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Go Into Your Crate/Pen and Stay Quietly

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

Crate Training

Pen Training

Papillon in a crateEvery dog should have a crate. Absolutely, positively, every dog should be taught how to stay quietly in a crate.

Why? Let me give you 8 reasons:

  1. 1)  A crate teaches calmness and relaxation... just doin' nothin'.
  2. 2)  A crate makes housebreaking easier.
  3. 3)  A crate prevents destructive chewing, keeps your belongings safe, and keeps the dog  safe.
  4. 4)  A crate keeps your dog safe in the car.
  5. 5)  A crate prevents wandering and mischief overnight.
  6. 6)  Crates are used by vets and groomers, so preparing your pup now prevents stress later.
  7. 7)  A crate confines your pup for short, emergency periods of illness or injury.
  8. 8)  A crate provides a sanctuary to retreat to whenever a dog wants peace and quiet.

Now let's explore each of those eight reasons:

1) A crate reinforces calmness and relaxation.

Teaching your dog to stay quietly in his crate is a perfect lesson in patience and impulse control. He learns that he must do some things simply because you require it. This furthers your leader-follower relationship, which makes the pup feel more secure.

Whenever an owner declares, "My dog hates his crate!", I first check to make sure the pup is not being crated for 4+ hours a day while the owners go to work and the kids to school! That's cruel and abusive, in my opinion.

But if that's not the case and the dog still "hates" his crate, it's usually because the dog is excitable, reactive, anxious, or dependent. "Hating" the crate is just a symptom of those underlying problems.

The good news is that learning to stay in a crate will solve  many such issues. When an excitable, reactive, anxious, or dependent dog learns to relax and be calm in a crate, it's much easier to teach him to relax and be calm in the house and on the leash. Crate-training is a valuable lesson that carries over to other behavior issues.

2) A crate makes housebreaking easier.

Most pups have an instinct to keep their sleeping quarters clean. As long as you take them outside frequently enough (every 2 to 4 hours during the day), they will try to not eliminate in the crate (my housebreaking program starts here).

3) A crate prevents destructive chewing, keeps your belongings safe, and keeps the dog  safe.

Destructive chewers can do massive damage to your home, which creates bad habits plus the risk of swallowing something that could choke or poison them. Veterinary emergency rooms are filled with young dogs undergoing surgery for blocked intestines.

4) A crate keeps your dog safe in the car.

You and your children are buckled in, right? Your pup should be, too. My dogs travel in a crate that is buckled into the backseat. Or you can buy a special car harness for dogs which attaches them to the seat belt in the backseat.

5) A crate prevents wandering and mischief overnight.

When your pup is sleeping safely in his crate, you don't have to worry about what else he might be doing all night.

6) Crates are used by vets and groomers, so preparing your pup now prevents stress later.

A pup who is accustomed to a crate will be much less stressed when he has to stay temporarily in one at the vet. As our dog's guardian, it's our responsibility to prepare him for the real world so he's not frightened by normal things that might happen to him.

Corgi sitting7) A crate confines your pup for short emergency periods.

For example, suppose your dog has had surgery and the vet prescribes "crate rest" for a few days (or weeks). Then you'll be glad you have a crate on hand and that your pup has been taught how to be calm and quiet in it!

8) A crate provides a sanctuary to retreat to whenever a dog wants peace and quiet.

Your dog can nap or simply observe the world from the refuge of his den. Once he has freedom of the house, you can leave the crate door open and he will go into the crate on his own and sleep. My adult dogs go in and out of their crates freely.

How long can a dog stay in a crate?

During the day, a dog should be in a crate for no more than 2-3 hours at a time, after which he should get a potty break, an activity/play session, and a drink of water.

Therefore, if you work or go to school all day, crating is NOT an option.

You might say, "But he sleeps in there all night!"

Yes, when a dog settles down to sleep all night, his metabolism (including his digestive system) slows down. Sleeping for 7 or 8 hours in his crate at night is fine. But after he has slept all night, his metabolism returns to normal and he needs activity.

