Teaching Dogs To Love their Crate
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.
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.