What is crate training and why is it beneficial for dogs?
If you’re new to the world of dogs, you might have heard a lot of discussion surrounding crate training, or teaching your dog to go into and stay in a crate calmly for short periods of time.
But how helpful is this training method for your dog to learn? And before you commit the time and effort to do this, what are the benefits of crate training your dog?
We’re going to explain an overview of crate training and help you understand five key benefits to crate training for Labs or any other breed of dog so you can decide whether it makes sense for you.
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Overview: What Is Crate Training?
Crate training is a method of dog behavioral training where you teach your dog to go in and sleep or rest in a dog crate calmly for short periods of time, typically when you’re at work or away from home.
The crate should be your dog’s happy place. They should be comfortable and secure in there and know that no one is going to bother them or cause them stress while in their crate.
It’s where they go to relax, chill out, and take a break in peace.
The crate provides a safe and comfortable alternative to leaving them loose in your home where anything can happen (and wow, have we seen some things happen!).
(What could possibly happen? We suggest you head on over to our section called My Lab Did What?)
What Dog Crates Look Like
Dog crates come in different sizes and materials for your dog’s comfort and to coordinate with your home’s aesthetic. Your dog’s crate is usually see-through and made of wire most commonly with multiple doors on the end and sides.
Other crates are made of mesh canvas-type material with zippered doors and vents. You can even find crates with plastic side panels and wire doors.
There are many different types of crates on the market.
Our all-time favorite dog crate is this one made by EliteField which we use for both home and travel.
Some people even get crates custom-made from wood to match their existing home furniture and blend in better with their decor.
Whichever type of crate material you select, you’ll make it comfortable for your dog by getting an additional bed or dog mat specifically made for the size of the crate you are using.
Crates come in all sizes from small puppy crates (or crates for tiny dogs) of 18 to 20 inches all the way up to the 36 and 42-inch size crates which are the most common for Labrador Retrievers.
Our Labs have multiple crates in both 36” and 42” sizes.
You’ll also see gigantic, enormous crates for dogs such as Great Danes or Newfoundlands.
We know someone who purchased an enormous crate that’s almost 5 feet long for her adorable Goldendoodle because she wanted him to have a more luxurious crate experience. And we can tell you he’s very happy to go relax in there when he needs to!
You really have a lot of different options when it comes to selecting the type of crate you want for your dog.
How Crate Training Works
The idea behind crate training is that your dog learns their crate is their “safe space” and that no one bothers them there.
Crate training successfully and correctly is not a fast process with most dogs, and can take weeks or months to accomplish.
But the goal is that your dog will grow to love their crate, even if they don’t at first.
When you need to leave home for short periods of time, a crate-trained dog goes inside the crate and is not left loose in your home to possibly get into trouble.
The crate is a safe and familiar environment where no one bothers the dog or intrudes on their personal space. Your dog will become comfortable in the crate and treat it like their den or bed.
You may want to use a crate to give your dog a safe, calm place to go when they are stressed, or as an option for when you’re not home.
You might also have times where you want to use a crate for moments when you ARE home but aren’t able to supervise them adequately.
Overall, crating your dog should be a positive experience for both you and your dog. The crate is a happy place, not a place of punishment.
Crate training should not be used to try to correct unwanted behavior or discipline your dog.
5 Benefits of Crate Training
These are some of the most commonly recognized benefits of teaching your dog to be crate-trained.
Minimize Destruction in Your Home
Sometimes dogs can act differently when their owners are not around. Many times this behavior is not a positive experience for anyone!
If you haven’t experienced any of these kinds of dog moments yet, consider yourself very lucky. Even the best-behaved dogs are sometimes destructive when left unsupervised.
Lab owners know this!
We had a Labrador who was a perfect angel for many years uncrated in our home until the one Christmas he attacked the tree and ate all the stockings. He just had too much holiday excitement!
Dogs can be very disruptive and destructive when they are bored, left alone, or unsupervised. This is not just a puppy issue, but can also be an issue for older dogs.
We have a rescue Labrador who has a lot of anxiety (even into adulthood) when he’s left unsupervised. If we have to leave for a short time, he’s definitely a dog who does better in his 42” crate with his memory-foam dog bed than he does when left out.
Some dogs will get into trouble chewing or eating items in your home, which is an unpleasant experience for everyone.
These types of dog misadventures can then cause sickness, choking, or other medical issues. Dogs can eat furniture, bedding, and clothes, steal food off the counters, and get into chemicals or trash cans.
We’ve had our Labs in the past eat clothes, shoes, sofa cushions, a stuffed sailfish from Mexico, and even a 2-foot-tall stuffed Scooby-Doo!
Cleaning up those stuffed animal pellets from the inside of Scoob took a really long time!
Your adorable dog may not demonstrate any of this behavior when you’re home, but it’s not unusual for them to turn into a completely different dog when you leave them alone.
