Kittens and Crates and Dogs... oh my!

Last week we brought a new kitten into our home.  “Laddie”, as he has been dubbed, will eventually be moved to his permanent home with my parents, but we wanted to get him acclimated to the dogs, cats, and kids at our house before moving him into their (mostly) quiet home.  This is important because I (and my six siblings) visit often with our families and pets in tow and my parent’s cats are expected to handle that change without major stress.  So far, Laddie is fitting in beautifully (as you can tell from the photos), but it has required a lot of management to keep everyone happy and safe.  Although my dogs have never shown any aggression towards cats or harmed a hair on their heads, my bigger one, especially, can be a little overbearing in her adoration.

To manage this, the dogs have been spending some time in their crates and the kitten has been spending time in his.  This gives them each some time to be out without the stress caused by being together.  This got me thinking about crate training.

Crate training your dog is a tool that cannot be underestimated. It is among first things I ask anyone who calls with a behavior problem- Do you crate your dog?  It can be used to prevent so many unwanted behaviors and is a safe haven for your dog during chaotic or stressful moments. Here are some of the benefits to having a dog that crates easily and without complaint:

For a puppy:

  • Prevents damage to your home through chewing or elimination
  • Assists in house training- for the moments when you cannot pay 100% attention to your dog.
  • Keeps your puppy safe from harm- he doesn’t accidentally chew on a power cord or run outside
  • Helps teach your puppy to stay quietly on her own.
  • Prevents your puppy from sleeping on your bed (if you don’t want them there)
  • Prevents your puppy from encountering new, and possibly scary, things unless you’re ready to train them (i.e. a bunch of children come running and screaming into your house when you invite your brother and his family over to meet the new dog)
  • Provides a place for puppy “time out”
  • Gives you worry free time

For a dog:

  • All of the above! And…
  • You can put your big (and sometimes rambunctious) dog away when small children visit
  • You can put your dog in her crate when people that are afraid of dogs come over
  • You can leave the left overs out on the counter when you’re in a hurry to leave without your dog learning to “counter surf” (help themselves to food on the counter)
  • When you introduce a new animal or baby into the house, you don’t have to monitor your dog every moment of every day- you can crate them.

There are lots and lots of reasons to crate train your dog- this is only the start of what is an extensive list; but it all boils down to: It provides a safe, comfortable space for your dog where they can be happy away from you.  How can that be a bad thing?

A couple things to remember:

  • Teaching your dog to love their crate takes training.  Don’t throw them in, close the door, and wait for them to stop howling.  That’s one way to make sure they don’t like going in.  Give them tasty kongs when they’re inside, start slowly so they don’t feel trapped, and try to do many small, short practice sessions while you are home.  The ASPCA has a page about how to crate train your dog in a weekend here.
  • Do not let your dog out when they are barking and whining (if it seems excessive and/or panicky, versus just attention-soliciting, consult a professional trainer for help)
  • Yes, your dog should love their crate, BUT your dog should not spend the majority of their lives in a crate.  At most, my dogs are crated for 4 hours at a time.  When we have busy days, I have a dog walker that comes by and lets them out to pee and stretch their legs.  They also are no longer crated at night (honestly, they kind of monopolize the bed… :p), but they were when we initially brought them home.

If crate training isn’t working out for you and your dog, it is worth consulting a professional positive-reinforcement trainer.  In my opinion, this is a vital skill that every dog should possess, even if it is eventually rarely used.

Here are some gratuitously cute pictures of our animals and Laddie, a picture of me training the kitten, and even a couple of links to youtube videos.

Videos: Beskow and Laddie playing, and part of the very first hour Laddie was at our house