A dog crate is a short-term safe place for your pooch while you aren't available to keep an eye on her. It's often effective, but it's not an overnight solution. Crate training often takes some time; some dogs get it within a week or two, others aren't fully comfortable with the idea for a couple of months.
Just the Basics
Crate training is one of the most effective methods of house-training a dog due to the basic instinct dogs have to not eliminate in their sleeping quarters. Dogs are naturally denning animals as well, meaning they prefer a spot all to themselves to feel safe while they sleep or need to get away. When done properly, crate training results in a dog freely going into the crate to simply lie down, chew on a toy or get away from busy surroundings. In addition to potty training, a crate is also a way to keep your pooch safe while you're away or have guests. When in the crate, she can't chew on unsafe items, like your furniture, and her safe place can help eliminate separation anxiety.
Dogs and puppies are naturally curious, which can be pivotal in introducing your pet to the crate. Set up the crate in a room where you and your family spend a lot of time, such as the family room. Place her blanket or dog bed in the crate and open the door for a day or two while encouraging her to explore. Walk over to the crate and call her in a sweet voice and give her praise if she goes to the crate to sniff around.
Before you even begin to truly use the crate as a training tool and get your dog on board with the idea, you need to have her associate the crate with positive things. Luckily for you, most pooches are highly motivated by positive reinforcement, as well as food and yummy treats. Throw treats into the cage to encourage her to go into it and, after a day of exploring, start feeding her in her crate with the door open. Once she goes into the crate all the way and is comfortable eating in it, begin closing the door to the crate. Gradually start increasing the length of time the door is closed in the crate; five-minute increases in time are often ideal and not too overwhelming for a pooch just starting out in the crate world.
Out of Sight
Once your pup is staying in her crate for 15 minutes or so with you nearby, begin leaving the room for a few minutes. Start using a command every time she goes into the crate, like "kennel," "go to bed" or "cage time." The command is your choice, but be consistent and use the same one every time. Alternate being out of sight with sitting near the crate for a few minutes a couple of times a night. When returning to sit near the crate, always praise your pooch and give her a special treat. Once she has mastered staying in the crate for 30 minutes with you out of sight, you can leave her crated for short periods while you run errands or simply go for a walk around the block. The idea is to gradually get her used to being in the crate while you're gone without going through separation anxiety or feeling abandoned.
Word of Caution
The crate isn't a cage to keep your dog locked up, it's her den to make her feel safe and keep her out of trouble. Never use the crate as a punishment. The size is also important; the crate should be tall enough for her to stand up completely while being wide and deep enough for her to turn around and lie down. It shouldn't be longer than her body length from muzzle to tail; this could encourage eliminating inside the crate.
With a professional background in gardening, landscapes, pests and natural ecosystems, Jasey Kelly has been sharing her knowledge through writing since 2009 and has served as an expert writer in these fields. Kelly's background also includes childcare, and animal rescue and care.