Crate training is a wonderful tool to help keep your canine companion out of trouble when you’re not around. If introduced correctly, a crate can provide your dog with a safe, comfortable place to relax.
The Benefits of Crate Training:
- Crates provide your dog with her own personal safe space
- Limits your dog’s access to the house while she is in the process of housetraining and learning the “house rules”
- Prevents your dog from chewing things she shouldn’t
- Crates are a safe way to transport your dog in the car
Before you begin crate training your dog, note the following about the use of a crate:
- Time in the crate should be thought of as a pleasant experience. Crates should not be used for punishment or behavior modification.
- Do not leave your dog in the crate for extended periods of time.
- Crate training should be done in small steps- do not go to fast.
Selecting a Crate
As far as sizing goes, a dog should be able to comfortably and easily stand up, sit down, lay down, and turn around in a crate. Crates come in three types: wire which folds flat and has better ventilation, plastic which is cozy and approved for airline shipping, and cloth which is lightweight but can be shredded by dogs who want to get out. We suggest you try a plastic or a wire crate before buying a cloth crate.
Introducing Your Dog to the Crate
Place the crate in an area of your house where the family spends a lot of time. Place a soft towel or blanket in the crate. Gently lead your dog over to the crate while speaking to her in a soft, happy tone of voice. Make sure the crate’s door is securely opened and let your dog begin to explore the crate.
Place some yummy treats around and inside the crate to encourage your dog to enter. If your dog refuses to go inside the crate, that is okay, do not force your dog to enter the crate. Instead, continue tossing the treats inside the crate until she is comfortable enough to enter. If your dog does not seem interested in the treats, try tossing her favorite toy inside the crate.
Repeat until your dog seems comfortable around the crate. Make sure to praise your dog when she is around the crate.
Feeding Your Dog Meals Inside The Crate
Begin to feed your dog’s meals to her inside the crate. Feeding your dog inside or near the crate will help create a positive association with the crate. If she is reluctant to enter the crate, place her meal as far inside the crate as she will go without being anxious or scared. Place your dog’s meal further inside the crate each time until she is able to comfortably enjoy her meal while in the crate.
Once your dog is able to enjoy her meal while inside the crate, try gently closing the door while she eats. In the beginning, open the door just before your dog finishes eating. With each time, delay opening the door a little longer until your dog is able to stay in the crate for a few minutes after eating. If she begins to whine or bark, you have increased the time too quickly. Next time, leave the door closed for a shorter amount of time and begin again. If your dog does begin to whine or bark while in the crate, do not let her out until she stops. This will prevent your dog from learning that whining and barking is the key to getting let out of the crate.
Leaving Your Dog In The Crate For Short Periods Of Time
When your dog is able to eat her meals in the crate without any fear or anxiety, you can begin to leave her in the crate for short periods of time while you are home. Call your dog over to the the crate with a treat. Encourage your dog to enter by pointing inside the crate with a treat in your hand. Once your dog enters, give her the treat, praise her, and gently close the door. Sit by the crate for about 10 minutes and then leave the room for a couple minutes. Return to the crate, sit quietly for a few minutes, and then let your dog out of the crate.
Repeat this process for several days, leaving your dog for a few moments longer each time. Once your dog is able to go 30 minutes inside the crate without whining or barking, you can begin to leave her crated while you’re gone for short periods and/or let her sleep in her crate during the night.
If you plan to leave for a short period of time, make sure that you leave one or two chew toys in your dog’s crate for her to enjoy. It also may be helpful to give her a frozen stuffed Kong or other enrichment toys to keep her mind busy while you are gone. It is important to keep your departures and arrivals low key. Do not reward your dog for acting excited by responding to her in an excited, enthusiastic way. Make sure to crate your dog for short periods of time while you are home to prevent her from associating the crate with being left alone.
If your dog panics as soon as you close the door or walk away from the crate you will need to do a more systematic desensitization procedure.
- Toss a treat into the crate; close the door and praise your dog as soon as she goes into the crate; drop in a couple more treats and then open the door; do this 10 times
- Toss a treat into the crate; close the door and praise your dog as soon as she goes into the crate; feed a treat about every three seconds for 10 seconds; open the door; do this 10 times
- Repeat the above, giving a treat every three seconds for 15 to 20 seconds. Do this at least 10 times, or until your dog is relaxed
- Repeat the above, giving a treat every five seconds for 20 to 30 seconds. Do this at least 10 times, or until your dog is relaxed
- Continue to gradually build duration while increasing the interval between treats; when your dog is relaxed in the crate for about five minutes while getting a treat about once per minute you can add distance
- Toss a treat into the crate; close the door and praise your dog; drop in a couple of treats and take one or two steps back; give your dog a treat after about 15 seconds (if you need to approach to give the treat, back up again after); give a treat every 15 seconds for about one minute; open the door; do this 10 times
- Repeat the above, moving three steps from the crate; do this 10 times
- Repeat the above, giving one treat every 15 to 20 seconds for two minutes
- Continue to gradually increase distance, alternating with increasing duration
Leaving Your Dog In The Crate Overnight
When introducing your dog to being crated overnight, keep the crate in your room. Remember, puppies often have to eliminate during the night. By placing the crate near you, you will be able to hear if your dog begins to cry or whine. This will also prevent your dog from associating the crate with social isolation. Do not take the crate out of your room until your dog is able to sleep comfortably through the night.
If you would like information from an Anti-Cruelty Society Behavior Specialist regarding this behavior topic, please call 312-645-8253 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.