Crates Are Cruel
People often associate the crate as a place in which a naughty dog is locked away, or cruel as they are locked away for long hours while the family are at work. When misused or misunderstood then it is true. However to ensure your dog is comfortable in a crate, they must feel relaxed and consider the crate the safe place to relax and sleep. It should never involve being locked in unwillingly with a desire to escape and involve no crying or whining.
Crates aid many obstacles that may arise during a dogs life; they are commonly used to transport dogs, hold dogs at veterinary practices and groomers & aid recovery when strict rest many be needed following an injury. We feel it’s always a good idea to ensure your dog knows how to handle being crated.
Source a wire/metal crate which is appropriately sized for your dog which has a bed or blanket inside. If you have a puppy which is larger breed of dog; it may be financially viable to invest in a much larger crate now to enable your pup to grow into if you intend to crate your dog whilst home alone.
With this guide we intend for it to suit dogs off all ages if they have never been crate trained so don’t be put off if your dog is fully grown, every dog adapts and accepts changes with time. Also keep in mind all dogs are different, certain stages may not be necessary or may take longer than others depending on how well your pooch is taking to crate.
Initially your dog will inspect the crate as it is something new in the home environment, you want to create a willingness to enter and be comfortable whilst in the crate. Using a high value reward or treat will enable your dog to associate a positive relationship with entering and feeling safe whilst in the crate.
Sitting beside the crate, place your dogs favourite treat inside the crate (or toy if the are not food orientated) and allow them to enter. Dogs who have never seen a crate should enter straight away, and be relatively happy doing so. At this point we are not locking them in, but allowing them to make the decision to leave immediately of their own accord. If you have a dog that has had a negative experience with a crate, more time must be spent reassuring their confidence both approaching and entering. Leaving treats or toys near the crate; gradually reducing the distance before placing inside.
Your dog will make the connection themselves, inside the crate equals reward. We want the dog to hang around inside the crate expecting more reward; when they do just that, they have made the decision to enter themselves so reward this behaviour. Praise them and throw in a couple more of their favourite treats, but don’t shut the door just yet.
Lengthening the time in the crate
At this point you want your dog to start spending more time in the crate, introduce a handful of treats or their favourite toy only. If your dog is distracted for long enough with the reward they should start lying down and be happy to spend longer amounts of time in the crate. (this will only be a couple of minutes at this stage) Present lots praise at this point from yourself, and deliver a further handful of treats/toy at a level that doesn’t require your dog to stand. With time your dog will enter and lye down expecting the reward, you should now begin lengthening the wait time in which they are rewarded.
If all is going to plan and your dog is happy in the crate, you can start to distance yourself from the side of the crate. Once your dog has relaxed in the crate begin to edge away slowly, stay away from the crate for a couple or minutes then return and reward. If they look anxious go back and reassure them; keep in mind at this point you want to avoid your dog associating the crate with you leaving, particularly if you have a dog with separation anxiety. Repeat but with very small increases with your distance. Mix it up whilst practicing, varying your distances and wait times before rewarding too. Remember, we haven’t shut the door yet.
Stepping out of the room
By now your dog should pretty much love their crate, if the crate is accessible at all times for your dog they should be willingly going in when not in a training session. You should randomly reward this behaviour, or even be feeding and leaving the water dish inside. Introduce a command at this point; ask your dog to enter the crate and do exactly what you did previously. Repeat until you can stand away, return and reward without your dog flinching. After a couple of sessions your dog should be crazy for the crate and regularly presenting “I’m in the crate” behaviours. You could potentially close the crate door at this point, however depending on the nature of your dog this may potentially undo all your work so resist just a little longer.
Working on leaving the room shouldn’t be too difficult if your dog adores the crate, which by now they certainly should. Your training session should start as before, however this time you are going one step further and going out of sight. When you return, if all goes well you dog should still be happily sat in the crate awaiting a reward. If not you’ve probably just left the room for too long too soon, don’t get frustrated as your dog will sense this. Keep repeating and build up the length of time you are away.
Closing the door
The previous steps could have potentially been completed in a couple of weeks; going forward more time may be required to ensure you provide the best possible experience to build the foundations for longer crating requirements.
Your dog is probably spending more time in the crate than you ever anticipated, it is their happy place whilst you are busy. Closing the door is an important part to get right in this next stage, you want to create the feeling that they are never trapped. When initially closing the crate door they may reach forward to nudge it back open, if so immediately open the door but don’t reward. This will slightly confuse them but eliminate the sense of being trapped in the crate, if they step back in then reward them with a treat as before. If they leave the crate no reward should be presented. Your dog will then begin to learn they are never trapped, but also understand coming out of the crate is not rewarding.
Increasing the time your dog would spend in the crate is the final step, when practicing ensure you are now performing other activities around the home; Pop in and out of the room dusting or cleaning for 10-15 minutes one session, on another 20-30 minutes preparing dinner whilst staying in the room, session three may be 5 minutes reading a book in front on the crate ignoring them. Mixing things up will ensure your dog doesn’t start to relate the crate with being left out/locked away. The key here is your dog has never felt trapped so it’s no big deal being in the crate for longer periods; at this point the desire to get out is totally irrelevant to your dog as they have never felt any relief from being released prior.
A crate happy pooch
Depending on your living arrangements, determines how you will proceed in the long run. If you are happy to have a crate in your home permanent then you will continuously allow your dog to be familiar with the crate, and no further issues should arise. However if you don’t feel an unsightly crate is for you, then always have a session with your dog in the crate every 2-3 months so they won’t become to distanced with the idea entering and being happy in there.