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Cage Training Your Dog


    Is it cruel to put a puppy or an adult dog in a cage? Many people think so. We do not. We believe it is one of the most valuable things that any new puppy can learn. It keeps the puppy safe from chewing things like electrical cables and your new shoes when you cannot be around to supervise. It can be considered the same as a playpen for a baby. It is also an invaluable tool in housetraining a puppy. Puppies learn from their mother that they shouldn't soil their sleeping area. When they are still in the whelping box, the puppies will crawl away from their sleeping area to an area they choose as the toilet area, and 'go' there. They are already innately trained not to soil the area where they sleep.

    Using the Dog's Natural Denning Instinct

    First, let's look at dog behavior in the wild. Wild adult dogs will naturally find a den or safe area to sleep. When the bitch whelps the pups in the wild she sets up a den and keeps it clean until the pups are old enough to go outside on their own. She teaches them it is not okay to 'go' in the place where they sleep. Domestic dogs will also naturally den. You will often see a dog sleeping under a table or desk or next to a piece of furniture if no other area is provided for them to den. It is not cruel to develop this habit from the time you bring the puppy home. In fact, it is cruel not to give the pup or dog a safe area they can call their own.

    Setting The Rules From The Beginning

    If your puppy whines when you first put him in his cage it is probably because he would rather be snuggled up close to you the way he was with his littermates. If you allow the puppy access to your lap, bed, couch or chair when you first get the puppy then it will be harder to eliminate these behaviors as the puppy grows up. Think of what the adult size of your dog will be and decide if you have room in your lap, bed, etc. for the adult dog. You must decide before you bring the puppy home what the "rules" will be and then stick to them.

    Help From The Breeder

    If you're lucky, the breeder has begun to cage train the puppies while they are still in the whelping box by providing a cage for them to sleep in. If this is the case, then all you have to do is to allow the puppy to get used to it's new cage, it's smells and your home and your job will go much faster. If possible, get a familiar piece of bedding from the breeder, one which has the smells of the litter on it. Place this in the cage along with the other pads or towels. This will help the puppy feel at home. You can return this to the breeder once the puppy is used to his new home.

    Positive Associations

    Cage training should all be done positively with no negative associations. When you first bring the puppy home from the breeder, have the cage ready and comfortable for the puppy. Put a towel or a washable pad in the cage, possibly a pillow so it is an inviting area for the puppy. Get a small tasty treat, allow the puppy to sniff it and then lure the puppy into the cage with the treat. When the puppy goes into the cage to get the treat and explore the new area leave the door open and let him come out as he wishes. Don't force the pup into the cage and don't make him stay in there the first few times. Then repeat putting a treat in the cage, allowing the puppy to go in on his own for the treat. Do this several times and praise the puppy gently while it's in the cage and associate a word or phrase for going in the cage e.g. 'bedtime' or 'in you go'. Use the word association AS you are putting the treat into the cage and the puppy is following it in. Do this about five times and then stop for a while. Repeat this procedure several times the first day.

    Closing The Cage Door

    When the puppy is going in after the treat comfortably and when the puppy has just finished playing and piddling and is tired, lure the puppy into the cage with the treat as you have before only, this time, close the door. A good idea is to put a new toy in the cage at this time - something the puppy hasn't seen before that is interesting and will keep his attention for a few minutes. After you close the door, sit on the floor in front of the cage and talk to the puppy if necessary. If the puppy cries or whines, put your fingers through the side of the crate to reassure the puppy that you are still there. Usually, they will only whine for a short while and may even fall asleep if they are tired. Stay there until the whining subsides and the puppy calms down and then open the cage door - after 5-10 minutes usually. If the puppy happens to fall asleep, great! Let him sleep in the cage until he wakes up and then take him outside to go to the loo. Don't use a lot of praise when you open the cage door and try to ignore the puppy for a few minutes after he is out so that he doesn't get the impression that getting out is much more fun than being in the cage. Do not let the puppy out of the cage until he is quiet for at least 30 seconds and has calmed down if he has been whining. You might try and distract him with another toy to give him a chance to be quiet so you can let him out while he is quiet but DO NOT let him out, especially the first time, until he IS quiet. Don't shout at or correct the puppy in any negative way. Just make up your mind that you will calmly wait no matter what.

    The First Night At Home

    If you got your puppy during the day and had time to do the above steps, great! The puppy will already be familiar with going in the cage after a treat. If not, and you want to begin the puppy's life at his new home sleeping in a cage here's what to do. Play with the puppy until he's tired, make sure he has been to the loo outside and place the comfortable cage (with pad and towels etc.) next to your bed where you can reach it while you're still lying down. Remove any collar that might be unsafe, place or lure the tired puppy into the cage (possibly with a safe toy) go to bed and turn out the lights as usual. If the puppy whines, put your fingers inside the crate and talk softly to the puppy until he falls asleep. You may lose a little sleep that night and possibly the next but DO NOT open the door for the puppy for at least four hours. (Important: make sure the puppy has successfully been to the loo just before this!). Don't get angry with the puppy or shout at him but do not give in and let him out either. If the cage is comfortable and warm enough, the lights are out and you are right there to talk softly to him and let him lick your fingers, then usually he will fall asleep within an hour, less if he is tired. At eight weeks of age you cannot expect the puppy to go more than four hours without needing the loo. So, as soon as the puppy whines after waking up, dress yourself quickly before you open the cage, carry the puppy to the toilet area immediately, praise softly and gently for a job well done, bring him back in and without getting into a play session with him, return the puppy to his cage, turn the lights out and go back to sleep. If the puppy fusses for a while, talk softly and put your fingers in the cage. Two or three nights of this at the most and your puppy will be used to the routine. If you happen to sleep through the puppy whining and he is forced to potty in his cage because he can't hold it, don't blame or scold the puppy. It is your responsibility to get the puppy out BEFORE he has had a chance to soil his den. Clean it up using a urine/odour neutralizer, put clean towels/pads/bedding in the cage and return to your routine. Set an alarm clock if you have to. The cage should not be too big for the pup, otherwise there will be enough room for the puppy to soil in it's cage and not think about it as soiling his sleeping area.

