Crating: a Comfort Zone
There's often a misconception that putting the dog in their crate is a punishment. The key to using the crate, like any tools, is using it appropriately. You want to be sure that you don't simply use it as a punishment, but also as a safe space to calm down and relax when over stimulated or scared. As with all things in balanced training, it's about balancing the use of crate between fun, a way to calm down, and keeping Fido out of trouble when you can't have your eyes on them at all times. We're fans of the crate because it helps create a safe space for your pup. While your dog may behave well outside of the crate, it's important to keep the crate a fun, relaxing and safe space. There are many benefits to using crates even if your dog doesn't have any behavioral issues.
The Benefits of the Crate
Dogs are animals who like small enclosed spaces. While they aren't necessarily den animals, they do feel more comfortable when they know what's behind them, and they know that nothing is going to get them. If a dog is scared they will often retreat to small dark spaces. Does your dog pace, or hide when overstimulated. Do they duck for cover when they hear thunder or fireworks? If you find your dog hiding under the bed, in the closet, or in other odd spots, crate training will be a lifesaver as it gives your dogs a place to contain their excess or nervous energy. There are many reasons and benefits to utilizing the crate. Your dog doesn't need to exhibit behavioral issues for crate training to be advantageous.
Addressing Safety, Potty Training, and Behavioral Issues
Crate training isn't simply just for dogs who are destructive, or who would get into something while unsupervised. Crate training helps with dogs who have potty issues, anxiety, over stimulation, or fear. Like any training, you want to expose your dog and condition them to become familiar with a situation before an actual event arises. This is why we start with any dog we prefer to start in calm environments, working on handler relevance and teaching a dog. We show a dog what we want them to do before distractions arise, so they know how to respond appropriately when unexpected interruptions happen.
Our approach to crate training is the same. We want to introduce it to your dog, making it into a fun place and part of your routine so that it can be another training tool in case distractions happen, or an unexpected event happens. Crate training can be part of your game plan in case of an emergency.
If your dog were to get hurt and need to have restricted movement or bed rest, crate training helps to give them a place where activity can be restricted with reduced stress when you can't watch them 24/7. We can't confuse our compassion for our dogs with lack of structure. Compassion is giving your dogs a balance of a space they can unwind, that they don't have to pace, where they can safely recover when you can't be with them.
As much as we want to, we can't be with our dog's 24/7. If we are, our attention is often divided between household activities. If you can't keep an eye on what your dog is chewing on, see them pacing to go out and use the restroom, or be with them all the time to keep them calm for medical recovery, utilize the crate. Crate training was created for safety. Safety of your dog doesn't mean extreme medical circumstance either! It can help keep them from eating things they shouldn't, ie. furniture, door frames and drywall, garbage from the kitchen, the TV remote, your iPad.... We know, because we've seen a thing or two!
If you are struggling with housebreaking your dog, and you're not crating your dog, you're missing a huge component of structure in your routine. We don't let babies and toddlers roam around the house all day without a diaper, and then get frustrated when they have an accident. It's up to you as a parent to guide them through and create an environment for success. With a child you have them wear a diaper, with a dog limiting where they can roam helps to contain the situation until you help them learn structure.
Step One towards teaching your dog that the world is not their toilet is to have the dog on a schedule. At a young age they need to go out:
When you have taken them out to go potty have them on leash. This limits their options and allows them to focus on the task at hand. If you allow your dog to wander or go out on their own, smelling chewing running around, they have no idea what the purpose of the mission is. They get distracted, they forget to go outside and relieve themselves when they come back into the house.
Step Two: When they have been given an opportunity to relieve themselves and chose not to go, bring him back inside and crate them. It's not a punishment, it is just a way of helping them learn that the house isn't an optional bathroom. Most dogs do not want to be in their own waste, thus they will be more inclined to hold their bladder when their space is limited to the crate.
Step Three: Give them another opportunity in another 10-15 minutes. If they relieved themselves outside when you gave them the opportunity, awesome! They can get some supervised time out of the crate. Soon they'll learn to hold it until the next opportunity to go out. It's a process, it takes patience. While the dog is potty training especially, it's important to crate them at night. If they're having accidents in the night, limit access to their water about 2 hours before bedtime.
Step Four: If you can't supervise them when they're out in the house, make sure they're confined in the crate. We don't want to give them the opportunity to have an accident in the house. If you do catch them in the act, tell him "NO" or "Aught" loudly. It generally stops them in the act, then take them outside immediately to finish their business. If you find an accident in the house and you didn't witness it, it's too late to correct it. Take them outside, give them a chance to go and restart with limiting the space if you can't keep an eye on them.
