I brought home my first Rottweiler puppy, Greta, when I was still in college. I was told that crate training was the way to go. The problem is that no one ever taught me how to properly crate train her, so I would simply pick her up, shove her in and close the door. It did not take long before she completely hated being in her crate. My roommates began to complain due to her wailing and howling while I was gone. Eventually, I began coming home to Greta running free in the house or loose in my room. Luckily she was well on her way to being housebroken, but soon she became destructive. One day I came home to half a leather chair, and another time it was a snowstorm of what had been a down comforter. It was time to revisit using a crate! I eventually learned that you can crate train dogs of any age.
Crate training has many benefits, including helping with potty training, time-outs for overtired or overexcited puppies, keeping a dog from being destructive, and keeping a dog safe while traveling.
First, you must start with an appropriate crate. The crate should be big enough so that your dog can comfortably stand up, lie down and stretch out. For puppies, while potty training, it helps to use a crate divider to create a smaller space that allows them just enough room to lie down. This should only be short-term and the divider eventually removed to give the puppy more room.
Easy Steps To Crate Training Dogs
Regardless of age, below are the basics for teaching a dog to go into his crate. For fastest results, do this over a weekend when you can spend a lot of time working with your puppy or dog.
1. On the first day, put some toys and treats inside the crate with the door of the crate propped open. Allow your dog to explore the crate on his own. Once he goes in to get a toy or treats, toss some additional treats into the crate.
2. Call him out of the crate and start over. If he immediately goes back into the crate, toss some more treats into the crate. If he remains in the crate, call him out and repeat several more times.
3. Once you are finished, shut the crate door so he can’t get back into the crate.
4. Repeat this process several more times throughout the day.
5. Before going to bed, play with your dog and then take him out to potty one last time. Toss treats into the crate, along with something valuable to work on that he will only get in his crate, such as food-stuffed toys. Shut the door. If he is quiet, toss in a few more treats and walk away. If he remains quiet, return and drop a few more treats and then turn off the lights. If he whines or cries, give him some time to settle down. He should readily go to sleep.
6. The next day, repeat the above steps.
7. At this stage, you want to get your pet used to being in the crate during the day. Start closing the door during the day when your pet is inside the crate. If your dog remains calm, treat him on and off for a couple of minutes, then open the door and call him out; repeat periodically throughout the day. Make sure to close the crate between training sessions.
8. Start adding your cue word or phrase, such as “bed” or “in your house,” as your dog enters the crate.
By now your dog should readily be going in and out of his crate!
Crate Training Dogs Who Are Reluctant To Enter A Crate
Some dogs and puppies need extra help learning to like their crates. For these dogs, I recommend clicker training. Using a clicker, you can “shape” your dog’s behavior so he will like the crate. Shaping is nothing more than rewarding small approximations in order to build a new behavior.
1. Prop the door open to the crate.
2. Using a clicker and high-value, small, soft treats, such as string cheese, hot dog or cooked chicken, stand to the side of the crate door when your dog is nearby and look at the opening of the crate instead of your dog. When you notice your dog looking at the opening of the crate, click the clicker and toss a treat near the crate. Do this every time your dog looks directly at the opening of the crate.
3. If your dog steps forward to get the treats, click and treat for the forward movement. If your dog stays at the opening, click and treat again; this time, toss the treats just inside the crate.
4. Continue to click any and all forward motion as you toss the treats just out of reach of your dog to entice him to move forward into the crate.
5. Once he is in the crate, click and treat several times in a row for remaining in the crate.
6. Call him out of the crate and shut the door. Repeat this process on and off several times a day until your dog readily goes into his crate.
7. Now you can start adding your cue as he enters.
8. Next, click and treat your dog for staying in the crate and doing anything that resembles relaxing, such as sitting or lying down.
9. Shut the door and continue to click for calm behavior.
10. Open the door, call your dog out and shut the door. Repeat the process until your dog is now readily going into the crate and is comfortable with the door closed.
Now you are ready to begin leaving your dog in his crate for short periods of time and building up to several hours at a time.
Stop Your Dog From Whining Or Barking While In A Crate
What happens if your dog starts whining or barking while in his crate?
1. Ignore him until the moment he is quiet and reward him with a treat. Using a clicker to mark the exact moment he is quiet works great for this. Once he remains quiet, reward with a food-stuffed toy or bone.
2. When you wake up or when you get home, never let your dog out of his crate if he is barking or whining. Once he is quiet, ask your dog to sit or lie down and then let him out of his crate. This will ensure he only offers calm, quiet behavior.
3. If your dog is doing well but wakes up incessantly barking or crying, he might have to go outside to potty.
4. If your dog becomes panicked in his crate it could be a sign of separation anxiety. In this case, discontinue using the crate and consult with your veterinarian.
Crate Training Tips For Success
Crate training can be a powerful tool when used correctly. Keep these other crate training tips in mind so both you and your dog get the most out of it.
1. Do not use the crate as a punishment. If you need to use the crate as a timeout, use a happy voice, treats and a bone to ensure that your dog never becomes wary of his crate.
2. If crating all day and night, consider breaking up your dog’s day with a pet sitter or doggie day care.
3. Never shove a dog into a crate. This will only frighten him and ruin your training. If you are frustrated, take a deep breath, walk away and continue at a later time.
Recently I had a client’s puppy stay with me. Using the above methods he was running into his crate on cue and waiting patiently for me to shut the door by the end of the week. Be consistent, and in no time your dog will happily go into his crate on cue.