How to Choose, Use and Maintain a Dog Crate
A dog crate is an essential product for any pet parent. Unfortunately, pet parents don’t always know enough about dog crates to select, use and maintain them properly. Typical questions we get:
- What’s the right size?
- How big should a dog crate be?
- What material should I choose?
- How do I introduce my new puppy to a crate?
- Are there any risks to be aware of?
You may even be wondering how to collapse a dog crate. Don't worry, we will answer these questions and many more in the article below:
Selecting your dog crate
- Choose the right size (bigger is not better): How big should a dog crate be? The answer isn't so simple. Make sure the crate is only a few inches larger along each of your dog’s dimensions (length, height, width). Just enough room for your dog to be able to stand up and turn around. Dogs will relieve themselves more often in crates that are too big for them. Manufacturers typically have guides to help you select a crate size. These are helpful, particularly if you do not know the ultimate size of your puppy.
- Pick the right material: Avoid fabric (soft) crates for dogs that tend to escape and remember that heavier materials (e.g., wood) are less convenient for transportation.
- Plan for adulthood: If you’re getting for a puppy, choose a crate that will fit your dog when she is fully grown to avoid buying a new crate in the future. Make sure however, the crate comes with a puppy divider or something similar to reduce the size of the crate until she’s fully grown to avoid the oversized issue discussed in the first bullet above.
- Make sure the crate is suitable to your lifestyle: You’ll have the dog crate a long time (typically 8-15 years) in a central part of your home – make sure you like how it looks and works, and that the quality is high. If you have limited space in your home or plan to travel with the crate, get something lighter and/or collapsible. If you plan on putting your dog in a crate for flights or car trips, make sure the crate is explicitly rated for use in planes or cars.
- Pick the right spot: The crate will become your dog’s den. That means the crate should be centrally located within your home but also not completely in the middle of the action so your dog can seek refuge when she wants to. Lighting in the area should be on the darker side to create that comforting, den-like atmosphere. Also, make sure the area where you place the crate gets sufficient ventilation and does not get too hot or cold. It’s fine to use the crate in the bedroom if you follow the same principles in choosing the right location.
- Follow the instructions: Unfortunately dogs can get injured when their parents don’t setup and use crates properly, that's why it's essential to know how to collapse or fold a dog crate. The number one cause of pet injury is pet parent error. Following the crate manufacturer’s instructions (videos, manuals, etc.) is critical to ensuring you use the crate correctly and keeping your beloved dog happy and safe.
- Double-check latches and hooks: One of the easiest way for your dog to escape, or worse injure herself, is where latches were not properly secured. Once you setup the crate, make sure to double-check that all latches are secure.
- Keep clear of dangerous objects: Make sure the area immediately around the crate is free of items that could fall into the crate (e.g., through the holes) or that your dog could reach with her paws or tongue. Your dog could injure herself just trying to reach for an appealing objects or worse, choke on small objects that make their way into the crate.
Introduction and acclimation
- Never force your dog into the crate: You want your dog to love her crate. Forcing her in when she’s not ready will only make her fearful of it. You need to follow a steady process (see below) and decide when she’s ready to be kept in her crate for extended periods of time.
- Use progressive steps to get your dog comfortable: We recommend a 4-step process: (1) Start by putting treats in the crate and letting your dog walk freely in and out. (2) Then when she feels comfortable going into the crate herself, close the door for short periods of time (just a few minutes). (3) Next you need to leave the room for short periods of time (just a few minutes) and slowly increase the time you spend away while your dog is in her crate. (4) Once you can do this for longer periods of time, your dog may be ready to be left alone while you’re out of the house (as always, start with short trips away) or overnight while you sleep. It’s important to constantly read your dog’s level of comfort as you progress through the steps. If you sense she’s becoming anxious (e.g., excessive whining, barking or yawning, tail between her legs), move back to the previous step.
