Find out why you it’s a good idea to crate train your dog, and how to do it so she’ll be safe, happy and comfortable.
The thought of crating our dogs makes many of us cringe. But while a dog should never spend too much time in a crate, it’s an important tool when appropriately used. This article looks at the advantages of crate training and how to do it in a way that’s comfortable for your dog.
Why crate train your dog?
Chances are, at some point in his life, your dog will have to stay in a crate for a period of time — for example, when she’s at the vet’s office or groomer’s, or recovering from an injury or surgery.
If you live in an area prone to natural disasters, you may have to use a crate to transport her during an emergency evacuation. You can prepare your dog for these situations, and make them less stressful, by crate training her.
Crate training also comes in handy for puppy training, in particular potty training. Sleeping in a crate at night will prevent your pup from eliminating in the house. During the day, if you cannot supervise her to prevent unwanted behaviors, the crate is a safe place to confine her for short periods.
A fearful dog may benefit from a crate because it provides her with a safe place. Even confident dogs may sometimes just want to get away from it all. If your dog feels overwhelmed by rowdy kids or is stressed by visitors, she can find refuge in her crate.
4 steps to successful crate training
The crate training process may take days or weeks, depending on your dog’s temperament and previous experience. Be patient and take small steps:
1. Teach your dog to go into the crate
Sitting or standing next to the crate, toss a treat inside. If your dog immediately steps inside to get it, great! If she doesn’t, that’s okay. Entering an unknown confined space can be scary for some dogs. In this case, toss the treat closer to the entrance rather than to the back of the crate so she doesn’t have to go all the way in. If she is very nervous, make a trail of treats that leads to the crate. It is better to progress slowly than create a negative experience for your dog. As she gets more comfortable, gradually toss the treats farther inside the crate.
It is a good idea to feed multiple treats in a row while your dog is inside the crate. She will learn that good things happen when she stays inside. If you give her only one treat each time, she will quickly learn to exit right after she received it. Have her come out and repeat this exercise a few times until she happily goes into the crate.
Tip: Feed your dog her meals in the crate to create a positive association. If she readily enters the crate, you can place the bowl at the back of the crate. If she is reluctant to go all the way in, place the bowl at the entrance, and at each feeding move it a little farther back.
2. Teach her a cue for entering the crate
Once your dog goes into the crate every time you toss a treat inside, it’s time to teach her to do it on cue. Say “crate” or “house” — or whichever word you choose — then toss a treat inside. The tossing movement will become your hand signal. If you have been rewarding her with multiple treats while she’s in the crate, she may start to stay inside voluntarily and even sit or lie down. Praise and reward her greatly for this. To get her out of the crate, say “find it” and toss a treat on the floor outside the entrance. Repeat this exercise a few times. Make sure you say the cue (e.g. “crate” or “house”) before you move your hand to toss the treat.
When your dog starts to step into the crate each time you say the cue and toss the treat, it’s time to fade out the lure. Say “crate” and pretend to toss a treat inside — i.e. make the hand movement only. As soon as your dog walks in, praise her and give her the treat. From this point on, you no longer need to toss a treat, but do give it as a reward after your dog has stepped into the crate.
Once your dog goes into the crate on cue every time, start adding some distance. Take one step away and ask your dog to go in by saying “crate” and giving the hand signal. Gradually increase the distance until you can send her to her crate from across the room.
Tip: Look towards the crate when you give your dog the cue. Dogs follow our gaze, and looking at them can actually freeze them in place.
3. Close the crate door
Up to this point, there has been no mention of closing the crate door. You want to first make sure your dog feels very comfortable in the crate. Closing the door can be scary for her so it has to be done in very small increments — i.e. seconds at a time.
- With your dog outside the crate, place some of her favorite treats inside and close the door. When she is ready to go in to get the treats, open the door to let her in.
- While she is inside, close the door and feed her a few treats from the outside. After just a few seconds, open the door again and let her out.
- Practice short sessions throughout the day and very gradually increase the time you keep the door closed.
Tip: If at any point your dog becomes anxious, you may have progressed too fast. Go back to where she was successful and gradually work up again.
4. Increase her time in the crate
When your dog happily goes into her crate and shows no signs of stress when you close the door, you may gradually increase the time the door is closed. It’s a good idea to provide her with a stuffed Kong or other safe chew or treat-dispensing toy. When your dog remains relaxed for several minutes, start walking away from the crate and eventually leave the room. Start with leaving for a few seconds and gradually build up the length of time you’re out of sight. Should your dog whine at any point, wait a moment at the point where she stops, then open the door; otherwise she may learn that whining will get her out immediately. Next time, let her out a bit sooner before she starts to whine and gradually increase the length of time again.
Letting your dog out of the crate should be a boring event. Don’t greet her excessively or immediately start a play session because this will cause her to anxiously wait to be let out. You can say hello and give her a quick pat, but then ignore her for a little while; unless of course, she needs to go to the bathroom. In that case, calmly take her outside.
Tip: It will be easier for your dog to relax in the crate if you provide her with sufficient exercise beforehand so she is ready to take a nap.
A crate can be a helpful training tool, but limit the time your dog spends in it. All dogs are different, which means some may never like being in a crate, but chances are, if you’re patient and use plenty of positive reinforcement, your dog will learn to love it!