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Crate Training or Not?

by Samantha Rawson CAAB, The Canine College

Crate Training or Not?

Samantha Rawson CAAB. The Canine College.

In times past dogs were curtailed to the kitchen. Modern living seems to promote and favour open plan living, however this is not always conducive to the training and management of your family dog.  A house with doors and segregated areas make it much easier to control the movement of the pup/dog around the home.  This is particularly important for the safety of the dog, the housetraining process and the prevention of the development of behaviour problems.
What is an indoor kennel/crate?  Why are they a useful training aid?
An indoor kennel or crate is a wire cage that contains the dog within the home or indoor space. The dog can see out of it and it should be large enough for the dog to stand up and move around so that it can adjust their resting position. They have been used a lot by professional dog handlers, vets, groomers and those in the business of showing dogs to keep dogs safe in potentially dangerous or hazardous areas.  Now they are used in the domestic home to keep pups safely away from the dangers within the home, much like the old-fashioned children’s play pens. Indoor dog kennels or crates are also a very useful aid to the house-training process for pups and young dogs.

Will the dog view its crate/rest area as a place of punishment?

Dogs read our body language and are very sensitive to our emotions. The dog will only associate the crate with punishment if you are emotionally aroused or angry when you put it in there. If you are quiet and calm when you guide the dog into its crate, the dog will not view it as a place of punishment.  The crate is always the dog’s safe space.Pups are very mobile very curious, very fast and very destructive.  Crates are used to keep your dog out of mischief and to save your property and your sanity!

Introducing the pup to its own safe space/nest area within your home.
The best time to introduce the pup to the crate is as soon as possible if the pup is under twelve weeks of age.  Most reputable breeders will have already done some crate training with your pup before you collect it. A small piece of bedding containing the bitch’s and/or litter mates’ scent will help the pup to transition to its new home. You can place this material on top of the pup’s comfy bed within the crate. After the pup has relieved itself in the garden and is suitably tired after their eventful day, pop the dog in the crate, close the door and sit with it and wait for the pup to fall asleep. While it is asleep open the door so that the dog does not feel trapped when it wakes. For overnight or anytime you cannot be with the pup it is preferable to enclose the crate within a safely penned area or in a utility room with a baby gate to secure it.
Introducing the crate to an older dog.
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The crate should be well manufactured and structurally sound.  Branded crates are preferable to mass produced inferior copies which can prove inadequate and at best unsafe, at worst dangerous.   The safety and welfare of the pup/dog should be paramount. Set up the crate in a quiet corner of the room away from the busiest area of the house but not in an isolated area. Place a cover over the top of it.  You can buy crate covers online.  Dogs are den animals and seek safety and security in small dark spaces. The crate should be large enough to allow the dog to stand up and move around within the crate.  Place a soft comfortable bed slightly raised off the base within the crate.  This bed should be the only comfortable bed available in the room.  This helps the dogs to choose the crate as the best place to rest.
·       Dogs are curious animals. When the dog is out of sight, place some treats or a gift for the dog to discover. If this is repeated over the first few days, the dog will learn to associate the crate with random rewards. Feed the dog in the crate with the door open.  Do not attempt to shut the dog in the crate until it is happy to walk in and out of it looking for treats and it chooses to lie on his/her bed in the crate.
·       After the crate has been up for a few days, the dog can be introduced to the crate when it is tired after a walk or a game of retrieve or a nose work game.   THE DOG MUST BE BOTH PHYSICALLY AND MENTALLY TIRED.
·        Lure the dog into the crate with some tasty titbits or some other suitable pacifier, i.e. a stuffed Kong or a rawhide chew or a lick mat.  While the dog is distracted eating the treats quietly close the gate and sit nearby without looking at the dog or giving it any direct attention.
·        If the dog objects just wait for a few minuets for the dog to relax.  THE BIG MISTAKE PEOPLE MAKE IS NOT WAITING LONG ENOUGH.  The dog may whine scrape and object but will soon settle down and accept the curtailment.   When the dog has relaxed, and the whining has stopped or reduced to a whimper the dog can be let out of the crate. Listen out for the ‘sigh of resignation’ which is a little whimper just before they settle down.
·        When the dog is settled wait for another few minuets and quietly let the dog out without any fuss or praise.  Repeat the process at least three times.  This repetition allows the dog to learn that it is not trapped, and it will get out.
·       The process should last no more than five to ten minutes in the initial stages.  This can be repeated over the next week or so , slowly increasing the amount of time the dog is in the crate.  This must be done slowly so that your dog can easily adapt and accept the curtailment while you are nearby.
·        DO NOT BE TEMPTED TO LEAVE THE ROOM.  Once a dog is happy to settle in the crate for a period of up to an hour in your presence, you can leave the room for short intervals and move around your home. Using a dogcam will help you to observe your dog when you are not in the room.
·        Once a dog can settle quietly in the crate while you are out of the room for up to two hours you can then leave the house for two hours and use the app on your smart phone to check in on your dog.
·        It is important not to allow your dog to see you leave the house. When a dog can be left in a crate for a maximum of up to four hours during the day, it can then be trusted to settle in the crate overnight.  Your dog should be quite content in the crate while you leave the room before you ever attempt to leave the house.  DO NOT EXPECT TOO MUCH TOO SOON.  FESTINA LENTE.  MAKE HASTE SLOWLY.

How to distinguish stress from distress. Crates are not suitable for every dog.
Stress is a normal part of life; it helps build resilience and teaches us how to cope with frustration. All learning contains some stress.  Distress can be used to describe a state in which an animal, unable to adapt to one or more stressors, is no longer successfully coping with its environment and its well-being is compromised. Signs of distress would be screaming, drooling salivation, trying to paw or chew its way out to the point of injury.  If a dog shows signs of distress, then crate training should be abandoned.  Curtailing the dog within a utility room with a baby gate which allows the dog freer space to move around may be a safer alternative. I would recommend baby gates to curtail rescue or recently rehomed or anxious dogs.

For further information or if you need assistance to crate train your dog please contact Samantha at samantha@samantharawson.ie

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