not be used to the idea of using the kennel as his space to relax.

Find the right sized crate

Get a unit that’s the right size for your four-legged friend. It should be large enough so he can stand up and turn around comfortably. If it’s too big, however, your dog may end up choosing a corner to “go” in. If your dog isn’t fully grown or not finished with house training, rethink the extra-roomy kennel for now. (Some large ones have built in dividers so you can cordon off half of the crate, using the smaller portion until your dog grows large enough to use the entire space.)

Include comfy bedding

The floor of the crate should have a comfy pad or bed. A couple clean blankets are also nice, especially for dogs that nose them around to make “nests.”

Find the right placement

Start by keeping the crate in an area of the house where everyone spends the most time, such as the kitchen or family room. Having people nearby can help him feel more comfortable with exploring his enclosure and spending more time in it. Being able to sleep in the same room helps your dog bond with you. If your dog sleeps in its crate, consider moving it into the bedroom at night time.

Start command training

Teach your dog a one-word command to enter the crate. It can be “crate” or “kennel” or “bed” — whatever works for your family.

Start small and build on success

Success in crate training begins with small sessions inside the crate, while gradually adding time. Some dogs will go bounding right in to claim their space, but others are a little crate-shy. If that’s the case, don’t force them. Instead, deploy some gentle guidance to coax them to walk in and check it out.

  • Serve dinner in the crate. For starters, set the bowl right in the entrance, and in subsequent meals, move the bowl a little farther in.
  • Be playful about it. Toss their favorite toy into the kennel, starting with just inside the opening and gradually moving the toy farther in so he has to enter to grab it.
  • Offer treats. Most dogs can’t resist a snack. Create a trail of low-calorie training treats that lead into the kennel. You can also try offering his favorite treat puzzle to convince him to stay put and get him focused on something new.

Gradually increase time in the crate

Throughout the training, stick to this basic formula: “Crate!” plus treat plus praise equals a happily kenneled pup. It can take a few days or several months. Be persistent and patient, and eventually, your dog will get the idea.

  • Once your dog is going inside the crate, latch him in for a few moments before letting him out again. Of course, you’ll want to offer lots of enthusiastic praise for a job well done. As his comfort level increases, gradually increase his time inside the crate.
  • As he gets used to being shut in the crate, leave the room for a few minutes, then return to let him out.
  • Eventually, leave the house with your dog shut inside the crate, starting with brief errands and being away for longer sprints.

[Have dog, will travel? Read these tips on stress-free traveling with your pet]

How to keep your dog happier inside the crate

If your dog needs help getting settled in his crate, try some of these tips to make him feel more at home. In the meantime, download episode 50 of Raising Your Paws podcast to learn more insights on how you can help your dog enjoy his time in the crate.

Create a calming atmosphere with pheromones

Dog pheromones come in formulas designed to offer a natural solution to help dogs feel less stress and anxiety. Your local independent pet retailer can recommend some great products you can spritz right on your dog’s bedding as a drug-free way to help your dog simmer down.

How long can dogs stay in the crate?

Keep an eye on the time. If traveling or a long workday means a long session in the crate, make sure they’re getting out for bathroom breaks. For adult dogs, their time in the crate shouldn’t exceed six hours while keeping to three to four hours at a stretch for puppies six months and under. As always, give them constant access to food and fresh water.

What if your puppy cries in the crate?

Some crying and whines are normal during crate training. But never let him out until he’s stopped the noise. Otherwise, you’ll teach your dog that he can whine his way out. Ignore the crying. Don’t make eye contact; simply leave. A distraction, such as a treat puzzle to refocus his attention, can make him feel better.

Create positive associations with the crate

Eventually, the crate could serve as a time-out place for your dog, so you can diffuse a mischievous situation, however, sending your dog to the crate should never be a punishment for bad behavior. Otherwise, the space can be “poisoned” and turn into something to avoid. During training, it’s important to do what you can to keep the dog-crate encounters calm and happy. When giving the crate command, keep your voice and expression calm and relaxed.

The only treat you need during crate training

When helping your dog get used to his comfy crate, be sure to keep a handful of NutriSource Soft and Tender Treats on hand. They’re 3.5 calories apiece and fortified with Carniking™, a trusted source of L-Carnitine to help your pet burn fat, so you can make progress with less worry of overfeeding your dog. They come in three delicious flavors: chicken, lamb and salmon. Shop local, and pick up a pouch at an independent pet supply shop in your community.