Crate Training Tips
by Margit Maxwell
Once you have chosen the correct crate for your dog you are ready to start preparing for the actual crate training process. Crate training should be done gradually so it gives your dog time to get used to the idea of the crate. If you just place the dog into the crate and shut the door, your dog will probably panic and associate the crate with terrible memories of being locked up for reasons that he cannot understand. It is much more difficult to retrain the dog using Desensitization and Counter conditioning than it is to train to the crate correctly the first time.
Making The Crating Experience Pleasant
One way to entice them into their crate is to begin placing their food dish in the crate and start feeding their meals to them inside the crate. You can start by placing the dish near the front of the crate so the dog can stand just outside the crate to eat his food at first. Everyday move the dish a little further back until eventually he has to fully enter the crate in order to reach to eat from their dish. Remember, the door of the crate stays open for now.
Handy tip: *Did you know that if the only place your dog gets anything to eat is in his crate, that this will eliminate many of the issues associated with begging for food, stealing food from plates, or counter surfing issues? If food only comes to them when they are in the crate then it removes the reason to look for food outside of the crate. *
While they are being desensitized to the idea of the crate, by adding comfy blankets and their favorite toys in the crate you can help your dog make pleasant associations with being crated. At first, do not close the door to the crate. Allow them to come and go as they please to give them time to get comfortable with the idea of the crate.
If your dog is resistant about spending time in his new crate, try draping the crate with a blanket or large towel to make it feel more den-like and cozy. Watch your dog to help identify what his likes and dislikes are. The important thing to understand about crate training is that you are teaching your dog to associate being in his crate with pleasant things. Without these pleasant associations the dog will not want to be a very willing participant in this practice.
Begin Adding The Cue CRATE
As the dog gets used to being in the crate you can start adding the verbal cue CRATE as your dog is entering the crate. When you are placing his food dish into his crate or placing a treat into his crate, issue the cue, CRATE.
In my house food is only given when all dogs are lying calmly in their crates. When I say CRATE, you have never seen dogs move so fast to get into their crates. They are practically tripping over each other to get to their respective crates. Even Skylar ,who is only 12 weeks old, goes to his crate when he sees the other dogs in their crates. I am not sure if he fully understands why he should be in his crate, so for right now, he is just copying what the big dogs are doing. But through consistency and repetition, Skylar is learning a new concept.
Handy Tip: * In multi dog households, feeding dogs in their crates removes many problems and issues associated with resource guarding, competition for food, and reduces eating and food related anxiety. *
Closing The Crate Door
Once you notice that your dog has begun to voluntarily spend time in his crate, you can begin closing the door. At first, close the door but do not fasten it shut. A good time to begin doing this is when the dog is eating in his crate, sleeping in his crate, or is other wise occupied with another pleasant activity. Give him as much time as he needs to become comfortable with seeing the crate door closed. Dogs that are being re-trained to a crate will need a lot more time to get comfortable with associating the crate with pleasurable thoughts. This is a process so give your dog as much time as he needs to feel comfortable with this process.
The Process Of Learning To Be Crated
Once your dog has had a chance to become desensitized to seeing the crate door closed, it is time to work on the process of making him comfortable with you fastening the crate door closed. This is a process so move through the steps slowly. If you found that you have moved too fast and your dog is anxious do not introduce anymore new steps to this process until your dog becomes comfortable with it.
The Steps For Crating Your Dog
- Begin with tossing a treat into the crate for your dog. Issue the cue CRATE. When your dog goes into the crate, close the crate door. Do not leave your dog yet. Feed some more treats through the bars of the crate and praise your dog. Do this exercise for a few minutes and then open the crate door BUT do not allow your dog to come charging out through the open crate door. Get your dog into the habit of waiting for the release cue OKAY, before exiting the crate. This helps to anchor the understanding that crating is done on your terms, not his. Crating ends when you release him from the crate and not before.
- Repeat this step often until your dog is very comfortable with being in the crate and knowing what to expect including understanding that the crate door will eventually open for him.