Be sure that if there is an accident in the house to clean the soiled area thoroughly; pups are smell motivated and if it smells like urine or feces they'll be more likely to use that spot again.
Does your dog have anxiety, over stimulation, fear or aggression? We want to utilize the crate to your advantage as another tool to decrease bad behaviors and redirect. When a dog has the excess energy that isn't directed in a positive way it often spirals into behavioral issues. Utilizing crate training as a safe space for your dog to help remove them from the over stimulation which often results in anxiety, fear or aggression is key. How do you turn the crate into a safe space? You build your dog's confidence. This helps with developing their self control and develop their focus on you. It's time to introduce Crate Games into your routine.
People often wonder where and how to start teaching your dog that the crate is a fun, safe, space. It takes time and practice. Don't fear, because you can do it! Our goal is to help give you the resources you need to help create and maintain a healthy relationship with your dog. One thing that I've found to help make the crate fun, has been playing crate games developed by Susan Garrett. A lot of the exercises she uses working with her dogs is permission based training. If you haven't already, I'd highly recommend looking into our permission based training blog.
It will be a process. It doesn't happen overnight and it's not the same for every dog. Mix up time in the crate between a calm place, and fun place. Set aside time for training sessions using the crate as a tool to interact around, instead of simply just crating your dog and walking away. Use this as an opportunity to engage with your dog, and build your relationship with them. There are many crate games that you can play with your dog, each one building upon skills and adding another way be intentional with your dog. If you want to stop having the dilemma of needing to stuff your dog into a crate like putting toothpaste back in the tube, read the exercise below for a place to start.
Where to Start
Start with rewarding them for showing interest in the crate. have your dog on leash and only treat them when they enter the crate. Mark it with praise and/or a treat, but let them guide the process.
Any step forward towards the crate is a step in the right direction. If your dog is one to dig in their heels and refuse to enter the crate, stand near the opening of the crate with your dog on leash. Don't drag them, cue them, or bribe them into the crate. Simply let them make the choice to engage, moving towards to crate on their own accord. Mark the behavior, and ignore them when they are not in the crate or engaging with it.
Eventually your attention, the marker, and the praise is the reward for your dog. Your dog will seek more praise as they realize the crate isn't a scary space where the door slams behind them the second they set foot inside. Treat from the back of the crate inserting the treat in the keen through the holes on top if you have a wire crate or a crate with holes in the side. This helps to encourage them to choose to go all the way into the crate. For the first part of this exercise you will be keeping the crate door open. When your dog enters fully, on their own without being told "crate" or "kennel"reward with treat given at the back of the crate and have a praise party! Allow them to exit, and start the exercise over again until your dog is running in the crate on their own for praise or treats.
Once your dog learns what you are looking for and driving into the crate without being cued, then you can start by closing the door behind them. for this step you will let them enter the crate, treat from the back with one hand and close the door with the other. Mark it with praise and wait for your dog to sit towards the back of the crate, you can lure the behavior with a treat if need be. Once the dog sits open the door slowly, if the dog breaks the sit close the door and wait for them to sit again. Once your dog learns that they need to sit and maintain the sit when the door opens, give them a free command such as "ok" or "free" and their reward is coming out.
Keep in mind in these exercises, the crate is the treat machine. It's where treats happen! When your dog is released out of the crate they get praise, but treats are reserved for the crate itself in this exercise. You can implement this exercise when you come home for the day and need to let your dog out of the crate. Instead of letting them out to stop the barking, and bolt out of the crate the second you open the door, you can start to wait for them to offer a sit and maintain it until you release them. this self control helps with teaching them to wait at thresholds, helps with leashing exercises as well in the long run.
Give Them Structure
Dogs thrive on structure. They have so many options to choose from, not everyone is a good one. When we invest the time in our dogs and show them what to do, it builds the bond for success. Be intentional with your dog. Structure and companionship are not mutually exclusive. The more guidance and structure you have with your dog the better your relationship. That's why we call it balanced training. We often project our emotions onto dogs, not wanting them to be confined because we wouldn't want to be or we feel guilty. However when we help to give them the right choices and have balance you both will have a relationship like never before. The crate isn't a punishment, it's a tool. Why not utilize it for safety, and let it have a fun association for your dog so when the day comes that you need to restrict movement or give them a place to calm down, it isn't a place of stress.