Back From Hiatus/Crate Training Tips

Long time no write!  I apologize for my prolonged absence.  I have no excuse.  But I am going to pick up where I left off!

So much has gone on – we competed in our first off-leash competition this past summer and actually got first place!  It was petrifying but exhiliarating, and very good for my faith in our abilities.  Sometimes you need to push yourself and your dog to see what you’re truly capable of.  You may find you surprise yourself.  Here is the video of us competing – it was at the Dog Sports Open in MI, which is not your typical obedience event!

Now, with the newly renovated blog, I’m going to be posting both updates on Inara and I as well as training articles.  I have a few in mind and am open to suggestions if there is something you are interested in reading.  I’m going to start with crate training as I get a lot of questions about the best way to do it.

The main thing to remember with crate training is that you should NEVER use the crate as punishment.  NEVER.  The crate is always to be a place of good things.  Even if you are putting your dog in as a timeout, make it a good thing for them.  Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at the process.

First you need to choose the crate.  There are two main styles that are appropriate for full-time use – wire and plastic “airline” type crates. Some dogs have a preference of one over the other, but most will be just fine with either as long as you properly acclimate them to it.  Size-wise, if your dog isn’t house-trained yet, it is recommended to start with a small crate that is just large enough for your pup to stand up, turn around and lie down in.  Not being able to escape a mess will sometimes encourage dogs to hold it.  That being said, it is your absolute, no excuses, responsibility to get the pup out as often as necessary so they are not forced to mess in their crate and lie in it.

If your dog is already housetrained then feel free to get a larger crate.  Inara’s is quite spacious as she does have to spend quite a while in there.  I wanted her to have room to sprawl out if she desired, and I like it to be big enough for her to have a bowl of water and lots of bedding.

How do you start crate training?  The easiest way is to be gin by feeding their meals in it.  If your dog is afraid to go all the way in then set the bowl of food right outside the crate, door open, and then over time move it further inside the crate, keeping the door open.  When your dog is happily bounding into the crate at meal time, begin to shut the door as they eat and immediately open it when they are done eating so they can come out.  As your dog shows that they are comfortable with this process, begin leaving them in the crate for a few minutes extra after they are finished.  Feel free to drop a random treat in as you pass by the crate if they are being good.

Alright, is Fido nice and relaxed?  We want to take this slow – patience is DEFINITELY a virtue when it comes to crate training.  If Fido is content relaxing in the crate after a meal, start putting him in it at random times throughout the day, always with kind words and treats and fun.  At this point, any time he’s going to get a really good treat (marrow bone, Kong, etc) feed it in the crate to reinforce the fact that Crates = Very Good Things.  At first, once the treat is gone, let Fido out, but eventually start leaving him in several minutes afterwards like you did with meals.

Now that Fido is happily chilling in his crate at random times when you are home, you’re going to up the ante.  Get a really good treat ready that will take him some time to finish – a deer leg, a tightly-stuffed frozen Kong, a frozen marrow bone, etc.  Put Fido in his crate, give him the treat and just quietly leave.  Come back before you think he’ll be finished with it.  As with every step before, you’ll slowly start leaving him in for a bit longer than it will take him to finish his treats.  As long as when you come back he’s still nice and relaxed, you’re doing great and can keep increasing the time.

This seems like a ton of steps, I know.  But I can’t repeat it enough – baby steps are crucial when it comes to crate training.

Troubleshooting help:

1.  Fido won’t stop barking in his crate:  Alright, what kind of barking is it?  Is Fido annoyed and demanding to call his attorney? (thank you, Greta, for that phrase!)  Or is Fido truly panicking?  If he is simply demanding to phone his attorney, ignore him until he is quiet for at least 3 seconds and then praise him and let him out.  And then back up in your training as you went too fast.  If Fido is panicked, LET HIM OUT.  It is cruel to keep a truly panicked dog in a crate.  Let them out and go back to absolute step one.

2.  Fido is pottying in his crate:  Make sure he is not being kept in there for too long.  If he isn’t, make a vet visit to rule out a urinary tract infection.  If that isn’t it, try changing the bedding type and make sure all smells of his accidents are out of the crate (use an enzymatic cleaner).  If that doesn’t work, stick something solid in his crate to reduce the size of it so he doesn’t have room to potty at one end and nap in the other.  Also, keep feeding meals in there – dogs will very rarely go to the bathroom where they eat.

3.  Fido is destroying his bedding: This can be a tough one.  Some dogs will just destroy bedding no matter what you do.  You have options here – if Fido is shredding but not ingesting (and you are 110% positive of this), you can buy cheap towels and sheets to throw in there that you won’t mind having destroyed.  If there is even the SLIGHTEST chance that Fido is ingesting, fabric bedding is a no go or you risk an impaction.  In that case, try a Kuranda (or equivalent) bed.  That way they are still off the hard plastic/metal/wires, but there’s nothing really to chew.  If Fido persists upon trying to eat his Kuranda, he has thus lost all bedding privileges.  Will this break your heart and make you feel like a horrible person?  Probably, but it won’t kill Fido, whereas him ingesting bedding might.

I’m a firm proponent of crate training.  Even if you don’t plan on crating your dog when you leave (and I could give you tons of reasons why doing so is a good idea!), you never know when Fido may have to spend time at the vet in a kennel or crate and you don’t want him panicking.  Or what if YOU get sick and Fido has to be kenneled or stay at a friend’s house?  Having a crate-trained dog opens so many doors and just allows you to relax a bit.  Let me know if you have any questions!


P.S. I adopted a kitty several weeks ago and he and Inara are starting to get to know each other.  I can’t help but leave you with a pic that makes me smile:

Inara and Malcolm ALMOST snuggling in bed.
Inara and Malcolm ALMOST snuggling in bed.