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What is Crate Training?

By R. Kayne
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Crate training is a controversial method of house training a dog, based on the knowledge that wild dogs sleep in underground dens, leaving the den to eliminate. By confining a dog to a small pet crate while indoors and taking the dog outside to eliminate, the dog begins to associate “outdoors” with elimination.

The recommended crate size for crate training is only roomy enough to accommodate the dog when it stands, turns around, lies down or sits. If the crate is much bigger than this, supporters point out the dog may eliminate at one end.

It is vital that a dog not be left in a crate longer than it can hold its bladder or bowels. This is one area where crate training draws significant criticism, as this leaves the dog at the mercy of whoever is crate training. People who don’t work with dogs professionally might abuse this method, leaving a dog crated while going to work or leaving the house for several hours.

Puppies have very little control over body functions. The amount of hours a puppy can control his or her bladder is roughly equal to the number of months old. For a one-month old puppy, one hour; for a two-month puppy, two hours; but no dog should be left in a crate longer than four hours without given a chance to exercise and relieve itself, assuming it doesn’t show signs of discomfort sooner.

Bedding or a rubber mat should be provided in crate training, but avoid carpeting or materials that a dog might tear up and swallow, as these could block the intestinal track and prove fatal. Safe toys should also be included to help occupy the dog. Water should always be available inside the crate, and a dog should not be crated in the heat. Never use crate training to punish, as this builds negative associations to the crate.

When it’s time to take your dog outside, use a trigger phrase that includes the dog’s name. For example, “Outside potty? Does Jack want to go outside potty?” Give the dog lavish praise as he eliminates, repeating the trigger phrase. “Outside potty! Good boy, Jack!” Once he associates the trigger phrase with this action, you will be able to ask him when indoors if he has to go “outside potty?”

Make sure the dog gets plenty of exercise. Avoid crating the dog as soon as he eliminates or he will learn that elimination marks the end of playtime and may hold his bladder when you let him out. Instead, make playtime or a walk the reward for eliminating outside.

Dogs commonly have to eliminate first thing in the morning, 15-20 minutes after meals, and upon or after exercise, in addition to being given the opportunity throughout the day. If the dog doesn’t eliminate when taken outside, it is recommended to bring him in and place him in the crate for 5-10 minutes, then try again. Don’t assume the dog does not have to go just because he or she wasn’t ready.

When crate training it is vital to watch your dog for signs of discomfort. Illness, introduction of a new food, and medications are just a few circumstances that can cause the dog to have to eliminate more frequently. Crate training does not mean you can lock the dog up and forget about it.

If a dog soils the crate it is not the dog’s fault that he was not being watched closely enough. Don’t punish him, he won’t understand. This also applies to carpet accidents. Neutralize odors with vinegar or the dog might reuse the spot. The key is to praise the dog for what he does right, and to watch him closely enough so you can avoid accidents before they occur. If you see the dog sniffing around or circling, clap your hands to distract him, take him outside, and praise him as he eliminates.

Some people report success in a matter of days with crate training, however it can take up to two weeks or longer. Every dog is different with its own, unique personality, but even an adult dog can be house trained. Some dogs with a history of abuse or abandonment might take a little longer to build trust and process information. In all cases be patient and loving when crate training.

Proponents of crate training tend to think of a crate as necessary, while a vast number of dog owners never own or require a crate. Many dog lovers believe crate training to be cruel and too easily misused. Well-intended proponents argue that a crate is not unlike a natural underground den, but critics disagree. Wild dens accommodate multiple dogs, and dogs are always free to leave the den to eliminate and exercise. Critics also point out that dogs are active, social, pack animals, and that forcing a dog to remain separated in a small, confined space is not humane.

Crate training requires the trainer be home and attentive the majority of the time, so that the dog can be let out when required. Many dogs cry and bark when confined because separation and confinement is not natural. Moreover, if the dog is to live permanently in the house, crate training will not teach it to use papers when required.

For all of these reasons and more, many animal lovers chose traditional methods to house train dogs that they feel are more compassionate and less restrictive for dog and owner alike.

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Discussion Comments
By mejh — On Oct 16, 2013

Although crates can be used effectively in expert hands to house-train puppies, they are all too often misused unintentionally in the hands of the average owner. Leaving a dog crated for hours without supervision is abuse. Period. Once the lesson about eliminating outdoors has been learned, the dog should not be locked in the crate any more. A dog is not a toy and should not just be stashed away in a box when you have other things to do.

Recently a dog in my neighborhood who was left unsupervised in a crate was caught in the flames when a fire broke out in that room. He was howling in agony by the time they managed to rescue him. He has lost his ears and eyes and much of his skin and will suffer through months of extreme pain while he heals. If they had left him free he could have just run out of the room. Many people think the owners should have been charged with animal abuse. And yet, they do love the dog and had no idea they were doing anything wrong. As I said, crates are often misused unintentionally.

By anon20423 — On Oct 30, 2008

A crying dog is an unhappy dog. Dogs need companionship and attention. Especially when they're puppies they have just been separated from brothers and sisters and will not understand being left alone or locked in a crate.

By anon2946 — On Aug 01, 2007

so it is okay to let a dog cry or what?

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