Monday, February 20, 2017

Crate Training Truths & Tips.

Crate training is often as hot a topic as politics!  So keep in mind that I'm just one professional trainer in an industry of many across the globe ... but I love, love, love crate training.  I think everyone should do it, regardless of breed or age of the dog being crate trained.

Oh and before I get started, don't forget to read my previous blog post, "Potty Talk" on potty training Do's, Don'ts and How-To's.

The truth is that it's all about the approach, training and use of the crate.  Let me start with the benefits of the use of a crate and then we can do the things to be aware of that could lead to problems. You are your dog's person; only you can decide if this is what you think is best for you and your dog. However, I'll tell you that crates are awesomesauce.

Before I get into the benefits and details of crate training, let me touch on some dogs that may not be able to be crated.  Dogs that have Separation Anxiety (SA) cannot be crated, at least not in the beginning. After a protocol from a pro in treating SA, they usually can be but usually not at first.  SA is very often mis-labeled and mis-diagnosed, and even mis-treated with the wrong protocols, so be sure to read up on it via this website, the SA authority: If you suspect SA in your dog please, please contact someone from Malena Price's website ASAP. 

1) Potty training.
If your puppy is learning the ins and outs of potty training this will be, hands down, the fastest way to accomplish this quickly and successfully.  This even applies to adult dogs that need to be house trained.

The crate is a tool that helps the dog learn to "hold it" so that it will only go potty where it should when taken out of the crate. (See my blog post on potty training.)

When done correctly, crate training let's the dog understand that his crate is his home, a place to keep clean and relax in.  It is not a potty area.

2) Boundaries & safety.
Every dog needs boundaries, just like children.  A crate is a safe, secure and comfy place for your puppy or dog to learn this.  For puppies that are into everything this is a tool that prevents them from running around and getting into trouble, chewing things when they shouldn't and the like.  Same with curious dogs too, even if they aren't puppies.

If supervision isn't able to be accomplished due to busy schedules or someone being out of the home, then a crated dog is a safe dog.  They cannot get into trouble or mischief if they are crated.

3) Place to relax & decompress.
All dogs need a place to relax, get away & decompress.  Just because they are dogs and our pets doesn't mean they don't want some alone time every now and again.  

This is especially vital with puppies as they are growing and developing they need a lot of "down time" to decompress as they can become overstimulated quickly.  Even some adult dogs can become overstimulated and need a place to decompress.  

Got kids, toddlers and/or babies in the home or coming into the home? Then this is definitely a must for when things get a little hectic and you need to allow Fido to go decompress and relax, alone.

4) Dog is ill/injured.
If your dog is ever ill or injured a properly crate trained dog will benefit hugely from being crated during this time.  Some dogs require long periods of rest, like dogs undergoing heartworm treatment or nursing a broken leg.  This could mean several weeks of crate rest.  A crate is a wonderful tool to use because it's comfy and safe for the dog to be in so that they can heal properly.

5) Holidays/parties.
This actually goes along with #3 but I like to make it a separate category.  There are many holidays throughout the year that are more chaotic than others -- New Year's, Fourth of July (for USA), Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  During holidays and/or parties usually there are either lots of noises and chaos outside or in the home with guests moving about and coming and going.  

These times are critical times for dogs to have a place go to relax, be alone, be comfortable and be away from the chaos.  There are also several specific protocols for these holidays to ensure your dog is not anxious and can remain cool and collected while resting in her crate in a safe area of the home.

6) Travel & staying away from home.
Traveling, especially if going on a long distance trip, is safest for your dog if he's in a secure crate.  Also, if visiting somewhere such as a dog-friendly hotel or even another person's home, it is beneficial (and polite) if your dog is able to be crated in another room of someone's home or quietly in a dog-friendly hotel room.

7) Behavior modification, foster dogs & new dog introductions.
Behavior Modification -- Crates are hugely beneficial during behavior modification programs when dogs need to be separated, when dogs should be rotated (one out, one in) and for other reasons that would be laid out in specific training protocols on a case by case basis.

Foster Dogs -- If you foster dogs it's a must to have a crate for the foster dog.  They should always have time to decompress and stay in a place that's quiet and safe away from the rest of your other dogs and other family members.  There is an entire protocol for this and you should contact me if you need information and details.  However, foster dogs shouldn't be brought in and just tossed into your mix of things.  

New Dogs to the home -- If you are adding a new puppy or dog to your home with an existing dog (or dogs) it is vital to have a crate for the new dog (hopefully your current dog[s] are crate trained as well) to retreat to, stay in during the introductory period.  Again, an entire protocol is laid out when this applies to your home so I won't go into details.  If this applies to your home please contact me to get a protocol in place before adding the new dog.

As you can see the benefits of crate training are many.  However, there are some things that could happen, albeit usually totally avoidable, and some more on the doubtful or rarely an issue side of things.  I'm still going to list them all because they are a possibility if you aren't aware.  

1) Entanglement.
Some dogs can become entangled, when wearing a collar, in a wire crate. Worst case scenario is a dog strangles themselves this way. This is totally avoidable by taking off your dog's collar each time you put your dog in a crate.

2) Trapped in a housefire.
Obviously this isn't going to be something you could predict but also this isn't going to be a common occurrence, if ever.  But it could happen.  For this to be avoided, always have a plan in the event that you have a house fire while you are not home.  In this instance [having a plan], crating your dog can actually be beneficial if done properly. Have the plan written down and given to neighbors.  Here is a great resource for how to lay out a plan for your dog in the event of a house fire.

