The Importance of Crate and Confinement Training

Wags & Wiggles is seeing a massive surge of private lesson requests for crate training. Crate training is an essential tool for both the dog and owner.

We all knew this was coming. But, unfortunately, dog owners have forgotten the value of teaching their dogs to be comfortable being restrained, confined, or resting in a crate.

Some of these dogs are ending up in rescue. Their new owners now face the challenge of teaching their dogs this important life skill. Unfortunately, we also see dogs genetically wired to struggle with being confined (street dogs). Crate and confinement training for these dogs isn't always a straightforward process and you may need professional help from a certified trainer.

There are many reasons a dog needs to learn to accept a crate or another acceptable confinement area.

It is common for dog owners to think if the dog isn't destroying the house, what is the point of crate training? However, life changes to the family's schedule may lead to the dog being home alone more often, and now the dog IS destroying furniture or going to the bathroom in the wrong place. Waiting until this happens to start crate training puts a lot of stress on the dog.

It is a fact that if a dog struggles to be confined, there are companion behaviors that will come up. These include leash reactivity outside, pulling on the leash, barking at people coming into the house, and separation anxiety. Dogs not trained to accept crates or confinement struggle to come for daycare, boarding, and the vet's office. They often can't settle for naps in a crate or suite without endless barking. The dog won't eat their naptime treats, and they sometimes have behavior problems in the playgroups due to exhaustion or overstimulation.

Another benefit of crate training is to protect them while riding in the car.

It can be very dangerous for your dog to ride loose in your car. In the case of an accident, a loose dog will most likely die in even a minor accident. If not confined in a crate, the dog can fly out the window, get loose, or impact other objects. Even a seat belt won't fully protect your dog. Riding in a crate in a car is the safest way to travel. A crate will also eliminate any car reactivity that the dog may exhibit.

One of the most significant changes the Wags & Wiggles Trainers make to their client's households is how they deal with people coming to the house.

If you have workers come to the house, a big house party, groups of kids, or scary strangers, your dog may need to be confined when they arrive. You can then do a slow introduction, which will make it a more positive experience.   If the dog can start calm, then the introduction can go smoothly. Having the dog be somewhere away from the door is helpful in this situation. If this is the only event where your dog is confined, they will be agitated from the start, which means it will take longer to crate train.

Many of the reasons you would need to crate train your dog may not be apparent when they are happy, wiggly puppies, or a recent rescue.

If you start your confinement training right when you get the dog, you will be ready when any behavior concerns pop up.

Some reasons for crate/confinement training include:

  • potty training
  • prevention of destruction/chewing/digging
  • separation anxiety
  • teaching puppies how to nap when over-tired/cranky
  • preparation for vet visits/surgery
  • to assist in behavior modification.

Every dog should get used to being confined in some way. It's a fact of life that they will have to be left alone at some point.

Crate and confinement training should be a cruelty-free method of confining your dog when they need to be home alone or prevent behavior problems. A "crate" can be an actual crate, x-pen, laundry room, chain link kennel run, or a room with a baby gate. However, the benefit of an actual crate (whether hard shell, wire, or collapsible soft crate) is that it can go anywhere at any time - including sporting events, vacation, or a friend's house.

How do I get started on crate training?

It is essential to make each interaction your dog has with the crate is positive.

Wags & Wiggles offers a course in our Online Classroom that focuses on crate training. The course will cover how to teach your dog to go into the crate and lay down on its own without force. The lessons will steadily build duration, distance, and distractions.

The video below is from our Crate Training Course in our Online Classroom on introducing your dog to their crate.

 

Crate Training Introduction

What are the general steps to take in Crate Training?

  1. Teach your dog to walk into the confinement area you have chosen voluntarily.  Train the dog to lie down as default behavior in this area.
  2. Teach your dog to stay in the down position while you close the door and walk away.
  3. Teach your dog to stay when you open the door to let them out.   The dog can sit, stand, or lie down; their position doesn't matter.  The critical part is the "stay."  They should be taught to stay until the door is wide open and wait another 2 seconds.  Then you give a verbal release word, like okay.  If your dog is crying, circling, or jumping and you let them out of confinement, your dog will develop confinement distress.  Steps 1-3 usually take the longest period of time.  If your dog is a young puppy, they may not yet be able to do Step 3.  You can go back and teach them this in a couple of weeks when they are older.
  4. Train your dog to be comfortable in the confinement area while you are home first.  Then, work up to the duration of time you would ultimately need.  For instance, if the longest the dog would need to stay in the crate is 3 hours, then you should work with your dog while you are home to be comfortable for 3 hours before you try leaving the dog alone.
  5. When crate training puppies overnight, put the crate next to, on top of, or at the foot of the bed.  This way, you can quickly get them outside when they need to pee in the middle of the night.  You can also provide close contact to give comfort, like handing your hand inside the crate.   Have a bone like a bully stick ready to help them settle back in the crate after a middle of the night potty.  Be sure to potty the puppy and then straight back to the crate.  Do not play with them and get them wound up.  Most puppies do well with the snuggle puppy that has a heartbeat.  This mimics when they slept with their littermates.
  6. Whether you are using a crate or exercise pen, you will need to decide what items you should or should not leave with your dog.  For example, in our house, we do not leave water with our young dogs.  The reason is that they tend to drink too much or play in the water.  You also need to consider whether your dog would like a mat or bed.  For example, if you come home and the bed is wadded up in the back of the crate, your dog does not want bedding.
  7. If you leave your puppy in an exercise pen and the puppy goes to the bathroom in the pen when you leave for a short period of time, you should move them to a smaller area like a crate.
  8. If your dog is crying, jumping, circling, trying to hurt themselves, or going to the bathroom continually in the confinement area, you should seek professional help.  Do not let your dog "cry it out."  Do not yell at your dog.  Both of those will make your problem worse.
  9. Consider using a remote camera system so you can check on your dog during the crate training process.
  10. Some dogs need their crate covered with a sheet.

How long can my dog be in the crate?

There will be a difference in the length of time your dog can stay in a crate overnight versus the daytime.  Even young puppies can sleep for long periods in the crate overnight.  If you get your puppy from a reputable breeder, they can start crate training for you, making your life much easier.

Here is a general guideline for daytime crate training times.

Maximum daily time recommended in a crate, by age:

  • 8–10 weeks: 30–60 minutes
  • 11–14 weeks: 1–3 hours
  • 15–16 weeks: 3–4 hours
  • 17+ weeks: 4–5 hours (though please don't resort to this often!)

As your dog gets older, they can be in the crate for more extended periods of time, but 6 hours should be the maximum length.  Do not think that your dog will be happy in a crate while you are away for 8 hours of work every day.  That can be cruel for most dogs.  Dogs do well with a mixture of going to doggie daycare and staying home on opposite days if you are away from long periods or multiple days in a row.

What is a good kind of crate?

A hard crate is usually preferred.  It is more durable than a wire crate, harder to escape, and your dog is less likely to bite the bars.  Personally, I use the Vari Kennel for the house and Ruff Land Kennels for my vehicle.  My dogs survived a severe rollover accident in these crates.  If you are using an exercise pen, Midwest is a good brand.  You will most likely want to purchase a cover for the xpen so your dog does not learn to climb out.

How can I get help with crate training?

There is a Crate Training Course in our Online Classroom on how to introduce your dog to their crate.

We also offer private lessons to help you get started with crate training.  In addition, you can fill out the online training evaluation or call the location of your choice to get in touch with one of our certified trainers.

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