January 16, 2017
So you just got a new dog! Whether he is 3 months or 3 years, you may be hearing tons of advice about the benefits of crate training your dog.
As dog professionals, we highly encourage owners of all pups (regardless of breed or age) to crate train their new family member. The benefits include (and are not limited to): aiding in potty-training, creating calm and balanced energy inside your home, instilling appropriate boundaries in the house, and setting the dog up for success by reducing their ability to participate in destructive or nuisance behaviors. After training is thoroughly complete, he will be comfortable in a crate and genuinely enjoy spending time there. Even if you don’t mind the potty-training and puppy-chewing struggle of having a new dog without a using the crate as a tool, you can never predict an emergency; if your dog ever has to travel, spend time at the vet, or be crated for any reason (like their safety), it is beneficial to you both if he already feels comfortable there.
So, now that you’re on board, the real question presents itself: how do you do it?
Here are some tips for introducing your dog to the crate while forming positive associations which will help him feel happy and comfortable inside it (without adding any extra stress or anxiety):
Make sure your crate is the correct size for your dog. He should be able to stand and turn around comfortably. It is just as important that the crate is also not too-big. If you have a puppy that will grow, get a crate divider. This will allow you to buy a large crate and section off smaller pieces as your puppy grows (that way you don’t have to keep buying crates!)
Keep the crate in the “hub of the house” this way he doesn’t feel as though he is being banished when he is in his crate. Dogs are social animals, they want to be near us. Use that to your advantage and put the crate where he can still see/hear the family.
Introduce the crate slowly. Leave the door open and play with your dog, occasionally throwing a fun toy or high-value treat into the crate. Let him explore the crate on his own, don’t force him in. You can start throwing the treats into the back of the crate so he wants to go in and retrieve them. Do not try closing him in, leave the door open during these exercises.
Feed your dog in his crate. Place the food bowl towards the back of the crate so he has to go all the way in to eat. You can also scatter-feed him in here (meaning you scatter the food directly on the crate floor) this will help encourage him not to go potty in his crate. Dogs do not want to go potty where they eat or sleep.
When your dog is starting to show that he is more comfortable in his crate (going in on his own, laying down, or playing in there without guidance) you can start closing the door. Hide treats in the back of the crate for him to “find” later.
These little tricks will help you get your puppy loving his crate in no time!
At this point, your pup is ready to start getting more adjusted to time in his crate with the door shut. Slowly increase the time and make sure to praise! If he does great relaxing in his crate during dinner, let him out after with lots of praise! Don’t wait until he is making a fuss and losing his patience to let him out!
Getting your dog used to the crate when he is alone will be a little bit different, as he won’t have the comfort of being able to hear and smell his family close by. As with every other stage, start in small intervals. While he is happily playing or relaxing in his crate, leave the room for short periods of time. As he gets more and more used to it, extend the time in which you are gone.
It is vital for you to keep your puppy busy when he is in his crate! Chewing, barking, and other destructive behaviors often stem from boredom! Don’t keep too many toys in the crate, rather switch out a few favorites. Make sure these toys are age/breed/size appropriate for your pup! Mental “puzzle” games are great to have in the crate, things that make your dog work for food without having to move around too much.
Also, remember that for most puppies and younger dogs (and even older dogs if you are still working on potty training) they are still learning to hold their bladder and they will need breaks throughout the day. If you’re working and need your pup to be in their crate for 8-10 hours at a time, you will need a friend/dog walker/or pet sitter to come by to let your puppy out for a potty break and some play time!
It is also important to remember to always mentally and physically exercise your dog prior to crating him for longer periods of time. A long walk and brief training session will help with this! Keep in mind, we can rarely out-work our dogs physically, so having them think and work their brains before going in the crate will put them in a more relaxed and calm state than just a quick walk around the block.
As with any training, keep in mind that if at any point during these steps your dog seems stressed, back up a few steps and start again!