How to Crate Train Any Dog
Welcome back Dog Lovers. It’s time for the July instalment of my dog training blog. This month we are focusing on the benefits of crate training.
Crates are amazing tools in dog training and like many things in life, its much easier when you know how. Here is my easy guide to crate training your pet to feel safe, happy and secure in a crate.
Why crate train?
Crate training is an amazing life skill for any dog or puppy. As pet parents it’s our responsibility to shape our pet’s behaviour to allow them to be happy, calm and balanced individuals. Crate training teaches dogs to settle in a designated “special place” when you need them too – either at bedtime, or if you’re popping out for a bit. When we crate train our dogs, we are training them to be calm, happy and relaxed for an extended period.
When you bring your puppy home for the first time, it is really easy to teach them that their crate is their bed and safe space. After the “first night squeaks” you will find they settle very quickly into the routine of crate sleeping at night.
What are the benefits?
Crate training your dog means…
- You can develop emotionally independent qualities in your pet
- You can develop the trust in your relationship
- You will improve your communication with each other through a new command
- You will develop your pet’s stress-coping abilities (this is great if they need overnight treatment at the vets etc).
Of course, there are lots of other benefits too. It also helps your dog enjoy travelling with their dog walker amongst other perks such as dog-friendly road trips or holidays.
Why do people dislike crates?
Crates are basically cages – this is often what puts people off them. As human beings, we attach a lot of emotion to our understanding of the world. Cages are often considered to be synonymous with being trapped or captured against our will – it paints hideous pictures in our mind like a dog chained outside in the rain. If you are keen to try crate training, remember that the pictures our mind paints aren’t real and this training is all about rust and cooperation.
There are some people in the world who misuse crates, keeping dogs locked up for entire days with no exercise – this is wrong, unkind and not what crates were intended for. They are a training tool, not a quick-fix to keeping an animal under control.
A crate should be a cosy little den for the highest level of relaxation. It should benefit both you and your dog.
Fortunately, dogs don’t have preconceived ideas about metal bars, and with the right kind of crate, you can choose something that is visually appealing for your home, generous in space and very cosy for your best friend.
If your dog is a rescue with a history of crate abuse, don’t worry – we can transform their experience with time and training.
Crate training is all about trust.
When we train our dogs to trust us, and understand the crate is a rewarding place to be, they will see it like a four-poster bed and their perfect hide-away whenever they fancy a nap. Crates are amazing training tools – when they’re used correctly.
“Okay Jarvis, but my dog has already tried sleeping in a crate and it didn’t work. They screamed the house down!”
I hear you.
What you experienced is pretty common but ultimately, fixable. Even if your dog has had bad experiences with crates in the past, this method will help any dog re-wire their understanding of crates.
I am going to let you in on a little secret of mine. As a dog sitter and trainer part of my job is to ensure dogs trust me 100% and feel safe, even if they have never used a crate before. This method has been tried and tested with literally 100s of dogs and really works. Why? Because I create trust.
You probably already have the benefit of your dog a knowing and trusting you as their mum or dad figure. This is great!
Okay, let’s get down to business.
Pick the Right Size Crate
This is really important.
As a general rule your crate should be much bigger than your dog. One half should be bedding, and the other half should have plenty of space for a water bowl and some dog-yoga. As a minimum requirement, your pup should be able to stand up tall, stretch out fully, lie flat on their side and have enough room to comfortably turn around etc. They also need room for a bowl of water at night that can’t be easily spilled over.
TOP TIP: Invest in a large crate that will still be right for your puppy when they are fully grown.
Prep your Dog
Your dog has needs that need to be fulfilled before crate training can begin. This is to ensure your dog has perfect conditions in place to learn, trust and focus.
Teaching your dog a stay command very early on will help this entire process.
- Make sure they have been thoroughly exercised in alignment with their needs. A long walk or a fun game of fetch is important to create relaxation for their mental and physical well-being. They will be relaxed after a walk and maybe even a little hungry, we’ll be taking advantage of this.
- Have your best “high value” treats at the ready.
- You need to be a calm force for good in this training experience. Do not worry, panic or fear the outcome. Be in the moment and focus on rewarding good behaviour. I know you might be nervous, but if you can put it aside today, your dog will thank you in the long-run.
Sound- Proofing Ghosts
As with anything new, dogs can find crates a bit ghostly at first. Here’s how to anti-spookify them.
- Sound – pad out the underside of the plastic base with a towel or blanket or something squishy to stop any echoey or clattery noises caused by walking into the crate. It will be much less scary.
- Pop a big comfy bed in the far end with some toys.
- Ignore the crate and the dog. Leave the crate for a couple of hours with the door open. There’s no hurry, pretend it’s not even there.
