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Teaching Dogs To Love their Crate

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

There are many reasons an owner may want to crate their dog:

  • They may want to use the crate as a tool for housetraining a puppy or untrained adult dog.

  • Crating can prevent destructive behavior from a dog that isn’t yet trained to know what to chew and what not to chew.

  • The home may be a multi-pet home, and a crate could be a way to keep all the pets safe.

  • A family with children may want to crate a dog at times when the children are engaging in activities that might not be dog appropriate.

  • A dog may have an injury that requires crate rest as they heal.

The size of the crate should be at least big enough for a dog to fully stand up, lie down and turn around. This is the size that works best when using the crate for a housetraining tool. If a dog is already housetrained and being crated for other reasons, the crate can be that size or any size bigger than that.


Alternatives to using a crate include a dog exercise pen, which serves a similar purpose to a playpen for babies, or using a baby gate to confine the dog into an area of the house or to a specific room. These are options if owners don’t have enough space for a crate, or want to start giving their young dog a bit more freedom.


Additionally, dogs suffering from separation anxiety tend to be much worse when confined to a crate. If confinement is necessary an exercise pen or gating into a room is a much better option.


One of the complaints I’ve heard from dog owners is that their dog is resistant to going in the crate and they have to be chased down, picked up, and placed in the crate. I’ve heard any number of situations where the owner was bit by the dog as they attempted to do so.


Another complaint is that the dog whines, barks or screams in the crate. Sometimes dogs frantically scratch or paw at the crate, or even bite the bars of the crate door in a frustrated attempt at getting free.


Crating is a common recommendation for any new puppy owner, and many times for people adopting an older dog as well. Unfortunately, new owners often aren’t educated about crate introduction, which can cause problems for using the crate as a confinement tool.


For the rest of this post I’ll refer to the confinement area as “crate”, but what I say can also be applied to confining a dog to an exercise pen or gating them into a room.


For successful crating, it’s best to work with the dog to get them to feel comfortable in their confinement area, and hopefully get them to love it. The worst thing that can happen is that the dog’s first experience with a crate in their new home is to be forcibly placed in it, the door shut, and the dog left to work out their distress on their own.


That first experience sets the stage for how the dog will feel about the crate going forward. If that has been the dog’s prior experience, there is a possibility they can still be conditioned to love the crate, but it will take longer to get there.


So how do you get your dog to LOVE spending time in their crate? There are a whole slew of games you can and should play with your dog to get them seeing their crate as the best place ever!


Initially crate introduction should be done by leaving the crate door open. Don’t worry, we’ll add closing the crate door later, but for right now we want the dog to feel really comfortable being in the crate without any concern that they’ll be locked in. As a matter of fact, set the crate door up so that the door can’t close on your dog by accident and scare them. You can get a piece of string and tie it open, or block the door open with something heavy.


dog content to be in a crate


Overcoming Crate Suspicion


Initially your dog may be wary of entering the crate. If this is the case take it slow, and minimize your expectations. Start by tossing a treat next to the crate just in front of the crate door. If your dog approaches and eats it, praise and toss a treat away from the crate.


Tossing a treat away from the crate does two things. First of all it relieves the pressure of approaching the crate for the dog. Second of all it sets the dog up for another repetition.


Repeat this several times, and if your dog seems comfortable with just approaching the doorway to the crate, the next step would be to place the treat just inside the crate door so that your dog needs to place their head inside the crate to eat the treat. Again, praise for sticking their head through the crate door, and toss a treat away from the crate.


You’ll repeat each step until your dog feels comfortable with that particular stage in the crate approach. At that point you can ask for a little bit more. Every time you ask your dog to put more of their body into the crate, make sure you aren’t asking for too much. For some dogs you may only be asking for an additional inch more with each repetition.


If your dog suddenly exhibits fear and doesn’t want to get the treat, that is an indication you were asking too much. Go back and make it easier for them to help them gain confidence.


Take your time and allow your dog to move at their own pace. You may not get your dog to enter the crate fully on the first training session. But if you allow your dog to develop courage, even if it takes a few training sessions, you will be rewarded with a dog who's very confident entering the crate on their own. The worst thing you can do is to coerce your dog into entering the crate when they're not ready.



Another idea is to ping pong back and forth between difficulty levels. So maybe your dog is somewhat comfortable with going in to the crate halfway. With one repetition you may ask for a halfway entrance, and then the next time you may ask for the dog to just approach the crate but not actually go in. This helps build up comfort level and confidence!


WATCH AS I HELP MY DOG OVER COME HER FEAR OF ENTERING THE CRATE



In and Out Game


Once your dog is comfortable going into the crate all the way, you can really get started with the In and Out Game. Start by tossing a treat in the crate, and as the dog is headed towards the crate give your dog a verbal cue. Some options for cues would include “Crate” or “Kennel Up”.


