There are many tools I utilize when training a dog—baby gates, leashes, etc.—but there is one tool that stands out: the crate.
A crate is a great tool for helping you and your pup get a little bit of a break: It helps your dog to make better choices and can help give you a few hours of peace, knowing your dog can’t chew your couch. I always recommend a crate for new puppies and adult dogs new to the home. It helps with housebreaking and gives them a place that belongs to them in an unknown environment.
Dog Crate Training Tips
Here are some best practices for starting and maintaining the use of a crate for training your dog:
Always make it a positive experience! Feed your dog his or her meals in the crate and throw treats in there randomly. Make sure it is open during the day, so they can choose to go in on their own. Whenever you leave them in the crate, give them something delicious like a peanut butter filled Kong or a marrowbone.
Most people crate their dog when they are out of the house and sleeping, but don’t forget to crate when you are at home lounging around as well. It’s helpful to get them used to the crate as a comfortable space they can hang out in even when things are going on in the house.
If you’re housebreaking, your dog can be in the crate for as long as he or she can hold it. Puppies can hold it for their age in months plus one (For example, if you have a 3 month old puppy, they can hold it for 4 hours.), and adult dogs can likely hold it for 6 hours during the day. They can be in their crate for that amount of time, but should be let out as soon as possible, so they don’t eliminate in their crate.
And speaking of eliminating in their crate, the size of the crate should be big enough for them to stand up and turn around completely. If your dog can pee in one corner of the crate, but sleep in the opposite corner comfortably, it will be harder to housebreak. They should have enough room to stretch out and sleep but not much more than that.
Again, make it a positive experience! Do not use the crate for punishment. If you need a break from your dog because they are jumping on the coffee table and won’t leave you alone, try your hardest to calmly get a peanut butter Kong and put them in their crate. Then you get a break and they get a positive association with their crate.
The best part about having a dog that is create trained, is that it teaches the dog to self-sooth. If they start to get overly excited and you’re ignoring them, they learn to go to their crate and calm themselves down. Then they don’t have to look to you every time they need to calm down. It’s an amazing tool for everyone!
If you have a dog that is miserable in the crate, I would forgo the crate and try something else. It is rare, but some dogs will try hard to escape the crate and could hurt themselves in the process. If your dog could hurt himself in the crate, I recommend finding an experienced trainer in your area to give you alternative solutions.
Jaime Migdal, CPDT KA, is the founder and CEO of Fetchfind, a talent recruitment and services organization dedicated to the pet industry.