Whether you use your dog crate to toilet train your puppies, provide safety for your dogs or use them for travel purposes, there could be a common mistake that you’re making that is going to make life more difficult for you and your dog. Thankfully, all these issues are easily resolved with a few simple steps.
Using a dog crate can be a helpful tool for training and managing your dog, but there are several common mistakes people make when using dog crates. Here are the top mistakes to avoid (and how to fix them):
Choosing the Wrong Size Crate:
Selecting a crate that is too small for your dog can be uncomfortable and counterproductive. Your dog should be able to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably in the crate. Also, selecting a crate too large can be an issue too, especially if you’re using it to toilet train your puppy. (Did you know you can buy dog crate dividers?)
Check out our handy guide to crate size selection here to be sure to choose the right size crate for your puppy or adult dog.
Using the Crate for Punishment:
The crate should never be used as a form of punishment. Associating the crate with negative experiences can make your dog anxious or fearful of it.
You want the crate to be a safe space where they choose to hang out and relax, not a place where they get shut into when they’ve done something wrong. Don’t use it for time outs either, dogs should look forward to cozying up in their dog crates, they shouldn’t be waiting to be released.
Feed them in it and give them dog treats in the crate so that they associate good things happening with being in the crate and if you use time outs in your training plan, use another room as the time out space, not the dog crate.
Leaving the Dog in the Crate for Extended Periods:
Crates should not be used as a long-term confinement solution. Leaving your dog in a crate for extended periods without breaks can lead to physical discomfort and behavioral problems.
A dog who has been trained well to use a crate should choose to go in it of their own accord and also stay in it even with the door open. An adult dog should rarely need the door closed on a crate. If you’re finding yourself shutting your dog in their crate to solve a problem then take a look at other training methods to solve the issue.
Not Gradually Acclimating the Dog:
Some dogs may be initially hesitant about entering a crate. It’s crucial to gradually introduce your dog to the crate, using positive reinforcement, treats, and short periods of confinement. Trying to crate the dog for extended periods too quickly without gradually building up their tolerance to being crated will definitely backfire.
Train your puppy, or adult dog, to enjoy being in the crate. Shutting them in a dog crate for 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 30 minutes etc. is NOT how you crate train a dog to enjoy using his crate.
The dog’s reaction needs to be watched and as soon as they’re not enjoying being in the crate they need to be taken out. The dog decides the speed of the training, not you.
Ignoring Signs of Distress:
If your dog exhibits signs of distress, such as excessive whining, barking, or attempting to escape the crate, it’s essential to address their needs promptly and ensure they are comfortable.
If they’re bending bars or chewing through the plastic tray trying to escape then they haven’t been crate trained properly. Don’t just leave them to get used to it. They’re clearly in distress and need help, they’re not just being naughty.
This ties into the previous point about being left too long in the crate. The aim of crate training isn’t for the dog to tolerate being shut in, the aim is to ensure the dog enjoys being inside the crate.
Go right back to basics and start by associating good things (mealtimes are good for this) with the crate. Depending on how distressed the dog is, you may need to resort to feeding the dog near the crate before you can build up to feeding inside the crate and then take baby steps from there.
Using the Crate as a Babysitter:
Crates should not be used as a replacement for training, mental stimulation, and social interaction. A dog crate is not a ‘toy box’ you put your dog in when you’re busy.
If you’re tempted to pop your puppy into their crate as a fix for another behavior, take a moment to consider if there is another way you could resolve the issue without ruining the dog’s positive association with their own crate.
If they’re bugging you, is it possible to use a baby gate to separate them and you, or if they’re jumping up at visitors could you put them on a dog leash to stop them instead of confining them?
Inconsistent Crate Training:
Inconsistent use of the crate’s rules and routines can confuse your dog. Establish a consistent routine for crate training and stick to it.
This rule can be applied to all of your dog’s training. Everyone in the household needs to agree on a training method and routine and stick to it. Having one of you taking the puppy out of the crate when they cry, and someone else leaving them in when they cry, will only confuse your puppy and leave you believing that crate training doesn’t work.
Make a plan, share the plan, stick to it.
Neglecting Crate Maintenance:
Keep the crate clean and comfortable for your dog. A dirty or smelly crate can make your dog reluctant to use it.
Set yourself a once a week schedule where the whole crate gets emptied, cleaned and put back together. I bet you’ll find a stray treat or two too!
Leaving Collars and Harnesses on in the Crate:
It’s safer to remove your dog’s collar or harness when they are in the crate to prevent potential entanglement or choking hazards.
Pop a hook nearby to hang your dog’s collar on and make ‘getting dressed’ part of going out. Plenty of dogs are ‘naked’ at home 🙂
(don’t be tempted to hang the collar on the bars of the crate. Puppies especially can chew them and it becomes a whole new hazard)
Not Providing Enrichment:
A bored dog in a crate can become anxious or destructive.
Offer toys, puzzle feeders, or chew toys to keep your dog mentally stimulated while in the crate. Remember to supervise, crates aren’t just a set and forget for your dogs.
Using the Crate to Solve Behavioral Problems Alone:
Expecting the crate to solve all behavioral issues without addressing the underlying causes or providing proper training and socialization.
A small amount of effort to train your dogs now will pay for itself over the course of the dog’s life. 15 years of having a dog who doesn’t jump up at visitors is well worth the 15 weeks or so training your dog not to jump.
Not Supervising Initial Crate Use:
Leaving the dog unsupervised in the crate for the first few times, which can lead to stress or undesirable behavior that you won’t notice because they’re unsupervised. You can’t just pop a puppy in a crate and expect it to quieten down and sleep overnight. Crate training is all about making the dog feel comfortable in the crate.
If you’ve already made this mistake then try another type of crate and start the training again. Take it slowly and call in help from an expert dog trainer or behaviorist if you need some extra support. Just one session should be enough to get you on the right road with crate training.
All articles on tetradog.com are written by qualified behaviorist and dog trainer, Cheryl Walker.
- · Foundation degree (Level 5) in canine behaviour management
- · WSDA instructor (World Scent Dogs Association) and level 1 competition judge
- · ADTB Puppy level instructor Diploma
- · Diploma in Puppy Training
- · Diploma in canine behavior training
- · Canine First Aider
- · Veterinary Support Assistant Diploma
- · Completed Dr. Ian Dunbar’s Sirius academy
- · Owner of an extraordinary working Cocker spaniel called Huckleberry
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