We all live busy lives, and while some dogs may be OK with free roaming around your house, many dogs will get themselves into trouble when outside of your supervision. By crate training your dog, you are giving them a safe spot where they can go when you leave the house, but also whenever they feel they need to have a safe space.
The first step in crate training is making sure you go slow! If you try and leave your dog in a crate and leave, this may create a negative experience, and make crate training even more difficult. You want your dog to associate the crate with a positive experience, so that they feel safe inside, whether you are home or not. If you rush into crate training, it could lead to your dog breaking out of the kennel, damaging the kennel, or even hurting themselves (breaking their nails, breaking teeth chewing on the bars)!
The next step is choosing the right crate for your dog; there are multiple different types of crates (plastic/metal/fabric). The crate should be just large enough for your dog to stand up and turn around. If the crate is too large, your dog could use the excess space as their washroom. If you are getting a crate for your puppy, you can look into getting a crate the proper size for their adult size, and using a divider and slowly moving it to accommodate your puppy’s growth.
Once you have your crate, place it in an area of the house that your family spends a lot of time. Either take the door off completely or prop it open and allow your dog to approach at their own will. Some dogs are curious and may choose to explore quickly. Have a soft blanket inside the kennel, lead your dog up to it speaking in a happy tone, encourage them to go inside with treats a little more each time they go over to the crate.
Once your dog is comfortable going totally into the crate, start feeding their meals in the crate. At this point, you can begin to shut the crate door while they are eating. Start by opening the crate as soon as they are finished eating, and with each meal, slowly prolong when you open the crate.
Once your dog is comfortably eating their meals in the crate, and not showing any signs of anxiety/fear with staying in the crate for small amounts of time after eating their meal, you can start teaching them to spend longer amounts of time in the crate. To do this, call your dog to the crate, and praise them when they go in (using treats of course!). Close the gate and sit with them for around 5-10 minutes. As long as your dog is tolerating being crated well, leave to another room for a couple of minutes, return to the crate, wait another couple minute’s then released your dog. Using this process, you can repeat it multiple times a day, increasing the length of time that you leave your dog in the crate slowly each time.
Once you know your dog can spend at least 30 minutes in the crate without showing any signs of anxiety, you can start leaving them in the kennel when you leave the house. The most important part of this step is making sure that you do not reward your dog’s excitement when you return. When you come back, stay calm and try to keep it as quiet as possible, to reduce the chance of them being anxious about when you will return.
Once you have your dog fully kennel trained, make sure to crate while you are home every so often to ensure that your dog doesn’t associate the crate with being left alone.
Crate training, while it can take a long time, doesn’t have to be a terrible experience for you or your dog!
Written by: Emily Beach, RVT