Should You Crate Train Your Dog?

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Crate training and confinement can be a controversial topic in dog training. Should you crate train your dog, or will it be damaging to your dog? We're going to break down our recommendations and help de-mystify the do's and don'ts of crate training.

Should you crate train your dog, or use a different type of confinement area?

There are two types of confinement strategies we're going to talk about here: a crate, and the use of a larger confinement area like a playpen or baby-gated room. You may benefit from using one or both types of confinement strategies, depending on your dog and your family's needs.

The value of using a crate is that it greatly reduces the opportunity for your dog to have accidents or get access to valuable or unsafe items while you're away. It can also become a safe, quiet space for your dog to retreat when they're tired or overstimulated. We believe all dogs should at least be comfortable in a crate, since it's likely they'll be exposed to one at some point, whether at the groomer, vet, or boarding.

A playpen or other larger confinement area offers additional space if you need to be gone for longer periods, and can also be used when you're home for brief periods when you can't supervise your pup. You can even put your crate inside of the playpen so that both confinement areas work in tandem.

How big should a crate or confinement area be?

We recommend purchasing the size of crate that your dog will fit in at their full adult size, and utilize a crate divider to help the crate grow with your dog. At first, a young puppy should have enough space to comfortably stand up and turn around, but not too much extra space beyond that. Many puppies will just use the extra space as a place to use the bathroom. As your puppy grows, matures, and develops bladder control, you can offer a larger and larger crate space.

For a playpen or baby-gated room, the area should be small enough that your pup doesn't have accidents in the area. Unless you plan to pad-train permanently, we recommend avoiding the use of pads in a playpen or anywhere in your home, as they can become a crutch that hinders your dog's potty training and prevents them from developing the skill of "holding it" when they need to eliminate.

How often should you use a confinement area?

The primary uses for your confinement areas should be when you need to leave home, when you can't actively supervise your pup, or overnight. A general rule of thumb for maximum time in a crate is the dog's age in months plus one hour, up to about 6 hours.

As much as possible, we recommend limiting the time spent in confinement to much less than that, as you'll likely find an (understandable) explosion of energy and undesirable behaviors if your dog is confined for long periods. Consider hiring a pet sitter or dog walker for days you'll be gone for long periods.

How do you get your dog comfortable in a crate or confinement area?

Check out the video below for the first steps to crate train your puppy or dog. We want to build a positive association with the crate by pairing it with a food reward, and gradually building up your dog's comfort level with longer and longer durations in the crate. You can also feed your dog's meals in the crate or confinement area (with the door open) to help them create an even stronger association.

When can you stop using the crate?

Confinement is generally most important during puppyhood and adolescence, when dogs are more likely to have accidents and chew undesirable objects. As your dog reaches adulthood, you can start leaving your pup loose for 10-15 minutes while you're away – it can be helpful to use a camera to watch your pup's activities when unattended – and then building up that time as your dog is capable of handling the lack of supervision.

On average, dogs are ready for unsupervised freedom in the house around the age of 12-18 months, but this number can vary greatly based on the individual dog.

Avoid overusing your confinement area.

I suppose the question isn't "should you crate train your dog," but rather – how do you crate train your dog without overdoing it?

Perhaps the most important advice we can give is to avoid overusing your crate or playpen. It's easy to get comfortable with your pup spending the majority of the day in a playpen, only taking them out for potty breaks or designated play periods, but here's the problem with that:

  • Your dog won't learn how to behave or settle *outside* of their confinement area, leading to excessive mouthiness, excessively chewing or swallowing items, and explosions of energy when out of the confinement area.
  • Without the opportunity to make mistakes, like having an accident or chewing on something inappropriate, your puppy will miss out on critical learning and socialization opportunities and may struggle to integrate into your normal life later on.
  • Potty training will likely take longer, as pups may learn to not have accidents inside the pen, but don't generalize that concept outside of the pen.

More puppy questions? Check out some of our other blogs:

First Things to Teach Your Puppy

Puppy Biting: What's Normal, What's Not, and How to Curb It

Solving Your Puppy Potty Training Problems

If you need more personalized help, we offer training local to the Atlanta, GA area, or virtual training worldwide. Feel free to contact us here to learn more.

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