Introduced appropriately, a crate becomes a sanctuary for your dog. It is like a bedroom, a private place he can call his own. It’s a place where he can retreat to and relax in and get a break from the turmoil of a busy household. Here’s how to train your dog to love his crate.
1. Place the crate within the family’s living area.
We like dogs because they like to be around their people. A crate should not be shoved in a dark corner of the basement, it should be in the living room. Placing your crate in a living area will help your dog feel that he can relax without being socially isolated. Many dogs dislike the crate because it predicts loneliness. If your crate is next to the couch, and your dog can lie in it receiving popcorn as you watch a movie with the family, he’s much more likely to feel like it’s a great place to be.
2. Teach your dog to get into the crate on cue.
Shaping is a great way to get your dog to go into his crate on cue. Grisha Stewart of Ahimsa Dog Training in Seattle offers this great article on crate training, with tips on how to shape your dog to get into his crate willingly and enthusiastically.
3. Practice training your dog while he’s in his crate.
You can ask for sit, down, targeting behaviors, eye contact, and other behaviors while he is in his crate. Doing so will make being in his crate a predictor of fun things happening for your dog!
4. Feed your dog in his crate.
As anyone who works with dogs know, one of the best ways to create a positive association toward a scary object is by pairing exposure to that object often and repeatedly with something the dog really wants. If you practice feeding your dog in his crate, you are using classical conditioning to create a positive association with crating.
5. Make the crate comfortable for your dog.
If your dog will not chew and consume blankets or other bedding within the crate, make his crate as comfortable as possible by placing a nice, soft, clean bed or blanket in the bottom of his crate. Wouldn’t you rather lie on a soft bed than a hard plastic floor?
6. Introduce calming aids.
You may want to consider introducing one or more calming aids to facilitate the crate-training process. You may consider purchasing a D.A.P. (Dog Appeasing Pheremone) plug-in for use near your dog’s crate to help promote a sense of relaxation. You may also want to consider massaging your dog while he is in his crate. Finally, there is a collection of music which is bio-accoustically designed to promote relaxation and calm well-being in canines, called Through a Dog’s Ear. You may find this music helps relax your dog while he is in the crate, but it is important that you play the music when you are relaxing at home with your dog as well, so it does not become a predictor of your absence.
7. Lock his favorite stuff in there.
This is reverse psychology at its best. If your dog goes bonkers over a Kong stuffed with hamburger and frozen, show your dog the Kong and lock it in his crate. Likely, he will first sniff at the crate, and then, if you’re lucky, will begin pawing and actively trying to get into his crate. When he can’t possibly wait a second longer to get into his crate, open the door and allow him to get into his crate. Later on, you can begin asking for obedience behaviors and use the opportunity to get in the crate and get his Kong as a reward.
8. Practice building duration of crate time gradually.
It’s unfair to go from asking a dog to stay in his crate for five seconds and jump immediately to 50-minute separations. Grisha’s article above has some great tips for gradually building up duration.
9. Let him out to pee.
Never leave your dog in his crate for longer than he can realistically be expected to hold his bladder or bowel movements. Forcing a dog to live in his own filth is cruel, unnatural for a dog, and can predispose him to behaviors like coprophagia (stool eating) in his search for cleanliness.
10. Pick up a copy of Susan Garrett’s fantastic video Crate Games
Crate Games is chock full of great ideas and how-to instructions to help you teach your dog that crate time is great time!
Do you have any tips we left out? Let us know in the comments!