Crate training is one of the important steps in your dog's life. In the wild, dogs lived in dens, so by having a crate in your house, you are creating a space where they can relax on their own. Crates are safe "dens" for your dogs to relax where no one disrupts them and in turn they are not disturbing you or your visitors.
By having a crate in your house you are in a way communicating with your dog that inside the house (your area) the dog has to follow your rules. Whenever you need your space you can tell your dog to go to the crate and with the right training your dog will happily go into the crate and can still see what happening without interfering.
Which crate to buy:
There are different types of crates available. Personally I like the Wire Crates as they are collapsible and have at least 2 doors (on length side and on width side). So whichever way you setup the crate, it should be easily accessible by your dog. Being collapsible, you can easily take them with you on your trips with your dog. The down side is wire crates are not airline approved. You can buy airline approved crates if you are going to take your dogs with you on air travels.
There are soft crates on the market. They are very portable but not very secure.
When buying a crate, consider the size of your dog. A crate does not need to be huge, as long as the dog can walk into the crate comfortably and the dog can turn around easily, it should be the right size.
How to set up:
Crates should be placed in a corner, tucked away from any constant people-traffic. Preferably somewhere where your dog can see into your lounge room, kitchen or dining area.
When you set up the crate, cover the top, back and sides with a blanket or a sheet, so your dog only has to watch the world out the front.
It is very important that you put something really familiar as the bedding for your dog. For example, a mat, blanket or even a towel that you have already been using for your dog. If you have new pup/dog in your house, you might be able grab a blanket or some kind of bedding material from the breeder or the previous owner. If you don't have anything at that stage, you can rub a towel on your dog's coat to transfer the scent and place that in the crate. The dog's first inspection of the crate must provide a known odour that your dog instantly recognises.
To start the crate training, always leave the crate door open initially. For the first couple of days, always feed your dog in the crate. Place the food bowl in the corner of the crate and let the dog work out how to get to the food. Some dogs might take a minute or two but some will rush into the crate to have their meal. Never close the door while your dog is eating.
Outside of the meal time, always have some treats handy. Drop a treat in the back of the crate and say your command. For example say "bed" or "crate" and let you dog have the treat, then praise your dog only when your dog is in the crate. Whenever your dog goes into the crate voluntarily, drop a couple of treats in the back of the crate and praise your dog. Try to make this initial training a game and do it regularly throughout the day.
Now we have associated the crate with good things and your dog loves going in and out of the crate.
For the next step, we need to be able to close the door without your dog making any complaints. You need to help your dog understand that the crate door will be shut and he/she needs to relax. To start on this formal crate training, always start with a mentally and physically tired dog. Go for a long walk or a run with your dog, play a game of fetch or tug-of-war on command. Tired dog is more likely to relax in the crate than a dog full of energy.
Tell your dog to go into the crate with your command that you have been using ("bed" or "crate"). Drop some treats in the crate and calmly shut the door. You can sit near the crate, and drop a treat in the crate every few seconds. Never reward/treat your dog if your dog is "complaining". We want to ignore the complaints and reward the calm behaviour. In this training, if you are acknowledging the complaints, all you dog is learning is how to get your attention.
Leave your dog in the crate for 1 minute and open the door. In these training sessions, outside of the crate there will be no treats or praise for the dog. Repeat the process 3 to 4 times.
The next day, repeat the same process but increase the amount of time in the crate to 2 minutes and gradually keep increasing the time.
In summary, this training format will teach your dog that the crate is a place where he/she can relax, rather than a prison. Your dog will consider the crate as a comfy "den" where he/she can happily sleep and relax.
- Always have a scent your dog is familiar with in the crate
- Initially never shut the door
- Always start with a tired dog
- Ignore the complaining and reward the calm behaviour
- Most importantly, be patient