You might ask, "What if I come home (or my neighbor comes over) for say, a half hour to take the pup out for a potty break, activity/play session, and drink of water? Can he then go back in the crate for another 2-3 hours?

Well, now you're filling up your pup's daytime life with crate time. How boring is that? And how much companionship are you offering? An hour after supper and a few hours on the weekend? Sociable animals like dogs shouldn't be kept isolated in a small space for so much time with only a quick visit at lunchtime.

In my opinion, dogs and gone-all-day owners are a very poor combination. It's much better for those folks to choose a cat, not a dog. Better for those folks, and certainly much better for the dog!

However, if you work all day and already have your pup and he is either young or has behavior issues such as barking or destructive chewing....

....well, you're faced with a difficult situation.

For that pup's own safety and to keep your house intact, he should be confined when you're gone. The solution – which is not a good one, but may be all that's possible – is to use a large wire exercise pen. Or use portable gates to confine your dog to the kitchen or large laundry room.

two dogs togetherIf your dog absolutely must be alone for more than four hours a day, consider getting a second dog to keep him company. But not yet! Don't try to train two dogs at the same time.  They will bond with each other and follow each other, rather than you.

Instead, work with the dog you have, and once he is well-behaved, respectful, and housebroken, then look for a compatible dog for companionship during those long lonely hours.

The second dog should not be a puppy!  Puppies need tons of attention and training sprinkled throughout the day. They belong in homes where someone is home all day. Instead, I recommend adopting a good-natured adult dog of the opposite sex.

Of course, this assumes your first dog is sociable with other dogs! If he's dog-aggressive, most definitely don't bring home another dog!

What size should the crate be?

  • tall enough for the pup to sit and stand with some clearance above his head.
  • wide enough for him to turn around in, and to lie down flat on his side.
  • deep enough for him to lie down on his stomach with his front paws stretched in front of him.

Alaskan MalamuteNow, if your dog is a puppy of a breed that will be much larger as an adult, there is a problem. Buying an adult-sized crate NOW means the puppy will likely sleep in one half of the crate and go to the bathroom in the other half. Not very desirable!

There are two solutions:

  1. Buy an adult-sized crate that comes with a divider – a solid or wire panel that lets you adjust the living space as your puppy grows. If you keep the living space small enough, you'll greatly reduce the likelihood that the pup eliminates in one end and sleeps in the other!
  2. Or you can buy a smaller crate now for housebreaking. In a few months, after he's housebroken, you can buy a larger crate. Buying a smaller crate now means it's easier to move the crate around the house. This can be useful during the housebreaking period when the puppy spends so much time in the crate. It's nice to be able to move the crate to the room where you or the family is gathered.

Plastic crate or wire crate?

For housebreaking, you want a traditional plastic or wire crate. For already-housebroken dogs, you might prefer a "luxury" (i.e. fashionable-looking) crate made of cloth, wood, or polymer. There are even indestructible aluminum crates for powerful chewers.

What I like about plastic crates:

  • plastic cratePlastic crates have a cozy, den-like atmosphere. They restrict your dog's view of his surroundings, making him more likely to curl up and go to sleep.
  • They're warmer inside, which can be nice if you keep your house temperature on the cool side and have a shivery breed.

What I don't like about plastic crates:

  • They don't have a slide-out pan, so you must reach all the way inside the crate to clean it.
  • You can't see your pup as well, so you can't tell exactly what he's doing in there.
  • In hot weather, if you don't have air conditioning, plastic crates can be stuffy, which isn't good for short-faced, snuffly breeds like Bulldogs and Pugs.

What I like about wire crates:

  • wire crateThe Midwest LifeStages  crate comes with a divider to adjust the size of the living space. It has a slide-out pan for easier cleaning. You can clearly see what your pup is doing through the wire and there's air circulation in hot weather.

