Talk to me about crate training...
October 4, 2006 2:04 PM   Subscribe

My year-old shepherd puppy took well to crate training...but I'd eventually like to not have to use it any more. What is your experience? Were you able to transition to not using the crate, and how?

Our floorplan is very open, so it will be difficult to confine her to a single room. Toys to keep her occupied? Apparently anything that rolls under the futon or couch is bad, because she can't get it out and starts chewing. How old was your dog?

I am also curious how long people leave their dogs home alone/crated, and if they have outdoor access.
posted by sLevi to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
We just took the door off the crate once our Lab was housetrained. That was seven years ago and he still sleeps in it.

We never left him home all day back then, so I can't really help you with that.
posted by timeistight at 2:29 PM on October 4, 2006

We still crate the dogs when we leave the house. Not because of any house training issues, but because two beagles can find all sorts of ways to cause trouble when left alone. It's as much for their safety as it is our sanity.
posted by COD at 3:11 PM on October 4, 2006

It took my dog -- Rottie/Shep mix -- quite a while. We tried a number of times (starting when he was about a year old) to wean him off the crate, but he kept finding stuff (books, usually) to chew on. Each time we gave up after a few months of buying new books for the public library :)

Finally, when he was around two, we started again. This time, we made sure that in the beginning we only left him out of the crate on days when he'd already had a good amount of exercise (at least a 45 minute walk). If we were going to be gone longer than a few hours, we kept him crated. Over the course of about a month we started leaving him out for longer and longer -- but never if he hadn't gotten some exercise -- until we'd worked it up to all day. Finally we stopped being so anal about the exercise.

He still relapses every so often, but it's pretty manageable now. So I guess my advice comes down to exercise (for him) and patience (for you).

Good luck!
posted by jacobian at 3:19 PM on October 4, 2006

I have two dogs, both bordercollie/aussie/heeler/shep/? mixes, both of which I've had since they were young. One is now 12, the other about 6.

The older one I crated while gone for about two years. He went through a serious separation anxiety, chewing and indoor pooping stage, which lasted until he was about 2, at which point I put the crate away. After that, he was fine home alone, in the house with no access to outdoors. When I was working and in college, he often sat around for up to 14 hours in the studio apartment we shared with no probs, though his back teeth were floating by the time I got home. He is still very good indoors all day, won't even get on the furniture.

The younger dog, however, has never gotten over the whole separation anxiety thing, and to this day, if left in the house for more than an hour or so, is likely to chew up something, such as a rug or a shoe. She willl not, however, go to the bathroom in the house.

Unfortunately, she never did like the crate thing, and became quite an escape artist. We tried all sorts of toys, including Kongs filled every morning with peanut butter, to no avail. So she gets to hang out in the backyard while we're at work.

I guess my point, besides using any excuse to talk about my dogs, is to say that every dog is different. But take heart, they almost always mature out of whatever irritating habit you're dealing with! And if not, you just work around it and eventually forget about it! Good luck.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:27 PM on October 4, 2006

Oh, I forgot to say, that while expensive, doggy daycare worked wonders for my younger dog in her first couple years.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 3:28 PM on October 4, 2006

We stopped using the crate with my lab when he was around 2. We started leaving him for short durations, and then gradually expanded the time that we left him alone.
posted by Ostara at 5:02 PM on October 4, 2006

We did the same as Ostara. We got our lab at 10 months, and crated him when we left (not at night) for almost a year. Then we gradually started leaving him out--first for a ten-minute trip to the store, then for an hour, etc. He was never any trouble at all.
posted by gokart4xmas at 5:14 PM on October 4, 2006

Also, I never felt comfortable crating Gus for more than 6 hours at a stretch, although our vet said 8 was ok. That was one of the reasons we started letting him stay out--he's just fine for 8 hours home alone if he's loose in the house. We don't have a doggy door, so he has no outside access. He's never had an accident when we were gone for a long time, and never seems to be dying to go out when we get home.
posted by gokart4xmas at 5:17 PM on October 4, 2006

They key to successful loose-in-the-house-ness is to make it easy for them to be good. It's not exactly stylish, but we used Rubbermaid bins to block off the places where toys get lost, and used Buster Cubes, treat balls, and large stuffed toys to help them stay occupied, get tired, and work off some energy and anxiety. Everything gnawable is stored away or kept above about elbow-height.