This is my favorite game to start with because it’s so energetic and a great deal of fun for the dog once they’ve become comfortable entering the crate. This game’s purpose is not to have your dog remain in the crate for a period of time. The goal of this game is to get your dog happily entering the crate when cued. No picking up and placing your dog in the crate is necessary! Don’t worry, there are other games to train for duration!


At this point you can give a second treat after your dog is already inside the crate. The sequence would look like this: toss a treat in the crate, give your verbal cue, praise once your dog is inside the crate eating the treat, give the dog a second treat while they’re still in the crate. The second treat reinforces the dog for being in the crate for more than a second.


The next step is to stop luring your dog into the crate by tossing a treat in first. Say your verbal cue telling your dog to go into the crate, and stare at the crate. Wait for about 5 seconds to see if your dog enters the crate without you needing to do anything in addition. As soon as they enter the crate give them lots of praise and give them a treat while they’re in the crate.


If your dog does not go in the crate 5 seconds after you’ve given the verbal cue, you can help them out and toss a treat inside the crate to entice them in, and then give them a second treat after they’ve already entered. Try again with the next repetition. Your goal is to get your dog to enter the crate on verbal cue only without needing to go in after a treat.


If you still aren’t having any luck, you can pretend to toss a treat in the crate. When the dog enters make a big fuss and give your dog several treats. Go back and forth between pretending and actually tossing a treat in the crate, gradually reducing the repetitions where you are tossing the treats in first.


Once your dog is easily entering the crate, you can pick up the speed. Ask your dog to go in the crate, toss them a treat while they’re still in the crate. Then show your dog a treat, toss it away from the crate so that when they go to get that treat they’re set up for another repetition.


Not only is the In and Out Kennel Game great for teaching your dog to happily go in the crate when asked, but it’s also a great way to exercise your dog at the same time. Even though my adult dogs will easily go in their crate when asked, I still occasionally play this game with them for fun.


IN AND OUT GAME DEMONSTRATION


Surprise!


This a game that probably won’t work in multi-dog households, but can be effective with a single dog. Periodically place a treat or two in the crate when your dog isn’t looking. Don’t tell your dog it’s there, let them discover it on their own.

If your dog is still a little nervous about the crate you can start by placing the treat on the floor in front of the crate door. As their comfort level increases you can gradually place the treats farther and farther into the crate.


The goal of this game is to make your dog feel great about checking out their crate even when they aren’t asked to. Some dogs may even start napping in their crates as a result!



Chill Game – Door Open


Once you have your dog enthusiastically entering the crate on cue, you can start working on getting your dog to stay there. You should start by building your crate duration with the door open so you can get a solid foundation of good crate feelings without your dog worrying about being confined.


Ask your dog to get in their crate, and give them a treat by placing it on the floor of the crate between their front paws. As they are eating the first treat place a second treat in the same location. Placing the treat on the floor makes it more likely that your dog will lie down in their crate. If after a few repetitions your dog doesn’t lie down you can ask your dog to do so, or lure them into a down.


If your dog continues to remain in the crate, repeat this process 3 or 4 more times, and then encourage your dog to come out. You can repeat this process several times before taking a break from training.


If your dog comes out before you’re able to get a second treat down, you may have to be faster getting that second treat in the crate. Another option is to do a treat scatter – so sprinkle 4 or 5 treats on the crate floor after they first enter the crate, and as the dog is busy eating those, add treats.


Gradually increase the duration that your dog remains in the crate. Play around with how frequent you deliver treats. Because at this point your dog is just learning duration in the crate, coming out before you want them to is not a mistake. But it is information that tells you how to adjust your training! If the dog wants to come out before your intended duration it is an indication that either your duration is too long, or you aren’t treating frequently enough. If your dog seems fairly settled you can slow down how often they get a treat.


CHILL GAME - DOOR OPEN DEMONSTRATED



Chill Game – Door Closed


Once your dog is fairly comfortable in their crate with the door open for at least a minute, it’s time to close the crate door. Don’t assume that because your dog can chill for a minute or more with the door open that they’ll be able to do the same with the door closed.


Start by asking your dog to enter the crate. Give them a treat and as they’re eating it close the door BUT DO NOT latch it. Holding it against the crate door frame, push a treat through the crate door opening and then immediately open it, letting your dog come out.


After a few repetitions of this, if your dog seems comfortable, close the door, latch it, and then push a treat through the crate door opening and immediately open it, letting your dog come out.


At this point you are going to play the game just like you did when the door was open. Gradually increase the amount of time your dog is in the crate, pushing treats through the crate door openings.


