To Crate or Not to Crate
Updated: Mar 15, 2020
That is the question.....
With apologies to Willie Shakespeare, if one is considering whether to crate your puppy or not, one needs to really know thyself.
If you are okay with a dog always at your side and, perhaps, in your bed then this blog is not for you. However, if you are needing some time and space as well as believe that dogs are essentially den animals, then read on.....
As an overarching goal, you want your dog to feel secure and tranquil in their den...errr...crate.
One needs to be both consistent and patient. A consistent approach will have the pup eventually understanding the crate is normal and an acceptable space for him/her. Patience is an emotion you will need to draw on as the pup learns the desired crate behaviors while “testing” you along the way.
The Nuts and Bolts
The crate needs to be large enough for the pup to stand up and turn around. You want to avoid a crate so small that the pup cannot comfortably reposition. However, the crate cannot be so big the pup can “do their business” in one part of the crate and sleep in another part of the crate. Some crates have a partition feature, allowing you to buy a crate large enough for the puppy to grow into while adjusting the space for an appropriate size for the puppy. These crates are probably the most budget conscious and space friendly. Budget conscious, as you need to only buy one crate. The crate also allows you to “ set and forget” once you find the best space for the cage in your home.
Crates are usually either metal or plastic. Some can also double for air, auto and train travel. I would recommend also have both water and feed accessories for the crate to use when the circumstances arise.
Yeah, bribery is usually something best avoided. However, we are in the dog world. I would highly recommend getting your bribery skills up to speed coupled with patience. After all the best bribe is earned and the final act in a well choreographed play.
Use treats to entice your pup into the crate. Initially, you may have to “breadcrumb “ your pup into the crate. Place your pup near the crate opening, and while using a personalized keyword(s) and tone set the treat near crate entrance. As the pup works toward the treat, keeping praising the pup and place an additional treat in the crate. Once the pup has gone into the crate, slowly and deliberately shut the crate door. Best to calmly and deliberately leave the room or space.
The crate will only be effective if the puppy believes the crate is safe and temporary. With that in mind, avoid using the crate for both discipline and extended “ stays”.
When disciplining your puppy do not use the crate as a tool (there will be a future discipline blog - watch this space). If you use the crate as a disciplinary tool, the puppy will consider the crate as space to be avoided and filled with discomfort. You will undermine your goal of crate training.
I would recommend using the crate when needing to run errands, short trips, when you need some uninterrupted time, etc and may not want to include the puppy. Best to limit the crate time to a maximum of a couple of hours during the day.
Make the crate as inviting as possible. A few ideas that work include, putting their favorite toy in the crate, one of your own old shirts ( t shirts are best) [placed in the crate, a white noise feature to help them relax. You may have to ad lib a bit as dogs, like humans, are a bit unique. Keep experimenting, and once you discover the right formula, it has it rewarding.
I would recommend using the crate when car and/or air traveling. It is safest for all involved. Make sure you anchor the crate so it does not move around or shift suddenly when in the auto. It also keeps the puppy from free roaming in the car.
If air traveling, recommend a water and food dish be included. You may not need it for short air travel but with the inevitable air travel delays, you are prepared to meet the puppy’s nutrition needs and keep them on a food schedule.
The Food and Potty Schedule
Keep the feed schedule as regular as possible. Getting the puppy into a routine provides easier activity management for both the puppy and the owner. The puppy’s potty behavior and hungry patterns will be easier to anticipate react to accordingly.
This will allow for crating to be more carefree as well. After all, if you know their eating and potty schedules, when using the crate you will not have as many “surprises”.
I would recommend not feeding the dog within a couple hours of night time crating. This will allow the puppy enough time for their “business” and be less prone to night time potty breaks and/or crate “disasters”.
I hope all this helps with what is sure to be a rewarding, life fulfilling and uplifting experience - bonding with your new puppy.