What I don't like about wire crates:

  • Wire crates tend to clink and rattle. Their openness doesn't create that secure den atmosphere, and when pups can see everything around them, they are often noisier and more energetic. (But you can buy a fitted crate cover, or else drape a towel/sheet over the top, back, and sides.)

Where should you put the crate?

  • Don't place it where the sun can shine directly on it. It can get hot in there and cook your pup.
  • Don't place it where air can blow on it from a heating/cooling register, a fan, or an air conditioner. Drafts are bad for dogs.
  • Unless you're only going to use it as a nighttime sleeping spot, don't put it in an isolated area such as the utility room or laundry room.

Instead, try to put the crate where there is family activity going on. Typically that's the kitchen, living room, or family room. If you have an office/study where you spend much of the day, you might put the crate in there.

Or you can move it from room to room, though that will be a little more difficult if your dog is a Great Dane!

If you think a dog crate will be ugly in your home, don't despair. With a little thought, you can incorporate a crate into your decor by fitting it under an end table and/or camouflaging it with silk greenery. Just make sure the dog can't reach through the bars with his paws and pull anything chewable into the crate.

Jenna in her crateMouse in her crate

What should you put inside the crate?

Don't put a water bowl in the crate. It will spill, or the dog will splash in it and make a mess. And drinking too much water just makes him need to pee more. Just make sure you offer plenty of drinks outside the crate throughout the day.

I put one toy in the crate during the day – usually a Nylabone® or hard rubber Kong® toy. But at night, no toys. I don't want my dogs practicing being active at night. I want them to sleep.

Adding bedding to the crate

If your pup is NOT housebroken:

Don't put anything soft in the crate. No towels, blankets, or soft beds. Why not? (1) Soft bedding can be chewed and swallowed, and intestinal blockages are life-threatening. (2) If a pup soils soft bedding, he's learning to eliminate on soft things... like your sofa or carpet. (3) Soft bedding absorbs urine, which makes the pup more comfortable,  which isn't much of a motivator to keep his crate clean.

For non-housebroken pups, I put newspapers in the crate. Yes, newspapers do absorb some urine and can be chewed, but pups are more likely to shred  newspapers and less likely to eat them. And newspapers do make it easier to clean the crate.

Don't put "housebreaking pads" (so-called pee pads, or wee wee pads) in the crate. These pads are sprayed with chemicals that encourage  pups to pee on them. You don't want to encourage  your pup to pee in his crate!

Once the dog is housebroken:

  • If he's not a chewer, I offer thick towels or an imitation sheepskin bed. I remove labels and fringes to discourage nibbling.
  • Moderate chewers often do okay with a "chew resistant" crate pad made of foam with a slick vinyl cover.
  • Serious chewer? I don't provide any soft bedding. Hopefully he will grow out of it with maturity, and then I'll try bedding.

How to put your dog into the crate

Be sure he has had a potty break, followed by an activity session so he's ready for a rest. Of course, after the last potty break of the night, no activity session. He should be ready for bed by then.

Siberian pupDraw his attention to two or three tiny treats (cooked chicken works well) in your hand. Toss them into the middle of the crate and as he starts to go in after them, say cheerfully:

"Go crate" or "Go kennel"

He should go in at least far enough to eat the treats. Push the crate door gently against his bottom to persuade him to go the rest of the way in. When he turns around to face you, reach in and unsnap the leash. Close and latch the door. You want him to be calm, so use your low-key voice: "Good boy."

At bedtime, put him in his crate and go about your normal before-bed routine: turning off electronics, locking doors, pulling shades, etc. Don't talk to, or even look at, the dog.

You want him to learn the routine that once he is in his crate at bedtime, you won't be interacting with him any further. This is a reassuring routine that encourages relaxation.

If your pup won't go into the crate

Some pups won't go into the crate even for treats. If possible (and safe), use the leash or your hands to guide him in, even if he's not thrilled about it.

If he's stronger than you or might bite, you'll need to move more slowly.

