Jan 20 , 2021
Crate training is basically the process of familiarizing your dog with being in a crate. Like most forms of dog training, the key to success is having short training sessions regularly. Use lots of positive reinforcement and recognize when your dog has had enough for that day.
Everything Starts With the Crate
Like many animals, dogs have a natural preference for places that make them feel safe and comfortable. A good crate will therefore be a cozy den for them. This means that it needs to be big enough for them to stand up and stretch out completely (not including their tail extension), turn around fully, and eat and drink comfortably. It should not, however, be much bigger than that. Remember it’s a dog crate, not a dog run.
As a rule of thumb, a kennel that is sized to fit your dog will also be able to handle their weight. It is, however, a good idea to double-check this before you buy. You also need to make sure that there is adequate ventilation (this is vital) and that the crate is easy to clean. Last but not least, you need to be able to get the door open easily. This is important for safety as well as convenience.
Preparing the Crate
If you are crate training a puppy, then hold off putting bedding into the crate. Like babies, puppies tend to try to eat everything. You want to avoid giving them the opportunity to eat bedding. This could result in a trip to the vet. If you’re crate training an older dog then a blanket is generally appreciated.
Similarly, you want to provide chew toys for the crate, not any other form of toy (e.g. plush or squeaky). There are two reasons for this. Firstly, with pups chew toys are by far the safest option anyway. Other kinds of toys can be a choking hazard. If you use them at all, you need to use them under supervision. Secondly, chew toys encourage your dog to lie still rather than to play actively.
Once you start using the crate properly, you might also need to provide water and perhaps food. In the early days, your dog is only going to be in the crate for very short periods. This means that they probably won’t have any need to drink or eat. You can, however, put the dishes in the crate to try them out.
Your dog crate needs to be somewhere there will be a consistent, comfortable temperature. That means both out of the way of drafts (e.g. from doors) and also out of the way of sources of direct heat (e.g. radiators). Remember, dogs can overheat very easily. Ideally, it should also be somewhere quiet, out of the flow of regular traffic.
Encouraging Your Dog to Investigate the Crate
If you’ve followed all of the above steps, you will have created a very appealing habitat for your dog. Some dogs will be only too happy to explore it. Others may need a little convincing. Your first step is to secure the entrance to the crate so that it always stays open. Remember, your dog must be comfortable in the crate before the gate is closed.
Your second step is to entice them to enter the crate by themselves. There are a couple of ways you can do this. The first is to use food treats. Start by putting them in the general vicinity of the crate. Then move them closer and closer to the crate. Then put them in the crate itself, at first right at the entrance, then further in.
The second is to make it part of a game. If your dog likes playing fetch, then try throwing the toy into the crate. Wait until you’ve had a few general throws and your dog is fully engaged in the game. The chances are that they’ll just dive right in, grab the toy and bring it back to you.
If they have a favorite toy, then you could also try putting that near the crate and then in the crate. There’s a good chance that to begin with, they’ll just go into the crate, fetch their toy and come out again. That’s fine. The whole point of this first stage is just to get your dog used to the idea that the crate is a safe space.
Moving on to Acclimatization
Once your dog is comfortable with the crate itself, you need to encourage them to spend more time in it. The easiest way to do this is to turn it into their feeding station. Take their food over to the crate. When your dog comes to investigate (or you call them), give a command like “crate”, put the food inside, and, if necessary guide them into the crate.
To begin with, keep the gate open as they eat. Over time, however, start closing the gate a little at a time while they are eating. Make sure, however, that it is completely open by the time that they are finished. Remember, you must go at your dog’s pace. Only close the gate as far as they are comfortable.
Over time, your dog will get acclimatized to the gate being closed while they eat. When they do, start keeping it shut for a short period after they have finished. You might find it helpful to give your dog a post-meal chew. This will encourage them to settle down and relax for a bit while they digest.
Starting to Step Away
Up until this point, you will have been with your dog the whole time they were in the crate. Now it’s time to start stepping away, literally. Just move short distances and see how your dog reacts. Basically, you want them to ignore what you’re doing. If they show any signs of responding, move back a bit until you see that they are comfortable again.
Keep working on this until you can move around the room freely without your dog being concerned. Then work on leaving the room for short periods.
Using the Crate More Often
Once your dog is happy with all of this, you can start acclimatizing them to using the crate when they are not being fed. By this point, your dog should be familiar with whatever command you’re using to send them into the crate. You can therefore use this to send them into the crate at random points throughout the day.
Essentially, you’re going to follow the same process but without the meals. In other words, you’re going to start by keeping the gate open and staying close to them. Then you’re going to work on shutting the gate. Then you’re going to work on moving away from your dog. At all times, you’re going to offer lots of rewards and positive reinforcement.