Now, you may find that after a little inspection, your dog naturally walks into the crate unaided and has a nap. This is brilliant if they do. If not, don’t worry either way, proceed by following the steps below.
The door is Magic.
If you have a dog of a nervous disposition or is a rescue that has had bad past experiences, you can first start by teaching them the crate door is magic.
Step 1: Kneel on the floor and prepare by placing one hand on the door.
Step 2: When you open the door, give your dog a treat.
Step 3: When you close the door, give them another a treat.
The aim is to condition the dog to associate you touching the crate with their favourite treat in the whole world. We want them to show relaxed, attentive body language and prove they are comfortable with you opening the dn closing the door. They will soon see just how magic the door is.
Step 1. Kneel on the ground and have your dog’s favourite treat in the whole world at the ready.
Step 2. show your dog the treat and then throw it into the crate and give the command you will be using. It could be “bed” or “crate” – whatever works for you. I like to use what I call happy voice for this.
Happy Voice –
A bright, clear and emotionally encouraging tone that is calm. It’s not over-excited or very high-pitched.
Step 3. your dog will probably cautiously snatch the treat and back out of the crate immediately. They don’t quite trust this situation yet. That’s okay. It often requires lots of repetitions. Repeat step 2 over and over again for about 20 minutes.
You can leave it here for the day or if time is against you, return later in the day to repeat the exercise.
Step 4. Don’t be tempted to close the door.
The aim of this exercise is for the dog to happily run into the crate and ideally sit on the bed waiting for more snacks to fall from heaven.
If you’re eagerly waiting for the moment you can close that door, your dog will sense the entrapment immediately and it will be game over. If you’ve ever tried crating a dog before without success, this may have been why. Don’t worry, you can get back on track today.
Keep practicing at intervals throughout the day until you get to the point where your dog has figured out its more efficient to remain sitting in the crate and wait for more treats (I love this part best of all, because they always look so pleased with themselves for the utter stroke of genius). It might take a few attempts.
Be patient and have a little faith in Dog.
Closing the Door
All dogs will take a different amount of time learning to jump into the crate after food. You will know when your dog is ready for the door to be closed because they will show the following behaviours:
- Jumping in without hesitation
- Looking eager, happy and keen
- Sitting in the crate for more treats to fall (reward this with more treats!)
- They will go into the crate when you’re not training and make themselves comfortable.
Have a Kong ready, stuffed with your high value treats (we love dog-friendly peanut butter).
- Give your crate command and throw in the Kong of dreams.
- Close the door behind them as quietly and calmly as possible.
Go and sit down on a chair near the crate and look “busy” doing something else. Check your emails or read a book.
When the dog finishes their treats, they will most likely look around and see the door is closed. If they get up, remind them to sit or lie down, then add more treats to reward the behaviour
You dog should start to settle at this point and relax on the bed (this is great, it shows they have accepted the situation).
Congratulations, you have done it!
If your dog paws at the door or starts squeaking do not lose confidence – this is normal – they are unsure, so they will naturally test the water to see what you’ll do next.. Don’t let them out, or even look up from your book.
Instead you can try two methods; ignoring or interrupting the behaviour.
I like to say a loud teacher-like “no thank you!” as my interruption. Again, this is without even looking up from my book.
9 dogs out of 10 will give in to the situation after one or two interruptions and proceed to sleep off the treats. If you find your dog is upping the anti with vocal objections, remind them what you’d like – “no thank you!” and sit firmly where you are.
Your dog may try another squeak or two. Repeat your interruption. You’ll hear in their voice that they are giving up and realising you need them to sit tight a little longer.
After this little protest, your dog will lie down and go to sleep.
Let them out as soon as they are quiet and calm.
Repeat the above exercises as much as your dog needs. Keep the training sessions short and gradually extend crate time until it’s second nature. If you have any doubts, go back a step and work on the positive associations.
Well done! You have now crate trained your dog!
- Always keep your side of the bargain. Always reward the desired behaviour.
- Practice makes perfect. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
- Make sure your dog has a stuffed kong or brain teaser toy to keep them busy when you try out a longer stint in the crate with the door closed
- If you plan for your dog to sleep in their crate at night, it’s important to always give that “bedtime biscuit” to reward their cooperation. They will look forward to the event.
- Always ensure dogs have access to fresh drinking water
By repeating this routine in little steps over and over, your dog will enjoy their crate as a designated safe space.
Give it a go, and tell me how you get on in the comments below!
Food for thought…
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About the Author
Head Trainer – Jarvis Clothier
Jarvis has been training companion dogs professionally for over 10 years. To date Jarvis runs Jarvis Dog Boarding and Training, an exclusive dog hotel based in Hampshire specialising in residential training as well as providing course content as senior tutor for Pet Business Courses. New blog posts are published on 1st of every month at midday.