Crate training is an important step in creating a safe place for your dog.
While your dog may end up sleeping outside of their crate as time goes on, we want to prepare our dogs for the times they'll need to stay in a crate. Crate training is an essential skill to build in order to prevent your dog from getting into dangerous things when you're not around; prepare them for being crated after surgeries; travel safely in a car; and even hang out calmly after their grooming appointment. Crate training can be used for puppies, when they are at an age that it’s important to control their environment. For puppies, crate training can also speed up house training. It can also be used for adopted dogs, until they’ve learned the rules of their new home.
The crate is meant to be a safe, comfortable place for you dog, a place they will choose to retreat to when they are feeling stressed (new guests in house, loud noises etc.). As such, we should make sure we never force our dogs into the crate. Quarantine actually allows for a great opportunity to properly crate train your dog, as it is important to not leave your dog in the crate for too long before they are ready.
First off, a few quick guidelines:
Never use the crate as punishment.
Never crate your dog for long periods of time without lots of exercise beforehand.
Don’t leave your dog in a crate for over 4 hours.
Keep your dog “naked” when in their crate. No harnesses, collars etc. They could catch them on the crate, both causing a choking hazard and also a possible negative association.
Your dog should be able to stand up and turn around in their crate.
There is no quick fix to crate training. If your dog is having a hard time in the crate (crying, barking, etc.), we recommend starting all over again with crate training and taking it slow. Proper crate training can take weeks or months, but you and your pup's hard work will be rewarded! If your dog has separation anxiety issues, proper crate training might not be enough and we recommend working specifically with a trainer or clinical behaviorist versed in this.
Let’s start from the beginning!
Step one: Introducing your dog to the crate:
When introducing a crate for the first time or a new crate: let them sniff the crate and check it out with the door closed. Praise them for going near the crate verbally and with treats. Open the door near them and keep the door open. If your pup goes near the crate, continue to give them lots of praise and treats.
For all dogs, play games with the crate door open. Throw a treat into the crate or play fetch while throwing the toy into the crate. If they choose to stay in the crate, let them! For this (and all crate time) make sure your pup is naked (no collar, harness etc).
Next, once your dog is in the crate from you throwing treats in there or toys, close the door and treat through the door. Then open it and let them out. Repeat this exercise a few times a day. Get them used to the idea that they will be in the crate and you will be close by.
Step two: Feed your dog their meals in the crate.
Feed your dog all of their meals in the crate. If they are reluctant to enter, put the dish only as far inside as they will go. If they fully enter and have been fine with the door closing in step one, close the door while they are eating. When they are done let them out.
With each successive feeding, leave the door closed a few minutes longer, up to 10 minutes. This can take a few days, weeks or months and it is important not to rush it. If they begin to whine to be let out, you’ve increased the time too quickly. Keep it short. You want to anticipate letting them out before they start to whine or bark. If they do whine or cry, don’t let them out until they’ve stopped. We need to teach our pups that this isn't the way to get attention. (Side note: Are you reinforcing your pup for whining to get your attention? Even by looking at your dog when they whine (or even saying no), you are giving them the attention they crave. Instead try “putting the behavior on extinction”, where you ignore them until they stop, and then turn around and give them lots of love, treats and attention. Teach your pup that whining means you’ll ignore them (completely! Including looking at them or touching them) and quiet behavior gets them all the things they want).
Step three: Practice Outside Meal times.
If they are eating their meals calmly in the crate and can handle 10 minutes with no signs of anxiety, it’s time to practice outside of meals. This can be a helpful time to teach your dog a command for the crate (“go to place” with pointing at the kennel or “crate”).
When your dog enters the crate (either with command, by their own choice, or by throwing a treat/toy), praise them, give them a treat and close the door. I often like to give pups a special “crate only” treat at this time, such as a frozen Kong. Sit by the crate for five to 10 minutes. Then let them out.
Next try different variations if they are successful with you sitting nearby. Get up, walk away, come back, sit down, treat and then get up again. Make sure you don’t return if they whine.
Repeat this process a few times a day, increasing in time.
Only once your dog can stay quietly in the crate for about 30 minutes with you out of sight are they ready to be crated for longer periods of time.