Crate training your dog may take some time and effort, but can be useful in a variety of situations. Rocky Road Rescue always recommend a crate on arrival, as it provides a safe space for your new dog to decompress in.
A crate is also a safe way of transporting your dog in the car, and fitted ones can be placed into your boot. If you properly train your dog to use the crate, they'll think of it as his safe place and will be happy to spend time there when needed.
Selecting a crate
Crates can either be soft (fabric) or collapsible, metal pens. They come in different sizes and can be purchased at most pet shops or easily purchased on Amazon. Your dog’s crate should be just large enough for them to stand up and turn around.
Dividers often come with crates for growing puppies.
The crate training process
Crate training can take days or weeks, depending on your dog’s age, temperament and past experiences. It’s important to keep two things in mind while crate training. The crate should always be associated with something pleasant, and training should take place in a series of small steps – you need to go at your dogs pace.
Step 1: Introducing your dog to the crate
Put the crate in an area of the house where it wont be moved. Put a soft blanket or towel in the crate. Make sure the crate door is securely fastened open, so it won’t hit your dog and frighten him.
To encourage your dog to enter the crate, drop some small food treats near it, then just inside the door, and finally, all the way inside the crate.
If he refuses to go all the way in at first, that’s okay – don’t force him to enter.
Continue tossing treats into the crate until your dog will walk calmly all the way into the crate to get the food. If he isn’t interested in treats, try throwing their favourite toy in the crate. This step may take a few minutes or as long as several days.. be patient.
Step 2: Feeding your dog his meals in the crate
After introducing your dog to the crate, begin feeding him his regular meals near the crate. It's all about positive reinforcement. If your dog is readily entering the crate when you begin Step 2, put the food bowl all the way at the back of the crate. If your dog is still reluctant to enter the crate, put the bowl only as far inside as he will readily go without becoming fearful or anxious. Each time you feed him, place the bowl a little further back in the crate.
Once your dog is standing comfortably in the crate to eat his meal, you can close the door while he’s eating. At first, open the door as soon as he finishes his meal. With each successive feeding, leave the door closed a few minutes longer, until he’s staying in the crate for 10 minutes or so after eating.
If he begins to whine to be let out, you may have increased the length of time too quickly. Next time, try leaving him in the crate for a shorter time period. If he does whine or cry in the crate, it’s imperative that you not let him out until he stops. Otherwise, he’ll learn that the way to get out of the crate is to whine, so he’ll keep doing it.
Step 3: Conditioning your dog to the crate for longer time periods
After your dog is eating his regular meals in the crate with no sign of fear or anxiety, you can confine him there for short time periods while you’re home.. similar to a time out. Call him over to the crate and give him a treat. Give him a command to enter such as, 'crate' or 'place'. Encourage him by pointing to the inside of the crate with a treat in your hand. After your dog enters the crate, praise him, give him the treat and close the door.
Sit quietly near the crate for five to 10 minutes and then go into another room for a few minutes. Return, sit quietly again for a short time, then let him out of the crate.
Repeat this process several times a day. With each repetition, gradually increase the length of time you leave him in the crate and the length of time you’re out of his sight. It's all about desensitisation.
Once your dog will stay quietly in the crate for about 30 minutes with you out of sight the majority of the time, you can begin leaving him crated when you’re gone for short time periods and/or letting him sleep there at night. This may take several days or several weeks.
Step 4: Crating your dog
Part A: Crating your dog when left alone
After your dog is spending about 30 minutes in the crate without becoming anxious or afraid, you can begin leaving him crated for short periods when you leave the house. Put him in the crate using your regular command and a treat.
Don’t make your departures emotional and prolonged, but matter-of-fact. A key part or separation anxiety training. Praise your dog briefly, give him a treat for entering the crate and then leave quietly. When you return home, don’t reward your dog for excited behaviour by responding to him in an excited, enthusiastic way. Keep arrivals low key. Continue to crate your dog for short periods from time to time when you’re home so he doesn’t associate crating with being left alone. Your dog should not be left alone in the crate for more than four to five hours at a time during the day. A great excuse to use the crate, is once they've been outside for the toilet.
Part B: Crating your dog at night
Put your dog in the crate using your regular command and a treat. Puppies often need to go outside to toilet during the night, and you’ll want to be able to hear your puppy when he whines to be let outside. Older dogs, too.
If your dog whines or cries while in the crate at night, it may be difficult to decide whether he’s whining to be let out of the crate, or whether he needs to be let outside to eliminate. If you followed the training procedures outlined above, your dog hasn’t been rewarded for whining in the past by being released from his crate. Try to ignore the whining. If your dog is just testing you, he’ll probably stop whining soon. Yelling at him or pounding on the crate will only make things worse.
If the whining continues after you’ve ignored him for several minutes, use the phrase he associates with going outside to toilet. If he responds and becomes excited, take him outside. This should be a trip with a purpose, not play time. If you’re convinced that your dog doesn’t need to toilet, the best response is to ignore him until he stops whining. Don’t give in, otherwise you’ll teach your dog to whine loudly to get what he wants.
If you’ve progressed gradually through the training steps and haven’t done too much too fast, you’ll be less likely to encounter this problem. If the problem becomes unmanageable, you may need to start the crate training process over again.
Attempting to use the crate as a remedy for separation anxiety won’t solve the problem. A crate may prevent your dog from being destructive, but he may injure himself in an attempt to escape from the crate. Separation anxiety problems can only be resolved with counter-conditioning and desensitisation procedures.