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Why Dogs Deserve a Den

A crate trained dog is a happy dog!

Photo by Mysaell Armendariz on Unsplash.com

A lot of dog owners don't use a dog crate. A dog crate, or a kennel, is a metal or plastic box used to replicate a den. Crates are typically used in the home, but they are also a useful travel tool. 

Pet owners tend to sway from a crate because of it's cage-like appearance. With any training tool, using a crate incorrectly can be more harmful than beneficial. Keeping a dog in a crate too long, for example, can make them feel trapped or neglected. However, a crate itself is not abusive. In fact, crates are common and encouraged. Most doggy daycares or over-night kennels use crates. This is to help circulate dogs, manage bad behaviors, and help the dogs feel safer. These reasons are very similar to why a dog owner should be utilizing a crate at home. Lots of dogs need a crate to help with anxiety and other behaviors. You may think your dog doesn't need a crate at all! But providing our dogs with their proper habitat really makes a difference to them. 

Dens are a natural canine habitat.

Before being domesticated, a dog would be living in a cozy, dug-out cave. Dogs prefer to sleep and take shelter in holes or dens. This is also why you'll see stray dogs nesting under houses and rubble. If your dog is well past his puppy phase, he may be anxious about a crate because he's never brought that instinct out. Dogs can get comfortable using the whole house as their den. The house should be considered shared domain. Having a crate for a dog supplies him with a space to call his own. Think of it like a dog's bedroom! 

Some pet owners worry that they can't use a crate for punishments. This is out of fear that the dog may refuse to enter the crate over time. Stay away from yelling or acting aggressively when sending a dog to a crate. Having a more neutral tone helps dogs understand that it is a teaching moment for them. Dogs do understand how time-out works. It is best to crate train when they are a puppy so they don't develop anxiety towards confined spaces or being left alone. Once a dog has accepted a crate as their den, you'll find him walking in by himself! A crate should be a comfortable place for a dog to sleep or chew on his favorite toy. 

Everyone needs a time-out sometimes.

As a parent, you would send your child to their room if they were misbehaving. This can be utilized with dogs too! Puppies and young dogs sometimes need naps. Even when dogs are grown up, they still act like toddlers. Don't forget to keep a neutral tone when sending a dog to their crate. Shouting and forcing a dog into a crate will only make them feel more nervous.  

To better understand how to use the crate for fair discipline, let's use an example. Let's say you come home and find your dog has gotten into the trash. First, you can point out the mess to the dog, as it can help them identify what they are in trouble for. Don't shout about the mess or shove their face in it. Getting angry only will only upset your dog. Once a dog is upset, they really don't understand what you're asking of them. Calmly showing the mess can trigger an understanding response. Your dog may cower slightly, dropping his ears and tucking his tail. If a dog shows these signs, it's time to move on from the mess. 

The next step is to walk your dog into their crate. Keep him in there while you're cleaning up the mess. A good fifteen minutes should be enough time for them. Try not to make a habit of keeping a dog in a crate for long periods of time. This can cause the dog to act out or feel restless. When you let the dog out, it's important they sit and patiently wait for the door to open. One time-out may not fix the trash eating issue, but repeating this every time it happens will help. Your dog will eventually learn that a time-out after certain actions means that the action was wrong. Repetition is important, just like any training tactic. Don't forget to praise after the time-out, especially if they were quiet the whole time! Praising after the time-out helps reassure and point out good behavior. 

Potty training made simple.

When you have a new puppy, potty training can be a challenge. Crate training can be a useful tool to house train a dog. Having a schedule makes this simultaneous training more effective. A puppy should have potty breaks in between his play and crate time. It's important to use the crate for naps, bedtime, and when the dog is home alone. This will help the puppy identify the crate as their den. Once they understand the purpose of the crate, they are less likely to have an accident in there. Puppies want to keep their den clean. They will be more willing to wait until they are outside to relieve themselves. 

Some larger crates come with dividers designed to help with house training. A young puppy will still have trouble holding his bladder. Accidents happen! These large, metal crates can be divided into a medium and smaller area. This allows you to place a training pad in the smaller area, away from the puppy's bed. A door can be left open on the divider, giving the puppy a place to relieve himself. It's best to over time close off the potty area in the crate. Keep the door closed during the day, but open at night or when the puppy is left alone for a long time. Eventually, you can remove the divider completely as the puppy becomes better house trained. 

Need Some Tips?

Stock Photo

Crate training can get tricky if your dog is picky or easily anxious. If your pooch is older and has never seen a crate, it may take time for them to acclimate. Placing a treat inside the crate can persuade a dog to walk in themselves. Remember to praise to help ensure that a crate is a safe place! Placing a fluffier bed and their favorite toys can help make the crate feel more like their own. Some dogs prefer a plastic crate. These crates can feel softer and more like a proper den. Covering a metal crate with a blanket can sometimes help a dog feel more secure. Certain anxious dogs will prefer the cave-like feeling over a more open crate.

Sometimes a dog will act out and bark inside their crate. Think of this as a tantrum. Dogs will bark and bite at the bars if they want out. It's important to ignore this behavior so they don't continue. If a dog is let out while he is "throwing a tantrum," then he assumes this behavior will get him what he wants. Using a blanket to cover them can help, but make sure they don't chew or pull the blanket inside. Some dogs can act like a nightmare in a crate. While it is frustrating, the less you react will help in the long run.

Dogs with separation anxiety can benefit from being crated while left home alone. This reduces the risk of them breaking anything in the home or hurting themselves. Start introducing the crate when you are home with them. An anxious dog will find the new den scary, but that is only because they don't want to be away from you. Using a crate can help them feel comfortable by themselves. Separation anxiety will cause the dog to act out by whining and barking inside the crate. If the dog is actively pulling on the crate in a way that he may injure himself, ask him to stop and lay down. Praise and then continue to leave them alone.

A lot of dogs do well in crates but may have an issue when exiting. They can get excited and begin spinning or pushing on the door. Always ask your dog to sit before opening the door. Once the door is open, they can calmly step out. If the dog sits but instantly gets up once you pull the latch open, have them sit again. Don't finish opening the door until they can sit patiently, especially if they are pushing the door open themselves.

Introducing a den to your dog can seem foreign since we, as humans, have taken away that aspect over time. It may not click right away for every dog. Don't give up! There will be bumps in the road with any training. In the long run, crates help dogs feel safer. They can really help anxious dogs feel more independent and "okay" with being left alone. The use of a crate can also give the dog owner peace of mind. In the end, we all want our dogs to feel happy and safe. A dog deserves a den.

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