Thinking Inside the Box: The Scoop on Crate Training

The subject of crate training can be a contentious one in the dog world—many dog owners shudder at the idea of locking their precious dog inside of a crate for stretches of time, while most experts insist that it’s the only way to properly raise a dog.

The reality meets in the middle: while crate training doesn’t work for every dog (some dogs, for instance, have fear-based disorders that relate to being crated), most dogs take to it after a little bit of time and consistency, and relish having a quiet, safe space all to themselves. In addition, crates keep your dog out of mischief when you’re gone, assist in potty training, and give you a break when you can’t actively supervise.

It also has several outside benefits: landlords love to hear that your dog is crate trained, because it reduces the likelihood of their property getting chewed up, and it ensures that your dog will be comfortable if he ever has to be crated to go on an airplane, stay in a vet’s office, or if he has to be confined for an injury.

However, it’s also important not to abuse the crate. No animal is meant to be cooped up 24/7, and if you find yourself overusing the crate, it’s important to take a hard look at your schedule. Hire a dog walker to come home during lunch, or create a safe space outside with a fence, food, water, and shelter, and make sure your dog gets the mental and physical stimulation he needs to thrive. Adult dogs need potty breaks about every 8 hours at the longest, and puppies need to go even more frequently! Further, it’s important that crated dogs have regular access to water.

While it may take some persistence before your dog learns to love the crate, there are several small shifts in our thinking that can take us a long way toward setting him/her up for success.

These key components are:

  1. Make the Crate a Positive Place

Many people think about the crate as a place the dog goes when he gets into trouble. And no wonder dogs hate the crate, when they’re always sent there with a firm voice, after getting yelled at! Instead, try making the crate into a doggy-wonderland. Fill it with toys and special treats that your dog only gets when he’s inside. You can also feed your dog meals inside the crate. Soon, your pup will be going there to hang out during downtime, because he associates it with all of the wonderful things in life.

2. Create Consistency

Dogs thrive on routine. When you’re first acclimating your dog to the crate, make sure you stick to a schedule, so that he knows what to expect. For instance, if you leave for work every day, create a ritual that ends with him going in his crate. Feed him breakfast, let him outside, go for a walk, make him sit to get a treat, and feed him some treats inside his crate before shutting him in. Try to make sure he gets put in the crate for a short period every day around the same time, so that he gets used to the idea of going inside, even on the weekends.

3. Build it up slowly

Don’t try to crate train your dog all at once. Take it slowly when first introducing your pup to the crate—feed meals and treats inside with the door open at first, and then close it for only a couple of seconds. Build up that time each day, until your dog is comfortable inside the crate for longer periods.

By taking it slow, your dog will see the door being closed inside as positive. If your dog does cry when you close the door, wait for a pause in the crying to open it—that way he doesn’t learn that he can bark to get let out. Also try sitting outside the crate with the door closed, and feeding your dog treats through the slats when he is quiet.

Properly used, the crate is an awesome tool for helping your dog be a happy, healthy, canine citizen!