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When to use a crate
Using a crate is important for at least as long as your dog is not yet house trained - which is likely to be the case if you have a puppy. A house trained dog is one that will comply with all your house rules. House trained comprises far more than the dog housebreaking, which means potty training a dog or dog toilet training. For details see House training dogs.
Once your dog is fully house trained, you could decide to let it run free in the house all the time. However, it is better to leave the crate in its place even when you are convinced that your dog is house trained: Just like it would in nature, a dog may often prefer to retreat to its own den, especially when feeling unwell, at night, and when dozing. A small space where your dog can nestle down and feel warm and safe.
Purpose of a crate
The purpose of a crate is to provide your dog with a shelter, a place where it can doze, sleep, play with its toys while lying down, and chew on its chewing toys - all while feeling safe and in hiding.
Conversely, a kennel we will consider a place where you can lock your dog away if you fear that it would otherwise say make a mess in your house or say frighten small children. If we can agree on this for now, then a kennel will have a roof and a lockable door, while a crate is unlikely to have a roof or a door at all. We are aware that commercial sites do not distinguish this as clearly, and indeed they may not even have an appropriate crate at all, see below.
What crate to use
Commercial crates are neither necessary nor the most appropriate for your dog's needs. Why?
Dogs need to feel safe when they doze or sleep. Dogs feel safe when they doze or sleep in a place where they feel they can hide, so that they are not seen while not alert, and where they can observe the entrance to their hiding place, so that they can react fast.
This is all the more important for you if you have a German Shepherd as protection dog. The whole idea of having family protection dogs or, better trained protection dogs, fails when you lock your German Shepherd in a kennel or outside in the backyard garden. German Shepherd barking doesn't give you a German Shepherd protection dog!
Imagine an intruder enters your house through a front window. Yes, the German Shepherd barking will wake you up, but also the intruder will have lots of time to harm you if you safely locked away your German Shepherd. An experienced intruder will notice immediately whether you have a barking dog that's locked up, or whether you have a German Shepherd protection dog that's ready to attack him. For more, see Protection dog training.
Best crate for dogs
The best crate for dogs is one that suffices both these primary requirements. In addition, a dog's den needs to be warm without being overheated, draft-free, and soft on the ground. Fresh water supply should be within the dog's reach.
Therefore, the best crate for dogs is one that's just a wooden box, with one side being open except for a say 2cm threshold, and the other sides reaching just above the dog's body when lying down. The box floor has a blanket. Wash the blanket weekly with a non-smelling and naturally mild cleaning product. The box has no roof. It is easy to clean by just reaching over the side panels. Put a water bowl in front of the entrance. That's it!
This is the best crate for dogs - not necessarily the best crate for you, and not the best crate for commercial crate producers.
Why is it not necessarily the best crate for you? Because in the beginning, while your dog is not yet house trained, you may prefer a den for your puppy that has a roof too and is lockable (we will call this a kennel, not a crate). Such a kennel can help reduce potty accidents and dog chewing or dog scratching on your valuable furniture etc.
With an untrained dog you will have to strike a compromise between what's the best crate for dogs long-term and what's the best crate for you in the short-term.
If you do all parts of House training your dog right, then a German Shepherd puppy can usually be house trained within a week or two. This includes the housebreaking a puppy, meaning your German Shepherd puppy will be clean in the house too. Then you may not need to buy a commercial crate at all if you consider it suboptimal in the long-term. Instead, you might prefer to put a few pieces of wood together to build the best crate for dogs yourself. - We show you how to build a dog crate in the MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL.
This also is a fun and very rewarding exercise for yourself. It will make you happy and proud. Guaranteed.
Do not make the mistake to think "If I get a covered, lockable kennel, my puppy can't have potty accidents elsewhere in the house". It doesn't work like this, because you can't lock a puppy for more than an hour or two in the kennel anyway before it needs to empty its small bladder, and it will try to avoid to soil its own den for as long as it can hold its bladder tight.
What if you fear you won't get the puppy housebreaking right, and your gorgeous German Shepherd puppy may have a few potty accidents in the house? Then you may want to get one of those dog potties as described in Housebreaking a dog, and to accept a couple of potty accidents in the beginning. In this case, consider to keep your German Shepherd puppy in a non-carpeted area of your house during the first week or two.
