Fun and easy crate training for you and your dog
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?
Why to crate train? Is it mean to crate train?
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. Often when does are nervous or don’t feel well we find them hiding in small tight areas (they made their own crate to feel safe). 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.
By crate training we also make experiences like vet visits, groomers, and car travel less stressful – we all want less stress in our pet’s lives, right?
I’ll explain below how I use my crate as well as the tips I give clients for a successful crate-training experience.
Crates a necessity in movie work with a dog but can be useful to you too
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 – it’s actually one of Maggie’s favorite places in the house. 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 and prevent separation anxiety.
Vet visits are always stressful but having a dog that is well adjusted to crates makes these experiences much less stressful.
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.
Exactly how to 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.
The type of crate depends on you, with metal crates you want to ensure your dog’s collar tags won’t get stuck (I use rubber tags), I personally prefer plastic crates or Digg crates (linked below). Be careful using mesh fabric crates with dogs that aren’t yet crate trained, as digging at these can easily break them open.
Entering the crate
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. Toss a treat in and lots of verbal praise ‘Good Boy!’ when he enters the crate for it. After a while, your pup will begin to enjoy this game and build up confidence.
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.
Here is a video walking through those exact steps,
Building up duration and confidence:
Over the next few days, continue practicing with treats. Then, after your dog has had several repeats of first-stage practice, once your pet is inside briefly 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, as I say to Maggie, ‘go to your trailer’.
You’re doing great!
Practice leaving your pup in the crate while you are at a home. Start with short intervals (5 mins while you run to the restroom or do the dishes) and work your way up. Have your pup go in the crate for short intervals. You can give a treat when they go in if you would like but no treats for coming out. I love giving special treats while they spend their time in there such as a stuffed kong to work at.
If you find your pup is crying when you exit the room, sometimes covering the crate with a towel or blanket makes it the perfect dark place for a nap and helps quickly quiet them down.
Make it your dogs favorite place!
Think of your dog’s crate like your favorite place, whether that’s Disneyland or a quiet nook in your home. Make it the magic place where they get everything good! A taste treat, give in the crate. I love feeding some meals in the crate. A stuffed kong – perfect for the crate. And when I open the door I take away that magical item. Soon the crate because something where all the good things come from, who wouldn’t want that!
In no time your pup will be loving his/her crate too and have a place of their own.
Potty Training and crate training together
I often get asked what the easiest way to potty train is…and my answer is always crate training. Follow the steps above for crate training but before entering the crate and every single time you open the crate door to let the your pup outside run to the door for a potty break. This is before your puppy has a chance to piddle on the floor.
Lots of rewards verbal and treats when they go potty. If they haven’t gone in a while you can always put them back in he crate for another 10-15 minutes and try again. Set them up for success, dogs don’t want to pee where they sleep and crate training will help get you both on a schedule.
If you’re looking for step by step directions on potty training and production recommendations don’t miss our blog here.
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.