While dog-sitting my neighbor’s one-year-old German Shepherd, I was shocked at how he had the run of the place. He was territorial when on the furniture and repeatedly ransacked the beds. After researching this type of poor behavior, I discovered he was trying to create his den.
Dogs are naturally denning animals and crates can provide a sense of comfort for them, but all dogs require training to acclimate to a crate. Crate training is the process of creating a positive association with your dog and a crate to ensure a safe space for your dog to sleep, eat, or relax.
Crate training is essential to a dog’s well-being as there are multiple times in their lives when they will need to be contained such as car/plane rides, vet visits, or when they are home alone.
I had to learn more about crate training to help my neighbor break their German Shepherd’s bad habits. Read on to learn some of the best practices with crate training.
Choosing the right dog crate
Crates come in multiple sizes and a wide variety of styles. When choosing a crate for your dog, you want to choose a crate that has enough space for your dog to stand up and turn around comfortably. Your dog’s age, size, and temperament should be taken into consideration when you are picking the style and size of crate you want to ensure your dog is thriving in its safe space.
Dogs enjoy the feeling of a den, similar to how we enjoy the private space of our bedrooms. To ensure your dog is reaching the full potential of its private den, start by getting your dog’s height and length measurements.
Measure your dog’s length with a tape measurer while they are standing, start at the tip of their nose and end at the base of their tail. To get their height, have them sit and measure from the top of their head to the ground. Once you have the size of your dog, add 4″ to their height and length measurements for extra crate wiggle room.
There are four common dog crate styles. Each type of crate is intended for certain purposes such as travel, training, or aesthetics. For all the options, here’s a variety of high-ranked dog crates on Amazon.
- Wire crates: The most common crate since they are sturdy and break down and set up easily while providing extra airflow to your dog. They are perfect for dogs with thicker coats or those who live in warm climates, and their sturdiness proves well against tough chewers.
- Plastic crates: If you plan on traveling with your dog, a plastic crate will meet airline requirements for cargo holds.
- Soft-sided: If you prefer to stay with your canine companion while traveling, a soft-sided crate can be used for carrying on flights or transporting your dog in the car.
- Wooden crates: Wood crates work well for older dogs who are already familiar with using a crate. They have many different style options to match the decor of your home.
If your GSD is still a puppy you will want to purchase a crate they can grow into over time but not one that is oversized from the start. A great option for puppies is a wire crate with adjustable dividers that allow you to manage the crate space as your puppy grows.
Providing too much space in a crate can lead to your dog having anxiety or bathroom breaks on one side of the crate.
When to use a dog crate
Crates should be seen as a positive hideout for your German Shepherd and never used as a punishment if they make a mistake. Leaving the door open will allow your dog to come and go from it as they please, but there are many times you will need to close the door behind them.
You should add crate time with your GSD every day to get them acclimated over time. Practicing alone time in the crate for 5-10 minutes at a time and slowly building up the sessions as you see progress will set them up for success once you leave them home alone.
Once your German Shepherd pup is used to their crate routine, you should be able to leave them in their crate for up to 3-4 hours before they need to stretch their legs and use the potty.
You should plan on crating during times you can’t watch them such as bedtime or if you are leaving them home alone. This will aid in potty training if you are still training your puppy, and prevent them from chewing or eating things they shouldn’t such as shoes or human food.
As puppies mature they are still learning how to self-regulate their energy and oftentimes will need a forced break inside their crate to learn how to manage their energy by napping. This will help them as they grow older to take their own naps throughout the house or tuck themselves to bed in their crate.
Using a crate can curve behavioral issues before they even start by preventing the situation for problems to arise. Crates would definitely have helped teach my neighbor’s GSD boundaries by providing a den.
Crate Training Steps
When introducing your German Shepherd puppy to their crate, you will want to make it an exciting and positive experience for them with the use of games and high-value treats.
The beginning of crate training can be a stressful time for both you and your puppy as they learn to spend time alone, but the important part is to be consistent with your training as it will take months to get them fully comfortable.
Start by introducing the crate to your puppy when they are relaxed or tired, not in the middle of playing. From the start of crate training, use high-value treats by tossing them into the crate so your puppy can get used to walking in and out on their own. You can eventually add in the word “crate” or “rest” as they go in their crate.
Once they are comfortable going in and out on their own, start closing the gate behind them and practicing alone time for 5-10 minutes at a time and release them once they are quiet. Giving them enrichment such as a frozen peanut butter Kong will teach your puppy how to self-soothe their separation anxiety and make the crate a rewarding experience.
Incorporating their meal time inside their crate can also speed up the process and make your puppy excited to run inside. Throughout the day you should try adding in crate games like hiding treats in their crate or tossing a ball inside so they have fun during crate training.
Practice crate training every day, sometimes multiple times a day, and slowly build up your puppy’s alone time in their crate until they are able to be left alone for extended periods of time.
Using a baby monitor can be helpful to see what your puppy is struggling with when they are home alone and help you successfully work on any issues that arise. Remember to be patient with this process and your puppy and make it a fun experience for both of you.
Starting crate training for your german shepherd puppy will not only better your dog’s life, but also yours. Crates can provide your puppy with the security of its own space to sleep, eat, and relax while providing you with the peace of mind of knowing your puppy is safe and happy.