If you visit my house during a busy summer day, along with my neighbors, friends, and family while the grill is on, the music is playing, and kids are racing through the backyard—it’s likely that you won’t see one of my dogs. She loves people, but once she’s had enough, she’ll quietly retreat to her safe place. For dogs, that might be their dog kennels. For my dog, I know this to be the case.
No one told her to go to her kennel (and I don’t even keep the door on her kennel), but her kennel is her own personal den where she knows it’s safe and no one will bother her. (I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that the kennel floor is covered in blankets.)
A crate isn’t a punishment and is definitely not cruel to give your dog his own “room,” which is what a crate essentially is to a dog. A crate provides protection (both for your dog and your stuff), helps with housebreaking, and can help protect your dog when traveling by car. A crate may end up a necessary part of your dog’s future—your motel might require you to crate your dog when not in the room, or your pup might need to be restricted when recovering from surgery. Getting your dog used to the crate now will help make these things less stressful, should they occur, in the future.
You can find a variety of crates at any pet supply store. You just want to be sure your pup has enough room to stand up and turn around in. If he’s still growing, consider upgrading to a larger crate down the road, or invest in a crate divider to prevent soiling if your puppy has lots of extra space in his den. The main crate options are plastic, metal, or fabric. Keep in mind that fabric crates, which are fantastically portable, have zipper closures, which some dogs—mine included—can learn to open. (Not a fun realization during housebreaking.)
Crate training can take weeks, depending on your dog’s temperament and past experiences—but that’s okay. Just remember that the crate should never be used as a punishment. Set the crate up wherever it will live in your home, and leave the door open. Depending on your dogs’ behavior and breed it may have a preference of inside or outside. Determine which one it could be, and you may find you’re also searching for an outdoor dog pen for your canine friend to feel comfortable in. You can put his favorite blanket and toy in the crate, and lure him further in with a treat every so often. You can eventually build up to feeding meals in the crate. Don’t shut your dog in until he’s comfortable going completely in on his own. Once he’s reached that point, start crating for small periods of time each day.
The rule of thumb for crating puppies is no longer than one hour per each month of age, up to ten hours max for adult, housetrained dogs. If that’s too long for your dog, consider hiring a midday dog walker.
If your dog doesn’t like the crate—he whines or is nervous or panics in the crate, try getting him used to it even slower. If your pup is just whining or barking in the crate, try to ignore it. If you give your dog any attention or let him out while he’s making noise, he’ll figure out that it works and just try harder next time. If you think your pup is whining to go outside, let him out to eliminate, but then return him immediately to his crate until it’s time to come out.
If your dog is afraid or nervous about going into the crate, start out by getting him to walk under a table or suspended blanket before trying to coax him into a more enclosed crate. After your dog is used to less scary objects, try to—slowly—get him used to going into and out of the crate again.
If your dog panics in the crate, let him out so he doesn’t injure himself and talk to your vet or an animal behaviorist. Some dogs have a rough past, or simply don’t like such an enclosed space. If this is your dog, don’t force it.
Many dogs learn to love their crate, and it turns into their own personal den. It might even become your pup’s favorite place for mealtimes, chew time, bedtime…
By Rachel Leisemann Immel