Dog Crate Training: Protecting Your Labrador Retriever

Yellow Labrador Sleeping in Dog Crate

Once seen as cruel and inhumane, crate training is starting to gain popularity. The crate can be a useful tool when training a new puppy or adult dog. If used correctly, the crate cane be a place of sanctuary and security when needed. Not all Labs will respond to the crate in the same way. Some use them willingly, while others detest them and will do everything they can to avoid or break free from the crate – even at the risk of injuring themselves. Usually, the latter have problems with the crate due to negative past experiences, such as being left in a small confined space for long periods of time or having the crate used as a punishment. Care must be taken to encourage your Lab to view the crate as its den, retreat, or sanctuary. This is why it is important to understand the proper use of crate training for both puppies and adult Labs. The more knowledgeable you are with this device, the more likely that your Lab will love its crate!

Advantages of Using Dog Crate Training

Through the use of crate training:

  • You can enjoy peace of mind when leaving your dog alone, knowing that nothing can be soiled or destroyed and that he is comfortable, safe, and not developing bad habits.
  • You can housebreak your pet more quickly by using the close confinement to motivate your pet to wait until taken outside, since canines naturally avoid soiling their den.
  • You can travel with your pet without risk of the the dog getting loose and becoming lost or interfering with safe driving.
  • Your dog can enjoy the security and privacy of den of his own to which he can retreat when tired or stressed.
  • Your dog can avoid much of the fear and confusion caused by your reaction to problem behavior.
  • Since he can more easily adapt to staying in unfamiliar places as long as he has his familiar “security blanket” along, your pet can be included in family outings, instead of being left behind alone.

Purchasing a Dog Crate

Many people will automatically buy a plastic crate when they first bring home their Lab. Although this may work for some pups, others may not like it because it is too confining and they feel cut off from the rest of the family when in it. Those with heavy chewers will also want to stay clear of plastic crates as many Labs have been known to chew their way out or ingest the plastic. Plastic crates are best when used during traveling or for short periods of time.

The most recommended crate is a wire crate with a removable plastic or metal floor. This is perfect for both puppy and adult dogs since it is less destructible and easier to clean. Also, the wire crates allow for more air flow as well as unobstructed view of the world around the Lab. If you are purchasing it for a small puppy, then you will want to keep in mind that your Lab pup will not always be that small. Take into consideration the adult size of your dog when purchasing your crate. Personally, we have used, and continue to use the Midwest LifeStages large wire crate. This crate not only has a plastic floor that slides out for easy cleaning, but also comes with a wire divider for the crate. Why is this important? Well, the more room you give a pup, the greater the chance that it will go potty in the crate. Pups never want to soil where they sleep and therefore the crate should only be big enough for the pup to stand up and turn around. The divider will allow you to make the large crate as small as you need and increase the amount of space your Lab gets as it gets older and bigger. Lastly, the crate is collapsible (folds up) for easy transport. One crate – one cost!

Cost of a Dog Crate

The cost of a crate can range from $40 – $200+ depending on the type and size of the crate. It is recommended that the largest crate needed be purchased and then sections of it blocked off during training in order to alleviate the cost of purchasing more than one as the pup gets bigger.

Cost of Not Buying a Dog Crate

The cost of not using a crate can be a lot higher than $200 and may include:

  • Sofas
  • Chairs
  • Rugs
  • Walls
  • Shoes
  • Computer Components
  • Jewelry
  • Books
  • Remote Controls
  • Vet Bills – to remove any foreign object it may ingest
  • Your Lab’s Life – if it chews on any electric components, hazardous materials, or chokes on anything else it may be able to get in its mouth

Location of the Dog Crate

Most people try to put the crate in the corner or out of eye sight due to its size or its ability to match the furniture. When crate training, the crate should be placed in the most centralize and highest traffic areas of the home. This will allow you to continue to interact with your Lab and not have it feel isolated or alone.

Preparing the Dog Crate

Setting the crate up for your Lab is as important has the crate you choose. The pup should be as comfortable and has safe as possible while it is hanging out in its new den. Toys, treats, and bedding may be included but either needs to be checked for choking hazards. Since they are Labs and they are prone to chewing, toys and treats should be specifically for heavy chewers. Depending on your Labrador Retriever, the bedding may range from old towels to a $200 bed from an high end store. Please check all items for their “chew factor” before leaving your pup alone in a crate with them. We have learned a number of times that even those beds that look like they are tough, have no chance of survival when placed in a closed space with an aggressive chewer.

