Positive trainers see the multiple value of crate training. Most of us love our crates. We use them in a variety of settings for training. I have four crates for my three dogs, which they use daily. They love their crates.
There are articles, book chapters and videos everywhere about how to crate train your dog to use and love his crate. This isn’t about that. This focuses on specific safety tips for using crates in your dog’s life.
When I first started working with dogs, crates had a negative reputation and were rarely used. Now, with increasing interest in positive training and behavior management, crates are much more popular. While crates are an excellent management tool for dogs, crate use comes with dangers that you should be aware of. I highly recommend crate training for all appropriate clients, however these precautions need to be implemented in your plan.
First, be mindful of your dog’s personality and anxiety level. If you’re starting with a puppy almost all can be crate trained with the right start. Our first tip for older adopted dogs, may be not to use a crate at all. Some dogs, especially those with severe separation anxiety, cannot tolerate crates, and other options need to be found for them. One alternative is to make arrangements for your dog to be with someone until the separation anxiety subsides. You might also try starting your dog out in a small room with no furniture, such as a laundry room. This can be less anxiety inducing for some dogs. If your dog absolutely is not comfortable in a crate, consult a professional trainer or behaviorist for other management options.
Next, consider a breakaway collar just for crate use, or, instead of tags, a collar with your dog’s name and number stitched on it. Dogs can choke to death if their dog tag or other item hanging from their collar gets stuck between the bars of the crate. It is not a good idea to remove your dog’s collar entirely, especially in a busy household or one with small children. If your dog gets out of the crate and then out of the house with no collar, you may never find her again.
It is best not to allow toys in the crate, except for the kind of rubber toys that can hold treats inside them. You can safely leave your dog unsupervised with these toys, and the food distraction may help ease your puppy’s normal anxiety about being left alone in the crate in the beginning. Be sure to assess your dog’s chewing habits and see what is appropriate. For dogs that have severe chewing tendencies, even strong rubber toys should not be in the crate.
Be sure to explore all your options to see what arrangement makes your dog most comfortable. Some dogs prefer a wire crate to a plastic one; others like covers over their crates. Also pay attention to your dog’s bladder control and chewing habits before you buy a unpredictable puppy a thick luxurious crate mat. It is important to find the right set-up for you and your dog to ensure successful crate use.
If it is possible, videotape your dog the first few times you leave her in her crate to make sure she is settling down quickly.
Remember, it is almost always dangerous for a dog to be alone and loose in a house until she’s trained. Crates when used responsibly are a very safe and wonderful tool in your toolbox for managing your dog. If she is running out the front door every time it opens, she would definitely be safer in her crate. Properly trained dogs love their crates, and when used mindfully, they are a wonderful choice for your dog’s comfort and safety.