Use a dog’s natural instincts to help make crate training easy.
By Hilton Butler
Crate and potty training are by far the first essential lessons to be learned by a new canine family member. Crate or kennel training can be a taboo, but in my training and experience, I have found it to be an invaluable asset in many situations. Like any tool we discuss in the training of your dog, it is not the crate that is good or bad, but more so how it is used.
Crate size is the biggest and most-debated topic. Dogs are naturally den animals—the den is their home, a safe space where they can sleep and rest without the fear of danger or outside threat. In our world, a crate fulfills this natural need for a safe haven. If introduced and used correctly, the crate will be where your dog willingly chooses to sleep, hide when it storms and, quite possibly, lounge in at his own will.
Consider how your new puppy sees a crate. When a puppy is born, a few basic instincts are already ingrained—included in those is the fear of separation. A puppy can not survive on his own, so he’s able to move around but lacks supervision, instinct kicks in and stress and anxiety take hold; the puppy will make as much noise as he can so Momma Dog can easily find him. Even in nature, pups are left on their own at time. In these situations, the pups are put in a den—a small, cramped space usually without supervision. When denned, pups will normally stay quiet because of natural instincts to avoid attracting predators. These instincts don’t leave when we bring pups into our human environments.
Humans, for the most part, don’t want to be cramped into small spaces and have their movements limited, so we often buy large, spacious crates. But remember those instincts—if a pup has enough room to get up and walk around in the crate, but is without supervision, he’ll most likely do what comes naturally: make as much noise as possible to attract the attention of Momma Dog. Remember, dogs have no concept of time, and they can’t read a watch like we do. This is why ignoring the behavior rarely works—the pup will whine and cry for hours, hoping Momma Dog will find them. The longer that happens, the more stress and anxiety will increase. This is the root of separation anxiety.
Not all crates are created equal. While there are several types of crates to choose from, you’ll want to choose the best size and fit for your new family member. The two most popular crate types are plastic and metal crates.
• Plastic Dog Crates
Plastic crates provide less visibility to the occupant; if you plan to do quite a bit of traveling with your dog, however, this is a great option, as airlines require this type of crate to transport your animal. Plastic crates are also great for pups that need a little more security or show higher levels of anxiety, and ideal for sight hounds—like Dobermans, Greyhounds and Visalias—in homes that have higher levels of activity, as they cut down on visual and audible input.
The biggest draw back is the trough that often runs around the outside edge of the crate; this is designed to keep the dog out of its own urine while traveling. While potty training, however, it makes the pup less likely to hold his bladder because the crate removes the urine from the main area.
• Metal Dog Crates
Wire or metal crates are a top pick for several reasons: Their mesh-like, collapsible structure makes them easy to disassemble and transport, and provides a high level of visibility and ventilation for your pup while in the crate. Like plastic crates, metal crates are also easy to clean out should your pup have an accident. Sturdy and often escape-proof, these crates make a great option for growing dogs, as you can purchase a larger-size crate initially and easily close off the excess area with a divider while the dog’s smaller.
The ideal size of a crate should be about two inches longer than the dog from nose to tail—giving one inch in front and one inch behind—and tall enough so his back doesn’t touch the top. The pup should only have enough room to turn around and lie down; more room than this can encourage separation vocalization and contribute to potty-training accidents. Some breeds have drastic size difference between puppies and adult dogs, which is where crate divider are useful
If introduced correctly, your puppy will welcome and even enjoy spending time in his crate; it should never be a place of punishment. The crate can be used as a secure location when we are unable to supervise the pup, giving you both a welcome break. During training, provide corrections on the spot and then place the puppy in the crate, if needed. The process of going into the crate should never be the correction itself.
This is an excerpt from the full article—get the whole story in the Spring 2018 Chrome magazine, which is sent to all current APHA members. Not a member? Join or renew at apha.com/join.