Crate Training 

 

Any time you bring a new dog into your home, it's a good idea to use a crate to help establish boundaries, teach potty training if necessary, and give your dog a safe place as he adapts to a new household and new routines. Your dog may prove to be an angel when left alone, with no bad habits, but teaching him to be comfortable in a crate will still be to everyone's advantage should he ever need to spend time at the vet, in boarding, or traveling in a crate.

 

You do need to teach a dog to be comfortable in a crate. That means all his needs must be met in there, especially always having access to clean fresh water. Don't use the hamster bottles unless the dog is traveling in a crate; dogs aren't hamsters and they have to work to hard to drink that way. You can get a water bowl that attaches to the side or the door of the crate so he can't spill the water or play in it.

 

Little puppies, used to being with litter mates, won't like being left alone while older dogs may panic at suddenly being confined. Each dog will react as an individual, but the basic method is the same. Doing this correctly will make the crate a safe and happy place for your dog, and can help prevent an onset of separation anxiety.While it would be ideal to be able to go through the training period without having to crate your dog at all for any reason, that's just not reality for most people. Unless you're training a well behaved dog that you've had for a while, you still want to crate the dog when you're away until it's earned having free run of the house, and probably at night, especially if you're working on potty training. So there will be times when you'll just put the dog in it's crate, and other times when you'll be doing the training. In both circumstances, you'll want to stay calm, keep the energy low, speak quietly, and not make a big deal about the crate.

 

First, make sure the crate you are using is the right size. It should be big enough for your dog to stand up, turn around, and stretch out when laying down. If you need to house train your dog it's very important that it not be so big that the dog can sleep on one end and potty on the other and avoid it. If you have a growing dog, look for a wire crate with a moveable/removeable interior piece that lets you make the crate space smaller. Plastic crates can used, but they are really meant for transport and aren't as easy to clean as the wire ones which typically have a bottom tray that slides out for easy cleaning. They are also easier to store when not in use.

 

You want to start out by feeding your dog in the crate. If your dog balks at going all the way in to eat, put the food closer to the door so he can just put his head and shoulders in at first. As he becomes comfortable with that, start moving the bowl further in until he is finally all the way and eating. If he refuses to even put his head and shoulders in at first, just pick the food up and he doesn't eat that time. He is not going to starve, but he will get hungry enough to over come his reluctance. Once he starts eating, if he comes out to check in with you and goes back in to eat more, let him do that. If he walks out and doesn't check in with you but goes to check out something else, pick up the food and put it away even if he's only eaten a mouthful.

 

You will keep the crate door open at all times during this part of the training, until he is completely comfortable going in to eat and coming out again.

 

Once your dog is going all the way into the crate comfortably to eat, start closing the door. If he stops eating and comes and stands at the door, wiat a beat to see if he returns to his bowl. If he doesn't, open the door as long as he is being quiet. If he barks or whines, just wait quietly (don't talk to him or look at him) until he is quiet, then let him out. Pick up his food and he skips the rest of that meal. If/when he eats all his food and comes to the door and is quiet, immediately let him out. During the training exercise don't let him out if he is whining, barking, pushing on the gate or doing anything other than being calm and quiet. You don't want to reward the negative behavior; you want to encourage the calm quiet behavior by showing him it gets him what he wants. During normal crate times if he's acting upset or anxious or telling you he needs something do respond to him but let him settle down before you let him out (unless you think he really needs to potty). Keep the exercise calm. You don't want to make a big deal about the release, but you can give him some praise and petting when he comes out. Just keep it all low-key.

 

When your dog is eating his meal and calmly coming to the door every time for a few times, start counting slowly to 5 before you open the door and let him out. If he starts to fuss, the clock resets until he is quiet through a full count of 5. When he does this calmly a few times, you'll increase the count to 10. Then to 30. Then to a full minute. Then 3 minutes. Then 5 minutes. When your dog can stay calm and relaxed for a full 5 minutes you're ready for the next phase -- having him enter and stay in his crate when he's NOT being fed.

