Teaching your dog to rest calmly in a crate for short periods of time is a valuable skill for many reasons:
- As an aid for housetraining.
- As a tool for helping to prevent separation anxiety issues.
- In case you want to travel with your dog and they need to be safely secured in a crate or carry bag.
- Should your dog ever be prescribed crate rest by the veterinarian.
In order that your dog associate his crate with comfort and security, it is important that his initial experiences be pleasant. Rather than simply putting your dog in his crate and expecting him to “get used to it,” spend some time helping him to gradually become accustomed to it and you will be rewarded with a dog that not only tolerates but also enjoys time in his crate.
Begin by allowing your dog to explore the crate on his own. Sit on the floor right next to the crate and orient yourself so you are facing the open door and looking into the crate. How you position yourself and where you look impacts your dog’s behavior. If you face away from the crate and look at your dog, they will most probably show little interest in investigating the crate.
When you are positioned facing the crate and looking into it, he may choose to step in and sniff around a bit. If he does, say “yes!” and put a tiny treat or two on the crate floor for him. Placement of the reward in the spot where you want your dog to go (in this case, the crate) will play a part in helping him choose to go there.
When your pup steps out of the crate, simply stay seated right next to it, keep your body and gaze oriented towards it, and say “yes” again if he steps in, then put a couple of little treats on the floor of the crate. Repeat this in a few 3-5 minute sessions throughout the day and you’ll find your pup will more reliably and enthusiastically step into the crate in order to hear you say “yes” because he will figure out the word means what he just did as he head it is what is earning a reward. This is called a marker word. Think of this marker as a way of taking a precise, sharply focused picture for your dog of what it is they have done that is ‘right’ and earning them what they want.
Once your dog is stepping into the crate without hesitation, you can start to delay saying the marker word for the count of two or three seconds once they step in the crate. This way you are letting your pup know that now they must not only step in, but wait just a bit before hearing the word that means they did the right thing and get a reward. Gradually increase the count before marking and rewarding.
When your pup is stepping into the crate and can patiently wait to the count of ten before hearing the mark and reward, try closing the crate door for just a second before marking and reward. Then gradually build up to closing the door and counting up to ten seconds before marking and rewarding.
Once your pup is stepping into the crate without hesitation you can also start to add a cue to go into the crate. So, if you sit right near the crate and say something like “crate time” right before your pup steps in, your pup will have an opportunity to make an association between the cue and the behavior. A solid understanding of this cue will be developed with lots of practice sessions of 3-5 minutes where you can gradually increase the distance you are away form the crate (but, still orienting your body and gaze towards in) as you send them to it.
Feed in Your Favor
The above crate training games will help your pup learn the foundation for crate tolerance skills as well as a “go to your crate” cue. In addition to these games, consider feeding your dog at least one of their meals a day in the crate to help them make a positive association. Food stuffed chew toys like The Comfort Bone should also be part of crate time for your pup so they have something to keep them happily occupied.
When you feel your dog is ready for brief bits of rest time in the crate with a food stuffed chew toy, plan for a time when your pup has had an adequate outlet for their energy and had a recent successful potty break. Many brief rest periods throughout the day will help your puppy learn to successfully self-pacify, and will allow you a way to accurately gauge when your pup needs a potty break (right after waking from a nap in the crate). This is a key part of successfully house training a puppy (or an adult dog) because it means you can get them to the right spot (outside) at the right time (when they need to potty).
Proper crate training should be done in gradual steps. Every puppy is unique and will require you to go at a different pace. There is no need to race to the finish line in regards to any area of teaching your dog. The slow and steady route is actually the one that is best advised for long term success.
Photo Courtesy of: Little Friends Photo