10 Jul HOW TO: Crate Training.
Whether you’re for or against crating your dog on a day to day basis, training them to be calm and relaxed in a confined space is an invaluable tool to give your dog. Young or simply untrained dogs need to be supervised at all times in order to ensure they don’t begin any dangerous or destructive behaviours in the house. For the majority of people this 24 hour supervision isn’t an option and this is where crating comes in.
Perhaps you’re here learning how best to confine your 8 week old puppy, or wondering if this would be a good thing to teach your rescue dog- either way the process stays much the same and its never too late to start. The number one most important rule of crate training any animal is to satisfy their needs first. On a basic level this means: exercise, food, water, comfort. A dog should never be expected to relax in a small space without having all of these basic needs first.
Of course, the level of exercise your pet needs will vary depending on a number of factors, and for a very young puppy this may just mean 5-10 minutes of play. With regards to comfort, we must ensure our pets feel safe in the crate and do not need to relieve themselves of any waste during the training. Bedding is optional but should be removed if your dog or puppy starts to chew this as the behaviour can be habitual and can even become dangerous. Personally, I would advise feeding your dog/puppy all meals in this crate area during training.
To start crate training, put a lead on your dog and lead them into the crate whilst simultaneously giving a command such as ‘kennel up’. Throw a treat into the back of the crate. Do not close the door and keep throwing treats into the back if the dog stays there. If not, repeat the above process. Feed no treats outside of the crate during this process until the command is well known. Give the dog bones, chew toys etc but immediately take them away if the dog takes them outside of the crate to eat. Place them back inside the crate.
Close the crate door for a few seconds. Now open the door just a little and as the dog starts to move forwards make a sharp ‘ah’ or ‘no’ noise and firmly close the door. There is no need to slam the door, but will not hurt the dog if the door touches his face! Repeat this process a few times until the dog no longer moves forwards as you open the door. When you’re ready (after about 3 minutes of this), give a release command such as ‘okay’ and encourage the dog to move out of the crate. NEVER celebrate exiting the crate- make no fuss and feed no treats here, all positive experiences happen inside the crate. Lots of my clients struggle with dogs that get overexcited at the door or the door of their crates to the point where they will pee themselves or jump up and scratch people. Avoid all of this by keeping the process calm and non-verbal.
It is important this process is done with no hesitation or guilt, as the dog will feed off of the energy you project in this exercise. Stay calm and authoritive throughout. DO NOT use any other words throughout this process! Do not allow your dog out of the crate ever if you see any state of mind other than calmness. Never open the door to whining or barking. Eventually, the dog will begin looking up to your face when the door opens and then you have created a psychological boundary as opposed to a physical one. This in my experience leads to far less stress and frustration.
Next we work to build time in the crate up. For this, I suggest crating the dog at times they are naturally tired and in a resting state, usually after exercise and/or training. Leave the dog for incrementally longer periods of time with bones/ chews/ kongs. You can even leave these items locked into the crate and shut the door to build the dogs. Take this process slowly!
If your dog has previous negative association with crating you can follow these same steps but move through them more slowly. Do not be surprised if you have to use more leash pressure to guide the dog into the crate- stay calm and in control. Ultimately the crate is not as fun as being outside interacting with people and dogs do not have a natural ‘denning instinct’ as some people believe (see my other article on crating). This means that dogs should not be kept in crates for excessively long periods of time, or a time that exceeds how long they are able to hold their bladders. However, this is an invaluable tool for dog owners and one I have seen massively aid in training and management time and time again.
Most importantly, if you struggle with any of these steps or feel you have additional questions, get in touch with someone that has experience training the type of behaviour you’re trying to achieve.