Making your dog’s crate feel like home

If your dog looks uncomfortable inside, she probably is

Photo credit: Shamontiel L. Vaughn

Dog crates looked like dog jail to me before March 2019. I couldn’t wrap my mind around why anyone would put their dog inside of one instead of letting him walk around freely. But I also grew up in a house with an unfinished basement where we allowed our dogs to stroll around freely — on the floor, in the laundry room, on the used couches and all. That was their “room” and we were visitors. But for apartment dwellers and homeowners who don’t have a designated room for their pets, crates may be the most obvious way to go — especially for mischievous dogs who can tear up a home in minutes.

I’ve walked in the door and noticed a chewed-up bookshelf from a French Bulldog puppy. I didn’t know three-month-old teeth could do that much damage. I’ve seen a room full of feathers and stuffing that used to be couch pillows, and a Rat Terrier who looked around like he had no idea who did it. Then there was the Labrador Retriever who chewed off one blade of heavy-duty scissors within a few minutes of his owner emptying the garbage.

So for dog owners who cannot find a “safe” space for their dogs to not be able to get a hold of anything to tear up, a crate didn’t seem like such a bad idea anymore. But what really changed my mind was watching countless dogs stroll right by me and flop down inside of their open crates, treating it like a dog home. In a year’s time I learned all the ways I could’ve allowed my own dogs to stay upstairs more often without tearing up our home.

Don’t treat the crate like it really is jail. If a dog is only sent to the crate when he does something wrong, he may connect that he’s done something wrong every time he’s taken to the crate. I was doing some work online and one particular dog kept trying to nibble at my hands and arms to get me to play with her. I finally got tired of it and put her in a crate just so I could finish the last page. But the way she trembled after only being in the crate for less than two minutes distracted me so much that I opened the door. She snuggled up to me and stopped chewing at my arms, but that was it for me and that crate. The next time I came to her home, the crate was gone. Because she was an adopted dog, it’s unclear how her last home treated crates. Judging from that reaction though, it wasn’t her finer memories.

If you wouldn’t sleep on it, your dog probably won’t want to. There’s a reason your dog keeps trying to hop on your bed or couch. It’s no accident that your dog keeps scooting her butt on your hips or crawling in between your legs when you sit cross-legged. She’s a snuggler who likes body heat and the feel of something soft. In puppy years, it’s rough trying to keep a dog pillow or dog blanket inside of a crate. You’re sure to come home to poop or pee on it, and have regular laundry to do.

Photo credit: Shamontiel L. Vaughn

However, as with house training, your dog will soon affiliate that pooping or peeing inside of that crate means she will have to lay in it, too. It’s why crate training mixed with consistent scheduled walks make it much easier for your dog to let you know when she has to go. Until your puppy reaches that point though, don’t skimp on the puppy pads.

The French Bulldog (mentioned above) loved those things when she was in a gated room. Unfortunately, she loved them so much that she would lay on them like blankets and then step off of them to poop on the floor. My workaround? Putting down two pads — one for her to relax on and the adjacent one for her to poop on. Between that, obnoxious clapping, cheering and a treat every time she pooped on the pad instead of the floor, she quickly caught on. I was stunned by Day 3 when she strolled out of her create, pooped and peed on the pad by the gate, and then walked over to me — as if she was saying, “Where’s the treat? I know how this game is played.”

Avoid putting dog food or water inside of the crate. While this makes sense to do if you’re going to be gone for a while, it can be problematic if your dog is anything like a Great Pyrenees/Poodle mix I once house-sat. He just kept knocking over his water dish. He couldn’t help it. He was an anxious and ginormous puppy who was still figuring out agility. The owners advised me to let him eat and drink inside of the crate, but then make sure to remove the water dish at night. It was obvious why considering I was constantly drying off the mat from spilled water. He’d perfected resting inside in an L-shape to get around the water spill. Eventually I just put the water dish to the side of the crate so he could stick his head out without having to walk all the way out.

Make sure the crate is the right size. This was hard for me to comprehend at first. I didn’t quite understand why crates were supposed to be as snug as they were until I learned more about crate training. Revisiting the spilled water example above and the consistent walks, if a dog has enough room that he can just pee and poop on one side and hang out on the other, be prepared to have a tougher time with crate training. This is why consistent walking is extremely important. Your dog will get used to waiting. It may take some time though. I regularly walked a Labrador mix who would wait until I opened the door and pee as soon as she stepped out of the crate door. She knew to get out of the crate, just not how far out. I realized fairly quickly to reach inside of the crate, leash her and then scurry to the backdoor. After she released herself, I could take my time putting on her vest and leash. In her mind, my 60-second vest and leash routine was far too long for her bladder.

This is not the Lab. I just love this pic of one of my favorite regulars, who was super ready to go for a walk. (Photo credit: Shamontiel L. Vaughn)

Every dog is different. Some dogs catch on to crate training faster than others. Your dog isn’t doing anything “wrong” if he doesn’t get it immediately. And it’s completely pointless to swat him with newspaper, spray him or any other negative reinforcement. You’re better off with positive reinforcement (awarding him for doing something correctly) in every situation. By the time he figures out how to learn your training tips, you’ll be so proud of him — and you too.

Shamontiel is a dog lover to her core: 467 completed walks with 76 dogs, eight dog-housesittings and four dog boardings at the time of this publication. Would you like to receive Shamontiel’s Weekly Newsletter via MailChimp? Sign up today!

Doggone World

For dog lovers, dog walkers and dog owners.

Shamontiel L. Vaughn

Written by

Check out her six Medium pubs: BlackTechLogy, Doggone World, Homegrown, I Do See Color, Tickled and We Need to Talk. Visit Shamontiel.com to read about her.

Doggone World

Let’s discuss all bark-related, (mostly) feel-good content for dog lovers, dog walkers and dog owners.

Shamontiel L. Vaughn

Written by

Check out her six Medium pubs: BlackTechLogy, Doggone World, Homegrown, I Do See Color, Tickled and We Need to Talk. Visit Shamontiel.com to read about her.

Doggone World

Let’s discuss all bark-related, (mostly) feel-good content for dog lovers, dog walkers and dog owners.

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