Should I crate-train my dog?

In a word, yes. There will be unavoidable events in your dog’s life that will require him to be closely confined. At one time or another he will need to be hospitalized. He may travel with you in a car or an airplane. You might need to confine him for his own safety when staying in an unfamiliar environment such as a friend’s house that has not been dog proofed. He might be confined while being boarded or groomed. And he will need to be safely confined if you are ever the unfortunate victim of a disaster such as a fire or flood that requires you to be rescued and/or temporarily sheltered.

A dog of any age can be crate-trained, and crate-training is a great aid when house-training a dog, whether he’s a puppy or a recently adopted adult dog. How long it takes to crate-train your dog depends on his age, his past experience with a crate, and his temperament.

Some dogs and puppies are easily crate-trained in a few days, while most others require a bit more time and effort. Your attitude about your dog’s crate greatly affects how he views it. Your dog’s crate should be his den and his haven, a place where he can get away from it all, and where he finds delicious food and comfortable bedding.

Your dog should not have fear or disdane for the crate, so be sure to never use the crate as a means of punishment. If you must, designate a doggie time out spot elsewhere in the house. Place the crate in a temperature-controlled area (not a cold garage) that is close to, but not in the middle of, your home’s activity areas.

Remember that a dog is a social animal, and a crate shouldn’t be used to isolate him from the family. Use a metal, cagelike crate, or the type of plastic crate used to transport dogs on airplanes. Be sure there is room for him to stand up, turn around, stretch, and breathe comfortably.

When you begin crate-training, feed your dog his meals in the crate. If he’s scared to go in the crate, place the food bowl just inside the door, and gradually over time move it toward the back of the crate. Once he’s comfortable eating in the crate, begin closing the door while he’s eating. If at any time he becomes frightened during the process, back up and start over, only make changes more slowly than before.

Begin leaving your dog in the crate for longer periods of time, gradually increasing the time span by thirty minutes. Never let your dog out of the crate when he is whining or barking; wait for him to settle down so that he realizes that quiet behavior will be rewarded.

How long should a dog stay in a crate? As a general rule of thumb, puppies can he crated for a number of hours equal to their age in months plus one, so that a two-month-old puppy can be crated for three hours, a four-month-old puppy for five hours, and so on. Because a puppy can hold it for only a few hours at a time, place the crate near your bed so that you wake when he wakes and can take him out of the crate to relieve himself.

Adult dogs who have never been in a crate need time to adjust, just as puppies do. Don’t make the mistake of putting a new puppy or dog in a crate and leaving him there for a nine or ten hour stretch. The result is a miserable dog who learns to despise the crate, and to urinate and defecate in it because he wasn’t given any other opportunity. Return home every few hours, or have a trusted friend, neighbor, or professional pet sitter visit to be sure your dog is adjusting to the crate and to allow him out to relieve himself.

Most adult dogs can eventually be comfortably confined for as long as eight hours, but keep in mind that the purpose of the crate is to assist with house-training, provide the dog a voluntary haven from a busy household, and teach him to be comfortable being confined when necessary.

The ultimate goal, however, is a dog who is comfortable and safe when given the run of the house in his owner’s absence, who does not spend long hours of the day and night involuntarily confined. Once your dog is reliably house-trained and has learned the rules of the house, allow him some freedom during your absence and during nighttime hours.