Crate training is teaching a dog to respect a crate as a “safe house.” It can be used for potty training, since dogs generally don’t like to eliminate in their own area. It is also a secure and comfortable place to put a dog if it is not safe for him (or other humans) to be left in the house unsupervised. The dog’s first experience in a crate must be positive! Dogs are den animals, but that does not mean they will adapt to a crate overnight. Crate training is just that...training. If we teach the dog that the crate is a positive place to be, then we will have a dog who enjoys spending time in his crate.
Leave the crate door open so that the dog can explore. Feed the dog all of his meals in the crate.
Constantly, but randomly throw a treat or a toy into the crate when the dog is not looking. Let the dog enter the crate to eat the treat or to get the dog toy. This will encourage the dog to enter the crate to get good things, and will help associate good things with the crate. Do this at least 10 times per day. Continue with step #3: Praise the dog when he is in the crate. Let the dog exit at will. (Do NOT praise the dog or treat the dog for exiting the crate. This teaches the dog exiting is just as good as entering, and you want to reward the dog for going into the crate. All praise and treats are given to the dog when he is physically inside the crate.) If your dog is reluctant to enter the crate, leaving a “treat trail” from outside of the crate to inside the crate helps and continue step three.
Once your dog has no problem entering the crate, you may begin to add a cue word if desired. (Examples: “Crate,” “Kennel Up,” etc.) Say the cue word once and toss a treat into the crate. Throw up to 5 treats through the bars of the crate (with the door open) if the dog is staying in the crate. Ask your dog to exit the crate and as soon as the dog exits the crate all treats stop. Repeat.
Cue the dog to “crate” and then give the dog a busy toy, such as a stuffed Kong. Let the dog enjoy the busy toy for a couple of minutes, then let the dog out of the crate before the dog is finished with it and take away the toy. Repeat for at least one week, about three times per day.
If the dog is still not entering the crate automatically, encourage with more food, toys, and praise. Throw treats and toys into the crate as in step #2, and continue to feed every meal in the back of the crate. You may also put the water bowl in the back of the crate to encourage entry. Also, be sure crating is not associated with you leaving. Don’t only crate the dog when you are leaving or a negative association of isolation can occur. Crate when you are home to prevent this association. Do crate a tired dog. Do look for true but rare panic behaviors or anxiety. If this occurs, stop and ask a qualified trainer if you should proceed with crate training.
Once the dog is happily running into his crate, give the dog his busy toy and shut the door. Randomize the time the door is shut from 1 to 10 minutes depending on how long the busy toy lasts, but remember to take away the toy before the dog is finished with it when you let him out of the crate.
Once the dog is comfortable with the crate, you may now begin to leave the room for brief periods of time. Return to the room the dog is in periodically to insure him you are still there. Let the dog exit at different time intervals, as that the dog is in the crate for 5 minutes, 20 minutes, 8 minutes... (Remember to ignore the dog for exiting the crate. We want a dog who thinks entering the crate is fun and rewarding, and good things happen in the crate.)
When your dog is comfortable in the crate for thirty minutes or more, he is ready to begin to sleep inside the crate. It is strongly recommended to keep the crate in a family member’s room for several reasons:
- The dog does not think he is being isolated from his pack members.
- Family members can hear signs of stress in the dog.
- Family members can hear if the dog needs to use the restroom.
Your dog is almost there! Begin to leave the dog in the crate as you take short trips outside of your home. If you have a tape recorder or video camera, it is helpful to set this up to make sure your dog is not stressing during your absence. Make sure to vary the time away from home up to thirty minutes.
Once your dog is crate trained, don’t forget to practice crating him for a couple of minutes every day while you are home. If you are only using crate training for a puppy-safe-area (much like we humans use play pens for our children), remember to practice crate training after the dog is completely house trained. This will insure that the dog does not forget his crate training.
* Remember only let a quiet dog exit the crate. Don’t teach your dog ‘barking means I’ll come and give you attention or let you out of the crate.
SOME SIGNS OF STRESS TO WATCH FOR:
- Wet fur from drooling.
- Urination or defecation in the crate.
- Crate damage from escape attempts.
- The crate is in a different location from where you left it from the dog sliding the crate along the floor while still inside it
- Excessive barking or whining. If the dog does start to bark or whine, try to distract the dog with a treat and ask for any behavior the dog knows, like “sit.” Reward THAT behavior with a treat several times before opening the crate door. This should stop the noise, reward the dog for a different behavior (the “sit”), and ensure that the dog has not trained you, thinking, “If I bark or whine enough, I get to exit the crate.”
- Damage to surrounding objects the dog could reach through the crate, or damage to bedding material. This can also be play behavior.
- Damage to the paws from trying to dig out of crate, or damage to the mouth from excessive chewing on the crate trying to escape.
If any of these happen, stop and ask a qualified trainer.