How to Transistion Your Dog Out of the Crate

I always advocate using the crate as merely a tool to set forth good habits in our dogs. The crate is nothing more than a management tool during various developmental life stages all dogs go through. I do find all of my personal dogs still enjoy resting in crates in their old age even though they are hardly ever actually confined inside the crates.

Transitioning your dog out of the crate is best accomplished by utilizing a systematic procedure and keeping reasonable expectations in mind.

At what age do you think my dog will be ready to be left uncrated when I leave the home?
For the majority of dogs, I usually estimate your dog will need to be crated while you are away from the home up until the ages of 10-18 months.

High energy dogs will most likely need to be crated until a later age of maturity compared to low energy dogs. For example, I have worked with a number of Mastiffs that could be trusted out of the crate at 6 months of age. On the other end of the spectrum, high energy working dogs such as German Shepherds, Pointers, and field labs may need to be crated up until approximately 22 months before being able to be trusted free roaming outside of the crate.

How do I know if I am ready to begin the transition out of the crate?
The first step in the transition process is to make sure your dog is comfortable in the crate when you leave the home. All of the information in this guide is geared toward how to make your dog comfortable in the crate in order to transition your dog out of the crate in the future.

If your dog becomes upset and anxious when crated while you are away from the home are not ready to make the transition yet. It is imperative that your dog is comfortable in the crate and you have been following all of the procedures discussed in this crate training guide.

My dog is comfortable in the crate when I leave the home. How do I begin the transition?
You should have read and have implemented the how to avoid separation anxiety article. If you have been following the procedure discussed in that article, you have already begun preparing your dog even if you did not realize it.

To start the transitioning process, you will want to decide what area of the home you want your dog to have access to initially. Kitchens and dining rooms accompanied with baby gates make good choices. You should at least close as many bedroom doors as possible. The area you give your dog access to should have the crate in that location. The crate door should stay open to give the dog access to the crate if they choose.

Once you have chosen your location, it is time to begin the first trial run. The first trial should be no longer than 20 minutes away from the home. If you work during the day Monday through Friday, you will do the trial run in the evening or on a weekend.

Executing the first trial
Place your dog in the area where you will be leaving them 5 minutes before you leave the home. Give the dog a chew item (this should be a brand new safe chew toy) and let them begin chewing on it. After 5 minutes, simply walk out the door. Do not say anything to your dog, just walk out. Now, go drive around the block or run a quick errand.

When you arrive home, walk into the home and pay no attention to the dog. This may be difficult for you, but you want to make it clear to your dog that you coming and going is not a big deal. After a couple of minutes of ignoring the dog, say hello to them and inspect the area to look for any destructive behavior or potty accidents. If you find either, do not let your dog know that you are upset with them. This will only add to future anxiety.

If the first trial goes well
Congratulations! You are on your way. If everything was fine on your first trial, you will start continuing with the transition out of the crate. For most cases, I recommend alternating days. For example, one day the dog is crated while you are away and the next day they are given freedom. After a few weeks, if everything is going well, you can begin complete freedom out of the crate. Remember to provide as much exercise as possible before leaving for extended  periods of times so that your dog will want to rest while you are away.

If the first trial is a disaster
If you come home to find signs of stress such as destructive behavior or accidents, you simply are not ready yet. Read over this guide and begin implementing all of the procedures and try again in a few weeks. You should also take into consideration how old your dog is at this time to make sure your expectations are reasonable.

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Published on July 23, 2017

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