The Crate – A Vital Tool and How to Use It

labrador retriever puppy sitting in blue wire crate

The crate is one of the most vital pieces of equipment a dog owner can have for their dog, second only to the leash and collar. Providing a crate for your dog and training your dog to use it properly is one of the best gifts you could give them. Why? Because the crate is a dog’s sanctuary; a place where your dog can feel content and safe no matter the situation.

girl with long black pony tail petting small white and black puppy let out of a red pink wire crateEvery dog – from a new puppy to an old rescue dog – benefits from being crate trained. Your puppy doesn’t know the ways of the world. The crate is a place where your puppy can relax and calm itself, a place where the rules of the world are simple and easy to follow. 

For a newly adopted dog, especially a rescue or shelter dog, there’s a lot to take in: new people, new routine, new environment. The crate is a constant for your new dog to help it settle down, detox from learning all these new smells, faces, and activities. It also is the first aspect of structure for your dog that comes from you. The activity of training a solid crate command gives the dog context on where you stand as its new owner.

Even if you’ve had your dog for years, if they don’t know the benefits of the crate, they can learn to love it. And so can you! 

Understanding the Benefits of Crate Training

So how do you help your dog learn the comforts and joys of the crate?

You have to understand those comforts for yourself as your dog will perceive them. All too often, I work with owners who feel that the crate is a punishment. They believe any form of physical restraint or confinement is somehow cruel to a dog. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

So let’s be clear: the crate is a tool just like a leash or collar, and any tool can be misused either in ignorance or in abuse. This article is to help you understand the difference and use your crate to your dog’s benefit. You will also understand the disservice we as owners can inflict on our dogs by not using a crate at all. 

Your Dog’s Life Without a Crate

Imagine if you didn’t have a bedroom when you were a child. You had nowhere to go to be by yourself, to shut out the noise of the world and truly relax. How would you feel as a kid without somewhere to call your own? You’d probably be frustrated that you couldn’t have some time away from your parents or siblings. You might have building anxiety about what the world might throw at you next. 

These are the things your dog experiences without a crate. When your dog barks at anyone that walks by your house, that is a symptom of this anxiety, frustration, or simple boredom. These are symptoms of a lack of structure, trust, and respect in you. Jumping and barking at you for attention is the same. So is chewing up items that aren’t dog toys. All results of a dog that has never been taught structure by a trustworthy and respectable leader.

Recognize that, as a person, you can dwell on the idea that you don’t have a place to relax. A dog simply lives with what it has; they only know the world which you provide for them. If you don’t provide a crate and teach your dog how to use it, they will never know that they could be living a calmer, happier life with one.

It is your responsibility as your dog’s owner to create an environment that benefits your dog. The benefits outweigh your dog’s temporary disinterest or discomfort toward the crate. No different than a child not enjoying to brush their teeth. It is worth building the habit to avoid a mouthful of cavities as your child grows.

The Benefits of Crating and Teaching Your Dog An Off-Switch

Dogs are opportunists. They live in the moment and take advantage of opportunities they perceive will fulfill some need they have. 

Golden Doodle Dog Chewing Up Sofa CushionA dog without a crate has open access to everything around it 24/7. Sounds like a dream come true, right? Not exactly. Without restrictions or a place that represents calm and relaxation, your dog is left to believe that the world is and will always be accessible to it all the time. This is especially evident for puppies, who have little to no life experience yet.

That means your couch is ripe for chewing, as are your slippers and anything else you might leave in your puppy’s reach. It also means that your puppy will struggle or perhaps never learn how to turn off play-mode. 

Constant stimulation through play and affection leaves your puppy assuming there is nothing else but eat, sleep, attention, and play. Calm behavior becomes an unknown, and this can lead to bad behaviors like barking, pulling on leash, and chasing wildlife, other dogs, and even people.

That is not to say that crate training will fix any or all of these problems you may be having with your dog. What it means is that structure is the foundation that leads to a happy, well-behaved dog, and structure starts with a crate. It represents an off-switch, a time when play and affection are not appropriate. The crate is the tool to help you build this off-switch, but it is up to you as your dog’s owner to implement that off-switch. Practice both with and without the crate will get you there. You can learn more about ways beyond the crate to teach an off-switch here.

Get Started with Crate Training Your Dog

So how do you get started? There are a few things to consider when starting your dog on crate training. 

Know Your Crate

First, you need the right crate in the right size. Remember, your dog is an opportunist. If you give them the opportunity to perceive the crate as anything but what you want it to represent, they will. So to ensure your dog understands the purpose of the crate, you want a crate that doesn’t allow for fooling around.

Blue heeler dog inside a cream colored vari kennel dog carrier
I always recommend Vari Kennel dog carriers for my clients.

The crate is a place to lay down and relax, not to play. You want the crate to be just big enough for your dog to stand at the shoulder and turn around. This means your dog might not be able to hold it’s head fully upright while in the crate, and that is okay. We want your dog to be in a down, and if they can’t hold their head up high, they will naturally want to lay down to be more comfortable. This helps to make relaxation in the crate more automatic and natural. 

We also want the crate to be as quiet and relaxing as possible. I always recommend a carrier crate as opposed to a wire crate for this purpose. You can buy a cover for a wire crate, but your dog is a smart animal and as an opportunist may choose to entertain themselves with the cover by chewing on it through the bars. The carrier makes this a non-issue. I find carriers also to be better proportioned for the purposes of crate training. 

Know Your Dog, Work Your Dog

Second, you need to get an idea of how receptive your dog is to the crate. Some dogs embrace the crate on day one. Others resist the idea, recognizing that the crate is restrictive. Again, remember your dog is an opportunist. If your dog currently lives with tons of freedom, losing that freedom will seem like a bad thing at first. But this resistance is a symptom of your dog’s lack of respect and trust in you. Don’t let it hold you back. Once your dog understands the process and learns what the crate and structure means for them, your dog will learn to love it and love you more by respecting and trusting your judgment not only in regards to the crate, but in other aspects of their life as well. 

Know Yourself and Pace for Success

two mixed breed dogs in a wire crateThird, pace yourself as you introduce your dog to the crate. If your dog is comfortable with the crate, test how comfortable. If they don’t seem interested at all, break down the process into steps you can achieve incrementally. To help improve lace your dog’s food in the crate during meals and only allow them to eat when they eat in the crate. Teach a simple crate command and provide high-value reward for learning the command. Then increase the requirements of the command that earns the treat. 

All aspects of dog training, including obedience and crate training, require understanding of your dog’s body language. This knowledge ensures the training process goes smoothly and results in a happy, structured pup. Having a trainer available to walk you through the process and observe your dog’s behavior to help you set your pace of training appropriately can be the difference between a happy crated dog and a dog that protests every time you need to use the crate. 

The crate is a vital tool to help your dog live the best and happiest life it can with you. If you want to learn more about how to crate train your dog, whether it’s a puppy, a new rescue dog, or your life-long family pet, schedule a call with me today and I’ll talk you through the best process that will work for you and your dog. 

Virginia Houser

Virginia Houser

Virginia has been working with dogs for over 15 years. Her greatest passion is training dogs to be the perfect companion for their owners.

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