Crate Training 101

Every dog should be taught—ideally at an early age—how to spend time in a crate. The reasons are plentiful:

When properly conditioned to a crate, a dog will find it a comfortable cave. This cave can serve as a place of safety during thunderstorms, holidays (lots of guests are in your home, you’re at an unfamiliar place, fireworks are exploding, trick or trickers are knocking continuously on your door, etc.)

If you are staying in a hotel, motel or are a guest in someone’s home, a crate may be appreciated by your host.

Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety can be unbelievably destructive. In a crate, the only thing the dog can destroy is his bedding. And if you fear he may shred and eat it, remove the bedding when he is unsupervised.

There is a possibility that you may need to travel by air with your dog at some point. That is a very stressful situation for dogs, and having a friendly relationship with the crate prior to the trip helps make the experience just a little less “over the edge.”

How to Condition Your Dog to LOVE His Crate

Whether you’re starting with a pup or an older dog, it is likely that you will find that your dog thinks that going into this little box is a really bad idea. But you can overcome that with patience, consistency and a strategy!

Here’s what you’ll do:

Begin by taking your dog for a vigorous walk or play session. Ideally, this time will have a training component too so that you’re tiring his mind and body. When you return to the house, he should be ready to sack out for a while.

Put him in his crate, preferable with a cookie or chew toy. Let him nap in there. Try to time his release so that he has not yet woken up or is just waking – but before he realizes he’s in jail and starts screaming: “HEY! I’m locked in this thing and I can’t get out! HELP! HELP! HELP! I’m STUCK!”

Ideally you will do this two or three times a day for a few days.

When the dog goes into the crate without that “beat dog” look, ask him to go in for short periods of time during the normal course of the day. If he starts howling and carrying on, go back to step one for a few more days. Then you can try putting him in with his chew toy or cookie and have him stay in there in a quiet and relaxed way for 5 to 20 minutes.

Over the weeks ahead, you will increase the time he spends in the crate. As you up the amount of time he will spend in the crate, be sure that you use the tiring strategy before putting him in the crate.

And you’ll also need to condition him to feel comfortable in there when you leave the house without him. So, when you first leave the house, do it for short periods of time. You might put him in his crate while you walk out to the mailbox or fetch something from your car. Over the next few weeks, practice this crating strategy, and expand the time your dog can spend in his crate until he’s fine in there for even a few hours.

Be sure that he has had an opportunity to relieve himself before locking him in his crate.

There are some high-drive or hyper-dependent dogs that have a very difficult time settling into a crate. I know of one dog who rides in a car in her crate quite happily, but left alone at home, she throws a conniption fit. But the owner did not take the time to tire the puppy prior to putting the puppy in the crate. And the dog was in “drive” (wide awake and ready for ACTION!) when caged. Well? What do you expect?

Conditioning is the name of the game here. The crate must be associated with comfort, safety and no stress. When you’re starting out, be sure that you take the time to set the dog up to make this connection.

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