Is crate training really necessary?
My job is to help people develop a successful relationship with their dogs. That often means helping them solve behavioral issues. Problems like jumping up or nuisance barking are generally simple enough to solve, but I also deal with dogs that have histories of aggressive behavior including biting humans.
In recent years, I’ve noticed a trend that I believe to be counterproductive to the dog-human relationship and it just may tie into the increase of behavior issues we’re seeing in the pet dog population.
Fewer people are teaching their dogs to tolerate being confined to a crate. I’m sure this trend has something to do with the fact that more people work flexible job schedules and they may not see the need to confine their dog because they don’t have to leave them alone for very long. But I also know that the topic of crate training creates conflict and a range of emotions for dog owners.
All too often people abandon ship on teaching their dog to tolerate a crate because the initial whining causes them to feel guilty or “cruel”. Some dog owners never even attempt to crate train the dog because they don’t see the necessity in using one.
In my opinion, crating is a critical life skill for dogs to learn. Here are a few of the reasons why:
Crate training helps when teaching housebreaking skills. As a general rule, dogs don’t like to eliminate in an area they are confined to. Having the dog in a crate when you cannot adequately supervise helps them learn to “hold it” until they are given access to an appropriate toileting area.
Crates keep a dog out of mischief when home alone. This not only saves valuables from being damaged, but also prevents a dog from accessing potentially dangerous or hazardous household items.
Crates provide a dog a safe space to retreat to when things get hectic. Crates offer a place of solitude for a dog in much the same way we humans retreat to our homes or a favorite room when we want to escape the hustle and bustle of our surroundings.
Being confined in some way is a requirement when a dog needs professional grooming, boarding, or overnight medical care. If the dog has not already had exposure and learned how to accept this, the unfamiliarity of confinement will be additional stress for a dog that is already away from home or ill. If for no other reason, this is a critical reason to teach your dog to accept being in a crate.
Dogs are safer confined to a crate when traveling by car, and if air travel is ever on your list of potential things to do with your dog, a crate will be a necessity.
Hopefully I’ve done my job in helping you understand how important it is to teach your dog to tolerate being confined to a crate. Now, let me share a few helpful ideas on how to do it:
Don’t use the crate as a punishment. If you’re frustrated and emotional every time you put your dog into a crate, your dog will certainly pick up on the negative emotions and learn to avoid being caught, or resist going into the crate.
Instead of being frustrated with your dog’s behavior, use the crate proactively to prevent your dog from getting into mischief. Crate your dog periodically throughout the day EVEN if you are at home. By using the crate periodically for VARYING lengths of time, your dog will not associate the crate with always being alone or always being confined for long stretches of time.
Help your dog develop a positive association with the crate by storing toys in it, feeding meals in it, or placing a treat inside for the dog to “discover”. If good things are routinely happening in and around the crate, the dog will develop a desire to be in and around it.
Don’t make a big deal out of leaving or returning. When you crate the dog be low-key to make it seem normal. Place an enticing chew toy in with your dog when you leave and when you return ignore over excitement and just casually let the dog out and walk away.
When first exposing your dog to a crate, let the dog explore it freely without closing the door. Put food and toys inside. Feed the dog his/her meals in the crate with the door open. As the dog becomes comfortable with the space, close the door for only a short period of time. Allow the dog to come back out BEFORE he/she starts to whine or gets nervous.
It is easiest to start crate training when your dog is still a pup, but even older dogs can learn to be calm and content when confined. You can use the tips outlined above but you can also help your e-collar literate dog adjust more quickly by incorporating his training into the process.
If you decide to add e-collar pressure to your “Kennel Up” command, remember to help your dog be successful by starting on leash as you escort him in to the kennel. Reward generously once he is inside and teach an “OK,” or release cue, to let him know when he can come out (rather than allowing him to push or bolt out).
Learning to accept being in a crate can be stressful for a dog. While most dogs learn with minimal stress, some do struggle with anxiety while learning and put up more resistance while learning. I encourage you to work through the stress. Be patient and help your dog learn this valuable skill. Doing so will help your dog build mental muscle.
Mental muscle means your dog becomes more resilient overall by learning HOW to cope with stress. Just as good parents teach their children to problem solve and handle stress, which in turn builds self-confidence, good dog owners should teach their canine companions how to handle stress so they learn to self-calm and be more at ease in varying environments.