Crate Training Your Dog (Or Cat!)
Updated: Jul 9
Crate training is a really important life skill to teach your dog (or cat). It can create a safe space in the home that the dog enjoys, it can be used as a safe way to leave dogs when we have to go out, it can be used to keep them safe while travelling and, if they ever go to the vet's, they may need to stay in one overnight. If you build the right association, they become great tools we can use to keep our dogs safe and secure.
Before we start the training, we need to ensure:
The crate is big enough for the dog/cat to stand up, move around freely, and lie down comfortably.
The crate is secure and doesn't have any wire/metal that may be sticking out or unsafe.
The crate is placed somewhere that is away from all the hustle and bustle - this is going to be somewhere they choose to go for some peace and quiet after all!
We know what our dogs current association/expectation of a crate is so we can start where they are.
If we are using it to leave our dogs alone at home, are our dogs comfortable being left alone already? A crate doesn't always help or resolve this issue. Sometimes, if used wrong, it can make this issue worse.
The first thing we need is lots of high value, tasty rewards! We want this to be a space our dogs want to be in, so the nicer the food, the better the association!
We want our dogs to approach and go into the crate by their own choice. Whenever you pass the crate, and your dog is near, say "crate time/in your crate" in a happy voice and sprinkle lots of treats in or around it. If your dog is already nervous and avoids the crate, start by sprinkling near it.
Repeat this until when you say your cue word "crate time," your dog is heading over before you've even got the treats out!
Start to build duration by holding off on the treats until you've counted a few seconds - slowly build on this over time. Reward each time your dog has stayed in the crate for that duration. Start with one second and build to 10 or 20!
We can then start to slowly build to closing the door. You'll want to begin by only moving the door a little bit. Reward each time the door is moved closer. Over time, gradually build up so the door is moved from open to fully closed. Remember to reward and keep within the duration your dog can tolerate!
Continue to build duration while the door is fully closed by following step 3.
If your dog starts to struggle with a step, go back to the step before and work on this for a little longer.
Crate training isn't a "cure" for separation anxiety. It does work for some dogs, but it can increase anxiety in others.
Some dogs/cats prefer the crate to be covered, so it is darker. Give this a try if your dog is struggling to settle.
Build a stronger positive association by giving your dog or cat their dinner/breakfast in the crate as well as chews and enrichment.
Never allow your dog to "cry it out" while in the crate, it will damage their relationship with the crate (they will stop viewing it as a safe space). Even if they eventually go quiet, it's because they are 'shutting down' and giving up - this is not a sign that they are now comfortable or happy with being in the crate. "Crying it out" is often the cause of separation anxiety and other anxiety related behaviours. Imagine this: You're scared and upset, you look to your partner/parent/friend for help and they ignore you, maybe they say "shhhh" or "tut", how do you feel? You're not any less scared. You just realise that they aren't there to help you and your relationship with them becomes affected. Your dog is crying because they feel scared due to a new situation, be their advocate, and help them out.
If your dog or puppy is struggling, it's worth getting a trainer on board to find out why.