5 Tips to Crate Training Success!
Crate or kennel training can be an invaluable tool throughout your dog’s life. Many people think the use of a crate as helpful when they are potty training a puppy or to keep a young dog from destroying your house, but it is so much more than that!
Do you plan on traveling with your dog at some point in your life? Do you get them groomed regularly? Do you plan on competing in dog shows or sports? What if they are injured and have to stay overnight at the vet or even evacuate to a hotel or shelter during a hurricane? In all these situations, your dog will need to be crated and if you have not trained your dog to love his crate, you can cause an extreme amount of added stress to already stressful situations.
Think of your dog’s crate as their home within your home. This is the one place they can go for comfort, to relax, where no other people or animals will bother them. This is their sanctuary. We must build this knowledge in our dog. By doing so, you will relieve a huge amount of stress down the road. In our house, we establish from Day 1 that the crate is their special place and they are reinforced heavily for going there.
Here are a few quick tips to help your dog learn how to love their crate right from the start!
1. Exercise Before Crate Training
This is such an overlooked step, but pivotal in the crate training process. Before you begin crate training, be sure you exercise your pup thoroughly, both mentally and physically. This act alone will help reduce any kind of anxiety and will inevitably help them settle more quickly in the crate if they are already tired.
2. Introduce Gradually!
NEVER just throw your dog in a crate for hours and hope they don’t get traumatized by that. As with anything when it comes to training dogs, it can take time to learn and adjust. Start with short play sessions in the crate with the door open so your dog can enter and exit on their own free will (never pick up or force your dog to go inside the crate). Scatter treats on the crate floor any time he/she enters on their own. As your pup gets more comfortable, begin to shut the door for brief periods. Once in a while, open the door and throw some treats inside so there is a steady reinforcement of being in there. You can do little practices like this while you are watching TV. Just have the crate next to you and reinforce being inside at gradually longer intervals.
3. Feed & Give Specialty Items Inside the Crate
A sure-fire way to heavily reinforce crate time is to feed your dog his meals inside the crate. By doing this one act you can get some dogs shooting in their crates like lightning bolts.
However, you can even take this one step further. Give them specialty toys/treats only in the crate. For example, I like to give my dogs a Kong brand toy when they are crated. I stuff the Kong with their favorite food and they only get this specialty treat fest when they go in the crate. When it is time to come out, I take the toy away and they never see it again until it is time to go back in. We call it the special “Goodbye Toy”.
4. Play Lots of Games!
Initially, you want to reinforce the fact that the crate is a wonderful place, so playing lots of games in and around the crate will seal that deal. There are entire DVD’s dedicated to Crate Games, however here are a few I like to play with my dogs:
• Fetch (throw toy in crate, dog retrieves it out)
• Go to Your Spot (a nice game of race to your crate, reinforced with treats inside when your dog rushes in)
• Pull Open Your Crate Door (and pull it shut too if you prefer!)
• Touch the Mark (put a sticker, post it, etc. on the back wall of the crate and teach your dog to go inside and Touch it for a treat)
• Teach any new, fun cues or tricks inside the crate!
(Feel free to subscribe to our YouTube channel to learn how to play some of these games and more!)
*Remember to always reward your dog when he is inside the crate while you are playing games to reinforce the area heavily.
5. And finally, exercise precautions when your dog is left unattended in a crate for extended periods.
• NEVER leave dog collars or harnesses on inside the crate
• NEVER house more than one dog in one crate
• ALWAYS test toys/bones with your dog prior to leaving them unattended with anything you think they can destroy or consume.
Just by making this home inside your home a fun place to be, you will have a crate trained dog in no time! I often love seeing my senior dogs still go to lay down and relax in their crate even though they haven’t been asked.
Please Note: There is a small percentage of dogs that suffer from separation anxiety issues and this can cause them to become quite claustrophobic in new, confined areas, making crate training a bad fit in the beginning. If you think your dog might suffer from confinement or separation anxiety issues, please seek the guidance of a Certified Trainer or Behaviorist in your area before trying to crate train.
Best of luck in your crate training adventures!