by Robin Kovary, Trainer, Copyright 1999

Kovary is the American Dog Trainers Network helpline director and canine behavioral consultant.

Providing your pooch with an indoor kennel crate can satisfy a need for a den-like enclosure. Besides being an effective housebreaking tool, because it takes advantage of the dog's natural reluctance to soil its sleeping place, a crate can also reduce separation anxiety, prevent destructive behavior, keep pups away from potentially dangerous household items and serve as a mobile indoor dog house which can be moved from room to room whenever necessary. Most dogs which have been introduced to the kennel crate while still young grow up to prefer their crate to rest in or "hang-out" in. Therefore a crate, or any other area of confinement, should NEVER be used for punishment. We recommend that you provide a kennel crate throughout your dog's lifetime. Some crates allow for the removal of the door once it is no longer necessary for the purpose of training. The crate can be placed under a table, or a table top can be put on top of it to make it both unobtrusive and useful. Preparing the Crate Vari-Kennel type: Take the crate apart, removing the screws, the top and the door. Allow your pup to go in and out of the bottom half of the crate before attaching the top half. This stage can require anywhere from several hours to a few days. This step can be omitted in the case of a young puppy who accepts crating right away. Wire Mesh type: Tie the crate door so that it stays open without moving or shutting closed. If the crate comes with a floor pan, place a piece of cardboard or a towel between the floor, or crate bottom, and the floor pan to keep it from rattling.

Furnishing Your Puppy's Crate Toys and Treats: Place your puppy's favorite toys and dog treats at the far end. Toys and bails should always be inedible and large enough to prevent their being swallowed. Any fragmented toys should be removed to prevent choking and internal obstruction. You may also place a sterilized marrow bone filled with cheese or dog treats in the crate. Water: A small hamster-type water dispenser with ice water should be attached to the crate if your puppy is to be confined for more than two hours in the crate.

Bedding: Place a towel or blanket inside the crate to create a comfortable bed. If the puppy chews the towel, remove it to prevent the pup from swallowing or choking on the pieces. Although most puppies prefer lying on soft bedding, some may prefer to rest on a hard, flat surface, and may push the towel to one end of the crate to avoid it. If the puppy urinates on the towel, remove bedding until the pup no longer eliminates in the crate.

Location of Crate: Whenever possible, place the crate near or next to you when you are home. This will encourage the pup to go inside it without his feeling lonely or isolated when you go out. A central room or a large hallway near the entrance is a good place to crate your puppy. Introducing the Crate To help your pup associate the crate with comfort, security and enjoyment, please follow these guidelines: *Throughout the day, drop small pieces of kibble or dog biscuits in the crate. While investigating the crate, the pup will discover edible treasures, reinforcing positive associations with the crate. You may also feed him in the crate to create the same effect. If the dog hesitates, it often works to feed him in front of the crate, then right inside the doorway and then, finally, in the back of the crate. *Praise and pet your pup when he enters. Do not push, pull or force the puppy into the crate. At introduction, only inducive methods are suggested.

Overnight exception: You may need to place your pup in the crate and shut the door. In most cases, the crate should be placed next to your bed. If not possible, place the crate in the kitchen, bathroom or living room. You could also play this game with your pooch: Without alerting him, drop a small dog biscuit into the crate. Then call your dog, saying: "Where's the biscuit? It's in your room." Using only a friendly, encouraging voice, direct your pup toward his crate. When the puppy discovers the treat, give enthusiastic praise. The biscuit will automatically serve as a primary reward. Your pup should be free to leave its crate at all times during this game. Later on, your puppy's toy or ball can be substituted for the treat. *It is advisable first to crate your pup for short periods of time while you are home. In fact, crate training is best accomplished while you are in the room with your dog. Getting your dog used to your absence from the room in which he is crated is a good first step. This prevents an association being made with the crate and your leaving him/her alone.

A Note About Crating Puppies Puppies: under 4 months of age have little bladder or sphincter control. Puppies under 3 months have even less. Very young puppies under 9 weeks should not be crated, as they need to eliminate very frequently (usually 8-12 times or more daily).

Important Reminders:

Collars: Always remove your puppy or dog's collar before confining in the crate. Even flat buckle collars can occasionally get struck on the bars or wire mesh of a crate. If you must leave a collar on, use a safety "break away" collar.

Warm Weather: Do not crate a puppy or dog when it's hot. This is especially true for the short-muzzled dogs and the Arctic or thick-coated breeds. Cold water should always be available, especially during warm weather.

Be certain your dog has fully eliminated before being crated. Be sure that the crate you are using is not too large to discourage your pup from eliminating in it. Rarely does a pup or dog eliminate in the crate if it is properly sized and the dog is an appropriate age to be crated a given amount of time. Puppies purchased in pet stores, or puppies which were kept solely in small cages or other similar enclosures when between approximately 7 and 16 weeks of age, may be harder to housebreak using the crate training method due to their having been forced to eliminate in their sleeping area during this formative stage of development. This is the time when most puppies are learning to eliminate outside their sleeping area. Confining them with their waste products retards the housebreaking process, and this problem can continue throughout a dog's adult life.

Accidents In The Crate: If your puppy messes in his crate while you are out, do not punish him upon your return. Simply wash out the crate using a pet odor neutralizer. Do not use ammonia-based products, as their odor resembles urine and may draw your dog back to urinate in the same spot again.

Crating Duration Guidelines:

9-10 Weeks Approx. 30-60 minutes

11-14 Weeks Approx. 1-3 hours

15-16 Weeks Approx. 3-4 hours

17 + Weeks Approx. 4+ (6 hours maximum)

*NOTE: Except for overnight, neither puppies nor dogs should be crated for more than 5 hours at a time. (6 hours maximum!)

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