Reminder: The selected responses presented below are a reflection of the collaborative effort of Hybrid Wolf Mailing List aka. Wolfdoglist members to share opinions / information about wolf x dogs, responsible "ownership" and breeding practices. This FAQ is not a scientific or veterinary resource. Some responses have been edited for brevity.
Does crate-training work for wolfdog puppies, and how do I get started ?
What Is Crate Training ?
Crate training is the process of conditioning your dog to accept being in a crate, which will eventually become his own "den". Crate training is used for a variety of reasons. It is an effective tool for housebreaking, and gives the dog a safe, secure place of his own. Having a dog who is comfortable being crated is also useful for confinement for short periods when necessary, for safe transportation via car or plane, and for keeping a dog still and calm when recovering from surgery.
Why Does It Work ?
Dogs are descended from wolves. There is a natural instinct which has been handed down not to soil where they sleep, and this is what makes crate training such an effective housebreaking tool. Wolves dig dens which they sleep in, and this den instinct is what will lead your dog to view the safe, enclosed crate as a comforting place he can call his own.
Left: Kivalliq (adult wolfdog) in a Giant Vari-Kennel.
Right: Niko (adult Alaskan Malamute) in a X-Large Vari-Kennel.
Ed. note: Although I accustomed both of these canines to being in a kennel crate as pups, neither spent much time in them unless they were being transported inside our Van. As you can see, both are adults now and neither are stressed inside the crates even on extended trips. The crates provide security, allowing me to drive unmolested and leave the Van for brief periods knowing they are secure. ~Gudrun Dunn
As you will find at your local pet supply store, there are many brands and types of crates. The best type to use is the hard plastic kind that consists of a top and bottom that snap together, has ventilation areas on the side, and a metal grille door. When buying a crate, be sure it says "airline approved" on the label.
A new, quality crate for a medium to large dog will probably run $50-125. While this may sound like a lot, it is well worth it in the long run. A damaged carpet alone will cost you more than that to repair.
There are also crates made of heavy gauge wire that fold down into a suitcase style shape. These are not approved for airline use, but some people prefer them for heavy-coated breeds because they offer better ventilation.
The crate should be just big enough for the dog to stand up and turn around in. If your dog is a puppy, do not buy a huge crate for him to grow into. Having all that room will defeat the purpose. You may need to buy a puppy-sized crate now and a larger one when he's bigger. Or you can try to find a crate made by one of the companies who now include dividers so you can shrink and expand the puppy's space as needed.
Is Crate Training For Adult Dogs Too ?
Yes, yes, yes! Many people are under the false impression that crate training is just for puppies, and that older dogs will not 'take' to a crate. Untrue. Older dogs often learn faster than puppies, and most will appreciate the comfort and security a crate offers.
How Do I Introduce My Dog to the Crate ?
The sooner you start crate training the better. You can put a blanket or old sweatshirt in the bottom of the crate which has your scent on it. This will not only be more comfortable for your dog, but helps the bonding process as well. Keep the crate where you want the dog to sleep, i.e. by the side of your bed.
When you first introduce the dog, be sure the crate door is propped open so as to not swing shut by accident. If he doesn't go in to explore on his own, you can put a treat inside, or even feed a meal in there. NEVER force a dog into a crate (this could form an unpleasant association and make things very difficult for both of you).
Each time he goes into the crate, say "go to bed" in a high, pleasant voice. He will eventually come to associate this command with going into the crate, which will be helpful later on, to let him know it's bedtime. The first night, say "go to bed" as you gently help him in, then softly close the door. You may want to put a toy in with him.
It is perfectly normal for a dog to whine, bark, or even throw tantrums the first night in a crate. Do NOT reward this behavior by petting him or whispering soothing words, or worse, by letting him out. Try simply ignoring him for a while. If this doesn't work after a reasonable amount of time, simply say "no" in a firm voice, or tap the top of the crate and say "quiet". Just don't get into the cycle of him whining and you saying "quiet" each time, thereby reinforcing the behavior by responding to it at all.
There are some dogs who will have trouble holding their bladder all night, and you will come to know the difference between a normal whine and a need-to-urinate whine. If the whining becomes frantic during the night, open the crate door, pick the dog up, and bring him out to the spot where you want him to eliminate. If he does, praise him in a high, happy voice, then return him to the crate. Most dogs, especially adults, get used to this routine very quickly and sleep through the night without interruption.
First thing in the morning, open the crate door and CARRY your dog to the proper spot to relieve himself, then give lots of praise when he does. Do not let him walk out of the crate on his own, as he will most likely squat and urinate before making it to the door.
After the morning elimination, you can let him roam in the same area of the house as you are in. Refrain from letting him out of your sight, as accidents can happen in a split second, and you need to be there to correct him as they happen, not later.
If you do catch your dog starting to circle and sniff or squat, startle him with a "no!", then quickly carry him out to the proper spot. Don't forget the praise. If you find an accident which has already happened, consider it your own mistake and clean it up quietly. A dog will not associate a correction with what he did wrong if it's after the fact. Take him out to eliminate upon waking and after naps, after meals, after playtime, and before bed.
If you have to leave the house for a period of time, you can leave your dog crated up to three hours at a time. This will prevent housebreaking accidents as well as preventing unwanted chewing or destruction during this training period. It's a good idea to leave a favorite toy or bone in the crate with him. Never leave a dog crated longer than three hours at a time, except overnight when you are there.
Note: Crate training will help immensely with housebreaking, but it is important to remember that your own consistency in supervising your dog's actions in the house is crucial as well. Keep your dog in the same room with you as much as possible, and as soon as you see behavior indicating that he needs to urinate or defecate, i.e. circling and sniffing the ground, squatting, startle him by clapping your hands or giving a low, gruff "NO" in a low voice, then pick him up and put him in the correct spot and give praise when he does go.
What Then ?
Once your dog is housebroken, you can still use the crate for confinement periods if necessary. Many people end up taking the door off the crate entirely, and their dogs still sleep, hang out, and take refuge in their "dens". Crate training is well worth the time and investment, and giving this permanent place of safety and comfort to your dog is really a gift to you both.
Nicole Wilde is experienced in the handling of wolves and wolfdogs. She has been associated with Villalobos Rescue Center, contributes advice to readers of the "Wolf Hybrid Times" magazine, and has written the book Living with Wolfdogs; An Everyday Guide to a Lifetime Companionship.
Nicole can be e-mailed at ( Phantmwlf@aol.com ).
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