There is heaps of conflicting information out there about the benefits of crate training and whether it is humane. As a police handler and trainer for over 23 years, in which my working dogs have been kennelled at home, I can provide an educated opinion of their importance.

Why Crate Training?

Dogs are den animals, even though they are now domesticated, they still have the hard-wired instinctual fear of predators and the need to feel safe when sleeping. Ever noticed your dog spinning around on the bed before lying down, this is partially an instinctual behaviour of self-preservation in which dogs position themselves to fight off any potential predators. The same with regards to the importance of a “den” within the home. When your dog is correctly shaped to the crate or place, your dog will feel secure and completely safe from any perceived “attack”.

Many of my private clients have dogs unable to relax, leading to anxiety and in turn demonstrating behavioural problems like incessant barking and fear aggression. The introduction of the crate has had a huge effect on these dogs. They can now relax in the crates and there has been a noticeable reduction in both their anxiety and behavioural problems.

Toilet training is made simpler when crate trained. Dogs are naturally “kennel proud” meaning they don’t like to soil within their sleeping areas. Provided your crate isn’t too large, and you manage time effectively, your dog will wait until removed from the crate to empty. During the early stages of puppy development, including time in the crate, combined with toilet training, playtime, feeding and obedience training, to provide routine and structure for your dog.

Crate training your dog helps with avoiding or reducing separation anxiety. Once your dog is actively choosing to stay within the crate for extended periods and rest, then your dog is feeling very secure with the crate. Anytime we create a mindset within the dog that it is ok to be away from the family, then we pretty much guarantee that your dog will be free of any separation issues. When the family leaves the home, make sure the crate is accessible for the dog to enter. In time you may find it more effective to leave the dog within the crate when away from the home. My work dogs have operated with this routine for over two decades without issues.

Crate Training Your Dog?

I’m not a big fan of using compulsion during crate training. I’ve had far more success in either luring or allowing the dog to “free shape” and self-discover the benefits of the crate. Luring a young puppy involves the use of placing food in the crate and encouraging the dog into the crate. I prefer to allow the dog to “free shape” and incrementally discover the crate. Combined with the use of a marker, in this case either a clicker or the word “yes”, the dog quickly understands the benefits of staying inside the crate. To fully explain the marker system is another blog article, but basically the marker forms a link between the behaviour with the reward. In this case, as soon as the dog either partially or fully enters the crate, mark that behaviour with a high pitched “yes” or a clicker then reward the dog with a high value treat. Continue this system until the dog fully enters the crate, then introduce closing the door and then gradually increase time the dog spends in the crate. Don’t force the dog into the crate or open the door when the dog is barking. Properly done, a dog can be fully trained within one to two days.

Choosing Your Crate

If your crate is too big, it may encourage your dog to spoil within the crate. If it is too small, then it is uncomfortable for your dog. The correct size should allow adequate head room and be long enough for the dog to turn around easily. There are many different styles of crates available on the market. If you are seeking a crate that matches your lounge room furniture, a local Brisbane company called “The Paws Room” have custom made crates that are both stylish and reasonably priced.

Social structure is very important in a dog pack. Crate training allows you to establish routine and structure for your dog. Crate training is a very effective way to minimise the instinctual survival behaviours inherent in your dog by providing a safe den environment. My experiences with crates and kennels have only been positive. If you are still sitting on the fence, the place or bed offer similar advantages when establishing a safe environment within the home for your dog.