Crate Training

Crate Training has so many benefits. We discuss these, along with how to teach your dog to enjoy their crate, in this helpful guide, written by qualified behaviourist Cleo Wiltshire.

  • Security – If a dog feels more comfortable in a crate in general, it’s important to ensure that stays the case.
  • Safety – If visitors to the home need to move around freely without possibility of a door being left ajar allowing the dog to react. (Generally, for workmen that need to enter the house, use tools and perhaps have a door to outside open for supplies)
  • Safety – Also, if a dog must be crated overnight, for example if they are prone to scavenging and eating things that could potentially hurt them.
  • Illness/Recovery – Dogs can hurt themselves, things like (but not limited to) broken dew claws, cruciate ligament issues, sprains, broken bones, and heartworm treatment.
  • Travel/Emergency Evacuations – We hope this is never the case but emergency situations where you may have to evacuate, having a crate for your dog to keep them safe is important.
    Also, a crate secured in a car is a safe way for you to travel with your dog.
  • Vet Treatment/Stays – vet stays often entail sleeping in and resting in a crate. Having a dog already happy with a crate helps to make an already stressful time (feeling unwell, in an unfamiliar place without you) feel less overwhelming for them.

  • Many dogs can feel safe in a crate, especially when it’s covered over and comfortable bed-wise.
  • Having the crate as an option to take themselves away from any hustle and bustle so they can get a good nap in is always beneficial.
  • Crating CAN be aversive to some dogs, some simply just do not like being in such an enclosed space or have histories of being forcibly kept in enclosed spaces.
  • Just being confined can be stressful for some and crating is not for every dog.
  • Ensure that crating is the right thing for your dog.
  • Watch for signs of discomfort constantly and only go as far as they are comfortable.
  • The main things that a crate hinders are: 
    • The dog’s ability to regulate temperature by moving around.
    • The dog’s ability to regulate anxiety by pacing.
  • Dogs should be able to stand all the way up, without ducking their heads.
  • Be able to comfortably turn around without having to “pretzel” themselves.
  • Be able to lay down, relaxed, comfortable, and stretched out.
  • It is preferable that a water bowl can also fit in the crate if your dog is crated for overnight or long periods, though it’s preferable the dog is not crated for long periods unless necessary.
  • Rooms can be made “dog safe” so as not to confine them too much.
  • Collars should be removed when in the crate.
    There have been cases of dogs (not with this rescue) having had their collars caught on something inside and becoming stressed, almost strangling themselves.
  • Only crate safe items (for your dog) should be left in the crate, when unmonitored:
    • This includes toy types, nothing that can be ripped up and swallowed.
    • Chews that they cannot bite through are generally safe.
    • Bedding/blankets that they are not liable to chew and/or swallow.
  • Set up for success with realistic expectations.
    Your dog may not instantly love the crate, and they may not always want to go into it but the steps given in this document will help you to set yourselves up for success.
  • Train to build positive associations.
    You want all interactions and situations regarding the crate to be a good one, from the beginning.
    Due to dogs being travelled from abroad in crates, they aren’t always so excited to just get straight back into one, so go slow and make it all positive experiences from here on out.
  • Train to increase duration.
    Just because a dog will enter a crate to retrieve a treat, doesn’t mean that they will love to be in one for hours, or even sleep yet. So, make sure your training is adhering to the point they are at with duration.
  • Give something comfortable to lay on.
    Blankets/beds are important. Crate bottoms are uncomfortable so making them comfortable is a priority.
  • Ensure they have access to water.
  • Like said above, water should be always (legally) available to a dog, so ensuring they have access in a crate is important.
  • You can use one on the floor or find ones that attach to the inside and are lifted.
  • Use crates for punishment.
    A crate is not a “time out” or a way to teach your dog to calm down.
    There are many issues with this but mainly your dog will not know how to act outside of the crate if they are put inside every time something unfavourable is done. It can also make a dog reactive to going in the crate.
    Teach your dog appropriate behaviour and don’t let the crate become a negative place.
  • Force dogs in crates.
