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HOUSE-SAFETY: CONFINEMENT AND CAGE TRAINING

In what circumstances do dogs need to be confined?

Dogs are highly social animals that make wonderful pets. They can be effective as watchdogs, are excellent companions for play and exercise, and are sources of affection and comfort. However, with the lifestyle and schedule of the majority of families, dogs must learn to spend a portion of the day at home, while their human family is away at school, work, shopping or recreational activities. During those times when the owner is away and unavailable to supervise, the pet may still feel the need to chew, play, explore, eat, or eliminate. Preventing such inappropriate behaviours when you are absent involves ensuring that the pet has had the opportunity to play, eat, and eliminate before you leave it and then keeping the pet in a confined area where it is secure, safe, and can do no damage to itself or your possessions in your absence but still has something to do in this area.

What are my options for confinement?

Depending on the structure of your home, it may be possible to dog-proof the house by closing a few doors, or putting up some child gates. The dog can then be allowed access to the remaining areas of the house. If dog-proofing in this way is not possible when you have to leave, then you may feel it necessary to confine the dog to a single room, pen, or cage. This smaller confinement area not only provides safety for the dog and protection of the home from damage, but also provides a means of teaching the dog what it is supposed to chew, and where it is supposed to eliminate.

Isn't cage training cruel?

Cage training is neither cruel nor unfair. On the contrary, leaving the dog unsupervised to wander, investigate, destroy, and perhaps injure itself is far more inhumane than confinement. However the cage needs to be used in the correct way and as with any product it is open to misuse. You must ensure that the cage is large enough for your particular dog, you must ensure that the dog gets sufficient food, play, exercise and attention before it is confined, and you must return before the dog needs to urinate or defecate.

What are the benefits of cage training?

The two most important benefits are the safety it affords the pet, and the damage that is prevented. The cage also provides a place of security; a comfortable retreat where the dog can relax, sleep, or chew on a favorite toy. By confining the pet to a cage or room, when the owner is not available to supervise, behavior problems can be immediately prevented. When you are at home, supervision and rewards can be used to prevent undesirable behavior, and to teach the dog where to eliminate, what to chew, and what rooms and areas are "out of bounds".

Will cage confinement help with house-training?

Yes. Cage training is one of the quickest and most effective ways to house-train a dog. Since most dogs instinctively avoid eliminating in their sleeping and eating areas, dogs that use their crate as a bed or "den" will seldom eliminate inside unless they have been left in the crate for too long. Crate training can also help teach the dog to develop control over its elimination.

As soon as your dog is released from its crate, you should take it to the designated area and reward elimination at acceptable locations. Since the cage prevents chewing, digging, and elimination in the owner's home and property, owners of cage trained puppies have fewer behavior concerns, the puppy receives far less discipline and punishment, and the overall relationship between pet and owner can be dramatically improved.

What about caging and travel?

There are periods in a dog's life when it may need to be confined, for example when traveling or boarding. Those dogs that are familiar and comfortable with caging are more likely to feel secure, and far less stressed, should caging be required.

PUPPY CAGE TRAINING

What type of cage or confinement area works best?

A metal, collapsible cage with a tray floor works well, as long as the cage is large enough for the dog to stand, turn, and stretch out. Some dogs feel more secure if a blanket is draped over the cage. A plastic traveling cage or a homemade cage can also be used. Playpens or child gates across doorways may also be successful as long as they are indestructible and escape proof.

Where should the cage be located?

Because dogs are social animals, an ideal location for the cage is a room where the family spends a lot of time such as the kitchen or living room rather than an isolated utility room.

How can cage or confinement become a positive experience?

Most dogs quickly choose a small area, such as a corner of a room, a dog bed, or close to a sofa, where they go to relax. The key to making the cage the dog's favorite retreat and sleeping area, is to associate the crate with as many positive and relaxing experiences and stimuli as possible (food, treats, chew toys, bedding) and to place the dog in its cage only at scheduled rest and sleep periods. You must therefore be aware of the dog's routine, including its needs for exploration, play, food, and elimination, so that the dog is only placed in its cage, when each of these needs is fulfilled. You must then return to the dog to release it from its cage before the next exercise, feeding or elimination period is due. A radio or television playing in the background may help to calm the dog when it is alone in its cage, especially during the daytime. Background noise may also help to mask environmental noises which can stimulate the dog to vocalize.

