When used properly, a crate can be one of a dog’s favorite places. Because some dogs are destructive, crate training your dog can help keep them from chewing or eating something that is dangerous and, in turn save their life. Crate training is also a wonderful tool for potty training. The crate should be your dog’s safe place, where they can go for rest, quiet time and sleep. It should not be used as a punishment.
These instructions are geared for dogs 4 months or older. If you are working to crate train a puppy, keep everything very short and simplified. We want to make the crate a positive place to be so we need to build its use up carefully.
Step-by-step for Crate Training:
- Set up the crate and place it where you will be using it (preferably where you and your family spend most of your time).
- Reward your dog for simply showing interest in it – sniffing, walking around it, looking at it. (Food is the best reward so if your dog has a favorite, by all means use it. Verbal praise is good too, especially when paired with food). If your dog is not food motivated, try working prior to meal time or use a toy as a reward instead.
- Leave the crate in place with the door open or off for a day or two so your pup can get used to it simply being there, always rewarding them when they show interest in it.
- Next, place a towel, bed or blanket inside of the crate.
- Lay some treats on the floor leading up to the crate with the door open (or off).
- As your dog follows and eats the treats, toss a handful of treats into the crate. When your dog enters, say “good crate” and let them sniff around and find the treats (again, do NOT close the door). Once you toss the treats inside, back away so they don’t feel trapped or worry about that door closing. Allow your dog to go in and out of the crate as they choose.
- Repeat tossing the treats or even add a Kong packed with goodies and let your dog enjoy it inside the crate. NOTE: If your dog won’t enter the crate try removing the top (if it is designed that way) – to help them get used to it without any possibility of being closed inside. You can also try tossing their favorite toy inside or, you try a higher value reward like chicken or cheese.
- Once you have practiced #1 above and your dog is comfortable, add the top or door of crate on (if removed) and sit in front of the crate. Toss the treats or toy inside and close the door for a second or two. If your dog notices and looks panicked, open the door quickly – we don’t want to create any fear. (If this is the case, continue the steps above until they are more confident.) On the other hand if, after a few seconds, they are calm, stay near for a few moments and open and close the door randomly so they never feel trapped. (Try to always open the door BEFORE your dog gets antsy, not after. We want to keep them calm and happy at all times during this training and anytime they are in the crate).
- Stay near and let them out before they get whiny or stressed. If they do start to bark or whine, wait a few seconds before opening the door.
- Once they are in the crate for a time with you in the room, start practicing leaving the room for a few seconds and return promptly. Let them out if they seem stressed, leave them for a moment if not.
- Work up to longer periods of being in the room, then leaving the room until you feel confident to leave the house and your dog seems relaxed.
- Be sure to only leave them for a short time when you begin to leave the house. Build up to longer periods over time.
- Feed your pup their meals in the crate with the door open and only close it if they are relaxed.
- Always say “good crate” when they enter so that later you can say “crate” and they will be happy to go inside.
- The best way to leave your pup in a crate is with an enjoyable (safe) reward such as a Kong filled with their meal or favorite treats. Kong’s website has some great recipes too – you can find them here: https://www.kongcompany.com/recipes. Do not leave your dog unattended with any type of chew – rawhide or otherwise.
For safety, it is best to never leave your dog in a crate with any type of collar or harness on.