There are many controversial things in the land of dog training and ownership. What is the best weight for your dog to stay at? How much time should they spend outside? Should a dog go on a daily walk, or is yard time enough? Dog parks or no dog parks? There are many opinions, pros and cons, for each of these, but one that I find arises all the time is using crates for family dogs.
There are many arguments against the use of crates. Things like dogs don’t like to be locked up all day, every day. It’s inhumane to keep them in a crate. Dogs want to be with their people and don’t deserve to be ignored. While these arguments have merit, I am still firmly in the pro-crate category. I believe that just like any tool, a crate can be poorly used. Use good judgement and humane practices when you use a crate. That being said, I believe crates can be a complete godsend, particularly if you are bringing home a new baby soon, and having your dog at least know how to be calm in one is crucial.
Here are my top three reasons crate training is necessary, particularly before you bring your new baby home.
- 1 1. Every place aside from your home will keep your dog in a crate.
- 2 2. It gives your dog a safe space at home.
- 3 3. It is an excellent tool for introducing your dog and baby.
- 4 1. Put food and water IN the crate.
- 5 2. Keep toys, bones, and other goodies inside.
- 6 3. Use a blanket.
- 7 4. Make your dog wait before coming out.
- 8 Related
1. Every place aside from your home will keep your dog in a crate.
This is true. Your vet will keep your dog crated while not being examined. As will your groomer, boarding kennel, pet sitter, and dog trainer. Your dog must be crated to travel on an aeroplane. If your dog runs away or gets lost, he will be kept in a crate at the animal shelter until you find him and pick him up.
There is a reason for this. Safety. 100%. Outside your home, your dog is a client in someone else’s business who likely has multiple dogs. Our job as dog professionals is to ensure all our client dogs stay safe and happy. This includes keeping them from getting into a brawl with another dog, keeping them from eating something they shouldn’t and requiring surgery to remove a severe blockage!
I do not leave my dogs loose in the house when I am not home. While my dogs may know better than to do risky things while I am at home, that does not necessarily mean they are entirely trustworthy if they are unsupervised. I love and trust my dogs, but if there is one thing that I trust them to be above all others…it is to be dogs. Chasing the cats, eating a slice of chocolate cake off the counter, or blasting through the back door are only a few examples of disasters that can happen when they are left to their own devices, so I choose not to do so.
As a professional dog trainer, I can assure you that almost every dog trainer out there, whether they keep their client dogs in a kennel building or, like me, they keep the dogs inside their own house, uses crates. We use boxes to keep dogs separated during strenuous exercises, to keep them safe when we cannot see them, to transport them safely from place to place, and to help introduce them to new things.
Knowing this, you do your dog no favours outside of your home if they cannot tolerate being calm inside a crate. It is the difference between a quiet and uneventful time at the groomer, a horror show, and a seriously stressed-out dog.
2. It gives your dog a safe space at home.
Now, I am a big fan of “safe spaces.” You can read an entire post about how to set up a safe space for your dog here. If your dog will not only tolerate but enjoys his crate, it has the potential to be a perfect spot for him to go and relax in the house. My dogs love their crates; particularly in times of overwhelm or stress, they will seek out them for some quiet time.
This becomes particularly important when you bring your new baby home. Perhaps not at first, when your little one is still a newborn, but as your baby grows and becomes a curious explorer (and then grows some more and becomes a super fast, super loud, super excited wild one!), your dog needs a space to unwind without having to worry about what your baby is up to. Suppose you do your homework and make the crate a place where your dog is free to go to relax, and you also set the limit for your child that they are not to bother your dog when she is in her safe space. In that case, you’ve got the equivalent of a teenager’s bedroom for your dog, where she can relax and not talk to the family for a little while!
3. It is an excellent tool for introducing your dog and baby.
When you first bring your new baby home, he will be so small, helpless, and delicate. Your dog will likely be very anxious and excited to meet him! However, when you bring your tiny one home, the most effective and safest way to have an introduction is to let your dog meet your little one through a barrier for a while. That is where the crate comes in handy.
When I brought my daughter home from the hospital, I did not allow my dogs to sniff, lick, or touch her. I clarified to them that this was MY baby and she was under my protection. Even the very best dog (and I have some excellent and well-trained dogs) can forget their manners when they are around something as exciting and perfect as a new baby, so it is essential to let them become used to the baby being in their proximity without being able to accidentally (or heaven forbid, purposely) harm the baby.
