Crate Training for Dogs - the How and Why
Regular followers of @pupstylestore on social media would know that we've recently been through a difficult 10 months-ish with our fur-baby, Pippa who has had multiple hospital stays, a spinal surgery and many weeks spent in confinement (a bit like the whole world during 2020/2021 actually!) Pippa is a mini dachshund, and thanks to their long spines and short rib-cages, 1 in every 3 dachshunds will have Intervertebral Disc Disease at some point in their life. Unfortunately, Pippa was one of those ones. But thanks to crate-training her early in life, she was perfectly comfortable during her combined 24 weeks of crate confinement that was prescribed by her vet, didn't panic in her cage at the animal hospital and was generally pretty happy considering the circumstances. We have no doubt that her comfort during the process has helped her to heal quicker than the vets expected from her.
And even more recently, dogs and pets all over the east coast of Australia were unexpectedly put into crates to escape their flooded homes. Those pets are now learning to live in their crate in Refuge Centres until they can return to their homes again.
All of this got us thinking about the benefits of crate training and why we're so glad we did it with Pippa early on.
Why Crate Train?
When we first started crate training, Pippa was 1.5 years old and our newest furbaby, Bowie, had just arrived home. He wasn't having a bar of sleeping in the bathroom with only his bed and a blanket (exactly what we had done with Pippa) and he howled... all....night....long for 2 whole weeks. Desperation told us to try something different, so we went out and bought a crate, much to the PUPSTYLE Papa's dismay. He thought they were the same as putting your dog in a cage, and refused to tell people what we were doing at risk of feeling like he was a bad dog parent.
But the crate worked. On his second night in there, baby Bowie was calm and slept through the whole night. He even chose to disappear into his crate earlier in the night before it was actually bed time, and we realised that he had just been needing the safety and security that a simple 'roof over his head' offered all along. He was suddenly without his pack - his fur-mama and littermates - so his primal instincts of being a dog kicked in and he needed to find himself a den to feel safe in this new home that he wasn't familiar with. Makes so much sense when you say it out loud!
Becoming crate trained as a puppy also helped Bowie with toilet training by not wanting to toilet in his safe bed area. He had the odd mistake which is common for puppies who are still learning to hold on, but he generally tried his best to hold on so as not to spoil his safe sleeping space. At times when he was being cheeky and trying to run away with shoes and chew holes in our socks, a little 'calming down time' in the crate helped to readjust his attention to something different. It was all positive after positive.
Because of Bowie's success, we decided to crate train Pippa so that both of our fur-babies could have the same sleeping arrangements moving forward. Pippa took to her crate like a bear to honey - she was so good from the first night that it felt like she was saying "About time, humans! I've been asking for this all along!" She was already toilet trained and generally very well behaved, so it wasn't until recently, at 5 years old and facing spinal surgery, that we realised the real benefit of crate training Pippa.
Aside from being happy and comfortable during her hospital stays and long healing period, both Bowie and Pippa are now very flexible with where they sleep and we haven't been stuck at home whilst Pippa recovers. Their crate is where they sleep, whether that be in the laundry, the living room, in a holiday house or at a friend's house for a sleepover. On top of that, Pippa, who loved jumping up to the car window and travelling with her head out of the window was now able to travel in her crate in the car - still getting the same breeze she loved but being restricted to staying still whilst her back recovered.
In short, the benefits to crate training are:
creates a safe 'roof over their head' for a new puppy to sleep in a new home they aren't familiar with
Helps speed up the process of toilet training, especially overnight
Helps to readjust a puppy's attention to a calm activity they can do by themselves in the crate if they are being naughty around the house
Prepares dogs to still feel safe during unexpected vet visits, hospital stays or even grooming appointments that use crates to seperate dogs in between appointments
- Gives you (the humans) the flexibility of having a dog that will sleep comfortably in any room, house or unfamiliar place so long as they have their safe crate space
How to crate train?
Some people make this seem like the hardest part, but it's actually the easiest part if you follow the basic principle of - anything your dog loves to do, do it in the crate.
To start with, fill the crate with a comfy bed that doesn't leave much extra space. Extra space encourages a spot away from where they sleep to go to the toilet, which is not what we want. We made this calming bed to be a perfect fit for a standard sized crate.
Begin by leaving the crate door open and allow your dog to walk in and out as they please. Got some yummy treats for them to try? Throw them into the crate and let your dog walk in and find them. Dinner time? Give it to them in their crate. Got a favourite toy they like chewing on? Let them play with that toy only in the crate. Even if they walk in the crate on their own accord, stop everything you're doing to go and praise them with the highest-pitched exciting dog voice you can muster.
'Socialising' your dog with the crate, ensuring every experience in there is a positive one will make that space their happy place, in turn becoming their safe space where only good things happen.
As your dog gets more comfortable in their crate, start putting them in there with something they love and closing the door. Start with 5 minutes with the door closed whilst they're preoccupied. They probably won't even notice the door is closed that whole time. Next time, increase it to 10 minutes, then 20 minutes and so on. As they learn to realise that the door being closed isn't a big deal, you'll have yourself a very happy, crate trained puppy!