Recently we did a post about deciding whether or not your dog needs a crate. While new dog owners sometimes think a crate seems cramped and confining, for a dog, a nice crate can be a little slice of heaven. Crates play to canine denning instincts, and can provide a safe, cozy home-within-a-home. Crates make wonderful housetraining tools, can double as a simple transportation method, and can make both you and your dog happy. While not all dogs need or should have crates (pets with separation anxiety or claustrophobia from some past trauma, for example), they work out well for most. If you do decide to buy the right crate for your dog, how do you go about training him to use it?
First off, it’s essential to know what you should NOT do with a crate:
- Use it as a punishment.
- Leave your dog in it for longer than a few hours, particularly a puppy or a dog which hasn’t been housetrained.
- Force your dog into the crate after housetraining is complete. It should become voluntary.
Your next step is to choose the best crate for your dog. You want to make sure the crate you choose is the right size. If you are starting with a puppy, get a crate that will be big enough for him when he grows. There are also many types of crates, including wire, plastic, soft-sided, cute, and heavy-duty crates. Each has pros and cons. Please see our article about choosing a crate (link to the article I’m writing below, and delete this sentence.) for more information.
Once you do select a crate, how do you go about crate training for your puppy or adult dog? Here is a list of steps to get you started:
- Allow your dog to get familiar with the crate.
Remember, dogs are always quite skittish about unfamiliar objects. Before you can get your dog into the crate, she must decide that the crate is safe. Put the crate somewhere you spend a lot of time, like your bedroom or living room. Put something soft like a blanket inside and remove the door. Set some treats around the crate and let him check it out at his own pace. Eventually start tossing treats near the door and finally inside. A favorite toy can help too.
- Start putting your dog’s food in the crate.
Once your dog is willing to enter the crate, begin placing meals inside. If he is still apprehensive, put the meal near the door. Otherwise, push it to the back. Once your dog is eating inside the crate without a problem, close the door during the next meal and open when he’s done. Start leaving the door closed for longer and longer after he finishes eating. Increase the time very slowly, a few minutes at a time.
- Start crating your dog for short time periods.
Once you have achieved step 2, you can progress to step 3. Teach your dog a command to enter the kennel and give him a treat. Close the door, sit nearby for a few minutes, then leave the room for a few minutes. Come back, stay a few more minutes, and then let him out. Gradually lengthen the amount of time you spend in the other room. When you are able to crate your dog in this way for half an hour without any anxiety or fear from your furry pal, you can proceed to step 4.
- Leave the house while crating.
Put some toys inside the crate, give your dog a treat, and order him inside. Quietly get ready to leave, and then head out for a short time. When you come back, don’t act in an overly excited way. You want to keep the entire thing very casual so that your dog does not get anxious about why you are leaving or when you will be back. Make sure that you leave him in the crate for 5-20 minutes before you head out the door, and try not to make it exactly the same every time.
- Have your dog sleep in the crate.
Keep the crate either in your bedroom or nearby. If you have a puppy or a dog which frequently needs to eliminate, you need to be able to hear him. You also do not want your dog to associate the crate with feeling alone.
Assuming this process is successful, your dog will probably continue using the crate even after housetraining is complete. At that point, it should always be a voluntary refuge, and you should never use it merely for your convenience or as a punishment. Your crate should be a happy place where your dog can feel comfortable and safe.