Crate As Training

Depending on who you ask, crates are a hot topic, so let me start off by saying I am pro-crate.

I think crates are a great way to provide safe supervision and prevent destruction when you’re not present. I know there’s a common argument about confining dogs to a small space, but provided the crate is properly sized (so the dog has room get up and to turn around), there’s nothing wrong with having them spend time in a crate while you’re away or asleep.  Likely all they’re doing while you’re away is sleeping anyway, so in my opinion there’s no harm in just changing up exactly where they sleep. Not to mention, once they’re comfortable in the crate, it’s a great thing to bring while travelling that will feel safe and familiar for them.

So, even though we’ve never used a crate with Moses, that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t, and also means – as I mentioned recently – we’re employing the crate with Alma as a firm barrier between her and… say… brown sugar.

Alma in her crate. For those curious, it's the Kong Double-Door crate in the biggest possible size: 49"L x 30.5"W x 32.25"H

But I find it kind of a misnomer when people talk about “crate training”.

What is “crate training”, anyway?

I mean, we’re using the crate to help control Alma’s anxiety-based destructive habits.  For Alma, the challenge ensues when we’ve left the house, and she’s left completely unsupervised – even more so in the instances when we take Moses out and she’s left completely alone.  Even when we’re asleep she’s fine and trustworthy in the house, so it’s clear separation anxiety that is channeled into mischievous behaviours.

But putting her in the crate doesn’t actually teach her anything about not counter-surfing or not taking her stressful energy out on the box of Kleenex.

In fact, in reality, a crate is more like an avoidance technique.

It’s just like how walking a dog super early in the morning or super late to avoid other neighbourhood dogs may result in calmer, easier dog walks, but really doesn’t teach them anything about on-leash manners when passing other dogs.  You need exposure to your challenges in order to provide training opportunities and work through them.

So if “crate training” isn’t providing any lessons to curb destructive habits, then what is it?

Well, it’s just training your dog to get used to spending time in the crate.

In order to do this, we had Alma inspect the crate and spend time in it with the doors open before having her closed in it while we were gone.  Then we begin every crate experience with positive associations: making sure she goes in by choice (not by force) and then giving her treats and a toy at the outset.  When we come home, we always wait for her to be calm and sitting down before letting her out, so she associates the crate ritual with relaxed and positive experiences.

And we’ll continuously make sure the crate is never used as a punishment or “time out” location, and that any whining there may be will just be ignored.

The most perceptive reader may notice a crate next to Alma's in the picture above. That belongs to Jasper, the Duck Tolling Retriever, who is also crate trained and spending a few days with us.

Only a couple weeks in and I’m happy to report the crate training is going famously, and she’s quite content to spend time in there while we’re at work.

And you know how I know this?

Because technology is awesome.  And really, so is the Husband, because it was all his idea.

We’ve downloaded a webcam app on our MacBooks and iPhones, so now we can put Alma in her crate, set up the laptop so she’s on camera, and we can login on our phones and check the live footage.

And looking at the  various camera feeds available, we’re by far not the only folks out there using this system to spy on our pets (don’t judge – we all know you’d peek on the other feeds too).

It’s a great way to check and ensure Alma’s calm and relaxed while we’re gone.  For example, I took Moses out for a solo walk yesterday, and it was great to check the camera and see how long it took her to relax and lay down before we headed back to the house (for the record, it was about 20 minutes).

So, yeah, there really is an app for that.

What Moses does when left home alone.