Dog crates can be a fantastic way to provide a safe and secure area for your dog, whether at home or to transport them!
The goal here is to teach your dog that the crate is their own personal space or bubble; this is where they sleep, where they go to feel safe or if they just want to lie down and get comfy! It should be portrayed as a positive place that belongs to only them and should NEVER be used as a form of punishment.
And despite popular belief, you can teach an old dog new tricks! You can crate train both adult dogs and puppies in the same way, although your senior friends might just take a little longer to get the hang of it, so be patient!
Choosing a dog crate
Your dog’s crate should be big enough that they have enough room to stand up in and turn around easily in it. They should be able to lie down comfortably with space for both them and any bedding and a water bowl.
Crates are available in most pet shops, with most people preferring the metal ones as they are usually collapsible, making them easy to transport if your pooch is staying elsewhere. As pet owners ourselves, we would advise avoiding fabric crates as they just don’t provide the security a metal or plastic one would as your dog could chew its way through the fabric.
Once you’ve chosen your crate, put it in a quiet area of the house, where your dog can relax. It will become the ideal space for your dog to go if they are feeling worried or overwhelmed. If your dog experiences anxiety, e.g. Halloween, from the fireworks, you can put blankets over the top to make them feel even more cosy and secure!
Step one – getting used to the crate
You may find they are naturally curious and investigate straight away. Make sure you have the door secured open so it never swings shut on them, leaving them feeling trapped.
Reward your dog with some tasty treats if they choose to investigate.
Some dogs may be a little wary of this new addition in their home. This is absolutely fine, it just means you’ll need to keep rewarding them positively when they choose to go near the crate. Try putting treats or their favourite toy inside the crate to entice them.
Once they are happy to go in and out of the crate freely, you’re ready to move to the next step.
Step two – feeding and closing the door
Once your dog is happily spending time in the crate, you can begin the transition of moving meal times to the crate. This will again reinforce the idea that their crate is a positive experience. Use a command word when you’re about to get their food like “crate” or “bed” so that they know to go there, then place their bowl inside the crate.
When your dog is happily eating their meals in the crate with the door open, you can start to close the door for a moment. Close the door after your dog has started eating and make sure to open it before they finish at first. This will get them used to the idea of the door being closed. If closing the door makes them anxious just start by touching or half closing it at first and wait a little longer until they are comfortable hanging out and eating in the crate before you close it fully.
Step three – increase the time the door is closed
As your dog gets used to the door being closed while they eat, you can gradually increase the amount of time the door is closed for. If they begin to fret or show signs of anxiety, you may need to go back to leaving the door open and work back up again once they are comfortable. It’s a process and the pace of progress will be different for each dog.
Build up the time the door is closed so your dog will happily lie down and settle in their crate after they’ve eaten with the door closed.
Step four – stepping away
Once they’re happy to do this for a short while with you there, try stepping away a few steps and before coming back over. If your dog gets stressed or excited when you move away, stay calm and only go back to them once they have calmed down and next time don’t go so far that they react.
Once they’re happy, pop out of the room for a moment while they’re eating, for a short time at first and again, build on this, so they know you are coming back.
Step five – staying in the crate outside feeding time
By now your dog knows the command word such as ‘crate’ or ‘bed’ so use this to send them in and give them a treat for doing it. Once they are comfortable going into their crate outside of feeding times, ask them to sit or lie down inside and briefly close the door. Start with short periods in the crate and stay close by, rewarding your dog for calm behaviour.
Again, gradually you can increase the time with the door shut, and once they’re okay with that start to step away.
How to use a crate
Once your dog is comfortable in their crate, you can use it for longer periods such as overnight or while you are out.
If you want your dog to spend the night in their crate, be as consistent as possible. If sometimes you use a crate and sometimes don’t, this can be confusing for your dog and could even make them anxious at bedtime if they can’t predict what’s going to happen.
If you intend to use your crate for the purpose of travel, please ensure that it will keep your dog safe in the event of an accident.
Finally, crates can be a great tool to uses as “time-out”. If your dog is getting too excited or perhaps even anxious, you can ask them to go to their crate and leave them with their favourite toy to play with until they have calmed.
Top tips for crate training
- Be consistent!
- Make your dog’s crate as inviting as possible for them.
- Never use the crate as punishment.
- Don’t leave your dog in their crate too long.
- Make sure your dog has access to their crate most of the time so it becomes part of their environment.
- If your dog seems stressed or anxious at any point in the training, go back a step.
- Let your dog out to go to the toilet before putting them in their crate for any period of time to avoid accidents.