WRITTEN BY: Sean Hendrickson- CPDT-KA
There is some division in the pet parent world about whether crate training is good or bad for your dog. The answer to this question is that it depends on how the dog feels about the crate itself. If the dog is taught their crate is a place of reward and security they will happily hop in when asked and even potentially spend their down time lounging in it. On the other side of this coin, if the dog is taught to believe their crate is a place of punishment they may be less willing to enter or require force to get in. This might result in whining and/or barking incessantly while they are inside. Below I will list a few things to do and not to do when crate training your dog.
HOW TO REWARD A DOG
Food, toys, and attention (praise/petting) are great motivators you can use to train new behaviors with your dog. Figure out what your dog enjoys the most, and use that for training. If your dog adores tennis balls, reward with a ball when they make a good choice. If your dog chows down their kibble like there is no tomorrow, use kibble as treats! If your dog doesn’t really respond to kibble, toys, or attention – try higher value treats. Small bits of turkey hot dogs or cheese cubes are common choices when it comes to dog treat preferences. If the dog doesn’t want to eat what you’ve chosen, the dog doesn’t value it. Try something else if the treat you’ve chosen is ineffective.
REWARD YOUR DOG FOR VOLUNTARILY ENTERING THE CRATE
This is the first step in crate training your dog. Positive association with the crate is huge! If every time you walked into a room you were handed $5 you'd probably enjoy your visits to that room. If your dog is unsure about entering the crate at first, reward the dog for looking at the crate and/or walking close to the crate.
FEED YOUR DOG IN THE CRATE
This teaches your dog that prolonged time spent in the crate is rewarding and a safe place to eat. Start this off with the door open. If the dog won’t go inside the crate to eat, put the food bowl right in front of the crate at first. Then gradually move it further back into the crate so the dog has to put their two front paws inside. Eventually you can move it to the very back of the crate so the dog steps in with all 4 paws.
GRADUALLY INCREASE DURATION OF TIME SPENT IN THE CRATE WITH THE DOOR SHUT
You want to increase closed door time in increments. When the dog goes in, you will close the door, give a treat and immediately open the door. If that goes well, try waiting 2 seconds with the door closed before rewarding. Gradually increase duration at your dog's pace. Keep the sessions short and sweet, around 5-10 minutes. Eventually you will be feeding with the door closed as well.
GIVE YOUR DOG INTERACTIVE TOYS AND CHEWS IN THE CRATE
Kongs stuffed with peanut butter or wet food, bones to chew, Nyla-bones, etc. are all good options. You can freeze these to make them last longer and they have an added soothing benefit for teething puppies. If they are enjoying something like this in the crate, they are continually building good experiences in it.
The goal here is to give the dog a sense of security and peace. This is their space, their safe haven. Canines are naturally denning creatures and can greatly benefit from having a space to call their own.
DO NOT USE YOUR CRATE AS PUNISHMENT
"If you don't behave I'll put you in timeout!"
You are essentially using the crate as a jail cell. This can potentially lead to negative associations with the crate and even the person who put them there.
DO NOT RUSH THE TRAINING
If you do not go at the dog's pace, you can set the training back very quickly. Going too fast will usually lead to a confused and frustrated dog. This will make it much harder for it to learn what we are trying to teach. This applies to all training, not just the crate.
DO NOT LEAVE THE DOG IN LONGER THAN THEY CAN HANDLE
This is true for all dogs but especially for puppies. All dogs have to use the restroom, drink, exercise, etc. Make sure you are fulfilling those needs otherwise it can set the training back. If your dog is in the crate all day while you work and again at night, that is too much. Situations like this require a dog sitter or doggy daycare. Inactivity leads to boredom which leads to pent up energy, stress, and anxiety.
DO NOT PUT THE DOG IN AN INCORRECTLY SIZED CRATE
A properly sized crate for your dog should allow them to stand up fully, lie down comfortably, and turn around on the spot. If the crate is too small it will be cramped and stressful. If the crate is too big the dog may designate a bathroom area in it, which can undermine potty training. They can also pace when bored instead of relaxing.
Proper crate training is beneficial for everyone. If you don't trust your dog to roam the house, you can crate them and not feel bad about it or worry about destroyed furniture or potty accidents in the house. A crate, if used properly, is a bedroom to a dog. Let's make it a bedroom they enjoy being in!