Where to put the crate
Place the crate where there's no permanent running around of family members (say tumultuous children during playtime), no draft, no immediate radiator heat, and no wiring from electrical items like fridges etc. But don't put the crate too far away from where the family members usually remain during the day. Ideal would be a corner of an annex to your living room if you have that.
Why? Because your dog should have the chance to see and hear what's going on in the house, but likewise it should have the chance to back out when it needs to doze or sleep during the day, or when it doesn't feel well.
Do not follow the advice you can find in some places, to regularly change the crate when your puppy grows up, or even to move the crate around between day and night time. This would confuse the instincts of your German Shepherd and may promote aggression and anxiety. Place the crate in its permanent place straight away.
When your puppy grows up, it's best to have no more than one change in size made to the crate. A commercial crate should have a divider which makes it easy to adapt the size of the crate to the size of your puppy (but only do it once, about mid-term). A self-made crate you would simply extend to one side. - Again, we show you how to build a dog crate in the MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL.
However, you do not need to do this. It doesn't matter if in the beginning the crate is much larger than your puppy, because in nature a puppy wouldn't have a den of its own size either. Indeed, your German Shepherd puppy may be happy and develop well if it has the same crate throughout.
Note that if the crate is in a separate room, always leave the door a bit open so that you don't cut off the German Shepherd's instinct that aims to protect you, and that it doesn't feel lonely or anxious either. This is all the more important while you have a puppy, but it is relevant at every age in order to keep your dog calm and healthy.
Benefits of Dog Crate Training and Puppy Crate Training
Once your dog uses the crate on its own initiative, it will allow your dog more time to retreat from the family action and to relax. This will contribute to your dog's overall health, and it will improve your relationship with your dog when you are together.
In addition, mid- and long-term, Crate training dogs will reduce the amount of dog behavior training required, see House training a puppy. This means it will reduce dog whining, dog barking, dog separation anxiety, dog aggression, and destructive behaviour.
In short, Crate training dogs is very beneficial regardless of your dog's age.
What a Crate means to a German Shepherd
Under normal circumstances German Shepherds love to use their crates. This has genetic roots and even when you leave a German Shepherd out in the wild, it will prepare its own small space to nestle down in, so that it keeps warm and safe. A crate performs this function perfectly and is giving your dog a safe space that he or she can guard as its own. German Shepherds in particular need this small place to retreat, especially when feeling unwell, at night, and when dozing.
If you deprive your GSD of this, your dog is likely to become anxious, trying to herd and control the entire room or house. This is the most common reason for destructive behavior.
In the beginning, leave your German Shepherd puppy in the crate only for short periods of time. Take your pups out after an hour and give it attention, unless its sleeping. Play with your pups. Go for a walk. Slowly increase the crate periods until they cover a whole night or a short day at work - whether you are at work or indeed at home.
Always remember that German Shepherds are strong and active herd guards by nature. Long and needless crate periods are unsuitable for this dog breed!
Your overall aim should be that your German Shepherd uses its crate voluntarily and on its own initiative, and that it otherwise may run freely on your premises - once fully house trained.
If you have several German Shepherd puppies give each of them its own crate but don't force them to use a separate crate each just yet. They will usually each use their own crate automatically, later when they feel like it.
Crate training and You
Both you and your German Shepherd will need to learn how to use the crate. For example, it's your dog's crate, not yours, so never pull out the blanket while your GSD is in the crate, and don't step into its crate. Likewise, don't apply force to get your German Shepherd into the crate or out of it. Be considerate about this small space which your dog may treat as its own. Don't upset your dog or disturb its guarding instinct.
Don't take your German Shepherd out of the crate just because it's whining or barking to get attention - see Crate training puppies. A puppy as well as an older dog should only be taken out of the crate when it has been calm for a few minutes. Your dog must not develop a connection between say German Shepherd barking or German Shepherd whining and getting your attention or even a treat!
To get much more help regularly how to have the BEST relationship with your German Shepherd, make sure you subscribe now to the free MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL. It is there to stay, with you and your German Shepherd. And the longer you pay attention to the advice we provide, the more you'll realize its unique value for you and your dog.