Well, it happened again.
Another wonderful dog surrendered to us because he's chewing up shoes when he's left alone. The owners refused to crate train the dog because they believe its cruel to confine a dog to such a small space.
Instead, they turn the dog over to us, giving the dog one more abandonment to overcome in his life. Because were almost always full, the dog goes to the loud, overwhelming kennel. And he sits, day after day, waiting for beloved owners to come back.
And these owners think its the crate thats cruel?
That said, it is easy to see why people might initially believe crating is callous. Dogs, especially big dogs, need room to run. Everyone knows that--and if they dont, we tell them over and over! So it seems contradictory that dogs would also need a small, closed-in place to feel safe.
But they do. Actually, dogs have always had crates in one form or another. Wild dog packs make their dens in caves or dense grottos because they feel safer there. And whats the classic outside dog house, if not a crate?
Working dogs have always known about crates--thats how they travel. Show dogs also travel in crates, as well as stay in them when theyre not in the ring.
So why do so many people oppose the idea of crating their family dog? Oppose it so strongly, in fact, that theyd rather give up the dog than just try? Crating offers an excellent way for your dog to learn how to live in your house--without sacrificing your house in the process!
Selecting a Crate
Most people choose one of two types of crates:
The collapsible wire mesh type, with mesh on all sides and a tray in the bottom.
The plastic Vari-Kennel used to transport dogs on airplanes.
Either kennel is fine. Many people prefer the wire mesh type because the dog can see comfortably in all directions. However, the Vari-Kennel is better if your dog has a little touch of Houdini running through his veins.
In crates, at least, size does matter. Your crate must have enough room for your dog to stand, sit, turn around, and sleep comfortably.
However, if you have a puppy, there is one more size factor to consider. Some puppies are fine in a large crate. Other puppies figure, "Hey, can I mess up this side and still have plenty of room on the other side for sleeping!"
If you dont want to buy a small crate now, only to buy another larger one a few months down the road, consider partitioning the crate somehow. This allows room for growth without providing too much space.
Positioning the Crate
If you want to hear howling, put the crate in the laundry room, and go watch TV in the family room. Guaranteed to bring the house down.
Dogs, especially German Shepherds, are social animals, so the crate must be where you spend the most time. This is true even if youre leaving. As a dog becomes accustomed to her crate, she will go relax in it when she needs a break--as long as you positioned so she can monitor your activity.
Some people put their crate in the family room every morning, then carry it to the bedroom at night. Other people just leave it in the bedroom, only crating the dog when they go out or at night when they all go to bed. Some people have two crates: one in the bedroom and one in the family room. However you choose to configure your situation, remember your dog should sleep in your room that you do, to allow him to develop a sense of trust and security.
Furnishing the Crate
Put a bed and/or blankets in the bottom of the crate. Always include some toys or comfort objects for the dog. Some people have special treats, safe chews such as a nyla-bone, or toys that are only given when the dog is in the crate.
Tip: If youre using the collapsible wire crate, the plastic tray clacks against the bottom of the mesh as the dog moves around. Very annoying in the middle of the night. Slide a towel or two between the bottom of the tray and the wire to muffle the sound.
Crate training can take days or weeks, depending on your dog and your situation. Take your time, and allow crate training to happen in a series of baby steps.
1. Introduce your dog to the crate.
Sit by the crate and call your dog over in a cheerful tone. Throw a treat or favorite toy just inside the crate. If your dog goes in and takes it, throw in another treat or two. Do not coax or lure your dog into the crate. You should be relaxed and positive, but be careful not over-do the praise or your dog may feel nervous. Many of our rescued dogs have had bad experiences with crates and new situations; help your dog to learn that this new situation is normal and safe.
If your dog refuses to go in, dont force it. Put a few more treats in there and casually walk away; she may be willing to enter the crate if youre not nearby. It may take some dogs a few days to feel comfortable being inside the crate.
Tip: Make sure the door isnt clanging around--more than one dog has been scared off by the door closing on him. In fact, consider taking the door off when you begin and adding it back on later.
Continue this process until your dog goes into the crate happily and willingly. It helps to have a command such as "Kennel" or "Crate" so the dog has a name for this event.
