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Crate Training 


Any time you bring a new dog into your home, it's a good idea to use a crate to help establish boundaries, teach potty training if necessary, and give your dog a safe place as he adapts to a new household and new routines. Your dog may prove to be an angel when left alone, with no bad habits, but teaching him to be comfortable in a crate will still be to everyone's advantage should he ever need to spend time at the vet, in boarding, or traveling in a crate.


You do need to teach a dog to be comfortable in a crate. That means all his needs must be met in there, especially always having access to clean fresh water. Don't use the hamster bottles unless the dog is traveling in a crate; dogs aren't hamsters and they have to work to hard to drink that way. You can get a water bowl that attaches to the side or the door of the crate so he can't spill the water or play in it.


Little puppies, used to being with litter mates, won't like being left alone while older dogs may panic at suddenly being confined. Each dog will react as an individual, but the basic method is the same. Doing this correctly will make the crate a safe and happy place for your dog, and can help prevent an onset of separation anxiety. While it would be ideal to be able to go through the training period without having to crate your dog at all for any reason, that's just not reality for most people. Unless you're training a well behaved dog that you've had for a while, you still want to crate the dog when you're away until it's earned having free run of the house, and probably at night, especially if you're working on potty training. So there will be times when you'll just put the dog in it's crate, and other times when you'll be doing the training. In both circumstances, you'll want to stay calm, keep the energy low, speak quietly, and not make a big deal about the crate.


First, make sure the crate you are using is the right size. It should be big enough for your dog to stand up, turn around, and stretch out when laying down. If you need to house train your dog it's very important that it not be so big that the dog can sleep on one end and potty on the other and avoid it. If you have a growing dog, look for a wire crate with a moveable/removeable interior piece that lets you make the crate space smaller. Plastic crates can be used, but they are really meant for transport and aren't as easy to clean as the wire ones which typically have a bottom tray that slides out for easy cleaning. They are also easier to store when not in use.


When you set up the crate, randomly sprinkle some treats in there and let the dog go in and find them, then walk out again. You want to make the crate a good space he wants to enter and explore. If you are not also potty training a puppy, start feeding your dog in the crate (puppies need to learn to make clean spaces so the routine is a little different).  If your dog balks at going all the way in to eat, put the food closer to the door so he can just put his head and shoulders in at first. As he becomes comfortable with that, start moving the bowl further in until he is finally all the way and eating. If he refuses to even put his head and shoulders in at first, just pick the food up and try again in a little while. He is not going to starve, but he will get hungry enough to over come his reluctance. Once he starts eating, if he comes out to check in with you and goes back in to eat more, let him do that. If he walks out and doesn't check in with you but goes to check out something else, leave the food for a while so he can go back and eat more. Don't leave it long enough to get stale or nasty.


You will keep the crate door open at all times during this part of the training, until he is completely comfortable going in to eat and coming out again.


As soon as your dog is readily going into the crate to find the treats you've been scattering you will also start to do actual exercises with him in addition to feeding him in the crate. 


Choose a high value food item, like a raw marrow bone, frozen stuff Kong, or yak milk chew. It needs to be something long lasting that your dog can settle with to lick and chew, and he ONLY gets it when he's in the crate and you will be (eventually) shutting the door. Have your dog follow you to the crate and throw the Kong or bone into the crate so he follows it in. If he picks it up and starts to bring it out of the crate, stop him by sticking a treat under his nose before his head exits the crate. We want him to drop the Kong/bone. Then give him the treat as you pick up the Kong and toss it back into the crate. Repeat no more than 3 times, and the last time, after you trade for the treat say "all done" and put the Kong/bone away. He's never allowed to take it out of the crate. Repeat this exercise until he realizes that if he wants the Kong/bone he has to stay in the crate to enjoy it. Let him do that with the door open, and stay close so if at any point he tries to bring it out you can trade him.  He is allowed to exit the crate anytime, he just can't take his special treat. 

Once he is automatically settling down with his Kong/bone and staying with it a while, start shutting the door. Don't latch it, just close it. If he sees that and comes to the door, let him out immediately. He doesn't get to take the Kong/bone. After a few times of this he will realize it's ok that the door is shut and he will continue to enjoy his treat. When he's done and comes to the door you let him out. After he's done this a few times, start latching the door. If the sound makes him come to the door, let him out. When he's ok with you latching it you'll let him out as soon as he comes to the door when he's done with his treat. 

Now you start delaying letting him out. When he comes to the door after finishing his treat, wait 2 seconds before you let him. When he's experienced that a few times and been ok, make it 5 seconds. Then 10 seconds, 30 seconds, a minute, 3 minutes, 5 minutes. If at any time he starts to bark or whine or paw the door, immediately let him out and next time drop back to a shorter period of time. The goal is to keep him under his reaction threshold.

Being Crated Doesn't Mean Being Alone

You don't want your dog to associate being put in his crate with being left alone for long periods. To counter this, have your dog hang out in his crate when you're sitting in the room with him. Put him in there and give him something really good to lick and chew on. A frozen stuffed Kong, bully stick or pig's ear are all good choices. It should be something high value that he only gets when he's in his crate. Then just hang out. You can watch TV, work on your computer, read a book, whatever you enjoy. You're not going to talk with him or interact in any way, but you're not going to leave him alone either. Now and then, get up and walk out the door and immediately back in again so he sees that you leaving doesn't mean he's left alone (since you come right back). Over time you can increase the time (see "Leaving Without Anxiety" for details). There's no fixed time for this exercise, but in the early stages watch for signs that he's getting agitated, such as losing interest in the chew toy, staring at you, pacing in his crate, etc. You want o let him out, without any fanfare, while he's still calm. As he gets more used to it, increase the time, but always vary it; sometimes he'll be in the crate for 5 minutes, sometimes 30 minutes. If he starts whining or barking, ignore it until he stops and then immediately let him out.

Guidelines for Puppies

Young puppies shouldn't spend hours in the crate (except at night when they can sleep through the night, and the crate should be in your room so you can take them out if they wake and need to potty). Here are some guidelines:


8-10 weeks: 30-60 minutes

11-14 weeks: 1-3 hours

15-17 weeks: 3-4 hours

18+ weeks: 4-6 hours

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