Crate training your dog or puppy is all abut getting him used to having an area of personal space, a safe place to call his own and promoting appropriate behaviours in your pet. It's highly recommended to get your dog used to the crate while still young, and crate training an older dog that is not used to being confined can be difficult, with varying degrees of success achievable depending on both the dog and his previous experience of being confined, and how the owner approaches it. So, what is crate training all about, and how can you make sure you do it right?
The first and foremost thing to bear in mind is that crate training is intended to be beneficial to your dog and a positive experience for him. Never use the crate as a punishment, or confine your dog for long periods of time. Your dog or puppy should view their crate as a safe, happy place, and not have any negative associations with being crated. Crate training is not a substitute for being able to spend time with your dog, nor should it be used to keep them out of your way solely for your own convenience. Crate training is a useful aid to housetraining your new puppy, and the crate can also be a safe place to keep your puppy out of the way of any hazards or stresses in the home, such as strange people or potentially dangerous objects within your puppy's reach. Crate training is also a great way to train your puppy out of separation anxiety when you need to leave him alone or spend time without him, as he will come to view it as a comfortable, familiar environment where he can relax and be surrounded by the toys and bedding which he likes. Because the crate is mobile, it will come in handy for not only use within the home, but when travelling in the car, going to new places and relaxing if you go out for the day or on holiday with your pet. The crate is also a handy tool for teaching your dog about 'his toys' versus 'your possessions,' and what he is allowed to chew and play with. Providing a variety of toys for your dog in the crate shows him not only what is his and what is not, but adds to the general positive association for your dog of spending time in his crate, particularly if he is given a hide chew or other treat to keep him busy while inside of it.
Remember that with dogs, as with people, first impressions are everything, so make sure that the first time he is introduced to the crate, he has a good time. During the initial stages of crate training, keep the door open at all times so your puppy does not feel restricted or trapped away from you. Start by hiding treats on the crate, turning it into a game for your puppy to go in and find them. Feed your dog's meals in the crate too, to provide a positive association with going in. Furnish the crate comfortably with your dog's favourite bedding and blankets, and perhaps something that smells of you such as an old t shirt or pillow. The next stage in encouraging your puppy to enjoy using the crate and want to utilise it of his own accord, is by taking a favourite toy or chew and placing it in the crate with your dog outside of the crate, and closing the door. Your puppy will then clamour to be allowed into the crate to receive his toy, and begin to view the crate and the goodies within it as a treat. Always praise your puppy for using the crate, and keep the door open when you are not actively training him to use the crate so that he can start to choose the crate for himself when he wants to. Once your puppy has started to form a positive association with being crated and will go in voluntarily, close the door gently with your puppy inside and feed him a treat or two while he is in there. Don't leave your puppy closed in the crate for longer than a minute the first time, and build up the length of time during which he is closed into the crate slowly. If he becomes distressed or cries when left, go back a step and reduce the time during which your puppy is closed in, with positive reinforcement upon entering the crate and having the door shut, and a reward upon being let out. Eventually, you should be able to leave your puppy or young dog in his crate for up to four hours at a time during the day, and make it his overnight sleeping spot too. Crate training is a fairly slow process which can take several weeks or even months to achieve successfully, and trying to rush the endeavour is counterproductive. A dog or puppy which makes negative associations with the crate when young will never really be happy to be crated as an adult.
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