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Why & How to Crate Train Your Dog

To you, a dog crate might look like a cage. But to a crate-trained dog, it’s his safe place where he can rest and feel secure. In fact, crate training can be helpful for both you and your dog. It can help minimize messes when housetraining and prevent potential damage when your dog is home alone. It can also give your dog a quiet, cozy spot to call his own.

Buying a crate

The size of your dog’s crate is important. If it’s too small, he may be uncomfortable and dislike using it. If it’s too big, your dog may decide to divide up the space by using one side as his bedroom and one side as his bathroom. The crate should be big enough for your dog to stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably.

Setting it up

Dogs want to be near their people, so put the crate in a high-traffic area where you spend a lot of time, such as the kitchen or living room. Place a soft bed or blanket in the crate, along with a couple favorite chew toys. Do not put food or water bowls in the crate (don’t worry, he should only be in his crate for short periods of time anyway). If a dog eats or drinks while confined in his crate, he’ll need to relieve himself shortly after, which he’d be forced to do in his crate. Plus, the bowls could get knocked over and cause a mess. Once you’re sure your dog is comfortable to keep his crate clean, you can provide water in a tip-proof bowl, or one attached to the crate wall.

Crate training

When you introduce your dog to his crate, stay in the room. Place a small treat or piece of kibble in his crate, and encourage your dog to go in using a simple command, such as “crate” or “kennel”. When he goes in, praise him while he sniffs and explores. Let him come out, and then repeat the exercise. Have him go in a third time, but this time close the crate door behind him. Praise him and give him a treat through the side before opening the door. Gradually close him in the crate for longer periods of time while you’re still in the room.

The key to successful crate training is to create positive associations with the crate. It should be a happy place for him, not a “time out” place. Never punish your dog by putting him in his crate. When you’re home during the day, leave the crate door open and encourage your dog to nap in it. When you buy a new toy or treat, put it in his crate to discover.

Leaving him in the crate

Put your dog in his crate whenever he’s unsupervised, so when you’re gone or asleep. Always let him outside to relieve himself first, and remove his collar so it doesn’t accidentally get caught on the crate. Place a safe treat, such as a chew toy stuffed with treats or peanut butter, in the crate to keep him occupied. This also helps him mentally connect his crate with something he likes. After you close him in, leave without making a big deal of it. Lingering and giving affection through the bars will just get him worked up and make your absence harder on him.

Don’t leave him in his crate too long. If you have a puppy, you can determine how long he can “hold it” by taking his age in months and adding one. For example, a two-month-old puppy could be left in his crate up to three hours without any accidents. Remember, no dog should be left in a crate more than eight hours.

If you’ve tried these tips and your dog still doesn’t like his crate, don’t give up. He may just need more time, especially if he’s an older dog that’s not accustomed to being in a crate. With consistent, positive use, your dog will grow to love his crate.

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