Q In your column, you have mentioned crate/cage training for dogs. How does one go about training a dog to accept a crate?
A Ideally, a puppy should be trained to a crate from the moment it is brought home. The crate should be large enough so that the dog can stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably. Do not buy too large a crate because if it is too commodious, the puppy may be tempted to use part of its floor to eliminate. This may mean that you will have to buy at least two or more crates as the puppy grows.
It is important to make the dog feel totally comfortable in its surroundings, coming to view the crate as a safe haven. So make the crate as appealing as possible with a comfortable bed, toys, food and water. Initially, you should tempt your dog into the crate with a few treats so the dog associates the crate with rewards, rather than punishment. Place the crate in an area of activity such as the kitchen or hall so the dog still feels like part of the family. Putting the crate in the basement or laundry room makes the dog feel isolated, and in nervous dogs this may lead to separation anxiety.
A crate is a valuable tool for house training because dogs customarily do not eliminate where they sleep or eat. Crates help teach which parts of the home are off limits and prevent the destructive chewing of furniture, shoes, etc., when the dog is home alone. Crating your dog at night and when you are out controls any antisocial behavior before it becomes a habit.
When training an adult dog to use a crate, encourage the adult dog into the crate with a favorite toy or treat, thus reinforcing the idea that the crate is a good place to be. Initially feeding an adult dog in the crate will encourage it to think of it as home. On the first few days, put your dog in the crate only for 10 minutes or so, gradually increasing the time as it becomes more used to the situation. Some dogs will bark when first crated but stop when they get used to the idea. Continue to use the crate even when you are home so the dog does not associate the crate with being abandoned. Some dogs and especially puppies become used to the crate in a few days, while other dogs may take a few weeks. Always remove the dog's collar before crating, especially if it has ID tags, so there is no risk of the tags catching in the bars. Do not use the crate for punishment, or else your dog will come to dislike it rather than view it as its den. Most dogs regard their crate as a place of refuge and will retreat to it when they are tired or stressed. Limit the amount of time your dog remains actually shut in the crate. Adult dogs should be limited to eight hours at a stretch, while puppies should be let out every three to four hours because they lack the muscle tone to control their bladder longer.
Occasionally, dogs suffer panic attacks when first crated, so do not leave the dog alone until you are sure that the dog is content.
For dogs that bark at night, covering the crate with a blanket helps to remove distractions. Some owners have two crates: one in the living area and one in the bedroom. Just crating a dog is not the total answer; acceptable behavior still must be taught. Each dog is different, and it is important to figure out what works for each dog.
If a problem teaching a dog to use a crate arises, it is not the fault of the dog or the crate, but of the owner.