CHILL GAME - DOOR CLOSED DEMONSTRATED


Extra ways to get “Crate Love”


After you’ve played the Chill Game for a while, you can start putting your dog’s food bowl in the back of the crate at meal times. Initially leave the door open as they’re eating. Once they’re comfortable with eating in their crate you can shut the crate door for a few seconds, and then open it back up again.


Each meal time you can gradually increase the duration of the crate door being closed. Just be sure to get the door open before they’ve finished their meal.


You can also do the same thing with a frozen food stuffed toy such as a Kong or Toppl. With toys it’s more likely that your dog will take the toy out of the crate if the door is open, so give your dog the toy in the crate, close the door for a second, and then open it. Gradually increase the duration of the crate door being closed.



Moving Game


So, sitting in front of the crate delivering treats forever defeats the purpose of why you’d like to crate your dog to begin with. Once your dog is comfortable with being in the crate with the door closed for a few minutes, it’s time to start walking away!


Because we’re adding another level of difficulty by you walking away from your dog, you want to make the sessions easy. This means your dog won’t be confined as long as they were when you were standing right outside the crate door. And you won’t be walking very far initially.


The first step is to ask your dog to go in a crate, give them a treat, close the door and take one step away. Immediately turn back towards the crate and give your dog a treat through the bars of the crate. If your dog seems nervous about this, open the door, wait a few minutes, and then repeat the process.


If your dog is still comfortable after you give your dog a treat through the bars of the crate, you can turn and take two steps away, immediately turn back and give your dog a treat through the bars of the crate. If your dog is still comfortable, repeat the process except that this time you’re going to take three steps away. In order to be sure you aren’t pushing things too fast, this time you’re going to open the door and release your dog.


As you play this game, the average number of steps you take away from your dog should gradually and slowly increase. However, the increases should not be linear. You can ping pong back and forth between a smaller and larger number of steps. Keep your dog guessing just how far you’re going to go away this time so that there isn’t a pattern.


At some point you’re going to actually make it all the way to the door that leads out of the room where you’re confining your dog. When this happens you will want to make the door not a big deal. The best way to achieve this is to gradually work your way through the steps of walking the the door.


Start with touching the door knob, returning and giving your dog a treat. Repeat this 5 to 10 times.


Once your dog is comfortable with your touching the door knob, you would repeat this procedure with the following steps, always doing 5 to 10 repetitions of each step per training session.


  • Turn the door knob, open the door without going through it.

  • Open the door, step over the threshold but do not close the door behind you, come right back in.

  • Go out the door, close it behind you, immediately come back in.

  • Go out the door, close it behind you, count one second, come back in.

  • Start to increase the duration of time that you’re on the other side of the door. Remember to vary your repetitions so that sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes you’re gone longer.


If your dog starts to vocalize or panic during any of these steps, it means that you may have inadvertently gone a little bit too fast and made the dog anxious. Go back 4 or 5 steps and work your way forward again. It’s better to go backwards then continue pushing forward and hope your dog gets over it. Remember that your goal is to have your dog feel comfortable and relaxed when crated.


MOVING GAME DEMONSTRATED



Hanging Out


There may be times when you want your dog to be in their crate when you’re in the same room with you, such as when you’re eating dinner, you have guests over, or your kids are playing a game and the dog is getting in the way or getting overly wound up. Getting your dog used to being crated and preventing fear of missing out when you are home and visible is important.


This game is all about getting your dog to relax in the crate even though you’re right there. Start by asking your dog to get in the crate. Sit in the same room with your dog either reading, watching TV, carrying on a conversation with another person in the room, or pretending to talk on the phone.


Initially you may be dropping a treat into your dog’s crate every few seconds. As time goes on you can increase the average amount of time between treats. Note I said “average” because it’s better to vary duration between treats, with some durations being shorter and others longer. This works much better than increasing duration with each repetition.

As you increase duration you can start to add in movement. Get up, cross the room, dropping a treat in your dog’s crate as you pass, and again as you return.


An easy hack for crate contentment whether you are in the room with your dog, or whether you have left your home, Is to give your dog a frozen, food stuffed toy to keep them busy and happy for a longer period of time. When my dogs were younger and confined to the crate, they always got a stuffed Kong before I walked out the door.



Conclusion


While this may seem like a lot of work, with many dogs that will literally just take a few days to get through all of the steps. Even after that you can periodically go back and play some of these games with your dogs to make sure that they are still loving their crate.


Getting your dog to love the crate may seem like a lot of work, but it will pay off in the long run when you have a dog who happily goes in their crate when asked, and is content during their confinement.

 

Do you need help training your dog? I offer virtual consultations for separation anxiety resolution, as well as for other behavioral issues or training needs.


I also offer in-person training within a 30 minute drive of Ixonia, WI.


I would love to work with you and your dog!



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