Crate training is where we teach our dog to accept a dog crate or cage as a familiar and safe location. It can be a fantastic tool for puppies and dogs in which we create a safe space for your dog to retire to or for you to retire your dog to. It’s not for everyone and not even necessary in some circumstances. But for some, it can be the best decision a dog owner ever makes for them and their dog.
When introducing the dog to the crate we must take each dogs reaction to it into account. Some dogs take to it very will instantly enjoying their own space and are not fazed by the door being closed on them. For others, it can be a process of building their confidence, tolerance and willingness to be in there.
We must remember that we do not need the dog to learn that we want them to be in the crate, the goal is for them to learn that they want to be in there. It has to be the most positive thing in the world for them to want to do it. We must go at the dogs pace, and be careful to avoid any negative experiences.
What to avoid:
When getting a dog into the crate, we must not physically place them in there. This takes the option away from the dog and while we may get them in there the first few times, the dog will quickly learn to evade being picked up in the future. This will cause more issues than it solves.
Avoid closing the door on a dog that is attempting to leave the create, this will create a feeling of entrapment and so panic.
Avoid blindsiding the dog when closing the door. The dog must be aware and comfortable with the door being closed. If they lift their head and suddenly realise the door is closed, it can again cause a feeling of entrapment and panic.
Avoid opening the door and allowing the dog to rush out. We want calm and positive experiences at all stages. By fleeing the crate after being in there, it can create a negative lasting memory.
What to do and provide
Position the crate where is most appropriate to you. If the dog cannot be too far away, start with it close to you and we can ween it further away as the dog becomes comfortable.
Cover the crate and including three of the side walls, leaving just the door uncovered.
Put bedding in there, making it the comfiest option in the room for the dog.
This stage is not about us attempting to get the dog into the crate, it is about building the dogs confidence in its presence and then going into it by their own free will. You leave the door open at all times at this stage, placing water, food, treats and toys into the crate to give the dog the option go in if it chooses. It is important not to encourage the dog to go in at this stage.
Once the dog is willingly choosing to go into the crate on its own, we can then build trust in us communicating to go into it. Using food rewards we can put out hand (with a treat in it) and encourage the dog to go in. Once the dog is in, reward it immediately. If the dog stays in the crate, we can repeat the process by luring them out. Once the dog is completing this behaviour consistently, we can then lure the dog in, and before rewarding ask the dog to sit and stay – delaying the reward and so increasing the time duration that the dog is int the crate, again repeating the same thing when luring the dog out of the crate. Gradually increase the time duration that we ask the dog to sit and stay while in the crate. We are still not closing the door of the crate yet.
This is where we can begin to close the door and gradually build duration.
Once we have lured the dog in, and asked it to stay – we can begin to close the door while the dog is staying. If the dog stands up, we pause closing the door and ask the dog to sit again. Rewarding it for doing so.
When closing the latches on the crate or doing the zipper up, the dog will often stand up. Each time that they do, we must pause the closing of the door and lure the dog back into a sit and stay before rewarding. We must be careful not to reward the dog for standing up, but for sitting so that the dog does not learn that it gets rewarded for standing. We gradually build tolerance to the door being closed with the dog in the stay position.
Gradually build duration that the dog feels comfortable as well as gradually building their tolerance as to how far away you are from the crate -eventually being able to be out of sight and away. When doing this it is important to leave enrichment items in the crate. Options such as goat horns and antlers for the dogs to chew. These can help create a positive association of being in there and chewing is a natural way for a dog to settle their arousal levels back down.
Once the dog is resting in the crate comfortably, and we are able to leave them in there for a reasonable amount of time without us having to be present – we can begin to move the crate away from where we originally placed it (if we originally placed it near us to reduce their stress levels) Gradually move the crate away from you towards where you intend to place it for the long term. Avoid moving it away too far too as to not cause undue stress.
Letting the dog out of the crate
Avoid allowing them to jump out of the car before any verbal cues.
As you approach the crate, have treats ready in your hand
Ask the dog to sit and stay before beginning to open the door
Begin to open the door – if the dog stands up – pause opening the door and ask the dog to sit and stay again
When the door opens avoid manually handling the dog – use a treat on the dogs nose to hold its attention rather than allowing them to run out past you
Once the dog has sat – ask the dog to stay as you pull yourself away from the crate
Give the verbal cue for them to walk out – holding a treat in your hand for them to come to, rather than jumping out and scanning their environment.
Ask the dog to sit and stay before closing the door
Many dogs will bark, and it is important to understand what different barks mean. Click here to read on about barking and how to respond to the different tyes of bark.