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Crating Your Dog
Why you should, and how to make it a positive place for your dog while you are gone.
Have you been on the fence about whether or not you should crate your dog when you are not home? Is your dog destructive or mischievous while you are gone and you feel too guilty for locking him up? Well, let’s talk about why the crate is actually a really great place for your dog to be when you are not home to supervise.
Why You Should Crate Your Dog
Most dogs have a tendency to get into things when they are bored. They will also exhibit this behavior when they are anxious or upset. The anxiety can come from just being alone. Behaviors may include getting into the garbage, chewing on furniture or interesting household items, or heaven forbid, getting into dangerous things (like toxic medicines, cleaning products, or electrical wirings). Your dog may also be more prone to having accidents in the house while you are not home. In rescue we know of many times dogs have jumped through windows because of separation anxiety, or they simply saw something they badly wanted outside. Does your dog react when the bell is rung, the mail arrives or the big brown truck approaches? All of this sounds absolutely terrible, right? And, maybe even familiar? Well, by putting your dog in their crate you can guarantee their safety, and also that your home is intact when you return.
What Do Dogs Think About Their Crate?
If introduced and trained properly, a dog should feel that a crate is their ‘safe place’. Naturally and historically in the wild, dogs will find a small dark den that they will retreat into to sleep, eat, or relax. The den is their safe haven. They will even guard their den, or be choosy about who else may use it. They purposefully keep their den clean by not going to the bathroom there. These instincts can be seen in our pets, if given the chance. A dog can actually enjoy and love their crate. It gives them an escape from the busy going-on’s in your house and a place to comfortably relax until you return. Plus, their patrol space is limited, they don’t have to worry about every stranger walking down the street.
When Should You Crate Your Dog?
If you have a new dog, a puppy, or a mischievous dog — you should crate them when you cannot give them direct supervision. Give them plenty of physical and mental exercise prior to putting them in the crate for extended periods of time. An older or mature dog that is not causing issues while you are a home should be able to come and go from their crate as they please. You should consider crating your dog at night while you and they sleep, and crate your dog while you are gone. You absolutely should never crate your dog as punishment. If your dog does something wrong, putting them away in their crate as a ‘timeout’ will only teach your dog that the crate is a negative thing. Instead correct them, and then give them a job to do that will help move them on from the wrong doing, like putting them in ‘place’ on a mat.
How Long Should You Crate your Dog?
This is the most important question you can ask. And unfortunately the answer is not cut and dry. If you have a puppy, they simply do not have a mature enough bladder to hold it for longer than a few hours at a time. So if it is possible, break up their crate time into 2-3 hour sessions and gradually increase the amount time as they get older. If you have an adult dog they will eventually be able to stay in their crate for the duration of your workday: provided they do not have any medical issues that cause incontinence and they’ve had plenty of exercise. It is very important that you provide your dog with BOTH physical and mental exercise before and after crating for long periods of time. To help prevent some boredom while in the crate you may want to provide them with safe bones, toys, or puzzles.
How Do I Crate Train My Dog?
There are a few key crate-training lessons to help you show your dog that the crate is a positive and safe place for them to be.
- Start out by letting your dog get familiar with the crate. Allow them to go inside and out on their own. You can give them praise for going in and out.
- Start feeding your dog all of their meals inside the crate. Place their food at the back of the crate so they have to go all the way inside. You can progress by eventually shutting the door while they eat, and then start leaving them in their crate after they finish eating for short periods of time.
- Your dog should sleep in their crate at night! THIS IS IMPORTANT!!!! This does not have to be a permanent thing, but until your dog is fully crate-trained and easily accepts going in the crate for periods of time, they should sleep in their crate. This will help them become more comfortable with it and show them it is their ‘den’. You can start out with the crate near your bed or in the same room. But eventually you should move the crate to wherever you would like it to be in the house.
- While you are home, you can practice crating your dog for short amounts of time to help build them up for the workday. This can be tricky, your dog may whine or bark to be let out. It is imperative you do not give into their pleas because this will teach them that crying will get them out. Only allow your dog out of the crate when they are calm and quiet. If you and they are near a breaking point, ask for a down or sit, as quickly as they respond give praise and release them. This will help redirect their mind to the task and they will learn that they only get out of the crate by doing something you asked and NOT by crying.
- Finally after you can leave your dog in the crate for short amounts of time, slowly leave them longer. Again, it is very important to have your dog be physically and mentally worked prior to being crated for the workday. So make sure you allow for this before you leave them and then when you get home.
How Should I Exercise My Dog Before Crating Them?
This may be one of the most important things you can do to be successful with crating. A lot of people think, that if they make their dog physically tired enough, they will be just fine in the crate. So they are at a complete loss when their dog’s bed mysteriously exploded inside the crate or when their Houdini dog is somehow sitting excitedly in the front window when they get home. Physical exercise is a great tool. But, the most important thing you can do is mentally exhaust your dog. How can you do this? Well, there are actually a VERY easy and effective ways to do both! By taking your dog on a structured walk, you will not only give them the physical exercise they need, but the entire time they will be working mentally to follow your lead and do what you ask. By the time you return home, your dog will be happy to relax in their crate for the day.
What Is A Structured Walk?
A structured walk is a walk where YOU are completely in charge. There is no stop & sniff. There is no pulling on the leash or zigzagging all over the place. Your dog is to remain by your side, with their nose in line with your thigh. There should be about 3-4 inches of leash to work with between you and your dog. Your dog should match your pace and be constantly looking to you for cues as to what to do next. You can slow down and speed up, come to a stop, or make abrupt turns to help challenge your dog. You may give your dog a brief potty break during the structured walk by stopping and saying ‘go potty’. Once they have eliminated or if they don’t after a minute or two, say ‘heel’ and return straight to the structured walk. This may take time for your dog to fully understand if they are used to being “in charge” during the walk. It is beneficial for you start out your 30-40 minute walk, mentally challenging your dog; afterwards they will be looking for some downtime, even if that means being in a crate.
Note: You do not have to do a structured walk when you get home and let your dog out of the crate; a more playful or relaxed exercise time is perfect. The structured walk is most beneficial prior to your dog being crated.
There is nothing wrong with crating your dog. In fact, it is one of the best ways you can ensure their safety while you are not home. Crates can actually be a happy, comfortable place for a dog. As long as you make sure that you train them to see the crate as a positive place to be and are giving them plenty of physical and mental exercise, a crate can be a wonderful tool to use.