If only you could take your dog with you wherever you went, you would never have to look at those sad, anxious eyes through the crate bars again. The fact is, even if your lifestyle is very dog-friendly, there are going to be times that she will have to stay home. If you worry that your dog will get into something she shouldn’t while you are gone, or if she has let out her frustration with your absence on the doors, walls, or floor before, you know you need to contain her in a crate for her own protection. Crating your dog doesn’t have to be a traumatic experience for either of you. Alone time is good for you and your dog. Making your dog’s crate time into healthy alone time in her own space can make separation not only bearable but pleasant for both of you. Even if your dog has already decided that the crate is not for her, you can convince her otherwise by making the crate a pleasant and desirable den. Before you know it, your dog will be seeking out her own space, even when you’re home. Don’t be offended, we all need some me-time sometimes.
Your dog’s crate should be as big as possible, unless you are potty training in which case it should be only big enough for your dog to stand and turn fully around in comfortably. You can make your dog’s crate feel more den-like by draping a heavy blanket over it. Most dogs have an innate desire to seek out somewhere close and sheltered to nestle in. If you like, you can even put a few drops of calming pheromone on the fabric. Some dogs seem comforted by such products, while other seem indifferent or even adverse to it. If you believe your dog has benefited from such a product in the past, a crate is a great place to utilize it. Bedding should consist of a thick, soft crate pad that covers the entire surface of the crate. Dogs also like to nestle with their back against something, so provide thick fluffy blankets, pillows, or big stuffed toys for your dog to arrange to her liking. If your dog has been prone to rip up bedding in the past, start with a sturdy crate pad and plenty of chew toys, and slowly reintroduce bedding as your dog adjusts. It is a good idea to provide a variety of textures and shapes for your dog to explore and arrange. You may notice that she has a preference for one kind of blanket over another. If so, try to provide her with more of the things she likes the best.
Plentiful water should be provided in a water pan holder that is attached to the side of the crate at a height that is comfortable for your dog to reach, but high enough that she won’t accidentally knock it. If using a food toy to feed and entertain your dog while she is in her crate, make sure food won’t slip out of the crate or under the crate pad and frustrate your dog. You can use a solid lining halfway up the walls of the crate. Food toys and chews that are provided when your dog is left alone should be ones you’ve observed her using before appropriately. Provide a wide range of chews of different materials, as well as “tossable” soft toys that your dog can shake to vent nervous energy.
Even the best-stocked crate can feel like prison instead of home if your dog is forced to stay there against her will. Increase crate time gradually and slowly, ensuring that your dog is entertained and comfortable for the length of the time she is contained. A nanny cam is a great way to see what your dog is doing when you aren’t in the room. Even when your dog is very comfortable with her crate for longer periods, crate her for short periods as well so she doesn’t come to expect that every time in the crate will be a long time. If you are patient and thoughtful with your dog, soon she will love her crate as her own little home space.