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Crate Training 101

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Crates can be an invaluable tool for pets and their owners. They can help you with house training your pet and give him a safe, quiet place to rest when you can’t keep an eye on him or anytime he needs a little refuge. While some pet parents feel guilty using them, you shouldn’t. Dog crates have many positive behavioral benefits, and many animals actually enjoy their crates. We’ll show you how to introduce your dog or cat to a crate gradually and use it properly to ensure a positive experience.

Is Crate Training Mean?

We know. It looks like a jail. But while you may feel bad locking your puppy away in his crate, he may find it a comforting place. According to Dr. Caroline Botwater of Southbay Veterinary Clinic in Rhode Island, as long as the crate is treated like a den or safe space, rather than a punishment or a place where he’s confined for long periods, your pet will develop a positive association with it.

“One of the biggest mistakes puppy owners make is giving their new little buddy too much freedom,” said Dr. Botwater. “But crate training is temporary, and you’ll feel worse when you have an adult dog who is going to the bathroom all over your house! Most pets enjoy their den.”

How Long Is Too Long?

Once your pup is done house training, it’s completely fine to put your pet in the crate overnight to sleep. However, during the day, make sure your pal has plenty of exercise and time outside the crate. If you work outside the home and your dog is crated while you’re away, it may be a good idea to come home at lunch or hire a dog walker to take him out midday to give him a break and get rid of excess energy. Otherwise, he’ll be overexcited and hyper when you get home after a long day.

What to Look for in a Crate

It’s important to get a crate that is not too big, otherwise the puppy can sleep on one side and use the other to go to the bathroom. The crate should be big enough so that the animal can stretch out, lie down and turn around comfortably. When they’re young, they can grow very quickly, so it’s often more cost-effective to get one large crate, such as the MidWest Life Stages version, which has a built-in divider you can use to make it smaller for a young puppy.

When choosing a crate, consider your different options. Wire crates usually have a slide-out bottom, which makes cleaning it very easy, and they tend to be less expensive. They also are collapsible and can be folded away when needed. Plastic kennels can provide your pet with more of a sense of security, since it will feel more den-like. Soft crates can be ideal for travel or in your car, but because they are harder to clean, are best used for older dogs who are beyond house training. If you want the crate to blend in with your décor, deluxe versions are available in wood or wicker that look like regular furniture.

Crate training is not just a very efficient puppy potty training method; it’s an excellent way to provide your dog with a safe and secure place. With patience and positive association, your buddy will view the crate as his special den.

Crate Training Dogs: To crate train your pet, follow these steps, keeping in mind that some steps might take a few hours or even a few days:

• Place the clean crate with a soft towel and a toy or two in a room your puppy uses, such as a living room or kitchen.

• Let your puppy see you reaching into the crate to place the toy, then step away from it and leave the door open.

• Let your puppy investigate it, enter the crate and come out on his own.

• Next, toss a treat or a highly desirable toy into the crate. When the puppy goes in, shut the crate door for just a few seconds, then open it again.

• Continue the process of letting him go in and closing the door for just a few seconds several times.

• Once the dog seems comfortable with that, shut the door for longer lengths of time, working up to five minutes. Do not stay within eyesight of the puppy. If he cries, do not let him out until he’s quiet.

• When your pup isn’t in his crate, play with him around the crate, occasionally tossing a toy or treat into it. Over time, he will see it as a nice, soothing place he can go to when he’s tired or overwhelmed.

Crates are effective for puppy potty training  because, instinctively, your puppy will not want to soil his bed. However, do remember that young puppies cannot “hold it” very long. At six weeks, it might only be four hours at most. Take your pal out on a regular schedule, starting every hour or so and slowly building up the time in between outside bathroom breaks as he gets older. When he comes out of the crate, take him outside right away to relieve himself. Once he goes, praise him and play for a bit before returning him to his crate.

Crate Training Cats: Although you wouldn’t crate train your cat for housebreaking or for use in the home, you can get your cat to be more comfortable in a crate to make car rides and trips to the vet less stressful. 

Cats generally enjoy crates with more secure walls, such as a plastic pet carrier. Making it feel cozy, with blankets or liners and toys, can help your cat get used to it more quickly. Just like training a dog, you can use treats or catnip toys to lure your pet inside. You can also try spraying the carrier with a calming spray to create a less stressful environment.

When he seems comfortable going in and out, close the door for just a few seconds and then let him out. Keep extending the time the door is closed gradually, until the cat is used to relaxing in the crate with the door closed.

Do not use the crate to try to calm down or trap cats that are already stressed. This will give your cat a negative association and will make him feel even more scared instead of relaxed. Also remember that you are only trying to get your cat used to the crate for travel and do not leave him inside for long around the house.