Whether you leave them out overnight or put them away when you leave home, most dogs have a crate to call their own. Regardless of how often they use it, though, it's important that you teach them to recognize it as their own little "safe space" where they can go when they feel stressed, nervous, or just in need of a nap.
Crate training is naturally something that most puppy owners start the day they bring their new dog home. However, it's beneficial even for older dogs. At some point, every dog is going to need to be put away--whether for a few minutes or a few hours. For smaller dogs, crates are often the go-to means of transport, and that can be the case for larger dogs too.
However, whether your dog gets crated at home, on the go, or hardly ever, crate training still holds special importance in making sure that your dog feels confident and comfortable any place they find themselves. This advice can help you crate train your dog and help them see their crate as a safe space for them to relax.
#1 Treat Them to a Stay
Depending on your lifestyle, you may need to crate your dog when you're out of the house or at night while you sleep. This is especially true for puppies and new dogs who are not yet used to their surroundings and may be more likely to have an accident or get into trouble.
Whatever the case may be, get in the habit of giving your pet a small bite-sized treat when you put them into their crate or kennel. This helps them to associate it with a positive event rather than a bad one. In some training regimes, crates are used as a means of punishment, but experts actually advise against that.
While you may put your puppy away after they do something they aren't supposed to, the most effective training is all about positive reinforcement. Never force your dog into their crate or chase them into it. The crate should be somewhere they go in a calm and happy manner.
#2 Make It Comfortable
Even if you don't plan on keeping your dog in their crate for long periods of time, you should go the extra mile to make sure their crate is comfortable. A plush dog bed and even a bowl of water will help make sure that they are able to relax without stress or worry.
When it comes to size, you should make sure that your puppy can stand up completely without touching the top of the cage. They should have ample room to turn around and stretch out. The bigger the dog, the bigger the kennel you will need in order to ensure their comfort. For medium and large-sized dogs, consider an actual kennel (4' across or larger) over a traditional "crate" or cage as it will give them more area.
#3 Allow Free Entry and Exit
When you don't need to have your dog put away, be sure to leave the door open and allow them to enter and exit freely. This is the main aspect of creating a safe space for your pet. When crate trained properly, your dog will feel comfortable going into their crate at their leisure, which you'll likely see them do when they feel tired, stress, or in need of some time away.
When you need them to go into their crate, you should stick to one consistent command so they know exactly where they're headed. If your dog has been introduced properly to their cage, they should be excited to go into their own little area and lay down for a while.
#4 Avoid Long Periods of Isolation
While it is often necessary to crate a dog, they should spend no longer than a few hours in their cage each day--and even that is pushing it. The longer you intend to keep your dog caged, the bigger the cage they need so that they can stretch and move around at their own will. You should also include toys and plenty of comforts to keep them healthy and happy.
Remember that your dog needs a minimum of 60 minutes of active engagement every single day. That means, in addition to being out of the crate for the majority of the day, you need to spend at least an hour playing with or petting your dog. They need this attention and interaction in order to stay mentally and physically healthy.
For larger breeds and for more energetic dogs, this requirement can increase substantially. Consider your lifestyle and your dog's needs when figuring out the right approach to crating.
#5 Watch for Warning Signs
Your dog will tell you if they are not comfortable being crated or if they are being crated for too long. If they are tearing up their bedding or shredding their toys, that's a sign that they are not receiving enough exercise or enriching activities throughout the day. A lifestyle change is in order to ensure your dog is receiving adequate amounts of attention and physical activity.
Interactive dog toys can help supplement your dog's needs, but above all, you need to be engaging with them personally on walks, at the park, in the backyard, or even just around the house. Get them moving to stimulate both their brain and their body.
Other signs to look for that you might not find to be as noticeable include sores from laying down or sitting too much and scabs around their ears where they may begin excessive scratching as a sign of stress or discomfort. If your dog cries or begins to experience changes in behavior or appetite, these are also signs that they may be spending too much time isolated by themselves.
When your home, you should do your best to interact with your dog. When you're away, do everything you can to help them feel comfortable and safe. Whether they're caged frequently or always allowed free entry and exit, proper crate training can make a substantial difference in your dog's overall well-being.