    Dogs can be very scared by this as they are not only being manhandled but they are being manhandled into an enclosed space. Doing this can cause a dog to become reactive to going into the crate.
  • Just shut dogs in a crate.
    Crate training is not about just locking a dog in a crate and letting them “get used to it” – this generally does the opposite.
  • Let dogs “cry it out” in their crate.
    If a dog is whining, barking or uncomfortable in a crate, leaving them like this only solidifies their negative association with the crate.
  • Leave collars on
    As said above, potentially dangerous.
  • Don’t leave the crate where sunshine comes in
    There has been a case (not in this rescue) whereby a dog has been on the verge of heat-stroke because they couldn’t get out of the sun in summertime.
  • Don’t leave dog for hours and hours.
    As said above, it’s more ideal for a dog to be in a dog safe room if they need to be confined for hours upon hours, especially during the day.
  • Don’t overuse.
    Especially with young dogs, old dogs, and large breeds – you can affect joint and bone development plus cause extra pain in arthritis if the dog doesn’t lay down as comfortably inside the crate.
  • Desensitizing/ Building Positive Associations to the crate’s presence.
    • Some dogs might be too afraid of a crate to even approach it at first.
    • Eating meals near the crate
    • Eating chews near the crate
    • Placing a water bowl next to the crate.
    • Playing with toys near the crate, throwing them closer and closer and even inside.
    • Give treats for approaching the crate.
    • Give treats for going in the crate, you can throw treats into the crate too. This can help you gauge how scared your dog may be of going into it.
  • In and Out
    • Use food lure into the crate if they won’t go in on their own. This can take time!
    • Always use your marker when they enter, like “good girl/boy” – whatever phrase you usually say when your dog performs the behaviour you’ve asked for.
    • Give treat for entering the crate – you can start by just placing a treat just inside the crate and then work on getting their entire body inside.
    • Always make a big, happy deal of them going in and even coming back out. You want all of their interactions with the crate to elicit positive responses all around.
    • Keep it short and simple in the beginning.
  • Duration of staying in (door open)
    • Avoid using a stay/wait cue.
      We want that part to be implied with our “crate” cue. You can cue a “lay down” and heavily reward staying put!
    • Really good way to teach release cue is to pair a cue for “release” or “okay” or “go” with them leaving the crate. (Basically, the release means that the cue is finished and the dog can break their position.)
  • Closing the door
    • Give treats as far to the back of the crate as you can, while simultaneously closing the door halfway.
    • We don’t use a marker for closing the door, because there isn’t a behaviour being completed.
    • Lots of praise is perfectly ok, plus you can drop more treats low down throw the holes.
    • Release them.
    • Next session, cue them in a few times with the door half closed and then start closing it completely, repeating the rewards at the other end of the crate.
    • Don’t latch it at first. We’re only going to close the door for a few seconds the first time. Maybe as few as 2 seconds. Then let them out again.
    • Slowly build on duration. Slow and steady wins the race!
  • Duration of staying in (door closed)
    • Start short and build duration at a pace appropriate for your pup.
    • This is where we are going to incorporate something longer lasting for them to do while we close the door for a little longer.
    • While you are home, to ensure the toy or chew you chose is crate safe for your dog specifically.
    • Use Kongs, Licki Mats, Snuffle Mats (or the like) while you are home to increase duration. These can be frozen beforehand to increase the time needed to complete.
    • Licking is a relaxing/soothing activity for dogs.
  • Putting it on cue
    • Name it like any other cue. “Crate/House” are common.
    • Don’t give a name to the cue until the behaviour is known. Once they go in by hand signal, start to pair your cue.
    • Say the cue clearly, once, while the behaviour is already occurring (while the dog is entering the crate)
    • Mark and treat entering the crate (Kong can be reward)
    • Continue to mark and treat until the verbal cue is known.
    • Generalize the cue. (Giving the cue from farther away from the crate, or from other rooms)

Note: The amount of time spent on these steps will vary dog to dog. Move at the pace of the dog in front of you and be very aware of their body language when you are moving from step to step.

Our thanks go to Cleo Wiltshire (FF Level 4 Trainer/Behaviour Consultant) for writing this guide for us.

We hope your have found this guide on Crate Training useful. You can see other help guides here: Dog Training Guides.