Sunday, February 24, 2013

Crate Training

I know that there is some debate about crate training.

My job, as the veterinarian, is to help keep your pet safe. But I also understand that your puppy also needs to be happy, socialized, and that they are a part of your family. I recommend crate training because I believe that your pet is safest when they are in their own home and unable to get into trouble freely roaming about yours. I have seen dogs and puppies befall terrible accidents and even some fatal tragedies because they weren't safely tucked away in their own bed.

I was just at a veterinary conference the other day. We were discussing orthopedic surgery. The lecturer mentioned many times that "for those dogs that were crate trained recovery from surgery was much easier and their recovery much more successful." You see we cannot always be with our pets, and they from time to time will need rest and relaxation as part of their recovery process so being able to put them in a crate where they are calm and comfortable allows their bodies to heal. From my own experience my 17 year old beagle who now cannot see or hear very well and who wanders randomly at all odd hours of day and night, and who has also become urinary and fecally incontinent has had to re-discover her crate as a method of keeping her safe and sound from the mishaps of falling down stairs, getting stuck in corners and crevices of our home and in her inability to remember her house-broken training.

There are a few ground rules to talk about before we go into the thoughts, methods, and reasons for crate training.

A crate should never be used for punishment. It is only to be used as a safe haven. I think that putting a puppy in a crate (although they will hate it for a while until they are used to it) is the safest place for them. It should be big enough for them to be able to get up and walk around and have room enough for a bed. Be careful with bedding. Aggressive chewers should not have anything they can chew up and ingest. And a stressed puppy is very likely to use their bedding as a pacifier, which is treacherously dangerous. I usually don’t recommend leaving water in the crate, but if you are going to be away for longer than 6 hours it’s a good idea to leave them some water. Leave just enough for a few hours, not enough to drown in, or soak the bedding, just in case it gets knocked over. Puppies are usually not able to hold their urine for longer than 6 hours until she is over 6 months old. So leave lots of washable bedding in their crate just in case they have an accident.

The secret to crate training is to gently, quietly and calmly put them in the crate. Here's what I do; I give them a treat and tell them that "I am going to be back soon, that they are a good dogs, and that I love them." I then close the door and walk away. Don’t try to talk them into calming down. They are not going to listen, or understand you, and they will think that you are talking to torture them. If you stand there and try to reason with them you will feel terrible and break down and let them out. This teaches them that if they cry long enough and pitifully enough that you will buckle, give up, and reward them with release. Within a few days, if you stay strong, they learn that their crate is their space where they are safe and secure. Most of my clients leave the crate door open when their pet isn't in it and often tell me that if the house gets loud or if they want a nap they head to their crate and put themselves to bed.

Never yell at them in their crate and never punish them by putting or forcing them into the crate. Their crate is their safe, comfy, home, and we never want to make them afraid of their safe home.

When you come home go to the cage, open the door, pick up your puppy and go immediately to the door to take them outside. Don’t make a huge deal about your arrival. The idea is to keep everyone's emotions on a level plane as much as possible. Separation anxiety happens to pets that become so dependent on their parents that they cannot function without them. Your puppy will be happy to see you and you can give them lots of praise when they go out and go to the bathroom, but we are not building an unhealthy obsession with reuniting.

Charlie, running to his crate. He knows a snack awaits!

Charlie sleeps on the bed right next to his crate every night.
His crate is always open and he is  comfortable in  the crate, or on his bed right outside the crate.

For the next few weeks I would suggest you dispose of the feces every time they defecate. This helps get everyone in the practice of keeping a clean, disease, and parasite free environment, and some pets have the yucky habit of eating poop, which is easier to avoid then to try to resolve if it starts. Every puppy needs to learn how to be house broken, and how to hold their urine and feces, so expect that they will have accidents until their new routine with you is understood. Be consistent and always, always be patient and kind.

Everything is trainable if you are patient and kind.

Try to stick to a routine with everything you do. It will help them learn faster, they will trust you, and they will stick to you for protection, guidance, and love.

If you have a crate training or puppy training question, please visit We are a free pet centered community created to help you take better care of your pets. Pawbly is free to use and open to everyone.

You can also find me at the clinic, Jarrettsville Vet, where I see appointments. We are open 7 days a week and we specialize in assisting with many types of behavioral issues.

I am also on Twitter @FreePetAdvice.

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