When I first heard about crate training I had a very negative view of it: it’s like prison for dogs! Look at the dog’s sad eyes looking through the bars of the cage!
However, after reading a few articles online, talking with other dog owners and reading a couple of books about dogs prior to getting Chloe, I thought I would give it a try as it sounded really beneficial not only for us but also for Chloe. Reading up on the subject I quickly realised that my initial perception of bars=prison was a completely incorrect. In fact, it’s more of a safe place for a puppy/dog then anything else.
There’s a huge array of benefits of crates. Let’s start from the dog’s perspective. Jane Simmonds in Cocker Spaniel: Understanding and caring for your breed writes, “a crate needs to be somewhere a puppy feels safe and secure” (83) and this is exactly how you need to set it up (more on that in section “Crate training 101” below). Puppies actually need a lot of sleep (most people might not know this!) and if you have a busy household they might not be getting the down time that they need. Crating them for short periods of time ensures that they get the opportunity to take a nap and catch their zzzs. This in turn helps make training easier, and ensure that your puppy doesn’t become irritable and snappy.
Second benefit is that they will always have a safe place. There will be periods of time when you have to be apart from your dog, for some this might happen more often than for others. By having the crate transported and set up in their new environment it ensure that they are always “at home” no matter where they are. Having that little bit of familiarity not only in smell but also in routine is very beneficial for your dog to ensure that they aren’t stressed out by the change in their routine.
Thirdly, as Gwen Bailey explains in her book The Perfect Puppy “if you have young children, your puppy can easily become over-excited and play sessions can get out of hand” (47). Having a crate to place the puppy in ensures that children and puppies don’t get into a sticky situation while they are unsupervised. It also allows the puppy to have a time out from a high energy activity, which prevents them from getting wired up and prevents play-biting.
Even if you don’t have children to distract your puppy, the crate is still beneficial in teaching your dog that there is a time and place to play, it’s not play time all day every day. Sometimes, humans do things in the house that doesn’t mean the dog needs to join them and play along. This is great for when you have guests over and you want to focus on hosting, not worry about controlling your dog and ensuring they aren’t pestering your guests. Instead you can place them in the crate for a short time to prevent from guests being harassed and your dog from being stressed out by the new situation. Remember, the crate is their safe and happy place.
Now, let’s look at the benefits for you. Having a crate trained dog means that wherever you go with your dog, new house, trip to the cottage, visiting a friend, driving in the car, your dog will have a safe place where it feels comfortable, even when the surroundings might not be. This makes it so much easier for you when you travel to a new place – no stress for either party!
It’s also super easy when you need someone to watch your dog. What if they don’t want the dog to sleep in their bed? Do you start training your dog then and pray that they will magically unlearn your bed habits for this new person? Unlikely! If they are crate trained, they have no change in their bed routines, regardless of who is watching them for you. Comes VERY handy in the future not only for you but for their carer, my friends and neighbours can vouch for this.
Thirdly, you know your dog is staying out of trouble when they are in their crate and you are out of the house for a period of time. No one really enjoys that nightmare situation when you pop over to the shops, and come back and the puppy has chewed through the legs in your dining room table, and has unstuffed all your sofa pillows….When they are in their crate, they can play with their toys but can cause no destruction to your house. That means that you don’t have to fear and stress about what you will come home to. This also prevents you from having negative experiences with your puppy which otherwise might breed resentment or frustration.
When to start
I’m sure by now you might have guessed that it’s important to start AS SOON as you get your dog, whether that is in a puppy stage or a older. You want to establish it’s purpose immediately upon bringing them home.
I know that when they are a puppy that’s the last thing you want to do, lock them in a crate, especially overnight, when all you want to do is cuddle their cuteness. However, even though in the moment you might WANT to do that, you have to look at it long term. Do you want to ALWAYS sleep with your dog, for the next 10-13 years? Or do you want to have the choice? I can tell you now, if you don’t crate train you won’t have much of a choice.
Crate training 101
So after reading and reading about crate training and it’s importance here are some basic crate training rules:
1. First, when you buy a crate I’d recommend it buying it for the size they are going to be when they are fully grown (estimate the best you can). We made the mistake of buying one that fit her as a puppy but when she grew up (which happens way too soon!) we had to buy her a bigger one.
2. Once you’ve got your crate, make sure you make it comfortable and appealing inside for them (doesn’t need to be fancy, just appealing to your pup). Jane Simmon explains how you should make it as “attractive as possible, with soft bedding, some toys and perhaps a cover over the top to make it cosier” (83). For puppies, see if you can get a blanket with the smell of their litter on it to use within the crate it give it a more homey feel for them. Covering it with a blanket is also great for helping the puppy to not get distracted by the outside world, when it’s time for a nap during the daytime.
3. Make puppies love it even more by feeding them in their crates, breakfast, lunch and dinner and make it exciting by hiding treats in there. Remember, you want to create as many positive experiences with the crate as possible.
4. DO NOT disturb your puppy inside the cage if it’s napping, sleeping or taking a break in there. By disturb we mean put your hands inside the crate, stroke them, or talk to them loudly. This is meant to be THEIR space, not your space to do as you please.
5. DO NOT use the crate as punishment at any stage of the training. This will be detrimental to how your puppy will view the crate, and can ruin your progress and hard work immediately.
As you can see, the benefits of a crate far out-weight any perceived negatives. From our experience, I can honestly say we’re so happy that we toughed it out at the beginning and crate trained Chloe. It has made the whole training experience so much more fun, and has made living with her much more pleasant. I always get compliments from our friends that watch her with “how well trained” she is when it comes to bed time, and that’s all down to training with the crate. I’m not going to lie, there are some nights that she sleeps with us in bed (more likely to happen when it’s just one of us in the house) and there is nothing wrong with that, as we return back to her normal crate routine after a couple of days.
Proper crate training ensures that both you and your dog have an easier relationship and have appropriate breaks from each other in a positive way. I can’t speak more highly of this. Feel free to ask me any questions below, or via Instagram. I’m more than happy to help!
Q: What are your perceptions/experiences of crate training for your dog?