  • At mealtime, add something aromatic to his food, such as steak or cheese. Put the bowl just inside the crate. Make sure the door is propped open so it can't close on him.

    He might be stubborn enough to skip a meal or two, but he'll soon realize that he has to stick his head into the crate to eat, and hopefully he'll be tempted by the extra goodies.

  • Over a few days, slide the bowl farther back until finally he must enter the crate to eat. While he's eating, close the door for a minute or two before opening it again. (But if he vocalizes or tries to get out, wait until he stops before you let him out.)
  • If you work on this for a week, but you still can't get him into the crate, you might decide to give up and confine him in a small pen instead.

    Just be aware that this degree of resistance is NOT normal and points to something amiss in his psyche or in your leader-follower relationship, or both. It's likely that you will run into additional resistance in other areas, as you continue training.

Teach your pup to "Wait" before he comes out of his crate.

Chinese CrestedThe way you release  your dog from his crate is very important. Super important.

If you rush toward him, fling open the door, and welcome him out with hugs and exclamations of joy ("Yay! You're free!"), then the next time you put him in, he won't be able to relax. He will be wired  the whole time, just itching to be released from "prison."

Instead, always let your dog out in a calm, matter-of-fact way.

  • As you walk toward the crate, don't speak to him.
  • When you reach the crate, crouch down and hold out your hand like a stop sign and say, "Wait."
  • Open the crate door.... but just a crack!

    As you ease the door open, keep your hand on it firmly because he will probably try to charge through the gap. Look sharp here and quickly push it closed before he gets his head through. Don't, don't, don't slam the door into him! Just close it fast and smooth so he couldn't come through.

  • Repeat your hand signal  and "Wait" command. Ease the door open again... just a crack. In the beginning, all you want is 3 or 4 seconds of him restraining himself while the door is partially open.

    You're teaching your dog to control his impulses and wait for your permission. This is such a valuable lesson!

  • After those few successful seconds, reach in and snap on his leash. If he tries to rush out, block him with your hands or the door. Be gentle, but make sure he is waiting nicely before you say, "Okay", which is his cue to come out.
  • Then, depending on how large/old he is, you may want to scoop him up to carry him, or you may let him walk.

Carry him where? Let him walk where?

To his potty area. You want to establish the pattern that after being in the crate, he will always be able to go out to the bathroom. This pattern will help him "hold it" while he's in the crate.

So whether you're carrying him, or whether he's walking on his own, immediately head for the door to his potty area, saying, "You need to go OUT?  Let's go OUT."

If your dog barks in his crate

Virtually all pups come to love the security of their crate. But in the beginning, when the crate is new and it's your  idea that he should go in.... and then you close the door.... well, your pup may consider that whole experience to be a bummer.

So expect protesting at first. Barking, whining, whimpering. Make sure that no other pets (or kids) are inciting the dog by running around near his crate or even just standing there staring at him.

Then pay no attention to the noise. Don't talk to the dog. Don't even look at him.  The noise should subside when he realizes that it's not working and that he might as well drift off to sleep or (during the day) chew on the toy you've given him.

Scottish TerrierHowever, some pups are more persistent and can make a fearsome racket. If you have close neighbors, obviously you can't let your pup howl for an hour. You need to step in before the neighbors (quite rightly) call your landlord, your homeowners association, or the police.

The first thing I do is to cover the crate with a sheet or towel so the dog can't see out. When he can't see things happening, he's more likely to relax and settle down. Next, I put on soothing music: relaxing classical or mellow jazz.

If that doesn't help and the pup is at least 10 weeks old, AS  he is in the middle of a bark/howl, say "No!" or "AH-ah!" and use one of the following corrective techniques:

  • A harmless spray of water  from a plastic spray bottle or squirt gun. Of course, the crate can't be covered for this one! You want him to learn this pattern: Vocalize → wet! So get the timing right. Don't spray when he's being quiet.
  • Barker Breaker deviceA sudden sharp noise. The Barker Breaker® by the Amtek Company  is a small hand-held device that makes a shrill sound when you press the button. The sound startles many pups, causing them to stop whatever they're doing (whether it's barking or something else). Just be forewarned that it's loud and shrill to human ears, too! A cheaper option is to put coins inside a metal can, tape the top shut, and shake the can.

