We all need our own special place to "get away from it all" — even the family pet. For humans, that special place might be the bedroom or den. For the family dog, it could be his crate.
Pet owners not familiar with the benefits of dog crates may think that crating is cruel. However, our pet dogs carry an instinctual drive to find a den inherited from their ancestors, the wolves. In the wild, wolves seek out a den for sleeping and protection and many dog owners can attest to the fact that the family dog will seek out a protected place when he is tired, ill or frightened.
What to choose
There are several styles of crates available in a range of prices. Be sure to choose one that is solidly constructed and made of materials that are easy to clean and disinfect. There should be no sharp edges on which your dog can be injured.
Sizing is the most important factor in selecting a crate. It should be large enough so your pet can lie down and stretch out on his side. He should also be able to sit up without hitting his head on the top of the crate, and should be able to turn around easily. It is better to choose a crate that is a little too large, than one that is too small.
However, placing a young puppy in a crate that is much too large will defeat the purpose of crating. If you don’t want to purchase several crates as your puppy grows, choose one for her adult size, and then reduce the space with a removable partition that can be moved as puppy grows.
How to use a crate
The best place to put the crate is in a room that is close to the action in your home — like the kitchen or the family room. Always choose a location where your pet can feel that he is part of the family, even when he is in the crate.
If the crate doesn’t have a floor pan, put a piece of corrugated cardboard at the bottom. Do not use newspaper, however, because its odor can encourage your pet to eliminate in the crate. Then, add an old towel or blanket that can be laundered for warmth and comfort.
If you have chosen a wire crate, it’s a good idea to place it in a corner or cover the sides and back with a blanket or large towel to give your dog a greater sense of security and privacy.
Introducing your dog
Introduce your dog to the crate slowly. When you first set up the crate, encourage your dog to investigate it. Lure her inside by putting a favorite treat or a bit of cheese in the far end. Permit her to retrieve the treat, then to turn around and come out. Praise her warmly. You can also try tossing favorite toys in the crate for her to retrieve. Once she enters the crate confidently, coax her to lie down and relax.
Don’t close the door or confine her in the crate during these first few explorations. You want her to become comfortable with this new space. After a few days of introduction, shut the door briefly, while you sit beside the crate. Be firm if your dog objects; don’t open the door until she settles down quietly.
Once you have established this groundwork, you can gradually leave your dog in the closed crate for longer and longer periods. Start with 10 to 15 minutes, and work up to several hours. Provide toys and chewies for entertainment.
Don’t abuse the crate
Once the crate is established, you can use it to your advantage to aid in housetraining your puppy, in helping your pet overcome separation anxiety, and even in learning appropriate behaviors.
Never, however, confine your dog to his crate with the door closed for long periods of time. Dogs need exercise and interaction with their family members. It is also very important never to use the crate as a punishment. If you confine your dog in anger, he will not know why you are upset, but will begin to associate the crate with unpleasant situations instead of welcoming it as a refuge.
As the crate evolves into your pet’s sanctuary, she will seek it out whenever she feels the need for a den. Let her enjoy her private space where she can feel safe and protected while having her family close at hand.
For more advice on using a crate as a training aid, consult with a professional dog trainer. To find a professional trainer near you, contact you local Best Friends. See the Centers section of this website.