A crate is great if you have a hyperactive puppy or must leave your dog home alone before she is house-trained. However, a crate is no substitute for frequent playtime and training, and leaving your dog in her crate too long can undermine its effectiveness as a training tool.
A crate mimics the sleeping arrangements of feral dogs and wild wolves, so it can help your dog feel secure and calm. Dogs are highly unlikely to soil the area where they sleep, so crates can also help with training. Dogs that have frequent accidents are more likely to struggle with house-training, and a crate can help you avoid this setback. Crates are invaluable calming tools for hyper dogs and dogs that bark too much. Placing your dog in her crate can serve as an immediate calming signal that will make her much more receptive to training.
Puppy Crate Time
Puppies have more difficulty holding their bladders and bowels than adult dogs do, so it's important to err on the side of minimal crate time. Opinions differ on this issue, with the Humane Society of the United States and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals arguing that puppies under 6 months should not be left in their crate longer than three to four hours. Modern Dog Magazine, however, argues that a puppy can stay in a crate for the number of hours he is in months of age plus one. So, for example, a five-month-old puppy could stay in a crate for about six hours. You should monitor your puppy's behavior in the crate for the first few weeks to get an idea of her personal limit. If your puppy has an accident, it's likely she's been left in the crate too long.
Adult Crate Time
Most adult dogs can stay in a crate for about half a day as long as the dog gets ample exercise and walks when he's out of the crate, according to Modern Dog Magazine. Many adult dogs can manage eight or so hours in a crate while their owners are at work, but longer than this can cause behavioral problems. If you work long days, consider hiring a dog walker to let your dog out of the crate for a walk once or twice a day.
Risks of Overuse
Overusing your dog's crate can undermine its training usefulness. If your dog, for example, has an accident in her crate, she is more likely to have future accidents, which means there's nowhere you can safely leave her without risking house-training problems. Dogs left in their crates for too long may grow to fear their crates, undermining the crates' ability to help calm them. In extreme cases where dogs are left in crates for most of the time, they may develop aggression issues, health problems and difficulty following commands.
To maximize your dog crate's effectiveness, place it in a location your dog loves to be. Drop a fistful of treats in the crate or give your dog a bone in her crate. Leave the door open at first to help her acclimate, then gradually begin closing the door. Ensure that the crate is in a location where it's neither too hot nor too cold and that the crate is large enough for your dog. Your dog should be able to easily stand up, sit, lay on his side and turn around in the crate. Most importantly, you must never use the crate as a punishment; doing so can cause your dog to fear the crate.
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