    A loud sound  correction is much less useful when you have multiple dogs, because you don't want the ones who are not misbehaving to feel corrected.

  • Pet CorrectorA puff of compressed air. The Pet Corrector® by The Company of Animals  is a small hand-held device that makes a soft, startling hissing sound, which can interrupt bad behavior.
  • If he's really hollering in there, you might try putting one hand on the crate and giving it a tiny wobble, not enough to make him fall, just enough to unbalance him. This technique is often more effective when the crate is covered so the pup can't see your hand. You want him to think the wobble comes out of nowhere and is caused entirely by his vocalizing.

Every pup is different. Some consider squirts of water to be great fun, but dislike noise. Others are unfazed by noise but dislike getting wet. Other pups seem to be impressed by whatever magic causes their floor to wobble when they vocalize. You never know what will work for any particular pup.

Under no circumstances – well, unless your house is on fire! – should you let a dog out of his crate (or pen) when he is vocalizing, or immediately after he has been doing so.

Make sure every family member understands that your pup must never be let out of the crate during (or immediately after) barking. Dogs are very quick to recognize patterns! If he barks and you let him out, you are training him to bark whenever he wants out. Many, many owners make this mistake.

A general rule of thumb is that your pup should be quiet for at least 3 to 5 minutes before you let him out of the crate.

Children or other pets shouldn't be allowed to pester a dog in his crate. As your dog's guardian, you must ensure that his time in his crate is peaceful and relaxing. Toddlers especially need to be monitored and taught that a pup is not to be disturbed in his crate.

Pen Training

exercise pen

This Australian Shepherd is waiting patiently inside his pen.

All pups should have a crate. Some pups should also have an exercise pen (ex-pen, for short), especially pups who are being taught to use a litterbox, which obviously doesn't fit well inside a crate.

I also use an ex-pen beside my desk for dogs who are well-housebroken but not yet ready to be loose in a room. When I'm working on the computer, these dogs can be given more space in the pen than they would have in their crate.

Finally, since you can unfold an ex-pen to form a straight barrier, I'll use them across open doorways or room entrances to keep a pup confined in, say, the kitchen or mud room.

Ex-pen options and choices

An ex-pen is a pen made of heavy wire/metal or heavy plastic/vinyl.

Typically you get eight panels hinged together to make a pen 4 foot wide by 4 feet long (16 square feet), which gives a pup room to stretch his legs while still keeping him safely confined for a few hours. You can arrange the pen into a circle or a square.

You can get a pen 30 inches high (small breeds), 36 inches high, or 48 inches high. I like a brand called Midwest. You can search for Midwest exercise pen on Amazon.

If you don't like the look of wire/metal, makes a handsome (but very pricey!) pen out of white PVC pipes. If you're handy, you could build it yourself for much less. Just make sure your pup can't fit his head through the pipes or he could break his neck!

Most of my advice about crates applies to ex-pens, as well: Where to place the pen, how to put your pup into the pen, how to take him out of the pen ("Wait" and "Okay"), and how to handle barking.

If your pup jumps on the sides of the ex-pen

It's not uncommon for a dog to jump up on his hind legs and paw at the sides of the pen with his front paws. If he's young enough or small enough that the ex-pen stands firm, you can ignore this behavior at first. He's simply curious and exploring. Hopefully he will settle down and play with a toy.

But if he's larger and might knock over the pen with his jumping, you should correct it right away.

And even if he's small, he shouldn't be repeatedly jumping. You want your pup to be calm and relaxed in his pen, not excitable. Say "No" or "AH-ah" AS he jumps and use a corrective technique like the ones in the previous chapter for barking in the crate.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

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