Crate training your dog has many benefits. Even if your dog is trustworthy when left loose in the home, it is a good idea to crate train your dog for the following reasons:
- Travel - Many hotels accept dogs provided they are crated in the room when not attended.
- Car travel - During long drives, your pet will be safest in a crate in the car.
- Emergencies - In the event of a natural disaster or fire emergency, your pet may need to be crated at a temporary shelter or location.
- Vet visits - Teaching your dog to be calm and relaxed in a crate can help make being kenneled during a vet stay a much more positive experience.
- Post-operative care - Hopefully, your pet will not need surgery beyond spay/neutering, but in the event of an orthopedic or other surgery, crating may be advised by your vet, to help your pet rest and recuperate.
- Fostering - Crate training is helpful if you are a foster parent for many reasons. It may be necessary to separate a new dog until he has had time to acclimate. It may also be helpful to use a crate when introducing dogs initially.
- Multiple Dog Households - Dog owners with multiple pet households may find it useful to use crates to separate dogs when they are not able to provide direct and continuous supervision, to prevent rough play or conflicts, and/or to allow for some 'alone' or 'quiet' time.
- Dog Sports - If you intend to participate in a sport with your dog, it will be necessary for your dog to be crate trained as dogs are often kenneled when not in the ring/event.
For puppies, crate training is essential in helping your pup with housebreaking, and also preventing destructive chewing. The crate can be a safe place for your pup to be while you are at work or out of the home on errands. Some adult dogs may benefit from being crated if they are anxious or destructive while owners are gone. Dogs with storm phobia may also feel safer in a crate during a storm.
Choosing a Crate
There are many different types of crates on the market. Some dogs prefer a plastic, more enclosed type crate, and some dogs may prefer a wire crate because it feels more 'open.' Whichever type of crate you choose, it should be at least large enough that your dog can fully stand up in it AND turn around in it. For adult dogs, you can certainly provide a crate that is more than ample in space for the dog. However, a general rule of thumb for puppies, is for the crate to be just large enough for him to stand up and turn around in. If the crate is too large for a puppy, he may soil in one end and sleep in the other. Some wire crates have wire 'dividers' that can be adjusted to increase space as the puppy grows.
Entering Crate on Cue
First, it is important to teach your dog to enter the crate on cue. You can initially shape this behavior by tossing a yummy treat into the crate. When your dog enters the crate to get the treat, mark the behavior by saying, "yes!" as he does. You can also toss a toy into the crate to encourage your dog to go inside. Remember to mark the behavior with "yes!" At this point, you are working only on entering, so do not shut the door of the crate. The goal here is for the dog to begin offering the behavior of entering the crate. Once the dog is reliably going in to get the treat, try waiting to see if the dog enters on his own without the treat lure. When he does, say "yes!" and give a treat reward. You can even give a "jackpot" of several treats in a row. Now, you can also begin adding a cue word for entering, such as "kennel," "inside," or "house." Whatever cue you choose, be consistent. Do not force your dog to go into the crate and do not push him into the crate. The key is to make the crate so inviting that he will want to go in. Giving your dog some ability to make decisions and have control over his space can really help in the learning process; at the same time, you will be setting up the situation so that the outcome you want (dog entering the crate) is his most desirable choice. Another trick you can to do to build interest in the crate is to put his favorite toys, a stuffed Kong, and a bone in the crate. Shut the crate door with the items inside, and the dog on the outside of the crate. Act neutral and perhaps even leave the area. Your dog will want to get in the crate to get his favorite things. When you observe him trying to get into the kennel or demonstrating strong interest, reward him by opening the crate and letting him have access to the items.
Building Duration of Time in the Crate
Once your dog is reliably entering the crate on cue, you can begin building duration of time in the crate. Shut the crate door, wait a few seconds, and if your dog is quiet and calm, release him from the crate. If your dog is whining or pawing at the crate door, ignore this behavior. You might even walk away or out of the room. As soon as your dog is quiet, return to the room and release him from the crate. Never release the dog from the crate if he is whining, pawing, digging, etc., in the crate; or else you might end up teaching him that making a fuss will earn his release. You may also wish to train a 'sit' and 'stay' before opening the crate door. Doing so, will help your dog learn that quiet and calm behavior gets rewarded. Once your dog is staying in the crate for a few seconds at a time, begin leaving the room and returning for random, short intervals of time. The key is to randomize the duration of time you leave the room for AND to gradually increase the duration of time in the crate over time. It is also helpful to randomly reward quiet and calm behavior in the crate. For example, let's say your dog is beginning to demonstrate calm and quiet behavior in the crate for short periods of time. You should return to the crate at intermittent intervals and toss a treat in while praising the dog.
Exiting the Crate on Cue
Once you have taught your dog to enter on cue and he is also practicing good crate behavior, you can work on exiting the crate. If your dog offers a 'sit,' praise and release him from the crate. You can pick whatever release word you want, just be consistent. You may need to cue your dog to 'sit' and 'stay' while you reach for the handle of the crate door. Remember to mark with 'yes' and even feed a treat through the crate door. As you open the crate door, give your release cue, example "break" and let the dog out. Ultimately, you want your dog to wait until you give the verbal release cue to exit; your opening of the crate door is NOT the cue for the dog to self-release. You can "proof" this behavior by practicing handling the crate door and treating your dog for holding a 'stay.'
Tips for Making Your Dog's Crating Experience a Positive One
- Put a blanket, towel, or crate mat in the crate to make it more cozy. If your dog likes to shred, be careful about what type of bedding you put in the crate.
- Choose a quiet location in your home for the crate so your dog will have a quiet, stress-free zone to relax in.
- Some dogs prefer a quiet, dark space to sleep in. Putting a blanket or sheet over the crate and partially covering it may make it more "den-like."
- Give your dog something to do while in the crate. Food "puzzle toys" can be a great way for your dog to mentally and physically tire himself out while you are at work. Some examples of toys that can be stuffed with food or treats are: Kongs, Buster Cube, Tug-a-Jug, Everlasting Treat Ball, Biscuit Ball, etc. You can also take a hollow sterilized bone and fill it with canned food, cheese, kibble, peanut butter, etc. Always supervise your dog with a new toy until you are certain he will not chew it into tiny pieces and possibly ingest material.
- Feed your dog's meals in the crate. You do not need to feed every meal in the crate. However, if your dog is particularly reluctant to being crated, it may be helpful to feed all meals in the crate at least for a few weeks.
- Leave the television or radio on in the room that your dog is crated in. For some dogs, hearing music or human voices can be soothing.
- Do not use the crate as punishment.
- Do not crate the dog only when you leave. If you do so, your dog will quickly equate being crated with your departure. To prevent this association, you may want to randomly crate the dog while you are home. For example, crate your dog for a few minutes while you do a chore. Or crate the dog with a brand new toy or special treat like a stuffed Kong while you do something elsewhere in the house for a short period of time.
- If you are going to crate your dog for a longer duration of time (for example, while you go to work), it may be helpful to exercise the dog for at least 20-30 minutes prior to crating. Tiring the dog out with a good game of fetch or a brisk walk may facilitate him resting in the crate while you are gone.
- Dogs who are anxious when owners are absent may benefit from use of Rescue Remedy or Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP).