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To Crate or Not to Crate: That is the Question

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Crate training

There seems to be so much controversy about crate training. Some people think it’s cruel and others think it’s the only way to keep a dog.

I understand how it got a bad name considering dogs in puppy mills are often kept in crates and cages 24 hours a day.

But that’s not what we are talking about here. We are talking about training your dog to think of his crate as his own little den, a place that is all his where he can go to be alone, relax or sleep.

Have you tried crate training a dog, but was overly frustrated with the results? Don’t worry; you’re not alone; countless pet owners feel the same way you do.

There is no need to fret! There is a very simple solution to your crate training problems! You won’t have to listen to that frustrating whining  keeping you up all hours of the night. Now you can go to work with the comfort of knowing your pet is safe and content, no longer living in anxious fear that their owner left them, never to return.

Any Alternatives to Crates?

Now I do have to mention, that not all dogs will take to crate training. In those cases, a playpen or a closed off room (kitchens and bathrooms are often good choices) might be a better choice. I have a dog who totally freaks out if she even sees a crate. I won’t even try it with her because I know she is just too afraid of them for some reason.

Crate Training a Dog the Proper Way

The original purpose, and what is still considered primary reason to crate train a dog is for housebreaking; dogs prefer not to soil their bedding if they can help it.

Step 1

Introduce your dog to their new crate. Let them walk around it, explore it, smell it. Talk with them in a happy, cheerful tone; praise them for entering and moving around their crate.

Consider tossing small food rewards into the crate every so often. The purpose of this early stage is to show them the crate means good things, it is a ‘happy’ place.

Leave the door/entrance to the crate open at this stage; let them choose when to enter and exit.

DO NOT force them inside the crate!

Step 2:

Begin feeding your dog their meals inside the crate. This will cause them to make yet another pleasant association.

If your dog seems comfortable with his/her crate, you may start to close the door while they are eating (but if they notice, and begin to whine to be let out, open the door!

The very first few times you do this, open the door immediately after they are done eating.

Step 3

Slowly begin to lengthen the ‘confinement’ periods during this stage of crate training and only do it while you are at home. For example- 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes,  40 minutes, etc. That is only one week’s’ worth of training periods, so it shouldn’t feel in any way overwhelming.

The Psychology of Crate Training a Dog

One of the main things to successfully crate train a dog, and consequently what so many pet owners fail to grasp, is understanding why a dog may become anxious around their crates when they are confined or when you leave them alone.

Dogs become anxious when their ‘pack leader’ leaves them in a confined area; they think either you are angry with them for some unknown reason, or you left them, and will never return.

This is why it is so very important to go about this process slowly and not further increase their anxiety by becoming agitated! You want the transition to be easy and smooth for them. They shouldn’t easily notice the duration you crate them is slowly increasing.

Repeat step 3 multiple times a day at first, always while you are home.

Step 4

Once your dog is comfortable being left crated for an hour or so, you can begin leaving them crated while not at home.

Don’t suddenly leap into crating them for the standard 9-5 work day! Dogs, very much unlike cats, are pack animals; such long duration are not natural to them. If you need to crate your dog while at work, be sure to gradually move up to it.

Think 8-9 Hours is Too Long to Crate Your Dog?

I won’t lie; this isn’t ideal. Hopefully you can come home at lunch time, or have a dog walker come in. Or if you are going to be gone for long periods of time, keep your dog blocked off in a room with access to water, some fun chew toys and a potty pad and just leave the crate in there with the door to it open.

Sometimes though, the crate is the only option you have.

If you think this is too long for dogs to be caged, that such periods are ‘cruel’, please consider this: The average shelter animals spend 80% or more of their lives in a cage that is often considered too small for them.

Though this may be considered a long time to crate a dog, the conditions you are offering almost certainly far outweigh the potential alternatives (which could range from living out their lives without a family to death at the end of a syringe, or even ‘humane’ suffocation via gas chamber).

Chihuahua crate training

Make It Natural

The proper way to crate train a dog focuses on their already natural affinity as a den animal. Your dog’s crate should feel like a home, a refuge, a place for him or her to feel safe. It should feel comfortable, lined with soft bedding (a blanket perhaps; they shouldn’t be exposed to metal lining the bottom of the crate). Leave a favorite toy in the crate with them.

What NOT to do:

  • Don’t crate your pet as a punishment.
  • Don’t associate the crate with yelling!
  • Don’t bother or try to play with your pet while they are in their crate if it can be avoided; in many cases, they sought refuge to be left alone.
  • Don’t call from work and try to leave a voice message on your machine for them to hear. This will only serve the exact opposite effect you’re going for, increasing their anxiety and confusion.
  • Don’t make an enormous deal before leaving for long hours each day. This, again, will likely increase the chances of ‘separation anxiety’. Rather act normal, like leaving is no issue to worry about and a mild occurrence. Try not to shower them with praise upon returning either, but rather treat your arrival home ‘matter of factly’.

Owners make this last mistake constantly! Keep In Mind: If not trained correctly, your dog can easily feel trapped and frustrated when crated.

Do you use a crate for your dog? Or have you tried and it just didn’t work out? Leave a comment and let us know about your experience and what you think about crate training.

Cathy signature Chi

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Lorraine Maharaj

Wednesday 17th of June 2020

My Chichi will go out but doesn’t like tall grass if it wet grass willnt. Go out I hate it my husband loves her but Sep will b 1 yr old what to do

Cathy

Wednesday 17th of June 2020

We just make sure the grass is cut short. Plus if it's raining, I know they won't go outside. So I lay potty pads down for them.

Nancy Davis

Sunday 5th of April 2020

I generally am all for crate training but do caution I had two dogs, one a small yorkiepoo and a small chihuahua who, while jumping excitedly in the crate got their jaws caught in the metal bars and were literally "hanging" !Had I not been there they could have broken their jaws or worse.They were thrashing around to get free, it was frightening

Cathy

Sunday 5th of April 2020

Yikes, that's scary Nancy!

Judith White

Friday 3rd of April 2020

I have crated my 3 year old mixed chihuahua since she was 6 weeks old. Now she poops and pees and messes up her bed, she also does her business on my carpet, She goes out 10 to 12 times a day her sister was born the same time and she does not do that. Please help me I am very frustrated. She also barks with a bark collar on with out being a shock collar.

Thank You

Cathy

Friday 3rd of April 2020

If this is something that recently started, then something is definitely going on. Can you think of any changes you made when around the time it started? Is that about the time you put the bark collar on?

rhonda Crumm

Monday 16th of December 2019

I have a chi and she loves her kennel she stays in there to take naps but the door is open and she has a big kennel to move around in and 4 blankets

Cathy

Monday 16th of December 2019

That's great Rhonda. She has her own little bedroom.

David

Monday 30th of July 2018

I got Rey when she was 9 weeks old. She's very shy and timid. She loves her crate and it's where she wants to stay all the time. No training needed. I put her down in front of it and in she went. She likes it in my lap or beside me on the bed too. I don't want to let her sleep with me because I might roll over on her so she's perfectly happy sleeping in the crate. I don't consider it cruel at all. It's her choice.

Cathy

Monday 30th of July 2018

Rey is so cute! Crating is perfect for your situation.