- Each step of this process builds on the previous step. For the next step, after your dog is in the crate and has been given treats through the bars, take a few large steps away from the crate. Wait for a minute and then return to the crate and give the dog a treat. Now release the dog from the crate. Practice this step until the dog is very comfortable with seeing you back away the crate.
- Now, practice this step this time adding duration to the process. Increase the time that you are standing away from the crate. Each time come back to release the dog from the stay in the crate. Work your way up to several minutes. Eventually work your way up to sitting in a chair for while while your dog is in the crate.
- Now add distance to your dog’s stay in the crate. Keep slowly moving back further from the crate each time returning to release your dog from the crate.
- Now add disappearing around the corner out of sight for a few moments. Return to release the dog from the crate.
- Now add duration to how long you are out of sight of the dog. Return to release the dog from the crate
- Eventually you will work your way up to walking out the door for a few moments ( letting your dog hear you open and close the front door, jingle keys, getting your coat etc. The purpose of this step is to desensitize your dog to the crate door being closed, to your absence, and to hearing the sounds of you leaving the house. Work on this step by adding duration of how long you are outside and how long the dog is in his crate with the door closed.
There is no set formula for how long it takes for a dog to become comfortable with this process. Some dogs adapt easily, some dogs take longer. Dogs that are being re-trained to the crate will take much longer to become comfortable with the process. Be consistent and practice the process frequently.
The Issue of Whining Or Barking While Being Crated
At some point during this crate training process you will most likely encounter some whining and barking done in protest over the confinement. How you handle the situation will make a huge impact on how future crating attempts will go. Remember to keep the length of the crate stay appropriate to the dog’s training. Simply shutting the dog into the crate and leaving him to howl for hours on end is not acceptable, nor advisable.
You have three ways that you can handle this issue of a dog protest :
1. You can stay in the room and ignore the barking and whining until it is time for the dog to be released from the crate. Make sure to release the dog ONLY during a lull in their vocalizations otherwise you just reinforced the bad behaviour by giving him what he wanted. If you consistently and totally ignore the noise many dogs will eventually get the message that carrying on will not get them released from the crate.
2. You can use a cue like SSHHH to correct the behaviour. Make sure that you do not speak or interact with the dog in any other way otherwise you are giving the dog your attention and it will serve to mark and reinforce the very behaviour that you are trying to stop.
3. Say nothing and remove yourself to another room. Eventually many dogs figure out that it is pointless to vocalize since there is no one to complain to and their barks and whines are not getting them released from their crate.
Be consistent about how you respond to your dog’s protests. If you give in once, the dog quickly learns that he just has to persevere and he will get his way. Stand your firmly in your resolve to allow this process to take its course. Do not give in to the demands of your dog.
- Be consistent in your expectations and the way in which you handle this issue. If you sometimes expect him to stay in his crate and other times you give in to his demands, then you have taught your dog that if he just applies himself, he can decide for himself what he can and won’t do. You be the leader and you be the only one who makes the rules.
- Let your dog out of the crate when he is actively whining or crying. Wait for a lull in his protest and then release him. If you release him while he is whining, you just marked this behaviour with a reward (being let out of the crate).
- Drag, push, pull, or force your dog in or out of the crate. This will only serve to make him dislike his crate or be afraid of the crate.
- Use crating as a source of punishment. If you punish the dog by locking him in his crate, he will associate the crate with those negative experiences and emotions and you will have lost the use of the crate as training tool.
- Do not crate a dog simply because he requires attention and you are not willing to give it to him. Dogs, especially Huskies and Malamutes, love being a part of the family. To frequently relegate them to a crate just because you will not interact with them is very unfair to the dog and will cause behaviour issues to be created. If you find yourself with consistently not enough time to give your dog the time and attention that he needs, please reconsider your situation and evaluate if you have adequate time for a dog in your life. If it turns out that you do not have the time to adequately meet your dog's needs, then rehoming the dog to a home where people can give him sufficient interaction to keep him happy and feeling loved may be kindest thing you can do for this dog.