And this is especially true for Labradors as one of the mouthiest breeds of dogs who are also intelligent, curious, and prone to impulsive moments of mischief.
(For more on strange or unusual dog behavior, check out Why Is My Dog Acting Weird?)
It’s also worth noting that dogs can sometimes chew the bedding in their crates, including mats or toys that may be in there, and can also sometimes chew their actual crates! This is a familiar Labrador issue as well.
While crate-training them can cause some in-crate destruction, they often outgrow this behavior over time. At least the contents of your home will not be destroyed, though you may have to ask your vet for a recommendation on appropriate toys or chews to keep them occupied in there!
Limit Access to Unsafe Items
You don’t want to come home to a house that’s both been destroyed and a dog that’s sick, causing you to deal with catastrophic veterinary medical bills due to something your dog has ingested.
One of our Labradors got into the kitchen trash can when he wasn’t crated and ate an avocado pit, which caused him to be violently ill and nearly die.
And we should mention, he’s almost 100 pounds.
One single avocado pit from a medium avocado was almost deadly to a dog of that size.
And for the record, he didn’t learn anything from that experience. Every time we get out and cut an avocado now, he still appears interested in eating it.
But we’re on to him, and we’re just much more cautious now than we ever were about making sure avocados stay away from the inside trash can or where any Labrador can access them.
Avoiding accidents and incidents like that are one of the biggest benefits of crate training. You can’t get into the trash can when you’re napping on your comfy bed in your crate.
Help Potty Training for Puppies
Crate training can also help puppies learn to manage their potty breaks and create a routine for housetraining.
When done correctly and with short periods of time based on the puppy’s age, you can help your new puppy learn a routine to go potty outside (and not inside) by having them nap in their crate (even with the door open) and then take them outside to go right when they wake up.
The crate can be a useful help in teaching your puppy the transition between resting and going outside for potty breaks, but you need to be careful you don’t leave them in their crate to cry or get upset (or stressed). This will be bad for the bond with your puppy and their future development.
Young puppies need very frequent potty breaks, especially in the first 12 weeks of life, and you should have realistic expectations that they may have accidents many times while learning the routines of a new environment.
Please be kind and sweet to those baby puppies and have extra patience while they are learning!
For more on specific potty training strategies for puppies, take a look at our Puppy Schedule to get you started, or see more from the American Kennel Club.
Help Reduce Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety or stress is a real issue for many dog owners. Your dog may be wonderful when you’re home and calm while in your presence, then when you leave can turn into a lunatic.
A crate can give your dog a safe place to go if you need to leave for a few hours, or if you have people over that you don’t want the dog to be around.
If there’s a stressful event such as fireworks or a thunderstorm that causes your dog to be upset, their crate can comfort them by giving them a constant safe and happy place to retreat to.
That’s why it’s so important to make crate training a positive experience and not a negative one.
You don’t want to take your dog during a stressful situation and put them in a location where they’ve been trained to be stressed even more. That accomplishes nothing.
The goal is to teach your dog that the crate is a happy place, so that when they feel stressed or there’s a change in the environment they have a familiar place to go.
Make Travel Easier
Another advantage to crate training is if you need to transport your dog in a car or to another location (such as a hotel for traveling) it helps if they are crate trained.
If they need to go to the vet for treatment, or if they need to go over to someone else’s house, being transported in their crate can be a comfort to your dog in times of stress or unfamiliarity.
This can help your dog deal with stress better and deal with changes in their environment because you’re taking a piece of home with them when you go.
We often crate our dogs in hotel rooms not only because it’s the policy of the hotel, but because they seem to do better when they have their familiar bed and crate in a new environment such as a hotel.
We’ve never had a Labrador destroy a hotel room (not yet, anyway!), but we’ve definitely had some close calls with some other things that they’ve done in hotels!
The last thing you want to do when you’re traveling is come back to your room and find that your dog has eaten the hotel comforter or pillows, or destroyed the TV.
Dogs can become upset or stressed while traveling, and having the familiarity of their crate can often be a comfort to them.
If your Labrador tends to hog the human bed and sleep on top of you, having them sleep in their crate while traveling might help you enjoy your vacation a little bit more as well!
Helpful Questions to Consider
When deciding if crate training might benefit you and your particular dog, there are some questions to consider that might help guide your decision:
Is my dog destructive when left alone?
Is my dog prone to anxiety or stress in unfamiliar environments?
Does my dog seem to do a lot of chewing or biting furniture or household items?
Does my dog love to dig in the trash can or try to get on counters or near food items?
Does my dog have a habit of eating or destroying bedding, pillows, stuffed animals, shoes, socks, or clothing?
Does my dog seem to enjoy sleeping in the same places each time and thrive on routine and familiarity?
We recommend you consult with your veterinarian and breeder or rescue group to get input on your dog’s personality and whether crate training might be a good fit for them. You want the best for your dog, and we want you and your dog to have a positive experience with crate training if you decide it’s the right move to make.