Teaching your dog to go into a crate is an invaluable tool for housebreaking, and a safe way for him to travel. It also provides him with a space all to himself when he needs alone time. Dogs are den animals by nature, and a crate offers a den-like place for him to be safe and secure. There are many different types of crates available, but the most common types are wire cages with a tray bottom and the plastic airline crate. Both styles serve the purpose of confining a dog and providing a den for him to lie in. The dogs usually have no preference as to what style or color the crate is, as long as it is comfortable.
Choosing a crate
When choosing the size of the crate, it should only be large enough for your dog to stand, turn around, and lie down. If you are purchasing a crate for a puppy that will suit him as an adult, put a barrier in it so the space he has can be adjusted as he grows. Make sure you choose a crate that is easy to assemble correctly and securely so your dog will be safe from injury or escape. It is wise with a puppy to not line the crate with blankets or newspapers, or he may use the crate as a toilet rather than a bed.
- A dog crate
- Lots of small tasty treats your dog enjoys
- One of your dog's favorite toys
- Decide on a cue. The cue is the word or phrase you will choose to tell your dog what you want him to do. Common choices are 'kennel,' 'go to bed,' or 'crate.' Pick a cue that will be easy for you to remember, and something that will be simple for the rest of your pack to say.
- Get the behavior first. You will be teaching your dog to go into the crate before you actually tell him to do it. He has no idea what the cue means at this point, so telling it to him now will result in confusion. Get the complete action of him entering the crate, and then name it.
- Lure your dog into the crate. With your dog next to you, toss a small treat towards the back of the crate. Make this a game for him. Throw in the treat, encourage him to go get the treat, and then let him exit the crate. You don't want to close him in at this step, only allow him to go in and out of the crate. Don't force him into it. If he isn't pursuing the treat you've chosen, try using hot dogs or cheese to lure him in. Be prepared that he may be frightened at first. If he just puts one paw in, that's okay. Praise him anyway and let him exit. Let your dog decide when he is comfortable enough to enter the crate all the way.
- Name the behavior. When your dog is happily entering and exiting the crate an average of 8 out of 10 attempts, he is now ready to learn the cue. Say your cue word, and then toss the treat into the crate. Your dog should follow suit because he already knows about the treat toss, and that entering the crate means he gets food!
- Close the door. In the beginning, close the door, but don't lock it. Keep it shut for a few seconds, then open it and let your dog out. Increase his duration in the crate slowly so he doesn't panic. Reward him with treats while the door is closed. Build up to locking the door and keeping him in the crate for longer periods of time. Remember to praise him and reward him for a job well done. Feeding him his meals in the crate is a great way to start locking the door for short periods of time. Your dog will be distracted about being locked in, but will also be rewarded for being there.
- Fade the lure. Fading the lure means you will stop tossing the treats into the crate. Have treats readily available in one hand. Using the treat-less hand, act as if you are throwing the treat into the crate while saying your cue. When your dog enters the crate, be sure to reward him with a treat once he turns around. Eventually you will work toward him having his favorite toy as the reward. A Kong toy or marrow bone stuffed with treats work well to leave in the crate with your dog. He is getting rewarded for being in the crate and at the same time, having something constructive to do while he is there.
- Ignore bad behaviors. If your dog whines, scratches or barks in the crate, ignore him. Talking to him, praising him, or letting him out will only reinforce the behaviors. Instead, leave the room if he tries to get your attention. Once he is quiet and settled, quickly reward him while he is in the crate, and then let him out. He will learn that a quiet dog gets attention, whilst a loud dog receives nothing at all.
- Crate safety. Please follow these tips to ensure that your dog is safe while in his crate:
- Remove your dog's collar while he is in the crate to prevent a choking hazard.
- Be sure your dog cannot get his paws trapped in any spaces in the crate.
- Put the crate somewhere away from household appliances or wires.
- Make sure the toy you leave with your dog is not a potential choking hazard. Rawhides, toys with small parts or made of latex can be disastrous is left unsupervised with your dog.
- Keep a bucket or bowl of water in the crate if he will be kept in for long periods of time.
- Never force your dog into the crate.
- Never use the crate as punishment.
- Do not keep your dog confined for excessively long periods of time.
Crate training your dog should be fun for your dog. Keep your sessions short and simple. Remember to reward your dog every time, either with verbal praise, treats or his toy. Most dogs are willing to go into a crate, but sometimes rescued dogs can be more reluctant. This can be because of a bad experience in a crate, or a fear of confinement/abandonment. Watch for signs of stress when your dog is in the crate. Stress signals include sweaty paw pads, excessive panting, restlessness, and in severe stress, dilated pupils. If your dog is stressed in the crate, go back to where he was comfortable and work more slowly. Don't rush your dog into a long duration period in the crate. Go at his comfort level and at his pace. If you are having trouble crate training your dog, contact a dog professional to help you.
Now you are ready to take your training to new levels. Teaching your dog to enter a crate is only the beginning of a successful and wonderful bond between human and dog. Using the crate as a training tool enables your dog to listen to you, learn from you, and trust you. How far you take that is up to you!
Heather Holt is a dog training expert who teaches using positive, reward based methods. You can learn more about her services at