THE CAGE SHOULD NEVER BE USED AS PUNISHMENT.

How do I cage-train my new puppy?

1. Introduce the puppy to the cage as soon as it is brought home and as early in the day as possible. Place a variety of treats in the cage throughout the day so that the puppy is encouraged to enter voluntarily. Food, water, toys and bedding could also be offered to the puppy in the open cage.

2. Choose a location outdoors for the puppy to eliminate. Take the puppy to the location, wait until the puppy eliminates, and reward the puppy lavishly with praise or food. After some additional play and exercise, place the puppy in its cage with water, a toy and a treat. If the puppy is relaxed in the cage then you may close the door.

3. If the puppy is tired and calm, it may take a "nap" shortly after being placed in its cage.

4. Leave the room, but remain close enough to hear the puppy. Escape behavior and vocalization are to be expected when a dog is first placed into its cage. If the "complaints" are short or mild, ignore the dog until the crying stops. If the puppy is showing panic when the door of the cage is closed you need to spend more time on point one. Never release the puppy unless it is quiet. This teaches that quiet behavior, and not crying will be rewarded. Release the puppy after a just a few minutes of quiet or a short nap.

5. Repeat the cage and release procedure. Each time, increase the time that the puppy must stay in the cage before letting it out. Always give the puppy exercise and a chance to eliminate before locking it in the cage.

6. If the pup sleeps in one end of its crate and eliminates in the other, a divider can be installed to keep the puppy in a smaller area.

7. Never leave the puppy in its cage for longer than it can control itself or it may be forced to eliminate in the cage.

8. If the pup must be left for long periods during which it might eliminate, it should be confined to a larger area such as a dog-proof room, with paper left down for elimination. As the puppy gets older, its control will increase and it can be left longer in its cage.

9. Although there is a great deal of individual variability, many puppies can control themselves through the night by 3 months of age. During the daytime, once the puppy has relieved itself, a 2-month old puppy may have up to 3 hours control, a 3-month puppy up to 4 hours, and a 4 month old puppy up to 5 hours.

10. A cage is not an excuse to ignore the dog!

CAGE TRAINING ADULT DOGS

What is the best technique for cage training older pets and adult dogs?

1. For adult dogs or older puppies that have not been cage trained previously, set up the cage in the dog's feeding area with the door open for a few days. Place food, treats, and water in the cage so that the dog enters the cage on its own. Another alternative is to place the cage in the dog's sleeping area with its bedding. Once the dog is entering the cage freely, it is time to close the door.

2. Using the same training techniques as for "sit and stay" training, the dog should enter its cage for short periods of time to obtain food, treats, or chew toys. Once the pet expects treats each time it enters the cage, train the dog to enter the cage on command (e.g. kennel!), and remain in the kennel for progressively longer periods of time, before being allowed to exit. Give small rewards each time the dog enters the cage at first, and give the dog a favorite chew toy or some food to help make the stay more enjoyable. At first, the door can remain opened during these training sessions.

3. When the dog is capable of staying comfortably and quietly in the cage begin to shut the door at night. Once the dog sleeps in the cage through the night, try leaving the pet in the cage during the daytime. Try short departures first, and gradually make them longer.

Is cage training practical for all dogs?

Some dogs may not tolerate cage training, and may continue to show anxiety, or even eliminate when confined. These dogs may adapt better to other types of confinement such as a small room. Of course, if the dog is being left alone for longer than it can control its elimination, it will be necessary to provide an area much larger than a cage, so that the pet has a location in which to eliminate, away from its food and bedding. Continued anxiety, destruction or vocalization when placed in the cage may indicate severe behavior problems and in these cases the use of the cage should be discontinued and advice sort from your veterinary surgeon.

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