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Crate Training a Dog

 

Techniques Conditioning > Crate Training a Dog

Method | Discussion | See also

 

Method

Crates are small cages in which dogs stay and which may be used for such as calming, safety, transport, chew protection and toilet training (but never punishment!).

Get a crate

First get a crate in which the dog can comfortably stand, turn and lie down. They are usually made of hard plastic or wire. It also should not be too big as it is intended to feel like a comfortable 'cave'. If your crate is too big (eg. for a puppy) reduce the space with wood or cardboard partitions. It should contain a basket in which the dog can happily curl up.

Accustom dog to its presence

Put the crate in a central place where the dog spends time, such as the kitchen or living room, with water, chew toys and familiar, comfortable bedding inside. Longer-term, consider a quieter corner where the dog is not over-stimulated but can see what is going on. Just leave it there for a week or so. Let the dog investigate it and get used to its presence.

Encourage the dog to use the crate

Maybe the dog will go and lie inside by itself, which is good! If it does so, praise it and give it a treat. Keep this up and the dog may enjoy going to the crate for a treat. Then it may do it when you are not there, just because it likes being there. If the dog's collar could entangle in the crate, take the collar off or change it.

Feed the dog near the crate for a while. Put its food and water just outside. Then move it just inside so the dog reaches into the crate to drink and eat. Then put the food and water further into the crate so the dog has to stand inside it. When it is happy eating inside, push the door towards close, then open it before the dog has finished.

When the dog is in the crate, stay nearby. Talk to it. Do work near it. It should not equate the crate with being abandoned.

You can also put random treats in the crate, so the dog regularly pops in to see if there is something nice in there. Another trick is to briefly put a liked toy in the crate with the door closed, so the dog wants to get in. You can even make a little game with this (or play other games around the crate), though beware of the dog associating the crate with anxiety.

Train the dog to enter and exit the crate on command

When you are about to feed the dog, send it into the crate with a consistent and unique command, such as 'crate' or 'bed'. Pause to let it think about this, then put the food in the crate. After a while, it will realize that entering the crate is a good way to get its food quicker. If they are not very food oriented, perhaps a toy will work.

When they enter the crate, act is if this is a normal trained action, such as sitting. Do not make excessive fuss.

Also train the dog to be calm before exiting the crate. If they are barking, wait for a pause before opening the crate. When they exit, get them to do something else, like come to you and sit. Make a fuss of them after they have come out of the crate properly.

Longer term, keep the crate where the dog can easily access it such a hallway. Feed and water the dog regularly next to the crate so it feels this is 'my area'.

Build longer stays in the crate

Start keeping the crate closed after the dog has eaten. Start with just a minute or two, building this up. If the dog whines, get their attention to stop them whining, then open the door the moment they stop.

When accustoming the dog to being in the crate, stay nearby yourself, perhaps sitting just outside. Stay quiet and let the dog be calmed by your presence. When they are settled, move out of sight for a little while, then return.

In this way, gradually increase the time the dog remains comfortable in the crate by itself. Avoid putting the dog in the crate for more than four or five hours.

Exercise the dog before longer stays, ensuring it has time to toilet and expend energy, so it will just want to relax when it returns.

Get to overnight stays

Eventually you may want to get the dog comfortable in the closed crate overnight. This can be particularly helpful if you are going to use the crate during travel to places where the dog is not allowed to roam overnight, even within a room.

Giving them a treat for entering the crate can help. Ensure they have water. Wait for them to settle before heading for bed. Make this a routine.

Get to staying in crate when you are out

When you want to go out and leave the dog in the crate, get them settled in it first, then go out. Initially do this for a very short periods to get them used to you leaving the house, shutting the front door and driving the car away (the dog will hear all of this). Then slowly increase how long you stay away.

Never leave the dog alone in the crate for long periods. If needed, get someone to come and let them out for breaks about every four hours. Whenever you return, greet them and enjoy their greeting of you.

Get to travel in the crate

How you travel with your dog will depend on its size. Small dogs may be carried in small crates and you will need to accustom them to the crate being picked up and moving. Start with just gentle pushing of the crate when they are in it and build up to picking it up. When carrying it, try to keep it as stable as possible.

For larger dogs, you will probably have the crate in the back of a car. Ensure the crate is stable, preferably anchored to a flat floor. Give the dog space to jump up and enter the crate without hitting itself. Get them entering the crate in the car first without the car moving. Then with crate closed, then car doors closed and engine running. Then gradually move the car more and more. When you are driving, try not to swing around corners or brake sharply, giving the dog the gentlest ride you can.

Discussion

Crate training can seem like cruel caging, where the dog desperately wants to escape. Indeed, crating without training can become this if the dog is just pushed in and the door locked for hours on end. Related to this, you should never use the crate as a punishment -- your dog should only associate it with good feelings. This also means you can only train the dog at the speed at which it stays comfortable. If it gets anxious at any time, back off and go slower.

Crate training has the purpose of getting the dog to love being in the crate as it feels like a place of safety and comfort. The dog will then quite happily go into its crate and stay there for reasonable periods of time.

If you are unsure of how happy your dog might be when you are not there, there are many internet-enabled security cameras you can get which will monitor the crate and which you can check from anywhere you can connect to the internet. Some will also let you hear and talk to your dog.

If you don't like the look of the crate in your house, you can try accessorising it, for example covering it with matching fabric or a wooden shell.

See also

Clicker Training

 

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