Crate training is an important element in dog training. There are many reasons to crate train: to assist in house training young puppies and keep them safe when you’re unable to actively supervise, to give a dog a place to go that is safe and where no one will disturb him, to give your dog a break so he can relax. Those who participate in dog sports and classes also need crate training skills so the dog can be put away when not in competition or actively working. If you must evacuate in an emergency or your dog needs a medical procedure, confinement may be a necessary part of such situations. Your dog may need crate training just so he’s prepared for these possibilities, even if you don’t plan on actively using a crate for much of your lives together.
Some dogs adjust more easily to others when it comes to crate training. Anxious dogs can often have a hard time being confined as well. First and foremost, going slowly and positively is key in having successful crate training. If a dog finds the crate VERY scary, then you may want to take off the door and not worry about closing it for a while. As he’s able to stay in for longer periods, you can gradually shut it little bits at a time. By starting simple and working up to that point, and then gradually extending the time the door is shut, you can build his trust. Going too far too fast will only work against you!
Below is a list of tools and strategies that can help with crate training your dog; they revolve around making it a GREAT place to be, at his level of comfort, as well as teaching behaviors we want.
- Choose a proper placement. The placement of the crate is important. It should provide some privacy and be in a place that is comfortable for the dog to be able to relax, but not sequestered in the basement away from the family. Choosing a happy medium is important.
- Feed meals in the crate. Your dog does have to eat so make it work for you! Putting meals in slow feeder bowls can also help him stay longer.
- Hide goodies for him to find. I like to sneakily put in high-value treats, awesome chews and enrichment toys for dogs to find in the crate. If he doesn’t see me put it in there but he walks by and realizes what’s in there, it’s like the crate is actually making those things happen there, and makes it a really great place!
- Use a Kong tie-out. Kongs and other toy enrichment where a dog has to lick food can be great for using in a crate. It’s not only a fun way to work for food, but licking can help a dog relax. The only problem with using enrichment toys is that a dog can go in for a toy and take it out! Kong tie-outs are a great solution for this. If you use a string or a section of a wire metal hanger that has a knot/bend at one end, you can feed it through the Kong from the larger hole to the smaller hole so it catches and hangs out of the small hole end. You can stuff and freeze your Kong accordingly, and then use the string or metal to affix it to stay in the back of the crate so your dog cannot go in and take it out. It also helps make the back of the crate the most rewarding place to be! A colleague of ours in Colorado Springs, Angie Neal, has a great video on making Kong tie-outs you can view here.
- Reinforce calm and good manners. Barking, whining and pawing at the crate means you are ignored. Being quiet, calm, even sitting means you will get out. Most times if you are patient enough to wait for the behavior you want and then give the dog what he wants, and you are consistent with these outcomes, then he will know what is expected and will likewise be consistent in giving you what you want. Start where the dog can be successful and build on it. If your dog panics the instant he is in the crate, he may need more help and just ignoring him won’t be the best approach. We would recommend reaching out to us for help.
- NEVER use the crate for punishment. While a crate is a very good way to help puppies and even older dogs learn how to settle on their own and as management to halt unwanted behavior, you should be very conscientious of how you use the crate to these ends. If you’re putting your dog forcefully in the crate without anything good, you’re really setting yourself up for making the dog associate the crate with you being angry and them being isolated. It’s better to ask him to go in and give him something good for it, even if he just finished doing something you consider naughty!
If you’re facing serious difficulty acclimating your dog to his crate, don’t continue to push ahead without help. If it’s causing major anxiety or aggression, continuing to crate your dog can ultimately work against you, and I advise consulting me or another qualified professional for help.