Crate training is teaching your dog or puppy to be comfortable in a crate or cage and teaching them to associate it with feeling safe and secure.
Crate training has a number of uses; it can be invaluable when toilet training, or if your dog needs rest after surgery. I often use crate training to help anxious dogs feel more secure, especially when they first enter foster care. Crate training can benefit all dogs though, and I encourage all people to do it. Remember, when dogs go to the vet for surgery, they are put in a crate!
There are a number of different types of crates you can buy, but the 3 main types are; wire crates, plastic airline crates and soft sided (canvas) crates. There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Do not get a soft sided crate if you think your dog is likely to try and escape the crate as they can easily break out if they are determined. Both the soft sided and wire crates can fold down which makes them easy to store away or transport. Plastic crates do come apart into 2 pieces, but they are bulkier. Both plastic and wire crates are easy to clean.
Most importantly, when choosing your crate, make sure your dog can stand up and turn around in the crate. It is also important to make sure the crate isn't too big as it defeats the purpose of creating their den. Getting the correct size is important for successful training!
To start the process
Set up the crate, making sure there is a comfortable bed inside and cover it with a sheet or blanket (leaving the opening uncovered). Allow your dog to investigate the crate. If they are unsure, throw treats near the crate to entice them. If they are happy to approach and investigate the crate, try throwing treats inside the crate. Praise them for going in, even if it is only a step of two. It is important to take your time and not rush this step. Repeat until they are happily entering the crate fully. Do not close the crate door at this stage.
The next step
Start feeding all their meals in the crate. You can start with their bowl near the door if they are hesitant and move it in further each time you feed them. Continue moving it in until they are completely in the crate. Once they are completely in the crate for each meal and totally comfortable, you can start closing the door. Only close it for the time it takes for them to finish their meal. If they get stressed at all, open the door and go back to feeding it with it open for a few days before trying again.
Adding in Commands
Now you can add the command “go to your crate” when you throw treats in and when you put their meals in the crate. Once they get it, you can start asking them to go to their crate before you throw the treat or give them their meal. Don't forget to praise them when they do.
Closing the Door
You can start giving a long-lasting chew (meaty bone, Kong, deer antler, etc) and asking them to stay in the crate with the door closed. Start out for short periods of time (5-10 mins) and build up slowly. Once they can do an hour you can try putting them in their crate overnight. Most dogs are happy to do this, just make sure they have been to the toilet and had plenty of exercise first. Give them a chew and leave them. If they get upset at all, let them out - often times they will need to go to the toilet. If they do, return them to the crate after, again with something to chew on. Make sure the crate is nearby, or in your room, so they do not feel isolated from you.
Once your dog is crate trained you will often find they choose to go to their crate on their own. This is because they find it comforting. Never disturb your dog in their crate, or allow others to do so, especially children. Crates are their safe place and that should be respected. Call them out if you want them. If they choose to stay in their crate leave them be. Especially if they are anxious or scared.
Written by Millicent Hayes.
Owner of Unleashed Potential Dog Training.