In the wild, wolves would find or create a den for themselves — a safe place, often a cozy cave. Dogs feel safest when they have a snug area to sleep or relax. A crate serves as your dogs own “den” — a safe place for him to sleep in. Increasingly, experts are encouraging pet owners to use a crate as part of your dog’s training and their everyday routine. Our instinct may be to think that it is cruel to place a dog in a “cage,” but to the dog, his crate is not a cage, but a version of his own den.
A crate also is useful for toilet training — a dog naturally does not want to soil its own bed — and for preventing your dog from getting hurt, or causing mischief when unsupervised.
However, a dog who is left alone in its crate too long and too often, is bound to resent being crated. Dogs should not be left along in their crates all day every day.
What Kind of Crate Should You Get?
There are two main kinds of crates — wire crates, and plastic crates. Different people seem to have preferences for different crates, but both seem to work equally well. I use a plastic crate because a friend was able to loan me a crate her dog no longer used. The key is to get a crate that is big enough that your dog can stand up and comfortably turn around in it. You may want to buy a crate sized for your dog when he is full grown, so that he won’t outgrow it. If you do that, though, with a large wire crate, you may want to block off part of the crate to keep it small enough that your pup feels cozy.
Introducing Your Puppy To The Crate
You should have a crate — with a comfy sleeping mat or blankets — ready for your puppy when you bring him home. Encourage the Lab pup to check out the crate during the day, with the door left open. Place a few toys in the crate, and even some treats to encourage the pup to go inside.
Over the course of the day, encourage the pet to spend a few minutes at a time in the crate. Begin to close the door a bit, then all the way while the pup is inside — but don’t leave him in for more than a few minutes at a time.
The First Night
When night comes, take the dog outside to go to the bathroom, then place the pup in his crate with some nice chew toys, and some treats. Pet the pup until he settles down. You may want to include some fuzzy toys — if you have a toy or some fabric from the breeder, place this inside as well. Some people find that a clock that ticks (to simulate the mother’s heartbeat) or soft music also help to soothe the pup.
If the pup is sleeping in your bedroom, place the crate next to your bed. If the pup is sleeping elsewhere, you may want to use a baby monitor to hear the pup.
Most pups will cry during their first night away from their mother and littermates. If the pup is sleeping near you, you may want to reach over and pet him to comfort him. Some people leave the top off the crate so they can easily reach down from their bed (I tried this, but my pup kept escaping). I slept next to the crate, with the door closed, but not latched. If my Labrador puppy woke up or tried to get out of the crate, I was woken up, and would sit with her until she fell back asleep. You’ll need to get up a few times during the night to let the pup outside to go to the bathroom.
Ongoing Crate Training
Over time your pup will get used to the crate and many labs even come to enjoy their “home,” particularly if they are never left in the crate for too long. Encourage the pup to go into the crate while you are home, not just when you leave — otherwise the Labrador puppy will associate the crate only with your absence and will probably never enjoy being there.
You should never leave the pup crated for long periods of time. A Labrador puppy can only be crated for a few hours at a time at most. Even an adult dog should not be crated for more than 4 to 5 hours at a time. The dog needs exercise, water, and to relieve himself during the day. If you are working full-time, and cannot come home at lunch to feed and exercise the pup, a dog-walker is a good idea.