How to Crate Train Your Dog

The use of a crate for training many different behaviors, including basic potty training is often recommend for virtually any breed. The crate itself is simply a tool to help the owner better care for their canine companion while providing a space for the dog that he can call his own. This area is meant to be a positive thing for him, to help him feel safe and relaxed within the crate. Many, unfortunately, use the crate as a form of punishment and thus can make training not only more difficult but also a stressful thing to deal with. It can also bring about avoidance behaviors in your dog, making training even more frustrating for you and absolutely frightening for your pooch. To make the crate a happy place for your dog, you first must teach him what the crate is all about, how to enter it, and what to do while inside of it.

The First Step
As mentioned earlier, the crate should never be a form of punishment. Instead, this area should be comfortable and full of positive associations for your dog. This means if he ever performs an unwanted behavior, he should not be forced into his crate as a time out. Instead, his crate should be used during potty training as a place for him to relax while you cannot watch him, a place to sleep a night, a place to eat all of his meals, and a place for him to go when you are not home with him. The crate can keep him out of trouble and safe from anxieties such as during the time of separation when you leave for work.

The crate should be large enough for your dog to stand, turn around, and lay down in various positions. Anything smaller and he will dread and avoid the crate due to discomfort. A crate can be too be, however, when potty training a puppy. A puppy may see a very large crate as having an area for him to lay down and go potty, which is not what you want!

Add a blanket or comfortable dog bed in the crate as well as a safe toy or two to make the crate more inviting and cozy. Start with a handful of delicious and quickly eaten treats in your hand. Toss one treat directly in front of the open crate door and encourage your dog to go get the yummy morsel. When he gets it, click your clicker or give a quick “Yep!” to mark the behavior of going near the crate and praise him. Again, toss another treat in the same spot and mark his behavior of going to get it. Your are helping him to realize that the crate is a good place to be at!

Keep your first session short at about 3 or 4 minutes long. Take a break, then come back to it later. With your second sessions, toss the treat on the inside of the door so that he must put his head in the crate to receive the treat. This time, mark the behavior of his head going into the crate instead of picking up the treat. Give lots of praise and again repeat the exercise.

When your dog is completely comfortable with putting his head in, toss the treat in a little further so that both of his front paws must step into the crate to get the yummy treat. The second both paws go in, mark the behavior and give lots of praise. You can end on this high note on your second session with a small handful of these little treats as a jackpot. Call it quits for now, then come back later.

Raise Criteria
Increase the the distance in which your pooch must go into the crate to get the treat by tossing it in further and further until he must step completely inside. At this point, you can add a verbal command such as “Go to bed!” or “Kennel!” and reward him every time he goes in to get that treat. If he ever stays in the crate for more than a couple seconds, mark the behavior and reward him handsomely!

Don’t begin to close the door with him inside until he is comfortable staying in it with the door open. When that time comes, close the door, mark the good behavior of him waiting calmly, and immediately open the door to reward him. If he is doing well, within the same session you can leave the door closed and reward him through the crate bars!

Always work at your dog’s pace as moving too fast can set him back dramatically. You want him to feel comfortable and happy inside his crate, not anxious and worried. With these training exercises he will very quickly associate the crate with positive emotions and will happily enter when you give him your verbal command with no food reward to come after.