One of the most misunderstood tools for working with dogs is the use of a crate. What a crate is not: a prison or place of punishment.What a crate is: a safe, comfortable refuge or "den" for a dog useful for house-training, travel, events and management.Proper crate training begins with introducing your dog to their crate as a fun-filled den. I suggest starting with the crate in an area where your dog will still feel included in the household. While the door is open, put enticing treats into the crate, or tie them to the sides. Peanut butter-filled Kongs tied on the side of the crate work great for this. First, close the door to the crate with your dog on the outside of it, just dying to get in to discover and explore those new toys and treats. Then let your dog into the crate to get the toys and treats and leave the door open. Repeat this a few times a day until your dog is willingly going into their crate with the door open.Once your dog is comfortable in their crate, start closing the door for a couple of minutes at a time, never leaving the area. Slowly increase the time your dog is left in the crate while still staying nearby. Once your dog is comfortable with this arrangement, leave for a minute then come back. Slowly increase the amount of time you leave while your dog is in their crate, always come back and always leave chew toys with them to keep them occupied. Again, Kongs stuffed with peanut butter and then frozen are great for this. Putting a sheet over the crate will also make your dog feel more secure as well as cut down on any visual stimulation they may be reacting to.A general rule of thumb is that a dog should be left in a crate no longer than 4 hours at a time. Crates are very useful for containment while house-training a new dog or puppy. They allow for safe travel with dogs in cars and are essential for air travel. They can make hotel stays much easier and are often required at dog sporting events to keep your dog contained and safe until it's their turn to perform. Furthermore, crate training your dog now will be very helpful to them in the worse-case scenario of evacuation due to fire this summer. At least they will have their familiar den to find comfort in if there is chaos around them.Set you and your dog up for success. Make the crate a fun, safe den in which your dog will feel secure and use crates wisely and humanely.Louisa Morrissey is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and owner of Skijor n-More. She is also a professional member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and a licensed Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer. www.skijornmore.com
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