Teaching your dog to happily spend time in a crate can get you some long-term benefits. A crate can be a part of house-training, chew-training, safe traveling, and medical recovery, to mention just a few. If you invest time in crate training at the beginning, your dog can end up with a safe, quiet, comfortable place to spend time when they need to be confined, or when they just want somewhere secure to hang out.
- Start with the crate door open. Secure it so that it doesn't startle your dog or close on them when you don't want it to.
- Gather some especially delicious small treats.
- Encourage your dog to investigate the crate by dropping a couple of treats just in front of it. Praise them gently when they do.
- When your dog is happily walking right up to the crate, start dropping treats just inside. Continue to praise.
- Work up to having your dog walk all the way into the crate.
- Once your dog is reliably going into the crate, you can add a cue if you want. For example, you might say "Kennel" in a happy tone of voice, then toss the treat into the crate and praise when they step in.
- Feed your dog their meals inside the crate. Start off with the door open. After a few meals, begin to shut the door while they eat, and open it for them right away when they finish. As they get comfortable, you can progressively wait a little longer after each meal to open the crate. Make sure to go slowly, and if you find that your dog is whining to get out, make a mental note that you went too far and back up a little at the next meal. Don't open the door while your dog is whining; wait for several seconds of quiet before you open the door. You want your dog to learn that being quiet in the crate is the way to get let out; you don't want to give them the message that whining makes the door open.
- Give your dog good things to do in the crate while you're nearby. Follow the guidelines above for feeding in the crate (start with the door open, and so on), but use food-stuffed toys or safe chews at different times of the day.
- Start with very short periods. Have your dog go in the crate on cue or for a small treat. Praise as they enter, and shut the door. You can give your dog a filled Kong-type toy or chew toy, too. Sit down near the crate for a few minutes, then get up and go to another room for a few minutes. Come back, sit down near the crate again quietly for a few minutes. Then, as long as your dog is quiet, open the door.
- Gradually lengthen the time you spend out of your dog's sight and hearing. Follow the same process each time, but spend a little more time in the other room each time--not too much! If your dog gets anxious, you may have gone too fast, so for the next time, back up and try a shorter period again.
- Follow your dog's pace. Once again, this phase can take anywhere from a couple days to weeks.
When your dog can happily manage a half hour or so on their own in the crate, you can start to use it when you're going out or have your dog sleep in it at night.
It can be difficult to tell, when your dog whines in the crate at night, if they simply want to get out of the crate or if they need to be let outside to eliminate. You can deal with this by teaching the dog a phrase, such as "Do you need to go out?", that you use every time you let them out to eliminate. If you use this phrase with your crated dog and they respond by becoming excited, take them outside.