Crate training your canine companion is an essential part of their life. Whether you’re taking them to visit the vet, travelling to visit your family or friends, evacuating in case of an emergency, or simply providing them a safe haven when guests come for a visit, dogs can greatly benefit from enjoying being in their crate.
You may think that training your dog to enjoy a small, confined space could be cruel – but dogs instinctively seek small spaces to create protective shelters for themselves.
Crate training can take days or weeks, depending on your dog’s age, temperament, and past experiences. It’s important to keep two things in mind while crate training. First, the crate should always be associated with something pleasant, and second, training should take place in a series of small steps – never rush this process. Here is a simple step-by-step process to help you to train your dog to love their crate.
With the crate door open, drop some treats outside of the door and inside of the crate. Let your dog eat the treats, and then toss a couple more to the back of the crate.
If your dog doesn’t go all the way in, play this game a few times each day until they warm up to entering their crate. Don’t close the door just yet– you don’t want your dog to feel trapped.
Once they are happily going in and out of their crate, graduate to Game 2.
Now you want to start building a hand signal for going into the crate. Stand beside the open crate door and toss a treat inside using your hand motion (pointing towards the crate). Your dog should follow the treat, if not, go back to Game 1.
If they follow the treat into the crate, mark (click with a clicker or say “yes”) and toss another treat towards them. Keep marking and rewarding as they eat.
Stop feeding, add a release cue in a happy voice (such as “Okay”), and wait for them to come out. When they do, play or treat as a reward. This is to stop your dog from bolting out of the crate as you open the door. Remember not to close the door during this game.
Now let’s add a verbal cue. Stand by the open crate, just like for Game 2, but this time say a cue like “Kennel Up” as you point and throw the treat.
Be sure to say the word as you gesture so that your dog realizes the hand signal and verbal cue mean the same thing, and eventually they will respond with just the verbal cue. This time when they go into the crate, mark, and drop several treats into the crate behind them while they are eating the first treat.
Do this a couple of times to reinforce that the crate is a pleasant place to be, and then use a release cue (such as “Okay”) in a cheerful voice and wait for them to come out. When they come out, play with them. This will begin the process of teaching the release cue to exit.
Practice this a few more times, and then test to see if they’re making the connection between the word and the action of going into the crate. To test their understanding, say the cue, but this time don’t move. If they run into the crate, mark and reward. If your dog understands, be sure to repeat the game a few more times!
If they do not run inside with the verbal cue alone, go back to using the hand signal and say the cue a few more times before trying again without the hand motion. Keep the door open for this game.
Now that your dog is going in on cue, we want to start working on coming out with permission.
Use your verbal cue (such as “Kennel up!”) to send your dog into the crate, just like you did for Game 3. Mark and reward for going in, and then back up and wait to see what your dog is going to do.
If they wait expectantly for more treats, mark and reward. Then wait again. If they run out of the crate instead, go back to Game 3 and keep playing until your dog starts to expect more treats after going in. Eventually they will begin to understand that the crate equals treats.
After your dog has waited for treats a few times (for just a few seconds), then release them with a happy “Okay!” cue and play as a reward.
Be sure to practice this a few times a day, for a couple of days, before moving on.
Now we’re upping the ante by closing the crate door while your dog is inside. Take it slowly at first and keep it fun!
Use your cue to send your pup into their crate and give them some treats. While they are eating, close the door. As your dog finishes, open the door, mark, and reward then release by giving the verbal cue “Okay!” and let them out.
Gradually increase the time you keep the door closed. As you extend the time, to around 10 seconds, mark, and reward through the closed door.
Don’t give your dog a treat or open the door if they are fussing. If they bark, whine, or paw at the door, ignore them and wait for a break in that behaviour to release them.
If this break happens, don’t take long to reward them, and let them out next time.
Keep playing this game until they can stay calmly in their crate for at least 30 seconds while you stand nearby.
Then you can start mixing it up by moving away from the crate and testing if they’ll be quiet or not. If not, make it easier next time.
Now it’s time to teach your dog to respect the threshold of the crate, and not come out until they’ve been given permission. If you’ve been playing the earlier games, this should be easy because you’ve been teaching them your release word from the start.
Start by playing Game 5 but ask your dog to sit or lie down inside the crate before being let out. To do this, we are going to use a bit of a back-and-forth process to show them what you mean. This works best if you don’t say anything. Allow your pup the time to make a decision on their own.
Wait for them to sit or lie down, then mark and reward, then reach for the latch.
If they get up, take your hand off the latch and =back up. Wait for your dog to sit (or lie down).
When your dog sits, touch the latch again. If your dog doesn’t get up, mark and reward through the bars to let them know that was the right decision. If they get up, repeat the process.
There are many variations that pet parents can use to crate train their dog. As long as you are using positive, reward-based methods, you should make progress and your dog will soon see their crate as a safe space.
Toronto Humane Society offers a variety of canine training classes with certified trainers. These classes are tailored to help strengthen the human-animal bond with trust-building practices and positive reinforcement techniques. Book a consult today!
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