Some dogs figure it out quickly and go stand inside the crate whenever they want a treat or attention. Smart little boogers, arent they?! By all means, reward them for this act!
Once shes in the crate, drop a treat through the bars as you pass by and tell her shes doing a good job in the crate. Reward her every few second or minutes if she stays inside longer.
This step should last as long as it takes for your dog to go in the crate on her own, which might be an hour and might take a week.
2. Close the door.
The next step is to close the door when the dog is inside the crate. At first, just close it for a moment and reopen it, rewarding the dog while she is still in the crate.
Gradually lengthen the amount of time you have the door closed, staying outside the crate and acting like everything is just as normal as can be. Casually reward during this time and reward your dog once the door is open.
Some people feed the dog inside the closed crate. Other people offer a special bone or toy for use only in the crate. These are both great suggestions. Do whatever it takes to make the crate a positive experience for your particular dog.
3. Walk away
Once the dog is comfortable in the crate with the door closed, step away for short periods. Stay in his sight, just not outside the door. Do normal activities that your dog is accustomed to watching you do.
Just as you gradually increase the time the dog is in the crate, gradually lengthen your time away from the crate with each repetition. Step into another room and continue to keep a casual profile. Walk back in and toss in a small treat, then go back out.
With a little practice, most dogs quickly become comfortable with life in the crate. The best sign is when your dog chooses to take a nap in the crate. Bravo! Your objective is leave your dog in the crate long enough for her to relax and lie down.
4. Go out.
Once your dog can reach a state of relaxation while in the crate for 30 60 minutes, its time to leave him alone. Just as you worked up to everything else, gradually work up to leaving the dog. Go out for a few minutes, then return and act like nothing happened. Do NOT release the dog upon entering your home. Wait ten minutes or until the dog is calm and then casually open the door. Do not make any fuss over the dog. Over time, increase the amount of time you are away.
5. Release the dog.
Dont leave or return like youve been away for a year. Upon returning, go about your normal business and allow enough time for your dog to calm down once again in his crate. After your dog is calm, toss in a treat and briefly tell them hello. Wait a few more minutes, and then release. This is one area where much anxiety develops for dogs. Keep a relaxed attitude, and youll both do fine.
Keys to Success
If you want crate training to succeed, keep the following points in mind.
Never use the crate for punishment. Crating should always be positive.
Ignore whining, unless you thinking it may be the "I need to GO!" type of whine. Most dogs will whine when you crate them. If you acknowledge the behavior in any way (even negative), you reinforce it. Never release a dog because she whined or barked.
Limit the amount of time your dog is crated. If your dog is crated all day, and again all night, its too much. How long can puppies be crated? Very young puppies (8 to 16 weeks) can be crated two or three hours at a time. Puppies from four to 12 months should be okay for four to five hours. If you are gone 8 or 10 hours a day, you should consider an older dog or dog sitter.
Crates and Diapers
No really, there IS a connection. When you have a baby, life without diapers is unthinkable. However, no one wants their child in diapers forever. Just as the ultimate goal of diapers is to get rid of them, the ultimate goal of crating is to put the crate away--or at least the door to the crate.
Some people crate their dogs forever. However, most trainers feel this is not necessary nor even healthy. Just as you gradually trained your dog to life in the crate, you should also then gradually train your dog to behave herself outside the crate. Slowly allow the dog to be home alone for short periods. Leave the door to the crate open at night. Whatever works best for you. Remember, when you return home, just as youll do with the crate-training, act like you never left. Ignore your dog until she calms down, then briefly greet and wait again. Now its time to play or train!
But if youve been crating an adult dog for more than a year, you should reconsider your relationship with your dog. German Shepherds need training, challenge, exercise, and communication. When they dont get enough of what they need, problems arise and crating is NOT the solution. Consult a behaviorist if problems persist.
There is plenty of information on the Internet about crate training. Just go to your favorite search engine (such as www.google.com) and search for "crate training."
Good luck and enjoy your dog!
Article by Betsy Morris and Molly Moore of MAGSR. Reprinted
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About Crate Training