Access to outside is great as long as you can be reasonably confident that they will stay confined and safe. We're keeping everyone in right now because our fence is getting flaky, but it's high on our list. They roughhouse really hard in the evenings now, and I can just generally tell the difference. I've got three under 18 months old; I could power the entire neighborhood if I could only figure out how to harness all that energy.

Like everyone else, we started off small leaving them alone for short durations, and for a long time I came home at lunch every day just to give them some attention and make sure everyone was okay. We can leave them 8-9 hours when they have access to outside, but 6 is about average.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:26 PM on October 4, 2006

Depends on the dog, really. Lyn's answer is really good, you have to make the house dog-proof, because all it takes is one or two times of your dog finding out that wallpaper is fun to chew, or couch cushions taste delicious to undo all the good you've been doing with the crate, and then you're back BEHIND square one (or even worse, decide that electric cords might be yummy, that can leave you with a dead dog). With my current dog, he was close to two before he was trustworthy out of the crate, and that was by accident, since he's one of those dogs who simply never really adapted to the crate, so we'd graduated him from the crate to being baby-gated into a smaller area, and he figured out how to get past the baby gate, and didn't wreck the house. But we still only allowed him free reign for an hour or so at a time, and we still do moderate precautions (close off the bedrooms and bathroom, make the garbage inaccessible, don't leave shoes within biting range, etc.). A huge part of successful and low-stress dog raising is setting the dog up for success, making the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard, and the easiest way to make these things happen is to make the wrong thing physically impossible, in conjunction with making the right things easily accessible (you teach a dog what he can chew by making the right things to chew both extremely enticing and the only things he has access to, for example). So it's normally better to crate a dog a little longer than he might need, than give him free run too early and let him learn all kinds of things you don't want him to learn. Also, there's no real reason a dog has to stop being crated, as long as you're doing it humanely.
posted by biscotti at 7:13 PM on October 4, 2006

We crate trained our two catahoulas at 8 weeks. They were always in their crates (in our apartment) when we were away at work for 9 hours a day. I would come home and walk them every day on my lunch break.
Then we moved to a house, put in a doggie door, fenced in the backyard and placed the crate up against the doggie door, so they could be outside all they wanted but could come inside if it rained or for shade, or just because they liked sleeping in their 'den.' This whole time they slept in their crates.
Around 1 year old we began barricading them into their room with the crates, giving them the option to sleep in the crates or free on the floor.
At about a year and a half we gave them free reign of the house because they had not chewed anything up or peed in the middle of the night for at least a month.
posted by iurodivii at 8:27 PM on October 4, 2006

I'm not sure what is the goal of not continuing to use the crate. My dogs never managed to get used to the crate, but having read about it, crate training is not really about confining the dog as much as it is giving them their own protected, quiet, safe space.

If you've accomplished that I don't get the benefit of removing the dog's safe spot in the house. So you might just want to leave the crate their but leave the door open or something. The dog will have its sanctuary but not be quite as confined.
posted by mikel at 4:35 AM on October 5, 2006

Our beagle was a rescue -- we got her when she was about 4. We crated her at first, but transitioned away from that pretty quickly as we figured out how well-behaved she was (and as she figured out the rules in her new home).

The way we worked the transition was to keep her in the kitchen at first (we had an open floor plan too, so that took some moving of furniture)... after she didn't have any problems in the kitchen while we were out, we let her have the kitchen + living room. That worked too. Now she has the run of the house, except for the bathrooms. She has stuffed animals if she wants to play (and they don't roll under the couch), but we're pretty sure that she sleeps most of the day away.

She's usually not alone for more than 8-9 hours, but she has been known to last 12-13 hours without an accident (and without any sort of panic upon our arrival). We now call her Iron Bladder Dog. ;-)

At night, she now sleeps in a chair near our bed.
posted by somanyamys at 8:18 AM on October 5, 2006

My Westie was crate trained from a pup and prefers his crate. He's now almost 3 years old.
My Wheaten is crate trained as well, but doesn't like it. She's about 4. She was a rescue doggie, so no telling why she has an aversion to the crate.
Anyway, after about a year of crating them every day while going to work, we decided to let them have free run of the house. So far there have been no accidents. They are ok for up to 9 hours.
I work from home twice a week and the dogs just sleep all day. The get a walk when we come home and at least 30 minutes of play every day. They have their routines and will figure out that they have to pee before you leave, just like "last call" before bed at night. Dogs love routines.
posted by FergieBelle at 3:39 PM on October 6, 2006

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