Crate training has become standard practice for many dog owners by this time. Although the common belief that dogs have a natural "den instinct" is not, in fact, true, they do benefit from an exclusive and secure space to call their own. Dog crates allow owners to confine their dogs in an environment that quickly becomes familiar and reassuring to the dog. They allow dogs to become accustomed to being out of sight of their masters, and teaches them to hold their bladders until a designated bathroom break. Crates are also very desirable for transporting dogs in cars. Crate training is a somewhat lengthy, involved process, and a full explanation is outside the scope of this article. Here we will simply present a basic guide to choosing a dog crate and how to begin the crate training process.
When buying your first dog crate, your first consideration is size. A dog crate should be big enough for the dog to stand up, turn around, and otherwise move with ease. Unless you want to buy multiple crates throughout the life of your dog, you'll need to buy one that will fit its full-grown size, even if you're getting the dog as a puppy. The tricky part about this is that you do not want the dog to have more room than it actually needs, at least not once it has outgrown the puppy stage. However, setting up dividers to reduce the space of the crate is not difficult, so err on the side of too large rather than too small.
Various crate designs are available, with different qualities. The most common are either welded mesh "cages" comprised of metal grates for sides, with a removable tray in the bottom for easier cleaning; or, rigid plastic crates, usually with clips that attach the top half to the bottom. Both are sturdy and long-lasting designs, but are also bulky and difficult to move. Some metal crates can be disassembled or collapsed, but even these tend to be less convenient than the third type: soft-sided dog crates, made of nylon or other fabric stretched over a metal frame. These soft dog crates are the lightest and more portable of them, and tend to be more attractive as well. Unfortunately, the fabric in these types does not hold up well to the gnawings of a puppy or a dog struggling to escape its crate. If you are taking in a puppy, or dog that is not already crate-trained, save the soft dog crate for later in life.
Once you have a crate in your home, you can begin introducing the dog to it's new "bedroom". The most important thing to remember here is to make sure that all associations the dog makes with the crate be pleasant ones. Do not force the dog into its crate right away- rather, lure it in with treats or toys. Even once the dog has entered the crate, you should not seal it in immediately. Wait until the dog seems comfortable in the crate- you want this space to be a safe haven, not a prison. By the same token, do not use yelling, hitting, or other negative conditioning techniques to try to train your dog. Dogs, like people, will always respond much more effectively to positive reinforcement. You must also be as consistent as possible in maintaining your rules. If your dog whines or barks while in its crate, you must neither yell or pound on the crate, nor let the dog out- the former will simply scare and confuse the dog, while the latter rewards its bad behavior. Be firm, but loving at all times.
By maintaining a positive and consistent course of training, your dog will soon come to understand its dog crate for what it is- a cozy private space to call its own. A good quality crate should last through the lifetime of your dog, serving to keep its occupant safe and warm and secure throughout many happy years.