Introducing the Crate to Your Puppy

The introduction of puppy and crate is the most crucial step on the training process. First perceptions are always the strongest with both humans and animals. Per the American Dog Trainers Network, the following steps should be taken during this introduction period:

  1. Occasionally throughout the day, drop small pieces of kibble or dog biscuits in the crate. While investigating his new crate, the pup will discover edible treasures, thereby reinforcing his positive associations with the crate. You may also feed him in the crate to create the same effect. If the dog hesitates, it often works to feed him in front of the crate, then right inside the doorway and then, finally, in the back of the crate.
  2. In the beginning, praise and pet your pup when he enters. Do not try to push, pull or force the puppy into the crate. At this early stage of introduction only inducive methods are suggested. Overnight exception: You may need to place your pup in his crate and shut the door upon retiring. (In most cases, the crate should be placed next to your bed overnight. If this is not possible, the crate can be placed in the kitchen, bathroom or living room.)
  3. You may also play this enjoyable and educational game with your pup or dog: without alerting your puppy, drop a small dog biscuit into the crate. Then call your puppy and say to him, “Where’s the biscuit? It’s in your room.” Using only a friendly, encouraging voice, direct your pup toward his crate. When the puppy discovers the treat, give enthusiastic praise. The biscuit will automatically serve as a primary reward. Your pup should be free to leave its crate at all times during this game. Later on, your puppy’s toy or ball can be substituted for the treat.
  4. It is advisable first to crate your pup for short periods of time while you are home with him. In fact, crate training is best accomplished while you are in the room with your dog. Getting him used to your absence from the room in which he is crated is a good first step. This prevents an association being made with the crate and your leaving him/her alone.

Feeding Your Lab Meals in the Crate

Each owner has a preference on feeding in a crate. For those that must leave their Lab pups in the crate for longer periods of time, this may be an option. However, most families choose not to feed in the crate because it can become messy, it is difficult to keep the Labrador Retriever on a feeding schedule, or the owner may be training the dog using the “Nothing in Life is Free” principle. Feeding meals in the crate is based upon personal preferences.

A Note About Crating Puppies

If you are crate training a young puppy, please remember that they have limited control over eliminating. The younger the pup, the more frequently it will need to go to the bathroom. The age of the puppy denotes the amount of time they are able to crated. Puppies under 9 weeks should not be crated as they will need to go to the bathroom frequently. No pup should ever be allowed to eliminate in their crate. This defeats one of the more predominate uses of crate training and confuses the Lab. For most, the age and crating duration is as follows:

  • 9-10 weeks: 30-60 minutes
  • 11-14 weeks: 1-3 hours
  • 15-16 weeks: 3-4 hours
  • 17+ weeks: 4+ hours

Accidents in the Crate

Accidents will happen and if this happens in the crate, the Lab should never be scolded. If a mess occurs, promptly bring the pup outside to finish eliminating and return to clean the mess. Everything in the crate should be cleaned as microscopic particles of urine or feces can be on anything. Any residue or odor left behind will leave a scent or marking for your pup to use next time it needs to eliminate. Therefore, all bedding and the crate floor should be washed with a pet odor neutralizer (such as Nature’s Miracle).

Crating Guidelines & Potential Problems

  • Collars are to be removed as they can get caught on the crate and pose a choking hazard.
  • Do not crate during extremely hot temperatures.
  • Make sure your Lab eliminates before entering the crate and as soon as it is released from the crate.
  • If your pup continues to eliminate in the crate, check that it does not have too much room – otherwise seek veterinarian assistance.
  • Never use the crate as a form of punishment.
  • Children should never play in or around the crate. This is a sanctuary for you dog and therefore it should be able to have this space to itself.
  • Never release a barking Lab from the crate. If you do so, the pup will be conditioned to believe that barking gets the end result it wants – to be let out of the crate. The pup should not bark and remain calm for at least 5 minutes before opening the crate door. If it is a younger pup and it is barking because it needs to eliminate, promptly open the crate door and lead the pup out on a leash to eliminate. After done, return the Lab directly to the crate. this will reinforce that barking is not appropriate in the crate unless it is for elimination only. Sure, the barking can cause you to get less sleep or become annoying but it will get better with time if you are consistent.
  • Do not use the crate if your Lab is vomiting or has diarrhea.
  • Do not use the crate for extended periods of time. You chose to have a dog and must take responsibility for providing social interaction, nurturing, support, exercise, and love.
  • Don’t abuse the crate!

The crate doesn’t work for all dogs. Some dogs will not tolerate it but most will come to love the crate and be lost without it. Success rates are much higher for puppies, than for “senior” dogs. We have been very successful in crate training and need only remove our Labs’ collars and say “Kennel Up”, and they head straight for their crates. It is important that the crate not be abused. Every dog needs a certain amount of exercise and should be allowed the opportunity to socialize daily with its human family.


References

Crate Training. (2002). The Humane Society of the United States.
Dodman, N. (2006). Crate Training for Dogs.
Kovary, R. (1999). Crate Training.

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