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Crates and Confinement Training

Why and how we use crates and confinement with a new puppy or dog.

Let's start with how and when to NOT use a crate or confinement.

The use of a crate to store a dog away for hours and hours, days and days, years and years is cruel. A crate is not an appropriate living space for a dog. Anyone who has a dog whose life is spent in a crate needs to be reported to animal control. Long term, unrelenting crate confinement is severe animal abuse. If your only option for dog management is hours and hours or days of crate confinement, don't get a dog. If you have a dog that is spending his life in a crate, rehome him.

Additionally, if a dog has isolation or separation anxiety, use of a crate for confinement can cause increased anxiety and behavior issues, including self-harm. If your dog is already exhibiting isolation, separation or confinement anxiety, you should immediately start working with a separation anxiety expert. They generally prefer to work remotely (becuase being present changes the isolation/separation response) so contact one immediately and get started as resolution programs are often spread out over a period of time. There are dog trainers who specialize in separation anxiety, and there is a good certification program as well. Find certified separation anxiety specialists here:

Crates vs Confinement area:

Crates are sized so that a dog can turn around and stand up comfortably. Confinement areas are made with exercise pen ("expen", wire panels joined together to form an enclosure. You can purchase expen in different heights and weights) and often a crate inside the pen or attached to it. Within the confinement area you provide a bed, water, toys and depending on the age of the dog and the length of confinement, pee pads or a potty area. An example configuration using a "grass" potty area.

The most common uses for crates and confinement areas:

  • Potty training

  • Destruction prevention

  • Resource contention prevention

  • Relief from activity or stressful situations

  • Self-isolation to enjoy an unerupted behavior (chewing for example)

  • A comfy place to sleep either alone or with a pal

You'll see there are a mix of uses here, some are driven by the owner, but if we have done a good job of confinement training, some are choices made by the dog!

Potty training:

When pups are born, in order for them to eliminate (pee and poop) they require stimulation. This stimulation is provided by mom licking. When the pups eliminate, mom cleans it up. This is not gross, becuase this is a closed loop - mom nurses the babies and they eliminate what she provided and she then cleans it up. It is also an evolutionary necessity - the nest has to be kept clean to reduce sickness, and as odor free as possible to prevent predators.

Once pups are weaned on to solid food, many moms will cease to clean up after them. Nature drives pups to naturally eliminate away from the sleeping area (mom may also encourage this).

Good breeders take advantage of this by providing a separate space for pups to eliminate, and given space and encouragement, most pups will start at a very early age to use a separate potty area. However pups that are raised in kennels or in smaller pen areas may not have access to space away from their sleeping area. These pups - at their most formative time - can get used to the idea of sleeping in poop and pee.

If your puppy or adopted dog does not eliminate in the crate, we can use the crate when we are home or gone for short periods of time to prevent the dog from eliminating until we take him out to a an appropriate spot. If the dog or puppy is NOT clean in the crate, we need to use a confinement area, and the dog or pup will frequently choose to keep the bed dry and clean, and use the potty area. They are learning the pleasure of a clean dry bed.

We also use the confinement area when we are going to be gone for an extended period of time. We want to provide water, toys and an elimination area if we are leaving the pup or dog alone for more than an hour or two (depending on age).

Destruction Prevention:

Unlike babies, pups and dogs are not welcome in most indoor public places. You can take the baby to the supermarket, but not the puppy. As well, there are times we have to do something (take a shower for example) where we can't attend. If it is a baby, it goes in the bassinet, if it is a pup or untrained dog, it goes in the crate or confinement area. The baby gets a safe rattle or toy, the dog gets a stuffed Kong or a safe chew like a Nyla bone.

We know when we get out of the shower the house will be as we left it. We won't get mad at the puppy or the dog for being destructive or eliminating in the house. We are also building short, safe, POSITIVE experiences with isolation and confinement.

Note: if your puppy or your dog freaks out when confined and left alone for very short periods, get a trainer in ASAP. Isolation/separation anxiety is a cumulative fear and feeds on prior experiences. Our goal should always be to have confinement be comfortable - not necessarily PREFERED but certainly not evoking extreme stress.

Resource contention prevention:

If you have a multi-dog household, then crates/confinement areas are a must. If you have brought another dog into your home, you existing dog may feel the new dog, or a new puppy, should not have access to toys that were all his or a sofa that was all his, or a owner that was all his. A confinement area can give both dogs time and space to stay safe while you work with a trainer on a program to reduce contention.

Feeding two dogs is hugely simplified when everyone eats in their crate. You'll know who has or hasn't finished their food, and you'll never have a dog that eats as fast as possible to try and get to the other dog's dish, or a dog that gets bullied off its food.

When you hand out highly valuable treats (pigs ears, bones, bully sticks) you can do so with the dogs in their crates or confinement areas. No fights over that new toy. And at the same time you are increasing the association between great stuff and crate or confinement area - making those places more desirable for the dog.

Relief from activity or stressful situations:

New dogs and puppies need relief from petting and playing. If you have kids or an active household, your dog will appreciate a safe haven. The standing rule is that when the puppy or dog retreats to their crate or their confinement area, they are not to be bothered - no talking at them, no petting, etc. And certainty no visitors - kids are often tempted (though I have seen adults do it as well) to join the dog in the crate. If the dog wants to be with you, they will join you outside the crate or confinement area.

New puppies need lots of naps, and a crate or a confinement area is the perfect spot for uninterrupted snoozing. It also means when your pup wakes up you can get them out fast to eliminate or they'll have access to an appropriate potty area.

If you're bringing a new dog or a puppy into a house where there is already a dog, your resident dog may appreciate time without the puppy in its face, as well as periods of private attention from you while the new comer is confined.

Some events are just too stressful for pups or dogs, or detract from the events purpose - a child's birthday for example, is not a great event for a pup. Put the dog away with something wonderful to chew, and you won't have to worry about a kid who is afraid of dogs, or gets jumped on, or stolen cake or chewed presents and the birthday girl or boy can stay the focus, not a naughty dog. Holiday parties with drinks and lots of food are also a potential disaster for a pup or a dog - put them away where they are safe, and with a good stuffed Kong or other great treat they won't feel left out.

Self-isolation to enjoy an unerupted behavior (chewing for example) and a comfy place to sleep either alone or with a pal:

When I have a really good book, I go to my bedroom and shut the door for peace and quiet. If introduced properly to the crate or confinement, your puppy or dog will soon do the same when they want a little alone time.

When the crate or confinement area is a positive place for your dog, you will find, as I do, that when my dogs are ready for bed, they put themselves to bed in their crates. They often are snoring happily with the doors open while I am still watching the end of a movie.

If you need help getting your dog or new puppy crate or confinement trained, get a credentialed, positive trainer to come to your house and work with you on a good set up, a good management plan, and a good training plan.

Every dog - sooner or later - will need to be confined. Make sure your dog is comfortable and relaxed with confinement. it is a critical part of having a happy, safe dog in your home.

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