So now you know why you should teach your dog to love his crate before your baby comes…but HOW do you do that?
Here are four simple and easy tips for making the crate a wonderful and rewarding spot for your dog to go.
1. Put food and water IN the crate.
This one is the most significant and easiest way to make your dog love his crate, and also the one that I find the most people not doing. Wherever your dog gets fed will be one of his favourite places. It smells good, it feels good in his tummy, and he associates that place with the joy and glee of eating a good meal. So why not pair that feeling with his crate rather than your kitchen, mud room, or wherever?
Whether your dog is free-fed or has set meal times, making it a requirement that your dog goes into the crate to get provided will take you a long way toward him loving that crate. You will know you won when you head to get food for your pup, and he turns and hightails it over to his chest to beat you there!
2. Keep toys, bones, and other goodies inside.
Just like keeping his food inside, putting his favourite toys and chew bones inside the crate build a positive association with it. The more you can make it a place where great things happen, the better.
On top of that, keeping toys in your dog’s crate will help him settle in and not be anxious, particularly if he does not enjoy the box. Giving him marrow bones, hollow toys filled with peanut butter, or even a plastic soda bottle with some of his kibbles can keep his mind off being confined and give him something great to think about. After you have done this a few times, he will associate his crate with good things rather than being anxious about being separated from you and confined for a while.
Please note that the tips I am sharing here are for dogs not used to the crate rather than those with actual confinement phobia or separation anxiety. If your dog is so upset inside the box that it breaks out periodically or hurts itself, trying to escape no matter what you try, you should contact a trainer to help them get past those more profound issues.
3. Use a blanket.
There are a few different ways that you can use a blanket. Firstly, if your dog is in his crate and is barking, whining, or howling incessantly for you to open the door, putting a blanket over the box can make it feel calmer, safer, and more den-like. This can help your dog calm down and settle in without any drama.
This also keeps your dog from being able to see you while inside, which can be a HUGE help when first becoming acclimated to the crate. When dogs come to me for crate training, I think one of the most significant help (aside from being consistently fed inside the box) is that I do not keep the box in my living room or bedroom where the dog can see me. The tube stays in my dining room, where they can hear me and still know what’s going on in the household without being able to make constant eye contact with me and fuss at me.
If your dog has difficulty in the crate, do not put a nice fluffy bed in at the beginning. Your best options are a regular blanket, an indestructible crate pad, or nothing. It is common for an anxious, crate-bound dog to rip up a new bed that’s been put in with him to make things homier. I suggest waiting until you know your dog will not shred it at the first opportunity.
4. Make your dog wait before coming out.
This makes a big difference. Each time you let your dog out of the crate, make them wait until you release them before allowing them to exit. This serves a couple of purposes.
Firstly, it teaches your dog self-control with the crate. If you have a dog who is so brainless with anxiety about being in the box and separate from you, having the door closed in his face when he tries to blast out is a wake-up call that he most likely needs. It encourages him to keep his head on straight when in the crate, even if he’s excited or anxious to be free.
Secondly, it teaches your dog impulse control. And let me tell you, with baby food, baby toys, and the new baby himself in the home now, impulse control is going to be a thing you want your dog to have! Teaching your dog to wait at the crate’s door is easy to generalize to staying at the door so that you don’t have to worry about him shooting into the street each time you try to take your baby for a walk!
Our mini-course, Leading Your Dog, discusses this idea and others that help you develop a great relationship based on respect and trust with your dog. Check it out here to learn to do this exercise with your dog!
So, to wrap it all up for you…
Teaching your dog to tolerate and enjoy being in the crate should be something on your list before your baby arrives. Not only will it help your dog get used to your baby safely and provide him with a quiet space away from the chaos of young children, but it is also a thing he will need to know if you take him anywhere outside your home!
Do you use a crate with your dog? What strategies did you use to help him love it?
Tips for crate training:
- Feed and water in the crate.
- Keep goodies like chew bones and kong toys in the crate
- The reward for going in by tossing in a treat
- Make the dog wait before allowing them out. Plug for course
I am an accomplished writer, a devoted father, and a compassionate advocate for new and experienced parents in my baby’s parenting journey. With a wealth of firsthand experience and a deep understanding of the joys and challenges of raising children, I become a trusted voice in the parenting community.