Troubleshooting Crate Training

Troubleshooting Crate Training

Crate training is a common and very useful practice with puppies.

Most breeders teach their puppies to accept a crate prior to the puppy going to a new home as do many dog rescue groups. Even dogs in a shelter are usually accepting of a crate as they've been confined to a crate, cage, or run while at the shelter. However, sometimes problems arise and the dog begins resisting going into the crate. He may bark or have accidents in the crate. Let's take a look at some crate issues and discuss what can be done to troubleshoot, and hopefully solve, these problems. For many of these problems I refer to the canine as a puppy but the process is the same for a newly adopted dog.

My New Puppy Hates the Crate!

"My new puppy resists going in the crate, braces his legs and cries nonstop while he's in the crate. What can I do?" First of all, make sure your puppy gets plenty of attention from you before you put him in the crate. Play with him, brush him, cuddle him, feed him, take him outside and make sure he's relieved himself. Bring him back inside, encourage him to lie quietly with you as you read or watch TV and then, when he's relaxed, carry him to his crate and put him inside with a small handful of food or treats. With all his needs met and relaxed, he should be fine. A stuffed toy, your used but dry towel with your scent on it or a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel can all provide some reassurance to a puppy.

Don't Let Whining Turn into Panic

Most dog trainers, myself included, tell dog owners not to let the dog out of the crate if he's whining or barking. We say, "Let him out when he's quiet." However, This advice needs some clarification for young puppies. Puppies who have recently left their mom and siblings are alone for the first time in their life and this can be frightening. If the puppy begins to cry when in the crate and panics, scratching the door of the crate and the cries turn frantic, let the puppy out. That panic is going to do more harm than letting the puppy out of the crate ever will. When you let the puppy out, don't play with him, feed him or otherwise turn this into a happy time. Instead, think calm. Sit on the floor in front of the crate, let the puppy out and help him onto your lap. Hug him, sing him a lullaby and calm him down. Once he's calm, take him outside as he'll need to relieve himself after all that emotion. Then put him back in the crate. If he cries, that's okay; just don't let it escalate to panic.

Placement of the Crate

Just by the nature of the crate your dog is going to be isolated from family members when he's in the crate. Placement of the crate, then, is important so the dog's sense of isolation doesn't increase. During the day when family members are in and out of the house and active, place the crate in a place where the puppy can see and smell people, but not where he'll be in the midst of the foot traffic. Pu the crate close enough where family members will talk to him, stop by to pet him and take him out of the crate when they have time to watch him. At night, ideally the crate will be in someone's bedroom close enough that the puppy can hear the person breathing. Don't isolate the puppy to the laundry room or garage. He needs to be with his new family.

He Destroys His Bed!

"My 6-month-old dog has destroyed two dog beds and several blankets and towels. How can I stop this?" This isn't unusual for this age. Your puppy is teething and wants to chew anything and everything because his gums and jaws are uncomfortable. He may also be bored silly. So begin by taking all of the bedding out of his crate. He doesn't need it right now and when he's done teething you can try giving him an old towel. Make sure he's had a play session, a good walk, something to eat and a chance to relieve himself before you put him in his crate. Don't skimp on any part of this; if you're going to confine him, he needs a chance to use up some energy, spend time with you and a chance to eat and relieve himself. Then, when you put him in his crate, give him a food dispensing toy or something to chew on so that he's got something to amuse himself. When he's done with this, he'll be more likely to take a nap.

A Crate is Not a Storage Device

Don't think of the crate as a means of storing your puppy or dog until you have the time and energy to deal with him. A crate is not a storage cupboard. Young puppies can spend an hour in the crate now and then throughout the day and can sleep in it all night. However, the puppy should never spend all day in the crate. At four to six months of age, depending on the puppy, he can spend two to two and half hours at a time in the crate during the day. From a year of age and up, the dog can spend three to four hours in the crate but again, should never be asked to spend all day in the crate. When a dog spends too much time in the crate he can suffer physically. He may have poor muscle tone or may have deformed limbs. He may lack confidence when out of the crate. Some puppies who are in the crate too much will urinate and defecate in the crate and then lie in their own wastes. A number of behavior issues such as barking whining, circling, pacing and other problems can develop. If you're gone all day, and can come at lunch time, that's great. But also arrange for someone to come over in mid-morning or mid-afternoon and let your dog out of the crate and take him outside to relieve himself. Ask this person to walk the dog, play with him, give him a treat or toy and spend time with him. Professional pet sitters or dog walkers will do this for a fee. Maybe a responsible neighborhood teenager would be willing to do it, or a nearby retiree who loves dogs.

Some Dogs are Escape Artists

Some dogs do not take confinement well. If a dog has been left in a crate too long for too many times, he may decide that enough is enough. Dogs who have separation anxiety when confined and away from their owner will fight to escape from the crate. Then there are some dogs who seem to make it a personal challenge to destroy any crate they are confined within. Unfortunately, these dogs can hurt themselves; some have broken claws, bloodied paws and broken teeth. For these dogs, crates may not be the best solution for preventing housetraining accidents or problem behaviors in the house. For these dogs, make an appointment with a behaviorist in your area so that the problem can be identified and a potential solution discussed.

Put Technology to Work

Technology has made dog ownership much more interesting. If you don't know what is going on with your dog while he's in the crate during the day, set up a small security camera facing his crate. These can be synced with your phone so you can watch your dog. Some even have a microphone so you can hear your dog if he whines or barks, and you can even talk to him and soothe him through the mic.
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