Crate training. And oddly debated topic between clients and myself. I have been crating my dogs for so long, and it feels like such a normal and needed procedure, I forgot that many people do not crate their dogs and are against it for reasons I understand, but do not agree with. Why is crate training good? In short- it is a needed tool to properly manage dog(s), is necessary for proper integration of new dogs to your home, gives dogs their own space, prevents separation anxiety and is overall a good general practice. Crate training is quite the umbrella topic that houses many of the aforementioned points, plus more than I could cover or explain without going incredibly in depth.
People often state that their dog is already well trained, does not tear up things in the house while they are away, and therefore people see no need to crate train the dog. Generally, its better to have your dog crate trained, and never need to crate them, versus not crate trained your dog and then suddenly running into an unexpected situation where the dog needs to be crated. Next, I am asked, “well when would that ever happen?” Well dogs need to be crated at vets, before or after procedures. Say your dog tears their ACL and needs to be in a crate for the next 8 weeks, but has never been in a crate before. This presents a serious and very realistic dilemma as now your dog has had surgery, but loses their mind in a crate and undoes that lovely $3,500 cruciate ligament repair. Or a less dramatic circumstance, you are traveling out of town, your dog needed to be boarded for a week or so, or stay with a relative who doesn’t have a dog friendly dog. If you decide to fly with your dog- they will need to be crated unless they are a certified ESA dog or a medical service dog (even then, those dogs are required to have above average training and crate training will not be an issue). The point being, there is no harm in crate training your dog as a safeguard to ensure if they do need to be crated, they will be calm.
Now, if you have multiple dogs, there is no question in my mind that when you are away from your home or not directly supervising your dogs for an extended period of time, they should be crated. Again, I hear, “my dogs were all raised together, they get along great, never had any problems and I know they won’t ever get into a fight.” I wish I could support that level of surety, but I cannot because of personal experiences, the knowledge I have of dog behavior thanks to Mike (Primal Canine), and the simple fact of probability that come with making definitive statements- nothing when it comes to animal behavior is ever one hundred percent. Diesel was raised with Mason, at eight weeks old, Diesel was brought home and met Mason who was nine years old or so at the time. There had been no remarkable incidents of a negative nature that had occurred between them, just the simple corrections Mason would give Diesel when puppy behavior was too much. Fast forward five to six years- Diesel began seeking Mason out in the house to start fights with him. Areas of the house that Diesel had regulated as his territory became hostile spaces. If Mason was to ever get close to my bedroom, Diesel would staunchly make his way over and try to start a fight with Mason.
I had a hard time understanding this because I used to think as most people do; Diesel was raised with Mason, they had never gotten in a fight, they were supposed to love each other. But that is humanizing animal behavior and those thoughts and reasoning are not applicational here. Mike explained to me that dogs hit ranking drives at different times in their lives, the age of five to six is one of those times. Diesel had decided he was no longer going to be a submissive dog and began challenging the dog he had regulated as the alpha dog. I digress because even dogs that get along for years, even a decade, that are raised together can still have issues with each other. That incident might be when you have two or three loose dogs in your house and the UPS man knocks on the door and all of your dogs converge to the door at the same moment in a state of high drive. Or it could be one dog wanting the toy that the other dogs has- these situations can escalate and result in injury or even the death of a dog in your house. We simply do not know when or if these situations can or will occur, but I do know, had I not been home on the day that Diesel decided to grab Mason by the throat just because Mason walked past Diesel…I may have come home to a blood bath and a dead dog. And that would have been my fault and I would have never forgiven myself. Crating dogs while not supervised can prevent a split second incident from evolving into something none of us as owners would ever forgive ourselves for.
With that being said- it is never too late to start crate training. Doesn’t matter if your dog has never been in a crate, is an old dog, a perfectly behaved dog, is “from a breeder and has great genetics so no way do they need training,” or is a rescue and you think the dog deserves and needs ample freedom because of their past. First, start by getting a crate that is appropriately sized for your dog. Most people get crates that are WAY too big for their dog, once again with the thought in mind that crates are prisons and dogs need lots of space in them. If crate training is done and used correctly, it will not be used as a punishment or seen as one by your dog. Only putting a dog in a crate when they have misbehaved or upset you only creates a negative association, be sure that crating is not used strictly for punishment. The correct sized crate is one that your dog can stand inside of without the top of the crate hitting their head, and the dog should be able to do a 360 inside of the crate without being lodged. This does not mean your dog should be able to pace around in their crate, or run circles, too much room inside of a crate is not a good thing.
Crate training is all based around creating a positive association with the crate. Throwing a dog inside of a crate only when you leave the house for work is what creates anxiety about being in one. Dogs are smart as associate things quickly, start by having the crate open, throwing a treat inside, and allowing your dog to afterwards freely walk out of the crate, and repeat this several times during the day. Next, begin feeding your dog only in their crate (you will quickly see after a period of time when your dog knows it is time to eat, they will run inside of their crate and wait), this allows your dog to start spending more extended periods of time inside of the crate. Slowly you can graduate to giving your dog a toy/chew/long lasting treat (I use raw meat bones from Primal Raw) inside their crate, close the door, and be sure to remain in the area of the crate where the dog can still see and hear you. Giving the dog something highly desired in the crate, closing the door, remaining within eye/ear shot- creates positive association. The dog gets something it loves, in a safe space of their own, and you are still in the area. It is important after doing this to not allow the dog to come out of the crate if they are whining, waiting until they are calm and quiet is essential. Otherwise dogs learn they can control our behavior by acting in a certain way, like whining at the top of their lungs for hours. So this part can be frustrating, and for me, it required a lot of watching movies on my laptop with noise cancelling headphones. But stick with it, and your dog will learn that being calm and quiet results in being allowed to come out from the crate.
I feel like there is so much more that can be talked covered and talked about in depth on this topic but I hope this brief overview of a post is helpful to people who are on the fence about crate training, are in need of it, or just have not tried it and would like to as a safeguard. As always, we always want to do what is best for our dogs and I know it can be hard to begin crate training as it feels like we are taking away something from our dogs. I truly do feel that crating is in the best interest of your dog(s) when done correctly. Please feel free to ask Mike or myself about any questions you may have, we are always happy to help!Read More