3) Incorrect size/use.
If you have a crate that is too small or too large they could both be a hindrance.  When potty training a crate should be the perfect size (more later on this) and not too big.  For dogs confined for longer periods you may want one a tad larger so they can stretch out as much as possible for comfy naps. 

Misuse is also something you should avoid.  This would include a dog being crated for more than 8-10 hours at a time, on a consistent basis, without a break.  I know many people work full days, in this case it is important that you try to hire a dog walker to come in at least once a day to let your dog out for a bit to potty and get some exercise or engagement of some kind.  Sometimes neighborhood teens or some other resource can do this for really cheap (or free) if a dog walker isn't in the budget.

Crate sizes.
Having the correct size of crate for your dog is very important, especially since it can differ depending on what it's used for.  For example, when putting a puppy in one for crate training purposes I often see people getting far too large of crates for the puppy which leaves room for puppy to have accidents inside the crate and create a habit of going potty inside a crate, totally opposite of what you want to use a crate for.  

So, for potty training purposes the crate should fit the dog just right.  For large breed dogs you could get a large crate and they often come with dividers (usually only the wire crates do) so that you can section off the crate and let it "grow" with your puppy.  If you have a plastic crate then dividers are more difficult to use in them.  So this is when you want to get the correct size of crate.  Measure your puppy from head to tail base (not end of tail) and add 3-5 inches.  That's the length of crate you need.  You will need to watch your puppy grow and adjust the crate size accordingly, which means purchasing a new one when the time is right.

If your dog is reliably holding it while in the crate then you could get a crate that is a tad bigger than the potty training crate size as recommended above.  This just allows your dog to stretch out more.  It's also good to note that some dogs like being curled up in a small space so this may or may not make a difference to your dog.  So just make a judgment call on that.

Which brings us to which type of crate to use.  You should know this is a complete personal choice. There isn't one type of crate that is really better for crate training than another.  There are 3 main types -- wire, plastic and soft.  The soft crate shouldn't be used until your dog is fully crate trained and is happy and safe in a crate.  They can be torn through and eaten through in a jiff!  So that should be out unless you're past the stage of training.  That leaves the wire crate and the plastic, airline crates. 

Wire crates.
Wire crates are airy, dogs can see out on all sides and they are really easy to tote around. They fold flat when broken down and can fit into a trunk or back of a vehicle easily.  They come with dividers that make it easy to section off the right size while potty training your growing puppy.  The crate pan is replaceable and it's easy to attach water buckets or bowls to the inside of it.  It's not super easy to clean out and sanitize, in comparison to the plastic crate.

Plastic/Airline crates.
Plastic crates are thicker, less noisy (when dogs move around) and if a dog has an accident it will hold the accident instead of allow it to seep out of the sides.  They don't break down as easily as wire crates and aren't as easy to fit in places.  They can be sturdier than wire crates for dogs that are strong, unless you get larger gauge wire on the wire crates (special order).  They don't come with a divider so if you have a puppy you'll need to buy several to accommodate the puppy as it grows. It's easy to clean out and sanitize, compared to the all wire crates.

The best way to get your dog to love her crate is to get Susan Garrett's online course, Crate Games and watch and follow it.  Yeah I know you wanted me to list specific stuff here but honestly this little course is a game changer. It's superb. You need to get it. Actually even if your dog is already crate trained you should watch it, and follow it. It's fantastic!

Helpful tips.
1) Don't use the crate only for absences.
This is the single most important thing you can do.  Dogs need to know that being in a crate is a safe place and not only used when you are away.  This helps set your dog up to be quiet and secure when you need to utilize it for some of the benefits listed at the beginning of this blog post.

2) Feed your dog all meals in the crate.  
Feeding your dog in the crate will help your dog make good associations with the crate.  It can also help with puppies who often get too distracted to finish their meals and wander off after just taking a few bites.

3) Invest in a cover.
Some dogs do much better if the crate is covered. They make crate covers that fit crates perfectly or you can use an old blanket or sheet.  Some dogs don't care for the cover but for many it's a great way to help them quiet and/or feel secure and safe.

4) Take it slow.
Don't rush crate training, especially if it's totally new to you and the puppy or dog. While working on the crate training you can utilize a Safe Area that is a large x-pen with a crate (door open) with a bed, grass potty patch, toys and water. 

5) Don't be afraid to use it.
People so often read so much on the don'ts of crate training, including not to over-use it.  I find this scares people a lot and the end up under-using it, especially with puppies.  When a puppy or dog cannot be supervised it should be crated.  If a puppy is over-stimulated, it should be crated. If a dog is not trusted free in the home, it should be crated. 

Step-by-step guide to crate training.
My favorite article on steps to positively crate train your dog are written by of of my faves, Casey Lomonaco.  You can find her article on here, under the title "Keeping the Holiday Peace".  It's a crate training piece, not geared to discuss holidays.

The biggest question I get from dog owners [about crates] is -- When can my dog not use the crate anymore?  The answer is -- it depends on your dog.  Each dog is different, and some are trustworthy early on (I've known some as early as 9 months of age) while others aren't trustworthy until they are well into adulthood (I've known some as late as 2+ years).

The best way to gauge it is to test it by leaving your dog un-crated for a very short period -- say 10 minutes -- and come back and check things out.  Was there any destruction, any potty accidents, any signs of stress?  Even if just one magazine was ripped up then I'd back up and use the crate a bit longer.  For some crating might be for life and for some crating is just safer and a way for the dog to feel more secure, forever.  It's just going to depend on each individual dog.

Stacy Greer, CPDT-KA
Sunshine Dog Training & Behavior, LLC

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