In this post, I explain why you would want to crate train your dog and why you might not want to.
In today’s post, I’m walking you through the steps for how to crate train your dog if you choose to do so.
Crate training is teaching your dog to feel comfortable spending time in their crate on their own. This can be with the door shut and latched or with the door open. when latched, the door keeps your dog inside the crate until you let them out. The value of this is so you can leave the house and know your dog is safe.
Keeping the crate door open allows your dog to use their crate like a bedroom. They can go there when they need a nap, a break from family activity or to feel safe in an unfamiliar setting if you travel with your dog. In either case, you teach your dog how to love their crate the same way.
This article doesn’t cover crating in combination with potty training a puppy as that’s a lesson for another day. Today, these are the steps you will take to ensure your dog loves rather than fears their crate. You can use these same steps with a puppy and add in the steps for potty training.
As with all positive training, you want crate training to be a fun experience for your dog. That’s why we don’t just shove dogs in crates, close the door and consider ourselves done. I – and I’m guessing you as well – wouldn’t like that to happen to me and dogs don’t either. It’s scary and will create a negative association in your dogs mind with being crated. Like all the other human developed gadgets for making it possible for dogs to live alongside us (leashes, harnesses, gates, doggy doors, etc.), dogs aren’t born knowing how to use these things. You get to teach your dog how the crate works and how to use it.
I say “get to” instead of “have to” because teaching your dog things is a great way to connect and build trust in your relationship. It’s one of the most wonderful parts of being a dog parent.
So, here are the steps to teach your dog how to happily use a crate:
- Make sure you get the correct size crate. You want your dog to be able to stand up, turn around and rest comfortably but not so big that your dog can take some steps which will encourage using one end as a bathroom. If you’ve never used a crate before, you may feel like it’s too small but think of it like this. You sleep, watch TV and maybe have snacks in your bed with plenty of room but you wouldn’t want to live in a room that same size. The crate is like your dog’s cozy bed that they sleep and chill out in.
- Make sure the crate is a great place to be. Put a cozy bed and blanket in there. Add toys and treats. Choose a location that’s comfortable for your dog (not too hot/cold, not too isolated/public, etc.) based on your dog’s personality and preferences.
- Once it’s all set up, encourage (never force) your dog to enter the crate by tossing in a couple of treats in or making a line of treats starting outside and leading inside the crate. Don’t worry if your dog just runs in, eats the treats and runs out. That’s just part of the process. You want your dog to know they can go in and get back out. You can encourage longer stays by asking your dog to lay down and giving them a longer lasting treat such as a filled Kong or other chew toy. Be patient (and my clients reading this will hear my Boston accent in their ear saying, “Dog training is 50% patience.” As tempting as it can be to rush things, resist that urge!
- Once your dog is happy hanging out for a while in their crate (which can take days, weeks or however long it takes), you can move on to the next step which is to shut the crate door and latch it for a few seconds and then open it up again. I recommend latching the crate even though you are only closing it for a few seconds because you want your dog to get used to the sound of the latch. Gradually lengthen the time that the door is closed and latched based on your dog’s comfort level, working up to being able to leave your dog in the crate for up to a few (overnight if your dog will be sleeping in their crate moving forward).
- Once you are able to have your dog in the crate for about an hour at a time, start leaving the room for just a few seconds at a time working up to several hours. Go slow and “act casual” so your dog doesn’t think anything of it. Eventually, you’ll be able to leave your dog happily crated happily entertaining themselves while you go out to a movie or restaurant.
If, at any point, your dog seems stressed out by the process it’s likely you are moving too fast. Slow down and go back to the previous step. Slow and steady wins the race here. This should be fun for your dog. Don’t worry if it takes a few months to reach the level you want, you have many years ahead of you together and taking the time now to move slowly with this will pay big dividends in the long run.