by Siddhika Bhat
The innate and instinctual behaviors of several domesticated dogs such as pack mentality, social behaviors and genetics are very similar to wolves. Taking naturally to dens is one of the most important parallels between dogs and wolves.
It means that they naturally find comfort in den-like structures, including crates. However, it all depends on the association we build and the training we provide whether our dogs will grow up finding solace in their crate or completely despise it.
Benefits of crate training
1. Aids in potty training
Crate training and potty training go hand in hand. Puppies, as they grow, learn to distinguish between their sleeping areas and pee/potty areas and usually do not soil where they sleep.
Crate training primarily prevents accidents around the house and helps dogs build bladder control.
Getting both of these aspects under control is crucial as they accelerate the process of housebreaking.
While many people worry if crates are too small, they are more often too big.
Make sure to be realistic when crating your pup for a longer duration. Puppies have tiny bladders and cannot go a long time without a bathroom break. Being mindful of this is crucial while setting them up for success.
2. Prevents separation anxiety and isolation distress
Separation anxiety is when a puppy cannot handle separation from a particular human in the family and reacts adversely to their absence, at times, to the point of the pup's health being affected. Separation anxiety can still happen when there are other members of the house present. Isolation distress is when a puppy reacts adversely to being left alone.
Crate training from a young age prevents several behavioral issues and teaches puppies to cope better on their own, especially when they associate the crate with positivity and a safe haven.
There are tons of ways to create your dog's personal space in your home.
3. Helps in independence training
The root cause of several puppy behavioral problems like separation anxiety, boredom, barking, whining, etc lies in the puppy's inability to be independent.
A crate, when used correctly, habituates a puppy from a young age to cope with independence and isolation.
A puppy learns to be independent in the crate when they have something to look forward to in it. Engaging them in puzzle toys, interactive games, slow feeders, long-lasting chews, etc. teaches them to entertain themselves and rely lesser and lesser on humans for play and interaction.
4. Keeps your pup safe
Look at the crate as your personal form of a pet sitter. It keeps your puppy safe in your absence and can entertain them for several minutes depending on the resources available in there. Dogs, especially puppies, tend to be accident-prone. They can go from playing to choking on something in the blink of an eyelid. Leaving them unattended is a classic recipe for disaster.
A crate effectively prevents such accidents while giving pet parents the peace of mind that their fur baby is well taken care of.
Dog crates now come in all sorts of materials, styles and colors to match your decor.
5. Helps your dog calm down effectively
Puppies will always give you the impression that they are ready to take on the world, even though they just got done doing that! Letting them play for a continued time without giving them a chance to calm down will result in overstimulation, hyperactivity, and other behavioral issues.
Scheduling down times in the crate may look like it is making your dog anxious at first, but will help them calm down effectively.
The confined safe space enables them to self-soothe. It teaches dogs, especially young, clingy pups the concept of space and how to be comfortable in it.
6. Makes travel safer
Car sickness is a condition that ails several dogs. Having a free range of the entire back seat may only make it worse. Furthermore, letting your dog move around freely in the back seat of the car may also prove to be quite distracting and dangerous for the driver.
It can be tempting to let an anxious dog rest their head on your lap, but it may do more harm than good as their safety may be at stake.
Traveling with your dog is much easier if they are already crate trained.
Putting the dog inside the crate while traveling not only keeps your dog secure but improves overall travel safety.
The crate has also been proven to help with car sickness in several animals. The confinement combined with a system that secures the crate in place will result in less movement, thereby lessening the likelihood of nausea.
7. Helps dogs settle down faster in new places
What do you do at a party where you don't know anybody and you spot your best friend? You run to them and stick with them for the rest of the night. Why? Because they are familiar and they make you feel safe in an unknown territory. Very similarly, dogs crave familiarity in unknown territory.
A dog that is crate-trained will quickly be able to settle down in their crate in any given situation.
Furthermore, there may be times when your dog may have to learn to settle down in a crate without a choice in places like boarding kennels, daycare centres, board and train programs, etc. Several dogs who aren't crate trained find it very difficult to settle down in new places and get quite anxious.
What not to do while crate training your dog
Punishing your dog with a "timeout" in their crate makes crate training more difficult.
If we need our dogs to be able to spend several hours in the crate on their own, we need to make it so. Gradual habituation and uber-positive association are crucial aspects of crate training. It would also mean avoiding the following:
Never use it as a punishment zone
How often have you found yourself putting your dog inside the crate for a time out for being too naughty? If the answer is "quite often," you need to change that right away. What you use the crate for is what your dog ends up associating it with.
If it has been repeatedly used as a punishment or a time-out zone, it's going to be an eternity before your dog starts loving the crate.
Build positive association by enabling engagement and enrichment inside the crate through feeders, toys, puzzles, and tasty chews.
Avoid keeping your pup in there for several hours at a stretch
A crate acts as an excellent haven for dogs and gives pet parents a quick breather amidst the crazy chaos that is puppyhood. However, it is not a place to leave your dog suffering for several hours at a stretch day in and day out with zero engagement and play. This would be sheer abuse of the crate.
Ensure that your dog is tired and ready to knock out, is well fed, has relieved themselves and has enough engagement activities before expecting them to be comfortable in the crate for more than a couple of hours. It is only fair to them.
If you need to crate your dog for long periods, try to find someone that can give them a break midday.
Don't let your pup feel isolated in there
It is a popular belief that dogs are den animals. However, in the wild, wolves and wild dogs go in and out of their dens as and when they please. So, the den never becomes a place of isolation for them.
At home, however, several pet parents end up leaving their dogs in the crate only when they need to step outside the house or they're unable to supervise them. This ends up making the dogs feel alone and isolated inside the crate and is a sure-shot way to build crate anxiety.
Every now and then, make sure to keep your dog company by being in the same room while he's inside the crate.
Crate Training is a Lifelong Skill
While many people think that crate training is just for potty training, the benefits of crate training last long after potty accidents in the house fade from memory. Teaching your dog to have a positive relationship with and enjoy their crate time will help with traveling, will bolster their confidence and may even prevent separation anxiety or isolation distress from forming.
If your dog goes into their crate on their own for naps, they're well on their way to a lifetime skill.
You could find your dog retiring to their crate on their own for an uninterrupted bone-chewing session, for a lazy afternoon nap or when there’s a lot of noise and action in the house. Giving your dog his or her very own space to call their own where they feel comfortable and safe should be a goal of every dog parent.