Crate training for cretins. (just kidding!)… Crate training made easy
I crate train all my dogs. I recommend crate training to all my clients and crate-train their dogs as part of my program. Still, I sometimes get pushback against crates. Isn’t it cruel to leave a dog locked in a box? Will my dog be angry at me for crating him?
To understand why crate-training is so great, you have to look at it from the dog’s point of view. Dogs love dens. A dog likes to have a safe, personal space where they can curl up and fall into a very sound sleep. If you didn’t give your dog a crate, he or she would create their own ‘den’ somewhere else in the house or yard. A crate is just like a favorite chair or under the bed or anywhere else that a dog feels safe enough to close his eyes and dream. And a crate is better, because it’s the dog’s own space; you might like to save your furniture for the humans in the household.
I’ll explain how I use my crate as well as the tips I give clients for a successful crate-training experince.
Movie sets are exhausting. There’s a crew of new people, all kinds of weird equipment and smells, odd costumes and props, strange scenarios like caves and waterfalls and balloons, long working hours. On every job, there has to be space for my crate. It’s non-negotiable.
Maggie’s crate gives her a place to go to escape the mayhem and find some quiet. In her crate, she has her bed, her blanket, maybe a toy from home, familiar objects with familiar smells. It’s where she can totally relax and screen out the noise of the set. She can nap between set-ups and during breaks. When she can do this, she’s a better working dog because she’s less stressed and has more energy to devote to focusing on the job.
(Having said all that, I think sometimes I could use a crate.)
Maggie’s situation is a little different from the average pet, but even at home, any dog can benefit from having a crate to curl up in. The most common use for a crate is to alleviate separation anxiety. If your dog doesn’t like being left alone in the house, giving him a consistent, comfortable place to spend his time while you are out can help calm their nerves.
A crate is also useful if your dog doesn’t like loud noises, like thunderstorms or fireworks or lively dinner parties. Being in a small, familiar place will be comforting to him and help him feel protected from the scary noises and unfamiliar people. You’re not locking him away, you’re giving him a favorite place to go to.
How exactly do you crate train?
As with all training, we keep it positive and short. Training sessions should last 5-10 minutes, no more, but you do need to work consistently.
First, ensure that your crate is the correct size. The general rules are that your dog should be able to stand up comfortably, turn around, and lay down. As you’re trying to get a den effect, you don’t want a crate that has too much extra room. A small puppy won’t need the same size crate as an adult German Shepherd.
If your dog doesn’t want to go in the crate right away (don’t try to force him into it), put a favorite treat just inside the door so that he’ll have to stick his head in the crate to get it. Make this a game, be happy and encouraging. Since we are rewarding for going in, don’t give any treats for coming out and don’t force your pup in or out. In the early stages, most dogs will back out, but don’t worry about this.
When the dog gets comfortable enough with the crate to turn around inside it, give him double treats. This represents a huge step in comfort and therefore, progress.
Over the next few days, continue practicing with treats. Then, after your dog has had several repeats of first-stage practice, close the door and then give a treat while the door is closed. Open the door, but don’t tell your dog to stay in or go out. Let him decide what he wants to do. Slowly, again over several days, start to keep the door closed for progressively longer periods of time. If your dog likes a stuffed Kong, consider giving him a peanut butter-filled Kong while he’s in the crate.
As your dog gets to understand the crate idea, try not giving a treat every time he goes in. Every other time, every third time – make it a surprise when he gets a treat for going into his crate.
Now you can begin to point to the crate and expect your dog to go in consistently. Start adding words to associate with this, like ‘go to your bedroom’ or ‘crate’ or, like I say to Maggie, ‘go to your trailer’.
If your dog takes longer than the scenario I’ve laid out here, or if he is still hesitant about the crate after a few days, just be patient and give it more time. Keep it very simple, keep it fun for both of you and you’ll get there eventually. Do something fun, like playing with a tennis ball or going out for a walk, after your training sessions to reinforce your positive message.