Why is crate training important?
Crate training your dog can serve many important roles. First of all, if trained properly, it provides your dog with a safe environment within your home to spend time and relax. A sort of sanctuary or "private room" if you will. Second, by training this one simple behavior, you have the flexibility to transfer this learning (called generalization) to other situations (travelling in a car, going on vacation, etc.) A few years back I acquired a Chow mix, and he was full of behavioral problems … not the least was tearing up the house if left alone for more than a few minutes. I was able to successfully (and easily I might add) crate train him and it eliminated almost all of the problem behaviors.
A few helpful tips before you begin:
- Obviously you are going to need a crate. There are many different designs and materials to chose from. The most important thing is to choose one that is the right size. It must be big enough for your dog to stand in and be able to turn around without too much difficulty.
- Make it comfortable. You will want to put in a pillow or blanket inside so your dog is comfy while inside.
- Do not rush. The worst thing you can do when training any behavior is to try and rush through the process. Learning is an ongoing process, and shortcuts usually cause unwanted side effects in the long run. Take your time and make the process fun.
- Do lots of short training sessions. The biggest mistake I see dog owners do is attempt to train a behavior in just a few long drawn out training sessions. You are much better off doing many short and positive trials than one marathon session that is likely to fail at some point. Repetition with great reinforcement is the key to learning quickly.
Step by step training tips:
First of all, pick out a few special treats for your dog. I'm not a huge advocate of using only food as reinforcement, but for crate training it can be useful. Make sure the door of the crate is open. Walk your dog near the front of the crate and reinforce them (give them a treat) for coming close to it. The idea here is to make the initial introduction very positive. If your dog already has a negative history with a crate, you may have to do this numerous times before moving any further.
Your next step will be to teach your dog to walk inside. Usually, the best way to do this is to begin walking your dog toward the crate, keep their momentum while they are following you, and point your finger inside the crate. You should also pair it with a cue (such as "inside" or "crate"). Although this cue will not mean anything at first, it will after a number of successful trials. At times it can be helpful to encourage your dog to go inside the crate by tossing a treat inside as they are approaching. Each time your dog goes inside the crate, tell them "good dog" and reinforce them INSIDE the crate. This is very important. You want ALL your reinforcement to occur INSIDE the crate, NOT for leaving it. Continue doing this with numerous short sessions until your dog is consistently going inside the crate without hesitation.
Once your dog is comfortable entering the crate, it is now time to begin closing the door. Remember, you do not want to "trap" or "trick" your dog inside the crate, you want them to go inside and wait calmly while you shut the door. As soon as the door is closed, tell them "good dog" and give them their favorite treat WHILE THE DOOR IS CLOSED. You can open up the door as soon as you have reinforced your dog, but be sure you do NOT reinforce them for leaving the crate. You want to make sure all of your reinforcement is for your dog entering the crate and allowing the door to close.
Once you have consistently trained your dog to go inside the crate and allow the door to close, you are ready to slowly begin increasing the time your dog remains inside. While your dog is in the crate, you want to be sure to intermittently reinforce them while they remain inside. During this whole process, be sure ALL reinforcement is occurring in the context of your dog sitting calmly inside the crate with the door closed. You also want to be sure you are not opening the door and letting your dog out if they are whining or scratching at the door. If you do this, you will teach them that scratching and whining are what they must do if they want out. This will only cause you bigger problems down the road, and it is easy to avoid.
You now know the main steps to take in crate training your dog. This article is only meant to give you some basic tips to set you and your dog up for success. Good luck.