- Don’t cave to cries: There will be times, particularly early-on, when your dog cries for you to let her out of the crate. This typically happens at nighttime in the first few days. You must not cave and let her out when she cries because otherwise she will learn that whining will result in her being let out. If you want to let your dog out and comfort her, make sure you wait until she stops whining. If you’ve followed the 4-step process properly, whining should be minimal.
- Use a puppy divider: If you are introducing a dog to a crate that is much bigger than she needs (e.g., introducing a puppy to a crate intended for adulthood), make sure you use a puppy divider to reduce the amount of space the dog can access (see sizing instructions above). Dog’s who spend time in crates that are too big tend to rest in one area and relieve themselves in another. You do not want to train your dog to do her business inside the areas where she sleeps and lives.
- Be consistent and employ routines: Dogs like routine and consistency. They don’t respond will to seemingly erratic behavior. To the extent possible, develop habits and routines when putting your dog in her crate. For example, perhaps you walk her right before putting her in the crate or put her in the crate at the same time each day. Similarly, when you travel with your dog, you may want to bring your crate with you so she has a familiar place to sleep in a new location.
- Be mindful of what you put in the crate: Some objects should never be in a crate with a dog. You need to keep objects out of the crate that could pose choking hazards. Avoiding these objects is particularly important if you leave your dog alone for long periods of time and would not be able to help her in the event something goes wrong. Some examples of objects to avoid: blankets and towels, small objects and toys, food. You should also remove your dog’s collar before putting her in the crate. Water, large toys and chewables, mattresses and accessories designed for the crate are usually all fine.
- Adapt your crate usage based on your dog’s personality and behavior: As your dog matures, her crate needs may change. For example, when she was a puppy, maybe she needed the crate to be kept locked at all times to prevent her from becoming mischievous in your home. When she gets older and her behavior changes, you may be able to keep the crate open and unlocked to let her go in and out freely when she wants to. Pay attention to your dog’s needs and adjust usage as appropriate.
- Only use crates as intended: It is so important to use the crate the way the manufacturer intended. If the crate is not intended to hold a dog in a car, never put a dog in a crate while riding in a car. Doing so could severely harm your dog or other passengers in the car. Don't try to collapse the dog crate incorrectly. Make sure you follow all instructions for collapsing your dog crate. Similarly, avoid putting heavy objects on top of a crate, particularly flimsy wire ones. It would be disastrous if the roof of the crate collapsed, particularly if you are away. In general, think carefully about how you use the crate.
- Never use crates as a form of punishment: Crates are not meant to be a form of punishment. If you create an association for your dog that crate = punishment, she’ll never want to use it. It’s important to resist the temptation of “sending her to her room” when she misbehaves.
- Avoid extended stays in the crate: It’s usually fine to keep an adult dog locked in a crate for several hours at a time. More than that can be cruel and harmful. Your dog needs food, exercise and the opportunity to relieve herself.
- Clean regularly: Fur, dirt, pee, poop and other nasties are all likely to end up in the crate at one point or another. It’s important to clean the crate regularly to avoid smells, keep your home clean and reduce the risk of infection. If your dog has an accident in the crate, you should clean it immediately.
- Monitor for chewable areas: Normal wear and tear or your dog’s behavior could damage the crate, resulting in areas your dog may be able to bite or chew-on. Chewable areas can pose a choking or escaping hazard. It’s important to identify and fix such issues immediately. Some crates unfortunately are poorly designed and have such issues from the beginning. We recommend replacing such products to avoid injury.
- Fix or replace broken crates immediately: A broken crate poses a significant risk to your dog. She could escape or in trying to do so, get stuck and injure herself. If you can, repair the crate with replacement parts. If not (e.g., rusted wire crates), replace with a new product to keep your dog safe.
Remember, responsible crating isn’t a negative experience for dogs who, as animals with denning instincts, see enclosed spaces as their own private safe haven. They count on you to provide the space they need and will benefit greatly from you learning the right ways to choose, use and maintain their crate!
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