    Caging When You Leave The House

    At some point you have to go to work or go out somewhere and you can't take the puppy. He's made it through his first few days and nights at his new home. He is familiar with his cage and it does not have any unpleasant associations linked to it. Make sure the pup has been exercised and has been to the loo. It is helpful if he has played a bit and is tired. Take off his collar and remove any unsafe toys that may be in the cage, lure him into the cage with a treat and your association word or physically place the puppy into the cage gently. Close the door and leave the house without further ado. No talking to him etc. He may whine a little. You might have to explain to your neighbours that you are cage training your new puppy to keep him safe while you are out. Explain that he may whine for a little while after you leave. Hopefully they will understand. Don't stay away too long. An hour or two is optimal. If you have to go to work and have no other choice, then try to arrange to come home at lunchtime to feed and exercise the puppy during your break or have someone else come in and do this for you. A puppy cannot be expected to go longer than four hours without a potty break and it is very hard to retrain a puppy that is used to soiling his cage.

    A Place To Get Away From It All

    After the puppy has grown a bit and is used to being put into his cage when you leave and at night when you sleep, you will see something interesting happen. When the puppy is tired and wants some time alone, possibly away from the children (who should not be allowed access to the puppy's cage for play purposes) he will go to his cage and curl up and go to sleep. Leave the door of your cage open and you will see that he frequently goes there to take a nap on his own volition.



    What if you have to go away on holiday or overnight and need to leave the dog in a boarding kennel? A cage trained dog will understand and adapt to this situation easily. Usually, you can bring the dog's own cage with you to the kennel and allow the dog some comfort in having his own bed to sleep in.

    Caging In The Car

    Keeping the puppy/dog safe in the car is another reason to cage train. Nobody likes to think of what would happen if they were in a car accident. Car doors can fly open and the dog, if uncaged, stands a good chance of leaping out into the road and getting hit by a car or running off because they are scared. If you have your dog caged in the car when in an accident the dog may get banged around but the cage will most likely protect the dog from being hit, may help contain the dog in the car itself, and will keep him from being lost if the car doors fly open even if the crate is expelled from the car. If you are hurt in the accident the emergency services people are more likely keep your dog safe and contained if the dog is in a cage that can be easily transported to a safe area.

    Caging Adult Dogs

    Although it is probably easier to cage train when the puppy is young, you can still train the adult dog to accept the cage. Use a treat or favorite toy and lure him into the cage with the door open, same as for the puppy. Keep doing this until the dog will readily go into the cage for a treat on his own. After the dog will readily go into the cage for a treat or toy make the dog lie down in the cage with you sitting on the floor in front of the cage just for a few seconds and then let him come out. Keep this up for several days or a week, as long as it takes for the dog to become comfortable with lying down in the cage. When the dog seems comfortable lying down, close the door for a minute or two, and stay there to talk to the dog. When the dog has been quiet for a few seconds, open the door and let the dog come out and ignore him for a minute or two so that coming out isn't associated with alot of praise. The idea is to praise gently and quietly WHILE THE DOG IS IN THE CAGE and ignore him for a few minutes when he comes out. Keep doing this without any negative associations until he's comfortable in the cage for longer periods of time. Most dogs can be cage trained using this method no matter how old they are. Keep it positive but don't give in either. Try and build up time gradually, if you can. Wait an hour or so in between training sessions. The more repetitions you can do without stressing out the dog and maintaining positive associations the better. Stop if the dog or you are getting stressed.

    DO'S & DON'TS

  • Never cage a dog with a choke collar on. Dogs can choke themselves to death. It's probably a good idea to remove any collar while the dog is in the crate.
  • Never cage a dog with a lead attached! Same reason.
  • Use safe toys only, nothing the dog or puppy can get apart and choke on while you're not there. While many toys are safe for supervised play we recommend Kong toys for unsupervised play and as cage toys. Kong toys are made of hard rubber that is almost impossible to destroy. They come in many different sizes and most have a small opening in which you can hide treats that will keep your dog/puppy interested and occupied while in his cage.

Points to Remember

  • It is important that children be taught to respect the cage as the dog's own special place and that when he is in there, he must not be teased or excited.
  • The cage is intended for occupation by a single dog and not recommended for multi-occupation unless the owner is satisfied that the cage can be used in this way.
  • The cage must not be used for the purpose of confining a dog for long periods, eg. Whilst the owner is at work.
  • Great care must be taken to control the environment in which the cage is used so that the dog is not subjected to any external stimulants that may cause him agitation or stress, eg. Even a perfectly trained and happy dog may become agitated should a cat come in through an open window or if he is left in his cage in a room with other unrestrained animals.
  • Our cages are used by veterinary practices, dog show exhibitors, dog trainers and obedience and field trial competitors. They are also used by breeders, groomers, dog rescue and animal welfare societies - in short, people who understand and care about dogs.
  • Once you and your dog become used to using the cage, you should both appreciate the benefits.