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Posted on 04-06-2017

**The advice in this blog is not intended to replace training with a professional. All comments and opinions are that of Aleta McHardy, who is NOT a professional trainer**

It’s a Den, Not a Cage

I have often heard from people that putting a dog in a “cage” all day is cruel and you shouldn’t have a dog if you’re doing it, I agree! You shouldn’t be putting your dog into a cage all day long; however, you should be providing a safe location that is comfortable and allows them to relax in while you are away. If a crate is introduced incorrectly, it will come to represent anxiety and frustration – or a cage.

It is vitally important to become educated on how to create a place of comfort for your dog, especially if you’re away from home during the day for 8 or more consecutive hours. When introduced properly, a crate becomes your dog’s den. Wild dogs use dens as a place to sleep, hide from danger, raise a family, and find comfort, something that is naturally ingrained into your pet’s DNA.

My Dog Doesn’t Need It

Even if your dog doesn’t destroy the house, is well balanced, and stress free, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be positively conditioned to a crate. Often times, situations arise outside of our control in which a crate will be very beneficial.

If your dog were to become sick enough to require hospitalization, they would need to remain calm inside of a kennel at the veterinarian’s office. I can’t tell you how many dogs delay recovery due to the anxiety they experience inside a hospital kennel. If your dog already views a kennel as a safe and comfortable place, they will remain calm during treatments and ultimately have improved recovery times.

A dog that is calm during confinement will also do much better at grooming salons and boarding facilities. I personally know several dogs that have caused harm to themselves due to their inability to be comfortable in a crate. Dogs that behave frantically in a crate often experience broken teeth or lacerations in the mouth or on the paws, and could require expensive veterinary care.

Your dog also has a greater potential of becoming injured due to stress during airline transport or long distance travel, if they aren’t acclimated to brief confinement in a crate. Airline travel is already stressful enough without adding anxiety and fear from not being properly introduced to their “den”.

Getting Started

Start crate training as soon as you bring your new puppy home! If you have an older dog that has never been in a crate (7 years or older), it might not be possible for them to be completely calm for long periods, but it is still worth trying! My senior dog, Flash, was never crated until he was over 10 years old. His obvious anxiety while inside the crate made it a cage for him instead of a den. Since Flash wouldn’t destroy our house while we were away, we didn’t push the crate training beyond ensuring he wouldn’t hurt himself while confined.

When we got our puppy Brutus (now a 6 year old), we started crate training immediately. The process was helped along because his foster family had already started putting the puppies into crates from the beginning. We began our positive conditioning by feeding him inside of his crate and NEVER using his crate as a punishment of any kind. When dealing with puppies, this activity might be all that is needed to create a positive space to start.

Wait For Calm

Take the time to wait until they lay themselves down and are obviously relaxed before closing the door and walking away. This could take a while depending on the dog! If you aren’t sure what calm looks like, or if they continue to bark, whine, or paw at the door, please consult a professional for additional guidance. It is vital to do this the right way the first time so no negative associations are made.

If your dog willingly goes into the crate, but immediately turns around and tries to bolt out of it, quickly and calmly close the door before they succeed in leaving. Then once they have backed away and have calmed down, the door may open again. This helps them understand that the door only opens when they are calm and not crowding the door. Repeat this exercise until they are willing to sit in the crate with the door open without leaving. Once you’ve succeeded in achieving a calm relaxed dog, you may close the door and walk away.

Remember, You’re The Den Boss

It should always be your idea, not your dog’s, to leave the crate. Wait for excitement to subside, and then open the crate door. If your dog tries to bolt out without being invited, repeat the steps you practiced when putting them into the crate. Once they are completely calm and willing to stay in the crate with the door open, invite them out calmly. It is important not to create a lot of excitement with this exercise.

What Success Looks Like

For the first several years after initially crate training Brutus, we kept him crated any time we were out of the house. We also had him sleep in his crate at night during that time. Today, Brutus’ crate remains in a quiet area of the house with the door open all of the time. He chooses to sleep inside of it every night on his own, as well as several times during the day when he needs a rest. If he encounters people or children in our house that make him feel nervous, he has a comfortable place to go to get away and be calm.

I have experienced both sides of this argument. We had one dog that we didn’t crate, and one that we did. I can tell you with confidence that Brutus is a much more balanced, calm, and happy dog than Flash was. Flash was never calm at the veterinarian’s office, and he would often soil himself if he were left in a kennel. Brutus, on the other hand, loves being at the vet, loves the staff, and calmly waits to be picked up. This makes the overall experience much more positive for the staff, but most importantly for your pet! We can’t explain to them that they won’t be at the vet for forever, but we can set them up to feel comfortable instead of fearful and anxious.

Training Resources:

Each of these trainers provides the appropriate guidance required for successful crate training.

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