A COZY SPOT - The 7 Steps to Crate Training Your Dog
By Cherie Maitland, Trainer and Behavior Specialist at Our Furry Friends Training Center and Canine College
Dogs are den animals by nature and a dog crate is a modern form of a den. It's the dog's
personal and quiet space away from the hustle and bustle of life. The crate is a sturdy
box made of varying materials - usually plastic and metal wire. It needs to be big enough
for a dog to stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably. It also needs adequate
ventilation and a secure door.
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When dogs are introduced to a crate in a positive manner, they are drawn back to their private oasis of comfort time and
time again. When I adopted my Border Collie mix Pepper at the age of 3, I discovered that he had serious cat
aggression. At the time, I lived in a 1-room studio with 1 other dog and my 3 cats!! In order to manage this challenging
situation until I finished his training and cat desensitization program, I needed to crate Pepper when he and the cats were
all inside. He often ate in his crate which increased it's positive associations. Months later when I finally moved the crate
out, Pepper would often settle down under the dining room table. The table had a tableclothe hanging down which
created a safe place just like a cozy crate. A year later I had to go through the same process with my new 10-month old
Flat-Coat Retriever mix who wanted to chew on fun, inappropriate items during the night.I used the crate for Bear until he
grew out of this typical puppy habit.
Crates offer other benefits too - they really speed up the house training process. The crate can also be a spot that
allows your dog to stay in your living area when guests visit and the activity level is too stimulating for your dog. This is
especially helpful when your dog is not yet trained to perform polite meet and greet behaviors with more than 1 person at
a time. (See article on Doggie Door Manners.) Especially if your young child is having friends over, it is a safer way to
introduce your dog to other children. Your dog still gets to be a part of things without potential injury or chaos. Crates are
also a good tool when your dog has had surgery or is injured and needs to be confined. This already stressful time is not
the best time to start crate-training. Crates can also be beneficial when out of town guests bring their dog with them, or
you want to slowly integrate a new dog into your family. (Information coming soon on introducing a new pet to your pack!)
The following are tips to help you crate train your puppy or adult dog. If your dog has had negative crate experiences, or
is an anxious or fearful dog, you may need additional professional help.
STEP 1: Start with the door tied open. Toss in yummy treats - starting at the door's entrance. Praise and pet your dog
when he is in the crate - even just part way - and ignore him when he exits the crate. Gradually toss the treats in further
towards the back. Do not close the door!!
STEP 2: As your dog becomes more and more comfortable entering his crate - add a verbal cue so that you can teach
a new command. To teach the new phrase - say it as your dog fully enters the crate, not before. Saying it before comes
once your dog has learned the command. The phrase could be "Go to bed," "In your crate," "Kennel up," or whatever
you like. Periodically feed your dog's meal in the crate to continue to create positive associations.
STEP 3: When your dog has learned that being in the crate is a rewarding experience - take the next step of
momentarily closing the crate door. Toss in treats, praise, and open the door. Gradually increase the length of time that
you are keeping the door closed.
STEP 4: When your dog is performing step 3 comfortably, now after you close the door, toss in a few treats, and praise
- add taking a few steps away. Pause a moment, praise, and return to open the door. Remember you are conditioning
the dog to like the crate, so when you let him out, don't use that time to praise and tell him how great he is for learning to
be in the crate. Do that loving positive talk when your dog is IN the crate. Slowly increase the distance you move away
from the crate when your dog is inside.
STEP 5: Continue to increase the distance you move away from the crate - building up to disappearing into another
room for a moment. Then slowly proceed to adding more time that you are out of sight.
STEP 6: Once your dog is comfortable with this, add going outside and eventually going off for a very short car ride.
For safety, you need to remove your dog's collar. You could also leave music on for your dog to help block sounds from
outside that might be too arousing for him when he is confined. I always calmly tell my dogs when I leave, "I'll be back."
Calm comings and goings can help prevent separation anxiety. Before you go, you can stuff a Kong with something
delicious that they have to work out of the Kong's innards.
STEP 7: Finally - SLOWLY increase the time that you are gone. The maximum time depends on the dog, though
probably no more than a couple of hours for a puppy and 4 to 6 hours for an adult dog during the day. For additional
information on this, please consult your breeder, trainer or veterinarian for their opinion.
CAUTIONS: For safety, take off your dog's collars before you leave them in a crate. Do not crate dogs with serious
separation anxiety. You also do not want your dog to learn to bark or whine to teach you to open his crate door. Only let
your dog out when he is being quiet - unless of course he panics or is injured. If it seems that your dog or family is not a
candidate for crate training, then you can research other confinement options.
Some dogs move through these steps quickly, others take longer and require more repetitions of the steps. Another
thing you can do to create a cozy and pleasurable spot is leave the crate door open and throughout the day without your
dog seeing, toss in some yummy treats or his kibble.
Please contact me for further information on this or on any other training and obedience issues. You can
call me at 209-304-5139 or 530-622-PUPS. Toll-Free at 1-888-DOG-B-GOOD (1-888-364-2466.)
E-mail to: AsktheTrainer@DOG-B-GOOD.com or by mail at PO Box 97, Pine Grove, CA 95665
or PO Box 678, Diamond Springs, CA 95619.
For an article on Housetraining Tips - Let's Get Going!