Today, I want to talk about some common misconceptions regarding crate training dogs/puppies. First, you should understand that dogs are den animals. A wild dog’s den is their place of security, where they sleep, raise young, recover and hide from danger. Crates are not a place of punishment, not a place for your dog to spend all day, not a place to send your dog when you have company over and "just need the dog out of the way", and no dog should ever be crated so much that they are missing out on life. Crate training is meant to take advantage of a dog’s natural instinct and allow you to keep a close eye on your new puppy/dog while they are still learning what is expected of them. It is unusual for a puppy to soil its den, therefore, crates are a great tool to housebreaking, while also limiting access to the rest of the house, like furniture, shoes, and other potential dangers. Crates are also a safe way to transport your dog in the car.
Now that you have a better understanding of why many professionals recommend crate training young dogs, it’s important to select the proper size crate. A crate must be large enough that your dog can stand up, lie down, and turn around in their crate comfortably. You should also remember that as your puppy is growing, the size of their crate needs to as well. You should purchase a crate with a divider, or be ready to provide new crates as the puppy grows. A crate that is too small for your dog will be very uncomfortable and a crate that is too large may allow your puppy to have enough room to soil his/her crate without ruining his/her bedding. This behavior can lead to behavioral difficulties down the road.
After you have selected a crate appropriate for your dog’s size, it’s time to make the den appealing to your new puppy, who might be hesitant at first. You can make the interior comfortable by providing bedding if safe to do so (chew resistant material), adding a few chew toys (like kong toys), sometimes by covering the crate with a lightweight blanket can mimic a den environment and make your puppy feel more secure (always make sure if you do this, it is still well ventilated), and choosing an appropriate location for the crate is also essential to your puppy’s training. A crate should be located somewhere that your puppy will not feel excluded from the family, somewhere well ventilated, and somewhere that you can keep a close eye on them.
Finally, you must never crate a dog longer than they can hold their bladder. A dogs natural instinct is to not soil their den, but if they are crated so long that they are forced to do so, they will lose that instinct to keep it clean (side note: some puppies cannot be crated with bedding until fully potty trained as the bedding may soak up urine and allow the puppy to urinate in its kennel without having to lay in it). If you are crate training an already house-trained dog, who understands he/she should not soil in the house, and they are forced to do so, it can make them feel anxious and unhappy as they know they have done wrong. This can lead to crate associated anxiety problems. How long a puppy can hold their bladder depends on how old they are, and your veterinarian can provide you this information. Puppies need social interaction and mental stimulation to become positive members of society. If crated too much, and not properly stimulated, behavioral problems caused by boredom can develop and can lead into fear, anxiety, and stress. In conclusion, crates are a massively beneficial tool when used correctly. To use a crate correctly, you must understand when it should be used, and when it should not.
Carrie Savino is the author if this blog. She is one of the veterinary assistants with Companion Veterinary Health Center. Carrie comes to us with a strong interest in dog behavior and training. If you have any dog training questions please reach out to us at 860-779-6070.