Teaching your dog to love his crate should be a top priority for any new pet parent. Dogs are den animals and like small spaces where they can hide when they feel unsafe, or rest during their nap. It is a safe place in your home that your dog considers his own. Crate training is easy to do and should not be something that makes you feel guilty or like you are subjecting your dog to “dog prison.”
Understandably, some owners are adamantly against crates, and that’s fine. You should never use the kennel as a “time-out” area. And it is certainly not a ‘cage’ in which your dog is locked up for an extended period of time. If your rescue dog’s former owner used the crate in a negative way, he may have an aversion to it. Maybe a crate isn’t for him, but most dogs appreciate having their own place where they can relax.
Getting your dog to love his crate will take time. But with patience, your dog will see it as his own home.
1. Choosing the right crate
You may prefer a spacious room, but your dog only needs a certain amount to love his crate. He must have enough space to lie and stand comfortably. It should also be wide enough for him to turn in a circle. Too much space gives your dog room to ‘go’ in one place and distance himself from it. You definitely don’t want to train him to use it as a bathroom.
If you are crate training, you may want to choose a crate with a slide-out tray, because accidents happen. You can give a house-trained dog more space, but that is not necessary. A comfortable ‘den’ does not require much space.
You don’t want to sleep on the floor in the kitchen, no matter how comfortable that is, do you? The crate is a place to rest, so choose a spot away from the hustle and bustle of the house. The laundry room may seem like a good idea, but noisy appliances can interrupt sleep or, worse, cause anxiety.
Consider sharing a bedroom with your dog. Not only will you provide a quiet, calm space for his crate, but he will also get the added sense of security of being close to his favorite person. It gives your dog another reason to love his crate!
No dog is going to love his crate if he feels cold plastic on his paws or worse, metal wire. Dogs prefer soft, firm places to rest. You may see your dog lying on your hardwood or kitchen tile, but that’s more likely for coolness than comfort. Providing a soft place to rest can also help relieve joint pain and prevent the formation of elbow calluses.
Some people provide a soft pillow, others place a bed in it. Eventually, your dogs will be able to carry items on their own as they learn to love their crate. They leave their favorite toys and blankets in their ‘den’. Some dogs even “bury” their treats in their bedding! You can help him enjoy it even more by putting in some of his favorite things for him. But don’t be surprised if they carry them right back outside before they love their crate.
Now that you know that you have the right size crate and that it is cozy in a nice, quiet place, it is time to bring your dog inside.
4. Prime the crate
Remember that the crate is a nice, quiet place. So if your dog isn’t ready to go inside, absolutely don’t force it. Put something tasty in it. Let him pass by. Sniff. Be positive about every interaction he has with it. If you’re happy with it, your dog will love his crate in no time. If he only goes in far enough to reach the treats, put them back further so he has to go in a little further. Eventually he should feel comfortable putting all four paws in.
If he gets really into it, reward him – use treats, praise or both.
5. Feeding in the crate
Now that the crate is a nice place where he feels comfortable, you can start feeding your dog there. While he is eating, close and lock the door. After he’s finished eating, leave the door closed for a few seconds before opening it – but never open it while your dog is whining. The idea is to help your dog love his crate, and not teach him that whining opens the door.
After meals, or anytime you see your dog in his crate and you can close the door, leave it closed a little longer, adding a few seconds until you’re up to a minute. Gradually start putting some distance between yourself and the crate while he is there. If your dog gets upset when you walk away, you can distract him by placing a toy he likes before closing the door.
6. Work towards longer intervals
The goal is to be able to leave the room for ten to fifteen minutes at a time without your dog going crazy. By teaching him a “crate” or “kennel” cue, you can get him to practice indoors a few times a day until you can leave him quietly in his crate for 30 minutes. When he reaches 30 minutes without you in the room, you can feel confident leaving him in his kennel while you leave the house for a short period of time.
The process takes time, but it is totally worth it. A crate may be convenient for you, but you’re really giving your dog his own room to go to when he’s stressed or scared. With proper use and introduction, your dog will love his crate and consider it a sanctuary.
What to do and what not to do
NEVER use your dog’s crate as punishment or leave it there for long periods of time. Your dog won’t like his crate if you let him spend all the time there. Dogs were not meant to live in cages.
Provide water and entertainment such as toys, television or radio while you are away. We do not recommend giving your dog chews or toys that he would put in his mouth if left unattended. Try a puzzle toy instead. He’ll earn treats all day long as he finds out! Teach him how to solve the puzzle while you’re at home so he can have more fun doing it himself.
Make sure you start with small bursts; a dog that doesn’t want to be in the crate could injure itself trying to get out. Increasing the amount of time will prevent them from harming themselves and gradually come to love their crate.
Keep in mind that young puppies and older dogs need to ‘go’ more often than adult dogs. A dog should not be asked to hold it for more than an hour for each month of age, and after that, no dog should wait longer than 8 hours to urinate. If possible, do not crate your dog if you know you will be out of the house for more than five hours. Then consider a dog sitter or childcare.