Training your dog to love his crateWritten by Sarah Birtles - 22nd July 2016
Crates are an excellent way of giving your dog a place where he can go to escape the stress of day to day life. A crate is a safe, secure area for your dog to be, regardless of what’s happening in your household. Crates can be really effective in puppy training, as well as providing a sanctuary for your rescue dog.
Benefits of using a crate
Having a crate and training your dog to love it will give him a secure den he can retreat to, safe in the knowledge that he can relax and won’t be disturbed. You should try and make sure children and other household pets know to leave him alone when he is in his crate.
Crates are a good way to protect your house from any damage your new dog may cause due to chewing. Whether you have a rescue dog or a puppy, a new home has the potential to be quite stressful for your pooch. There’s so many new smells, new people to meet and a new routine for him to settle into. So don’t worry too much if he seems stressed and expresses this by chewing in the first few weeks – just make sure you give him something to chew on when he’s in his crate.
Travelling with your dog can also benefit from successfully training your furry friend to love his crate. You’re providing him with a safe and secure way to travel in the car. This is more useful than you’d first think: visits to the vets, groomers, visiting family, friends, days out and even holidays can become much easier when he has a safe method of car travel.
Selecting the right crate
It’s important to choose a crate that’s going to be big enough for your dog to stand up and turn around in. He also needs to be able to stretch out comfortably when he lies down. You can make it more homely with a comfy bed and perhaps a piece of your old clothing. If your dog likes to chew, you could get a chew-resistant bed and make sure you pop in his favourite toy. You can purchase crates from most reputable pet stores as well as online, but I’d definitely recommend visiting a few stores to get an inclination of the different sizes and styles available.
Where to put the crate
Setup the crate near where you spend most of your time in your home. This could be in the kitchen, in front of the sofa, or by your bed. You can move it from place to place, as needed. Once your dog loves his crate, it can be his hideout place when he needs one, but his first lesson shouldn’t be that the crate equals isolation from the rest of the family.
Training your dog to love his crate
So now you know why crates can be a great thing for your dog… you did your research, selected & purchased the perfect crate… you’ve just got to make sure your dog thinks it’s the bee’s knees.
Firstly, take your time. Training with your dog should be fun for both of you!
Put the crate in an open area of your house where you spend a lot of your time. Open the crate door, put a comfy bed in there, a favourite toy and perhaps something that smells like you. Open the crate door, every now and again throw in a tasty treat. When your pooch goes in to eat his treat, praise him with an encouraging word or phrase that you’d like your dog to associate with the crate. Then give him another treat whilst he’s still inside, saying that positive word or phrase again.
Do this as often as it takes for your dog to get comfortable with the crate. If you spot him getting comfy on his bed in there, tell him how clever he is and give him another treat. You can even give him his meals in there – anything the helps your dog associate the crate with good things happening.
If your dog is struggling with the training and isn’t very keen on the crate, you can try smearing some peanut butter onto the inside crate wall, or put in a food-stuffed toy such as a Kong, then close the crate door – without your dog inside. When he notices those amazing smells floating out of his crate, he’s probably going to want to get in. Wait about 30 seconds or so before opening the door and letting him in, making sure not to forget the verbal prompt or cue you’ve chosen.
What not to do with the crate
OK, so crates do look a bit scary. They are – by definition – cages (it’s okay to say this!). You certainly don’t want to make your dog feel uncomfortable or unhappy whilst inside their crate.
Here are a few tips of what to avoid:
- Take your time with training and go at your dog’s’ own learning pace
- Try and make learning fun for your pooch, keep your voice happy and friendly, give him treats when he get’s it right!
- Don’t leave your dog locked in their crate all day
- Limit your sessions to half an hour at a time to prevent your pooch getting frustrated or tired
- Try and avoid bad things happening whilst your dog is inside their crate. If he really doesn’t like going in there at first, don’t force it – just take your time.
Finally, don’t abuse the crate. Your dog shouldn’t live in his crate day and night with limited toilet stops and few opportunities for cuddles. If your dog is in his crate for any extended period of time (4+ hours) during the day, it is a good idea to allow him to sleep in someone’s room at night – he’s going to want affection and lots of fuss!
Crates aren’t the right solution for every dog. Each dog has his own thoughts, feelings and past experiences that makes him unique. The need for a crate depends on your dog’s personality and behavioural habits as well as your household, lifestyle and routine. Make sure a crate is the right solution before you commit to purchasing one. In some dog rescue cases, you may not know your new dog’s past experiences and you must be careful to avoid forcing your pooch to do anything they’re not comfortable with.
If you have any concerns about the behaviour of your dog, you can consult with your vet, enrol into your local group dog training class or request a 121 session with a qualified trainer.