Crate training is an incredibly useful management tool, and nearly every professional dog trainer makes use of crates at one point or another. Crates can help with potty training, prevent an untrained dog from engaging in destructive or annoying behavior, and keep adolescent dogs from harassing cats, older dogs, or other household pets during the day. Even well-behaved dogs benefit from crates, as they serve as a safe and comfortable “home base” for the dog to relax in. Crate-trained dogs are easier to travel with, as they are more comfortable in new surroundings when they get to bring their “bedroom” with. If your dog ever needs to stay overnight at a boarding kennel or at the veterinarian’s office, he will be less stressed if he’s already used to being crated.
When introducing a dog or puppy to their crate, it’s important to do so positively so that they make pleasant associations with it. Never shove your dog into a crate or “trick” him by bribing him to go in and then slamming the door on him. If your dog already has unpleasant associations with the crate, start with a different kind of crate than he’s seen before (wire VS plastic) and go slow, or give us a call for one-on-one help.
Start off by propping the crate door open and leaving some tasty treats, such as chunks of cheese or hot dog, right inside the door. Drop treats into the crate periodically. Praise your dog warmly when he goes into the crate to eat the treats, and ignore him when he’s not in the crate. When he goes into the crate to eat his treats, drop several additional treats into the crate to let him know you’re pleased that he’s hanging out there.
Once he’s going in and out of the crate happily to eat the treats, prepare an extra-special long-lasting treat, such as a Kong stuffed with peanut butter or a raw meaty bone from the butcher. Show him the treat and let him get excited about it. When he’s really keen, toss the treat into the crate and close the door, locking him outside of the crate (and away from his special treat). After a few moments, when he’s very anxious to get to the good stuff, open the crate door and let him go in to eat it. Close the door and sit by his crate, reading a book. Before he’s done with his special prize, open the crate door back up. If he wants to come out of the crate, that’s just fine… but his special treat has to stay inside.
Below are more tips to help your dog love his crate:
- Always feed your dog in his crate. It doesn’t matter whether you shut the door or not, but his bowl should be delivered in his kennel.
- When he’s not looking throughout the day, hide special treats or toys in the crate. Make him think it’s a Magic Food Place!
- Teach him a special cue for going into his crate. Some cute ideas include “go to your room,” “skedaddle,” “get in your house,” “go to your box,” or “nap time!” Always use a cheerful, pleasant tone of voice.
- If your dog is barking or whining in his crate and you don’t think he needs to go to the bathroom, ignore him. Only open the crate door when he’s quiet. Especially barky dogs may do better if their crate is covered by a blanket.
- Don’t let the crate predict your absense, especially if your dog is a little worried about being left alone. Sometimes use the crate when you’re home.
- It’s fine to use the crate when your dog needs to cool down (such as an overexcited puppy nipping), but don’t use it as punishment. Never drag your dog to his crate in anger.
- Let your dog be with you! Make sure the crate isn’t isolated away from the rest of your family. For young puppies, try to find space for the crate right in your bedroom. Even older dogs should be crated nearby. Find an out-of-the-way spot out of the main lines of travel where your dog can still be near you. No one likes to be banished into solitary confinement.
- When leaving your dog in his crate for the day, always leave him with something to keep him busy, such as part of his breakfast in a Kong toy. Consider leaving quiet music or a fan playing for white noise. Don’t crate in visually stimulating areas, such as by windows.
- Never crate a dog longer than he can hold his bladder or bowels. If you think your dog won’t be able to “hold it” the entire time you’re gone, make use of a long-term confinement area such as a mudroom or ex-pen with a dedicated potty area.
Do you use a crate for your dog? What does she or he think of it? Share your crating questions and stories in the comments below!