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Training Tips: Crate Training

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Crate training is an important skill for all dogs! Crates can be used for travel, short-term confinement at a vet or groomer or for additional safety and management with dogs who need to limit their movement for medical reasons. For many dogs, regular crating is a short-term management solution that can reduce the risk of the pet doing damage to the home or becoming injured while they simultaneously learn more desirable behaviors through positive reinforcement training.

Follow the steps below to help your dog create great associations with crate time. Go at your dog’s individual speed — the steps below may take several days or weeks to complete.

Step 1: Set the crate up for training

First, ensure your crate is the right size for your pet. You want the crate to be large enough that your dog can stand up and turn around without touching the top or sides of the crate. Place a soft bed or crate mat in the crate and attach a screw-on water bowl to the side.

To prepare for crate training, open the door to your crate and secure it so it won’t accidentally close on your dog. This can be done with a small bungee cord or a towel draped over the open door. 

Step 2: In & Out of the Crate

  1. Gather a handful of pea-sized treats and call your dog over. See if they are interested in sniffing the crate at all. If they move towards the crate, look at it or sniff it, say “yes!” and toss a treat away from the crate. Repeat five times. If they are eagerly returning to within 1 foot of the entrance of the crate, you can move on to the next stage of training. If they are holding their weight back from the crate or are not interested in coming close to it, sprinkle some treats around and in the crate and end the training session for the day. They may be willing to explore it when you’re not around and you can try the process again the following day.

  2. Once they are comfortable with the above stage, toss a treat just inside the open crate and wait for them to eat it. When they go to eat it, say “yes!” and toss a treat a few feet away from the crate so they can return to it again. Repeat five times.

  3. Continue the same process as above until you can toss a treat in the back of the crate and they get all four feet inside of the crate each time they enter.

  4. Once all four feet are consistently inside of the crate every time you toss a treat inside, start to give a “jackpot” reward (sprinkle of several tiny treats) and say “yes!” when they enter the crate on their own. Then, call their name and toss a treat outside of the crate for them to find. This helps to build their enthusiasm and trust — entering and exiting the crate is so fun!

Step 3: The Crate Door

  1. Once your pup is willingly entering the crate with no hesitation and all four paws, you can begin to get them used to the idea of the door moving and closing. Drop some treats into the crate, close the door and keep your pup outside of the crate.

  2. Wait until your pup is sniffing the crate, noticing the treats inside. When they are at a place where the crate door won’t hit them as it opens, open the door and allow them to eat the treats. Repeat five times.

  3. Progress the enthusiasm for the crate door by opening it as your dog is approaching, allowing them to eat the treats inside. Repeat five times.

  4. Move your treats to the back of the crate and repeat the above (open crate door as your dog approaches). Wait for them to enter with all four paws. Repeat five times.

  5. Open the crate door as your dog approaches, this time without putting the treats inside until they’ve entered the crate. Once they’ve entered with all four paws, drop a “jackpot” of treats. Call them out of the crate before they’ve had time to finish the treats. Repeat five times.

  6. Finally, open the crate door as your dog approaches, drop a “jackpot” of treats, and then close the door behind them, immediately opening it and calling them back out. Repeat five times.

Step 4: Put it All Together

  1. Once your pup consistently enters the crate after you open the door and you can close the door briefly without them showing signs of distress, you’re ready to begin to increase the time they spend in the crate with the door closed.

  2. When you close the door behind them from now on, you’ll drop treats one right after the other with the door closed. Start with the door closed for five seconds, then build up time over the course of several days.

  3. As you increase the amount of time that your pup spends in the crate with you close by, you’ll slowly decrease the rate of treats. For example, you’ll go from a steady stream of treats to one treat every five seconds, then 10 seconds, etc.

  4. If you notice a setback or hesitation in your dog at any point, you may have been training for too long (five-minute sessions are best) or you may have moved to the next step too quickly. Go back to a previous step and move at the speed at which your dog is comfortable.

Tips

  • Always end every training session on a good note. If you wait until your pup is ready to exit the crate to end the training session, they’ll be less enthusiastic next time.

  • Ensure your pup always has a choice to participate in training. See: The Importance of Choice in Animal Training.

  • Leave the crate out with the door open and leave special things inside of it for your pup to find (a sprinkle of treats, a stuffed Kong toy, a chew bone).

  • Crate train your dog even if they don’t use it at night or when you are away. You never know when you’ll have an emergency or they need to be crated at the vet. Preparing them ahead of time will make the experience more pleasant for them and for you.

  • Traveling with your crate? Watch our lecture on Traveling with Pets.

Behavior Helpline: Contact Our Behavior Team

For behavior questions, please contact our Behavior Helpline either by calling 619-299-7012, ext. 2244, emailing behavior@sdhumane.org or filling out our Ask a Trainer form. San Diego Humane Society adopters can fill out the Post Adoption Consultation form to schedule their troubleshooting session. We aim to respond within seven days, but responses may take up to two weeks. Thank you for your patience!

Note: Due to the potential for serious injury, canine and feline aggression are best handled by a professional who specializes in aggressive behaviors. Because phone or email counseling is inadequate for addressing serious behavior concerns, we ask that you contact a qualified professional for help. Please refer to the list of behavior resources here.

Questions About Public Classes

San Diego Humane Society offers training classes and resources to address a variety of needs for companion animals.

Our training philosophy is based on the behavioral science concepts of positive reinforcement. Training your pet using these concepts will not only help them learn new behaviors more quickly, but it will also strengthen the bond you share.

Please visit our website for a current schedule of training classes or call 619-279-5961. 

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