What is a crate, really?
Contrary to the terminology that kennel vendors use, a crate is an UNlockable space for the dog (thus a crate normally has no roof), while a kennel is a lockable space for the dog (thus a kennel normally has a roof). The reason why kennel vendors love to call their products "crate" is that they have no crate (and consumer demand for "crate" is much higher than for "kennel"). Indeed, a mere look at the biggest marketplace proves that commercial dog crates are not on offer (which is why in the MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL we show how to build the best crate yourself).
Guess why commercial dog crates don't exist?
Obviously because kennel vendors know that dog owners cannot properly crate-train their dog, and so there is no demand for UNlockable spaces for dogs.
This photo shows you the kind of crate that I gifted My New Puppy. It's two hinged pieces of thin plywood leaned against the wall (to protect the paint), and the thick Westpaw nap mat in between, for the dog to lie on (or in this case he's searching underneath during our daily session of treasure hunt).
The dog never was confined to a kennel, and never will be. In fact we don't own one, I wouldn't waste money on a kennel! I don't lock dogs away, because I crate-train dogs. And you can (and should) do the same.
Why should you? Because, why get a dog when you then lock the dog away? Doesn't make sense, does it? Dog owners who lock their dog in a kennel do so because they missed to crate-train their dog. Hopefully now you will no longer miss out on having the joys (and safety!) of a dog with free run of the house (and property).
This perfectly leads over to...
What means crate training?
Crate training a dog means to get the dog to use the crate voluntarily as the primary domicile, just like children normally will want to stay in their room to play (or whatever they do there), unless when they can play outdoors with friends. Indeed, except if your child is sort of geeky(?), being outdoors will typically have the highest priority. The same is true for German Shepherd dogs.
Now, while indoors, to use the crate voluntarily, we obviously won't provide a lockable crate (=kennel), then how shall the dog get inside?
And once the dog is inside, if we lock the door, how can the dog be voluntarily in the crate?
Are you wondering where the dog is when not in the crate? Well, because the dog is fully house-trained, obviously the dog is somewhere else on the property (checking for gangsters maybe). Just make sure that you close the rooms where you don't want the dog to go inside (and where you don't expect gangsters to enter the house).
Crate training a dog
How can you get your German Shepherd to use the crate voluntarily? Meaning, not all the time but when the dog wants (in order to sleep, to doze, to play, to hump the bedding, or whatever).
Crate use prerequisites
First of all, we have to make the crate sufficiently comfy - we use the Westpaw nap mat, because it is fleecy-soft and dog-robust at the same time (and it has survived about 40 laundry washes already)!
Second, we have to place the crate at a suitable place - ideal would be a sort of annex to the living room, ie where the dog can retreat when unwell or whatever, but still see and hear us and come over when the dog wants, because domesticated dogs want to be close to the family Pack.
If only you meet these two prerequisites, then voluntary crate use will already be quite frequent without any crate training whatsoever! For example the dog pictured above with arguably the most spartan "crate" ever built is - I have to be honest - the "dumbest" German Shepherd I have ever met, and yet even this dog did not need any crate training whatsoever.
Crate training steps
Now, what if we don't meet the two prerequisites above (hey, they are called prerequisites for a reason!) and/or we want the dog to go to the crate at certain times?
Indeed, I too sometimes want the dog to be in his crate (= on his nap mat), for example when I eat (same room, on the couch, spartan life this is!). While this dog is allowed on the couch, he is not allowed when I eat - I don't like to be watched taking food to my mouth, do you?
So, I simply point my index finger (but the middle finger will do too) on my extended arm towards his nap mat (crate), and the dog knows that I want him to get off the couch and to lie down on his own bedding. I don't say anything, I just point my finger, and he knows. - The first time I did this I obviously had to wait, but certainly less than a minute, until this "Retard" realized that I wanted him to get off the couch and to walk over to his bedding.
Is that voluntary crate use? I would argue, yes it is:
- I don't push, pull, or lure the dog to the crate!
- I don't command the dog to the crate!
- I don't close or lock the crate (and I cannot, it's 180 degrees wide open!)
In fact, maybe you noticed(?), what I do there is, I use Behavior Training, not Obedience Training. This is step 2 of Dog Crate Training, use Behavior Training, then there isn't much to do at all that would make you feel you had to crate-train your dog.
Is this an extra step? I don't think so: The dog accepts me as Pack leader (somewhat, ha!), and so he wants to please me when he knows what I want. When I point my finger, he knows what I want. So yes, it surely is voluntary crate use.
Of course the dog is fully house-trained. So for example, when he jumps off the couch to walk to his nap mat, he does not topple over items on the couch table or wherever. He does not start chewing on the couch table leg or whatever. He does not start scratching the plywood that leans against the wall (to protect the paint, it's a rented apartment). He does not start barking - actually, he isn't allowed to bark in the house at all (and he does not), he may only bark out on the terrace (and he does).
In short, the dog behaves well in the house even while I am eating - and likewise when he's left alone at home, with free run of the house and terrace. Want proof? Watch it all live in the New Puppy Diary. The only multimedia and live chronicles of raising a puppy. All other "books" (incl. mine) are just a retrospective reflection of what the author thinks she remembers from when she had a puppy (and our memory is so very much biased).
So, I guess it all belongs together, it all leads to each other: House Training includes Housebreaking, House Training includes Crate Training, House Training is part of Behavior Training, Behavior Training requires to be accepted Pack leader, and so forth.
At the top I said: "Crate training a dog means to get the dog to use the crate voluntarily as the primary domicile." - Yeah, this dog too does use his Westpaw nap mat ("crate") voluntarily as his primary domicile, no doubt.
Try all of this, you'll love it. And certainly your dog will love you for it!