By Tito Rivera, Senior Behavior Counselor - IACP
In this week’s blog, we’ll be covering the topic of crate training in the city and how to overcome some of the difficulties associated with owning a dog in the city.
Crate training can be a daunting task to even the most experienced dog owner. Crate training in the urban environment can be downright overwhelming. The urban landscape offers a variety of challenges not seen in more suburban or rural settings. A few of these factors include higher congestion of dogs, people and other distractions occurring at a much higher frequency and duration than would often be experienced in a rural setting. Crate training goes hand in hand with house training. Yes, they are in fact two different things! Crate training is the process of teaching our dog to accept a dog crate as a familiar and safe location (pretty obvious I know!) without crying or howling, as well as not having accidents in the crate. So, with all these obstacles in the way, what is a new dog owner to do?! Have no fear, we are here to help you with just that problem.
Planning ahead of your pup’s arrival at home is the first step you will take on as a new dog owner. Before your pup comes home you should have already invested in some good quality equipment such as a collar, leash, food/water bowls, toys/ chews, bed and of course a crate! Many people often ask “Is a crate important?” or “do I have to crate my dog?” and to these questions we say yes, crate training is very important. While your dog may not spend time in his/ her crate at home, there are certain times that may pop up that are beyond our control which means our dog will inevitably be in a crate for one reason or another. If you are still not convinced then ask yourself if you are planning on taking your dog to a groomer, vet, or trip via airplane or ship. If you answered yes to any of these questions, then crate training is definitely important for you and your pup. Teaching your dog to be calm and relaxed in a crate can help minimize tense in stressful situations.
Now that we know that crate training is going to help our dogs enjoy more aspects of their lives comes the next question; “where do I start?”. The first thing you’ll want to do is notify your neighbors before your pup arrives at home. Let them know that your pup might cry or bark but you are doing training to stop the behavior and appreciate their understanding. It has been our experience that just letting your neighbors know that you have a new puppy, that he/she might cry but you are working on it makes for much more tolerant neighbors. This goes a long way to lower your stress levels and allow you to work with your pup without fear of upsetting the other tenants around you.
The second step you’ll need to take is to pick out a crate. Some people wait until they get their pup to shop for a crate. That is OK, however, I recommend having everything set up before your pup joins your household and have one less thing to worry about. Crate sizing is central as well. Too small a crate and your pup will quickly outgrow it and will not be very comfortable in it. Too large and you run the risk of your pup eliminating in the crate if you don’t get them outside soon enough. Your crate needs to be large enough for your pup to sit, stand, lay down and turn around comfortably. You will also need to decide whether you want a wire crate or plastic. The choice here is typically based on preference as both options do well enough.
Third step is understanding what happens during crate training. Most puppies will cry or whine when put into a crate. This is normal behavior since a pup doesn’t understand what is going on. Some pups will accept the crate pretty easily after a few minutes of whining and will usually settle down and relax. Often times people will put their pup in the crate and allow him/her to “cry it out”. This technique while it works for some dogs, isn’t the best way to go about it. The first reason we don’t recommend using this method is the close proximity of neighbors who may not take well to the noise. The second and far more important issue is that we haven’t taught our dog to be comfortable in their crate yet, which leads to step four.
The fourth step we are going to take is teaching our pup to accept the crate. As an expert team of trainers that have worked with many dogs in the city, we have now taken a more active approach to crate training rather than just relying on a dog’s crate submission. There are several things you can do to create a positive association to the crate. The first thing you can do is feed your dog’s meals in the crate itself. With this technique, you can break meal times into training sessions by placing a few pieces of kibble in the back of your pup’s crate and allowing him/her to go for it. Depending on your pup’s comfort level you can try closing the door of the crate after a few times he/she goes in for food. Ideally, you want your pup to be stepping all the way into the crate. DO NOT try to force your dog into the crate while they are reaching for the food inside as this will cause your dog to lose trust in you and will then make attempts to snatch the food and back out before the door closes. Build your dogs comfort with this exercise before closing him/her in the crate while slowly extending the amount of time your pup is expected to remain calm inside. The key here is in getting successes regardless of the amount of attempts we do. Another tip to try is reserving your dogs favorite kong, or chew for the crate only. Your dog will quickly realize they get their favorite treat in the crate and will usually run in for it.
Using these techniques, will help you build a strong foundation to set your pup up for success. While it can seem overwhelming, remember to keep things simple and consistent. Some last points to touch on before we go;
- Training should be fun for handler and dog
- As a rule of thumb, a pup can hold their bladder for an hour per month of life (3-month pup = 3 hours)
- Crates are not inhumane when used correctly, dogs are den animals
- Adult dogs can be crated longer than pups but should not be pushed too long
- Crates help teach bladder control and strengthens their bladder
Following these key rules to crate training has proven successful for our training team time and again. Take your time and build on successes, if at any point you are unsure of what you are doing you should reach out to a professional trainer that will guide you and your pup on your road to success.