While you may not plan on using a crate for your daily routine, crate training is still a must do as a dog owner. Training your dog to use a crate makes it easier to travel and visit the vet. It can also help your dog feel better about staying with friends, going to a boarding facility, or dealing with crate rest restrictions after an injury!
It’s important to make the crate a positive place your dog learns to enjoy! With training through the following steps and lots of reinforcement from you, your dog will be going in their crate quickly and happily in no time at all. (If your dog is already extremely fearful of the crate – read through the entire section before starting crate training.)
As you work through these steps, if you notice your dog is starting to get hesitant or distracted take a break from crate training and start again later in the day with a quick refresher of what you’ve already done and then move forward in the process.
Practicing crate training should be done several times every day, for 5-10 minutes at a time.
When choosing a crate, it’s important to pick a crate that’s right for your dog. Your dog should be able to stand up and turn around in the crate, but not so much room that your puppy can sleep in one area, play in another and potty in the space that’s left. Wire crates usually come with a moveable divider to allow the crate to grow as the puppy grows. We recommend trying crate training with a wire crate as they are more versatile – if your dog prefers to see out, a wire crate provides lots of visibility, but the crate can also be covered to provide a more secluded spot for your pup to rest.
Put a crate pad, dog bed (or whatever you’re going to have inside the crate as bedding) on the floor outside of the crate and drop some treats on it. Let your dog go on the bed and eat the treats. Give her more treats so she stays on the bed eating the treats.
When she gets off the bed toss some more treats onto the bed.
When she decides to stay on the bed you know that she’s got the idea that “good stuff happens here”.
Now is the time to start to toss the treats AWAY from the bed so she has to get off the bed, go get the treat and then decide what to do next. She will work out that getting ON the bed is what is making you deliver the treats. Each time she gets on the bed you toss a treat away from it.
During this process you’re not telling her to do anything. She’s just working out what makes you give her the treats.
Gradually move the bed closer to the crate and keep practicing her getting on the bed until eventually the bed is inside the crate.
Put a few pieces of chicken or anything of very high value (not a milk bone!) inside the crate, far to the back. Your dog is now outside of the crate, while the reinforcer is inside the crate.
Let your dog go in at her own pace. She may only put her 2 front legs in. That’s okay. If she can stretch to the back and get the treat that’s okay too! Let her stay in her comfort zone and keep repeating Step 3 from the beginning until she’s putting all four paws in the crate.
If she runs in right away, eats the food and runs out immediately that’s ok. Just repeat the exercise over and over. Gradually you will see that she starts to go in there when there are no treats, in the hope that you will produce some! As soon as she goes in by herself, give her some yummy treats in there. If you have taught her the “stay” command then you can ask her to “stay” for a second or so and then reward her. Make sure you are leaving the crate door open any time your dog is inside it at this stage. Build up the time she stays in there.
Each time she goes in the crate say the word “crate” or “kennel” as she is going in. This is how she will learn the word and eventually go in there on command from anywhere in the house. Make it a game. If you tie a cord to the outside of the crate door you will find most dogs will learn to open the door themselves.
Now that your dog happily goes in the crate by herself, close the door and sit right next to it dropping treats inside the crate for her.
Every few seconds or so, drop a piece of food into the crate. After a minute of this (or less), she will begin to look expectantly for the upcoming treat. Now’s the time to open the crate and let her out if she wants!
If she stays in the crate instead of coming out, she’s clearly getting the game and enjoying what the crate has to offer. Go ahead and invite her out with a release cue (“Okay” or “Free”) with all of the excitement and toy waving you need to use, and you can even toss a few treats outside the kennel to make sure she comes out when you cue her to come out!
Repeat Step 4, but now lengthen the time between feedings – 10, 20, 30 seconds, then to one minute, then two minutes. After about five minutes, stop giving her the treats and let her out of her crate.
The next session should be later that same day. Move from 30-second intervals to 60-second intervals quickly, and then up to two or three minutes.
Get up and move around, but keep returning to the crate at regular intervals and give her a treat.
Next session, begin by giving her the treat when she goes into the crate, and one every five minutes or so. Lengthen the time she’s in the crate and when the treats come.
The treats always cease abruptly when the dog comes out.
Tips & Tricks
- If you are having trouble getting the treats inside the crate, use a tube pushed through the top or sides and insert the treats through that.
- Give her a stuffed Kong in the crate and leave her chewing on it. Bring her out of the crate BEFORE she’s finished the Kong rather than waiting for her to start crying to be let out.
- When your dog isn’t around, sprinkle yummy treats inside the crate and then let her find them. She’ll soon keep going and checking to see if the Treat Fairy has visited and it will make her have a more positive connection with the crate.
- Feed all your dog’s meals in the crate, with the door open at first then with the door closed. It’s important that you let her out when she finishes eating. Open the door, toss a treat into the crate and let her out when she’s eaten the treat. That way she doesn’t come flying out of the crate.
- If you need to prevent your dog from moving around your house while you’re away, but she isn’t comfortable with being closed in the crate yet, try using a baby gate, exercise pen (ex-pen) or one room in your house to confine her while you continue to work through the crate training process.
- Once your pup is hanging out in the crate happily with the door closed, make sure that you keep working up in increments of time. Start with only 30 minutes to an hour to run a quick errand, and slowly increase time as she continues to be successful with occasional shorter times mixed in (3 hours one day, 30 minutes the next).
- Only leave your puppy crated as long as they can successfully hold their bladder (see Housetraining). Never leave adult dogs crated longer than 6-8 hours a few days a week after completing the crate training process. Water should always be readily available for your dog or puppy.
If your dog is already fearful of the crate, we recommend that you move away from a wire crate and use a plastic crate that can be taken apart. Break down the crate to just the bottom piece (no top piece or door). Try working through the steps above with just the bottom piece. Once successful with the bottom piece, add the top piece back on and repeat the steps again. Add the door on after this and repeat the process, making sure the door is secured in an open state until your dog is comfortable with you closing it.
If your dog is escaping the crate or self-harming while trying to get out of the crate – roll back your progress in the crate training process to where your dog was last successful and call us immediately to help your dog with any potential confinement or separation anxiety.