* Do NOT attempt to crate dogs that have extreme separation anxiety until their issues have been addressed and resolved. Do NOT continue to crate dogs that are panicking, become so visibly stressed that they drool heavily, or dogs that become aggressive when they are confined. Seek professional help for these behaviours*
How Long To Crate
Once you have gone through the process of crate training and your dog is comfortable using his crate, the issue now becomes for how long should a dog be crated? Ideally dogs should be crated for as few hours as possible. Crating for more than 4 or 5 hours at a time is not recommended.
You can make their crated time more pleasant by:
- Giving them adequate vigorous exercise right before they need to be crated.
- Making sure they have adequate mental stimulation for the time they are crated.
- Making sure that the duration of their crate stay is appropriate with their age and level of maturity.
- Have someone come in to let the dog out during the day for bathroom breaks and to help break up the monotony of being crated for the whole day.
How To Use Crating As Training Tool
Toilet Training Puppies and Mature Untrained Dogs
If you crate train correctly, your dog should not eliminate in his crate. So for those times when the dog cannot be directly supervised, placing him in the crate will prevent toileting accidents from happening in the house. Make sure that you set your dog up for success by making sure that he is toileted directly before is crated to make his stay more comfortable.
In the case of puppies, make sure that you are mindful about how long puppies can be safely crated and also long puppies can hold their bladders. Dogs and puppies can be crated over night to keep night time toileting accidents from happening. At night, a dog’s body processes slow down (including digestion and elimination) and they are able to go for longer periods of time without needing to eliminate. But keep in mind that young puppies will not be able to make through the whole night because of their small bladders.
Crate Training To Keep Puppies and Dogs From Destructive Chewing
When puppies and dogs are unsupervised, inside or outside, they will chew to keep themselves occupied. If no one is there to correct the behaviour or no one is there to notice and stop the behaviour, some of your belongings are sure to become destroyed to dog chewing. It is far more challenging and time consuming to retrain a dog once it has made a habit of destroying items than it is to prevent him from ever starting this habit in the first place. Crate training the dog when it cannot be directly supervised (at least until the dog is established and trustworthy) is wonderful way to keep your house and yard from being destroyed by your dog.
Crate Training To Keep Puppies and Dog Safe While Unattended
Both dogs and puppies can get themselves into a lot of trouble when they are not directly being supervised. Often times it is not just about the destruction that they can cause it is about keeping them safe from chewing and swallowing things that could make them sick or worse, cause them to die. Rather than risking their health, why not crate train the dog and keep it safely confined for those times when they cannot be directly supervised, especially in the case of young puppies and newly acquired adopted dogs who may not have any previous training in these matters.
Puppy Crating Time Guidelines
If you are crating a puppy, please be aware of these guidelines for how long it is advisable to crate young puppies.
If your puppy is 8–10 weeks old, then crated time should not exceed more 30–60 minutes.
If your puppy is 11 – 14 weeks old, then crated time is 1–3 hours.
If your puppy is 15–16 weeks old, then crated time is 3–4 hours.
If your puppy is 17 weeks or older, then crating for 4–5 hours is permissible.
Crate Training: For The Short Term Or For The Long Term?
Crate training can be used as a short term tool until a dog is trustworthy enough to be left in the house while unsupervised but crates can also be used in the long term as an everyday part of life for dogs too. In my household, crate doors are left open for dogs to come and go as they like unless I have to leave, then dogs are crated. I find that with multi-dog households, there is often one ring leader who’s curiosity and bravado gets them into trouble and the other dogs are apt to follow their lead. At my house, Angel would certainly be that dog. My dogs are used to being crated and they show no anxiety, fear, or resentment about being crated. I plan my day accordingly making sure that dogs are exercised before they need to be crated and I NEVER leave dogs crated for more than 4 hours at a time.
Crates, whether they are a short term fix or a long term plan, can be a wonderful tool to use with our dogs.
Margit Maxwell- A Dog Trainer (CPDT) and Canine Behaviour Specialist for The Divine Dog Project. She lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with her Herd of two Siberian Huskies (Kaya and Angel) and an Alaskan Malamute (Skylar). She also has credentials in Psychology (Human and dog), Animal Sciences, Natural Medicine, Energy Medicine, and many alternative Healing Modalities.