Being Crated Doesn't Mean Being Alone

You don't want your dog to associate being put in his crate with being left alone for long periods. To counter this, have your dog hang out in his crate when you're sitting in the room with him. Put him in there and give him something really good to lick and chew on. A frozen stuffed Kong, bully stick or pig's ear are all good choices. It should be something high value that he only gets when he's in his crate. Then just hang out. You can watch TV, work on your computer, read a book, whatever you enjoy. You're not going to talk with him or interact in any way, but you're not going to leave him alone either. Now and then, get up and walk out the door and immediately back in again so he sees that you leaving doesn't mean he's left alone (since you come right back). Over time you can increase the time (see "Leaving Without Anxiety" for details). There's no fixed time for this exercise, but in the early stages watch for signs that he's getting agitated, such as losing interest in the chew toy, staring at you, pacing in his crate, etc. You want o let him out, without any fanfare, while he's still calm. As he gets more used to it, increase the time, but always vary it; sometimes he'll be in the crate for 5 minutes, sometimes 30 minutes. If he starts whining or barking, ignore it until he stops and then immediately let him out.

Teach Him to Go to His Crate

Get some treats he really likes. Show him you have them and then toss them around the front of the crate and just inside crate. Let him go in to get them and come right back out again. If he doesn't seem to get that you've tossed the treats in, place them just inside the crate where he can see them. If he still doesn't get it, you can make a line of them leading into the crate and let him eat his way in. Don't shut the door. Once he is freely walking all the way into the crate to retrieve the treats, and does that several times without hesitation, you can start naming this by saying "crate" or "kennel up" or "bed" or whatever term you want to use. Make sure it's something that will be unique to asking him to go to his crate and that you use the same term consistently. Don't start naming until you are sure he will go right into the crate and, at first, say it as he is entering the crate not before you toss the treats. As this becomes consistent and he's not distracted by you talking to him you can start saying your word or phrase earlier, as you toss the treats, and then before you toss the treats. Once he starts going to his crate as soon as you give him the cue you can hand him a treat in his crate instead of tossing them in. While you're working with him on this, continue to close the door when he's being fed and give him a few minutes after he's done before you let him out.

 

Now that you've got a cue in place, you're ready for the penultimate step. Ask him to go to his crate. When he's in, close the door, give him his treat, and then open the door and let him out. When he's clearly comfortable with this change, you'll start extending the time the door is closed, the same way you did with the feeding routine. If you did the feeding routine right, this part should go pretty quickly. It's ok to walk around (but stay in the room) and do other things while you're giving him his crate time. You don't want to stand there and stare at him.

 

Once he's calm and quiet in his crate for 5 minutes, and has been able to do that consistently over a few days, it's time to start actually leaving him. Where ever you have the crate (a bedroom, living room, kitchen), make sure he can see you walk out the door. Ask him to go in his crate. Close the door, then calmly walk out the door of the room/house and walk back in again. Don't close the door behind you yet, just walk out (and out of sight) and then back in. If he has stayed calm, release him and give him a treat or some praise. Keep our voice calm and don't make being released a big deal. When you're confident that he is staying calm when you walk out, start closing the door behind you and then walking back in right away (as long as he stayed quiet). If he does that well a few times in a row, do it for a count of 5, then 10, etc. You'll slowly increase the time you're "gone" until he's ok for the full 5 minutes. At that point, it can be 5 hours or more since he doesn't wear a watch. Make sure you're quiet when you're on the other side of the door so he doesn't know you're there. If at any point in the process he starts whining or fussing, wait for him to be quiet before you go back in, and the next time you do it drop back to the previous time increment until he's solid there.

 

A final word: when you do this exercise with your dog don't try to push for too much at once. Work with him 5 minutes at the most in one session (of course you'll let him stay in his crate to eat for as long as he wants during that part of the training). You don't want him to get bored or frustrated and your want to capture the good behavior before your stop and end on a successful note. 

 

If you do this exercise consistently and correctly, your dog will come to see his crate as a safe and happy place. Have special toys and treats that he only gets when he's in his crate. If you're going to be away for a long time, make sure he has puzzle toys, not just chew toys, to keep his mind occupied so he doesn't get bored.{Note: If your dog never eats the frozen Kongs, bully sticks or rawhides you leave with him in the crate until you get home, crate him at times when you are in the room and give him these treats. He'll get used to enjoying them with you there and be able to relax with them when you're not. Plus, their presence in his crate won't signal that you're leaving]  He may earn the privilege of being loose in the house, but being comfortable and happy in his crate will prepare him for having to travel in a crate, be boarded, or spend some time at your vet without getting stressed by being in a crate or having you leave.