Step 1: Introducing your dog to the crate
Put the crate in an area of your house where you and your family spend a lot of time, such as the family room or kitchen. Put a soft sleeping blanket or towel in the crate. Bring your dog over to the crate and talk to him in an excited, happy tone of voice. Make sure the door to the crate is securely fastened open so it won’t accidentally hit your dog and frighten him. Drop some small tidbits of food around the crate, just inside the door, and then gradually all the way inside to encourage your dog to enter. If she doesn’t go all the way in at first to get the food, that’s OK. DO NOT force her to enter.
Repeat this experience until your dog will calmly walk into the crate to obtain a piece of food. If your dog isn’t interested in food, try tossing a favorite toy in the crate instead. This process may take just a few minutes, or as long as several days.
Step 2: Feeding your dog in the crate
After your dog has been introduced to the crate, you can begin feeding him his regular meals near the crate for a while. This will create pleasant associations with the crate and decrease any fear he has of the crate. If your dog is readily entering the crate when you begin step 2, you can place the food dish all the way at the back of the crate. However, if your dog is still reluctant to enter the crate, then place the dish right in front of the open door or as far inside as she will readily go without becoming fearful or anxious. Each time you feed her, place the dish a little more toward the back of the crate. Once your dog is comfortably eating her food while standing in the crate, you can close the door while she’s eating.
At first, open the door as soon as she finishes her meal, let him out, and praise him. Slowly increase the amount of time she spends in the crate after finishing her meal up to 10 minutes. If she begins to whine to be let out, you may have increased the duration of crating too quickly. Next time, try leaving her for a shorter time. Be sure to release her from the crate when she is not whining or barking. If vocalizing results in being let out of the crate, she’s more likely to do it again (and for longer and louder) next time!
Step 3: Extending time in the crate
After your dog is eating her regular meals in the crate with no sign of fear or anxiety, you can begin to confine her there for short periods while you are home. Give her a command to enter such as “kennel up”. You can encourage her to do so by pointing to the inside of the crate with a tidbit of a favorite food in your hand. After your dog enters the crate, reward her with a treat and close the door. Sit quietly near the crate for 5 or 10 minutes and then go out of sight into another room for a few minutes. When you return, sit quietly again for a short time, and then release your dog. Repeat this procedure several times a day. With each repetition, gradually increase the length of time the dog is crated, and the length of time you are out of sight. Once your dog will quietly remain in the crate for about 30 minutes, you can begin leaving her crated when you are gone for short periods, and/or letting her sleep there at night but remember to still let her outside periodically to create good housetraining habits until she is able to “hold it” for extended periods of time.
If your dog whines or cries while in the crate at night, it may be difficult to decide whether she is whining to be let out of the crate, or if she needs to be let outside to eliminate. Initially you can ignore the whining. Your dog may stop if she is just testing to see if she’ll be let out. If the whining continues after you have ignored it for several minutes, you can repeat the phrase your dog has associated with going outside to eliminate. If she responds and becomes excited, take her outside. This should be a trip with a purpose — not play time.
If you are convinced that your dog does not need to eliminate, the best response is to ignore the whining completely. Most attempts at punishing the behavior actually end up inadvertently reinforcing it because the dog is getting attention from you. During the process of ignoring whining, expect it to get worse before it gets better. You cannot give in, otherwise you will have taught your dog that she must whine loud and long to get what she wants! If you have progressed very gradually through the training steps and have not attempted to hurry the process and cut corners, you will not be likely to encounter this problem. If the problem becomes unmanageable, you may need to restart the crate training process from the very beginning.
- Rush crate training. While it may be frustrating to go slow, you want to be sure to make the crate a positive place for your dog, so she is happy to use it the rest of her life.
- Yell at her or pound on the crate which may only increase her vocalizations.
- Give in when the whining or behavior gets worse! Your dog is throwing a temper-tantrum which you don’t want to reinforce by giving her what she wants.
- Use the crate as a punishment for bad behavior. Again, you want to associate the crate with only good things so your dog is happy to use the crate.
Other tips for success
- Make sure your crate is the right size- meaning a growing puppy may need multiple sized crates throughout its life! While in a crate a dog should be able to stand up to their full height and turn in a circle comfortablely. However, if you're using a crate to assist with house training, the crate should not be so large as to allow for much additional activity or distinct potty and sleeping area.
- Vary at what point you put your dog in the crate during the process of getting ready to leave. Although she should not be crated for a long period before you leave, you can crate her anywhere from 2 to 20 minutes prior to leaving.
- Do not make departures emotional and prolonged, but matter-of-fact instead. Praise your dog briefly and give her a treat for entering the crate, and then leave quietly.
- When you arrive home do not inadvertently reward your dog for excited behavior by responding to her in an excited, enthusiastic way. Keep arrivals very low key and reserve playful, excited greeting behavior for after she has been let outside and has calmed down somewhat.
- Continue to crate your dog for short periods from time to time when you are home so that she does not begin to associate crating with being left alone.
- Keep your dog’s crate in or near your bedroom if crating overnight to avoid your dog associating the crate with social isolation. Having your dog nearby also we help her tell you when she needs to go potty outside in the middle of the night until she’s able to hold it for extended periods of time.