One of the most useful and valuable items a dog (or cat owner for that matter) can possess is a pet crate. These days, pet crates are available in a multitude of sizes and materials. Training your dog to feel comfortable and secure in a crate from an early age has many benefits including convenience when travelling, leaving your pet at the vet for an extended period of time, keeping them safe and secure in an emergency as well as using it as a dog training tool. So how do we introduce a crate so that it becomes a normal part of our dog’s life?
As soon as I bring a new puppy home a crate becomes an integral part of his life. He’ll eat his meals in his crate, spend time in his crate when I’m not able to supervise, have naps in his crate during the day and sleep in his crate at night. By feeding the pup all his meals in the crate I begin to create a space that becomes important to the pup very quickly. I also have my pup sleep in the crate at night so he can be close to my bed without me worrying that he’ll decide it’s time to play at 2 o’clock in the morning or toilet in the house while unsupervised. Because the pup is close to me I find that they are less inclined to fuss at night as my presence right next to them provides comfort.
After a few days, once he’s started to settle in to his new life with me I begin using the crate as a training tool. One really great game is teaching him to wait to go in and out of the crate. This is a fantastic way to introduce control. It can be as simple as rewarding him for going into the crate and sitting. Then, when I open the door to let him out, if he tries to barge back through the door I simply close the door gently to stop him. I then continue to try and open the door but every time he attempts to come out, I close the door again.
Puppies are very clever and will quickly learn that charging through the door does not work. When training your puppy, be patient and allow him time to figure it out. When he does start to wait, it is worthwhile giving him a reward to reinforce the good behaviour. When you are ready, give him permission to exit the crate. This should become a regular training activity that can be transferred to entering and exiting the front and back doors of your house as well.
To introduce an adult dog to a crate should follow a similar path. I recommend feeding the dog all meals in the crate (with the door open) as a starting point however I would be less inclined to lock him in a crate for any length of time too quickly. It is far better to introduce this skill over a much longer period to avoid causing stress. The idea is to make the crate a good place to be, not a place that incites fear and anxiety.
Over the years I’ve had a few people see my dogs in crates and tell me they think it’s cruel. Thankfully attitudes are slowly changing as more and more people realise the benefits and see for themselves that dogs actually love to have their own safe spot to go to. I have multiple crates around my house with the doors open and it is rare not find one of them curled up fast asleep on their bed inside.