If you have recently adopted a rescue dog and are thinking about using the crate simply because you cannot trust the dog around your home or you have a puppy that is in the process of being potty trained, your best bet is take it slowly, step by step. Most likely the dog has never been in a crate all its life, and closing the dog inside it right away may be quite scary, especially if the dog is new to your home and has a lot of adjusting to do to get used to all the new noises, smells and people in your home. Following are some tips to help you in the process of making your dog adore his crate.
Create Positive Associations
A good place to start is to create a safe haven for the dog using baby gates and placing the crate in a quiet corner. Leave the crate with the door open and make it inviting by adding a blanket inside, along with a little treasure every now and then such as a chew toy or a tasty treat. Your new dog should be able to investigate the crate on his own terms and enjoy the enclosed goodies, so positive associations can be created. When dogs are allowed to explore on their own terms, they become more confident.
To further make the crate inviting, put the food bowl at its entrance, and then day after day, more and more inside the crate. If you do this consistently, you will notice your dog will be spending more and more time in the crate, whether to investigate its great contents, or to take a nap in it. This is already a great sign that your dog is starting to love his crate and that you have done an excellent job in introducing it.
Use the Clicker
If you are big in clicker training, then you already know how motivating this training method is. Obviously, for clicker training to work you will already have “charged the clicker” so the dog knows already that a treat follows each click. This will put the dog in the right state of mind that encourages the dog to “offer” behaviors. If you use targets, put the target close to the crate, and then gradually further inside the crate. End the session with a jackpot; that is a full bowl of food inside the crate to enjoy.
As the saying goes “steady and slowly wins the race.” The worst way to introduce the crate to the dog is through the use of force, pulling the dog forcibly in the crate or pushing the dog inside, actions that will only ultimately create more difficulties down the road. It may be tempting to do this especially when you do not have time, but if you haven’t introduced the crate properly your dog will resent being pushed in there and a day may come where he may become more and more reluctant to stay in there up to the point of trying to nip your hands.
Many dogs get frustrated when they cannot have what they want. If your dog has proved to be reluctant to go inside the crate, you can place a bowl full of food or some other high-value treat inside it with the door closed. Your dog will detect the heavenly smells and will get frustrated because he or she cannot reach it. You want to build up enough tension and drive that once you open the crate, your dog will very likely run right inside to get to the meal. Let him in, close the crate while he is eating, but only if this doesn’t upset him too much, and when he is done eating, immediately open it. Once out, make life seem boring, no more goodies for the rest of the day, or if you want to give more, give them only in the crate. Good things happen in the crate and good things end when out of the crate.
Add More Incentives
By now, your dog should start understanding that the crate is the wonderful place where all great things happen. There are many more incentives though other than food in the dog world! If it is warm, make sure the crate is located in a well ventilated area, if it is cold, keep the crate far from drafts and place a warm blanket. If your dog comes home thirsty after a romp at the park, the crate will host the freshest water, if you bought a new toy or a bone, it will certainly be right there! The crate hosts the tasty meal of the day, refreshing water and warmth and when your dog goes inside it, he also gets lots of praise, whereas when he comes out the owner ignores him.
A crate can be a great tool, but there are risks of overdoing it at times. Closing your dog in it for too long, especially if your dog has not received enough exercise during the day, may ruin all the positive associations you want to create so your dog can love it. Some dogs may be terrified of the crate, and may rather carry the bowl outside to eat, or refuse the food you toss in it altogether. If your dog reads the cues you are about to close him in the crate and bolts away, very likely he or she has not been introduced correctly or may simply dislike being in there because he sees it as a trap or associates it with social isolation. Give more time and be patient. It helps to close him in there when you are home with a safe bone or toy to chew on from time to time so he doesn’t think that you lock him in there every time you are leaving the house.
A crate isn’t the the only enclosure option available on this planet. If your dog still doesn’t seem to like the crate, perhaps because of a negative past experience with it, you can always use a baby gate to close off a safe area of your home or you can try using a safe and strongly-built play pen purposely made for dogs.
The Bottom Line
As seen, there are many strategies to help your dog adore his crate. Make sure you find the perfect crate for your dog. While puppies need a size-appropriate crate to discourage soiling in it, potty-trained dogs can enjoy the luxury of more space. Also, if your dog is a chewer and has managed to chew parts of the crate or if he is an escape artist, consider trying an aluminum, escape-proof crate.