Crate Training

One of the most important items to purchase for your puppy is a crate. Some experts in animal behaviorthink that puppies adapt readily to crate training because their wild ancestors were den animals. If used properly, the crate becomes your puppy’s personal den. Most dogs are instinctually clean animals and will do their best to not eliminate if closely confined.

A crate can be constructed of wire or plastic and should be large enough for your puppy to stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably. However, it should not be so large that your puppy will soil one end and sleep at the other. If your puppy is a large breed, you might want to purchase an adjustable crate to allow for his rapid growth or purchase two or three crates in increasing sizes. Another option is placing a simple partition for the crate interior, progressively moving it back as the puppy grows. The crate should have adequate ventilation, but openings should be small enough so the puppy cannot get his head or paw stuck. Also be sure the door locks securely so that your puppy cannot push the door partially open and get his head or paw stuck.

Before using the crate as a training tool, take the time to make a good first impression. Make it comfortable with a nice crate pad or pillow and blanket and situate it in a high traffic area like the kitchen or family room. You want your dog to feel like part of the family. Whenever your dog isn’t looking, drop a couple of treats at the back. Let your dog discover the ‘Wonders at the Back of the Crate’ on his/her own. Feed some meals in there, always with the door open. Using heavy string, tie an attractive stuffed chew toy at the back of the crate, on the bottom so that the dog must lie in the crate in order to chew on it.

After a few days of this, start teaching the dog to exit and enter on command. Say “into bed” or “kennel,” throw in a treat, praise as the dog goes in and eats the treat, and then order him out with the command of your choice. Encourage him to come out, and when he does, praise him (no food treat for exiting). Repeat this a few times and then change the order of events slightly: instead of throwing the treat into the crate after you say “kennel,” wait for him to go in on his own before dropping in the treat. If the dog doesn’t enter on command, simply wait. Do not command him a second time, and do not throw the treat in. You can encourage him in with hand gestures, but simply waiting allows the dog to think about what you are actually asking of him. If he doesn’t go in, end the training session without comment. Try another session in a little while, still withholding the reward until the dog goes in on his own. When he does (and they all do eventually, so hang in there), give him a double reward, do a few more reward repetitions and then end the session. Always end a training session on a positive note leaving the dog wanting more.

When the dog is going in and out on command, you are ready to try the first lock-in. Rent yourself a favorite video and stuff a couple of chew toys with something extra special (peanut-butter or cheese spread are always good options). Take your dog outside to eliminate before settling him in the crate. Set the crate up right next to your comfy movie chair, and just before you sit down to enjoy the movie, give your chosen ‘crate’ command to your dog. When he goes in, give him the chew toys, close the crate door and start the movie. Leave a few times to get popcorn, a drink, but always come back within a minute or so. The first experience being locked in a crate must be an overwhelmingly easy and positive one. Any noise, agitation, or tantrum from the dog can either be ignored or reprimanded. At the end of the movie, if the dog is calm and settled into the crate, simply open the door and give your chosen ‘exit’ command. Under no circumstances should you open the door to the crate if the dog is misbehaving, otherwise you are conditioning that behavior. It is very important that when you open the door to the crate, do not gush and hug the dog. Make the exit an anticlimax and behave very neutrally. All the good stuff (treats, chew toys, praise, etc.) should happen while he’s IN the crate, behaving nicely. Once he’s out, give the ‘crate’ command along with a treat or two without closing the door before you finish your movie/training session. If he refuses to go in, do whatever it takes to get him in, reward him and re-polish your in/out exercise again.

Remember, a young puppy needs to eliminate often, so take it out as often as you can in conjunction with using the crate as a training tool. Always make sure you give your puppy the opportunity to eliminate before placing him in the crate. No food or water should be left in the crate because after eating and drinking, he’ll need to relieve himself and he’ll have no other choice but to soil his crate. Also, for your puppy’s safety, be sure to remove his collar while he’s crated.

​​​​​​​The key to successful use of the crate is to always use it in a positive manner, never as a punishment.