Getting your dog comfortable in a crate can be very helpful for a number of reasons.
It helps with...
Your dog learning how to relax
Keeping your dog safe
Providing a place for them to go when they want their own space
However, many puppies and dogs have trouble being in a crate. They were either never taught the value and fun a crate can provide, or it was used as a form of punishment and became a negative and scary place.
So, how do we teach our dogs that the crate is a good and safe place not only to go into, but to hang out in?
Here are 5 games I play with puppies and adult dogs to help them learn that the crate is really a great place to be!
1. Check it Out!
This game is great for puppies or dogs that are not comfortable being near a crate or may have had a negative experience with it.
You can start by sitting in a chair or sitting on the floor a few feet away from the crate. Have a bunch of very small, soft, yummy treats or food in a treat pouch or a container. (It’s best to play this game when the puppy or dog is hungry, so meal time is a great time to play this game!)
Toss a treat on the floor near the crate, but not next to it. As your dog eats the treat, toss another one close by but still keeping the treats about a foot away from the crate. The idea is that your dog will begin to become comfortable as they get close to the crate. Do this for a few minutes and then give your dog a break and go back to playing the Check it Out game about 5 minutes later. If your dog is doing well, toss the treats much closer to the crate and even just inside the crate.
Build up to your dog checking out inside the crate by getting treats that you tossed inside it. Don’t say anything to your dog – let them build confidence on their own by learning there is value and good things that come from getting close to the crate. The idea is to let them check it out, learn it is a good thing and become more confident around it or just inside it.
2. Party in the Crate!
Once your dog is comfortable around and going in the crate, we want to help them learn that hanging out in the crate for a short period is fun as well.
Once you have tossed a treat or two in the crate and your dog is going all the way in, toss a couple more all the way in the back for them to get. As they are eating those, toss a couple close to the front, then to the back, then to the front, then let them come out on their own. Repeat this 4-5 times and your dog will begin to learn that the crate brings yummy treats and they will begin to want to stay in hoping for more!
At this stage you can begin praising them for being in the crate. Remember, praise your dog while they are in the crate – that’s where the party is! Once they come out, the party winds down. When they are back in the crate, the party starts again. The idea is that your dog will learn that being in the crate is where all the action is!
3. Just Hanging Out
Once your dog begins to understand how fun it is to be in the crate, you want them to learn that hanging out in the crate is also rewardable and fun!
You'll begin to see that your dog is not wanting to come out of the crate and is willing to wait for you to toss another treat. That's how you know you are ready for the Just Hanging Out game. Have a couple of treats in the crate and as soon as your dog turns around to wait for another treat to be tossed, mark their behavior with either a yes or a clicker and wait a brief second longer and toss it in another treat.
Give them a release word as you walk away a few steps so that they will learn that means they can come out of the crate. This will help later when you are building more duration time in the crate. Repeat this 2 to 3 times, but remember don't ask them to wait more than a second or two or they may decide to come back out of the crate on their own.
We want them to learn that hanging out in the crate brings some reward. As your dog gets better with this game, you can ask them to hang out for a little bit longer, but again be careful not to expect them to stay in the crate too long at just yet. We want to build confidence and desire to stay in the crate so keep the “hang time” short and build slowly.
4. Crate Doors are Closing – Please Keep all Paws Inside
During this game we will build confidence with the crate door closing and building the amount of time, your dog stays in their crate quietly with the door closed.
We begin by tossing a couple of treats in the crate and then close the door for about 5-10 seconds once your dog has gone in and turned around. You don’t need to lock the door at this point – just hold it closed with your hand for 5-10 seconds and then as you open the door, give them their release cue. Remember, the party and reward are in the crate, so refrain from too much praise once they have come out of the crate.
Repeat this a few times, gradually increasing the time to 10-20 seconds. Play the game for 1-2 minutes and then move on to either play or rest time. You want to play this game 3-5 times per day to really help your dog become comfortable with it. The number of days you stay at this point in the game will depend on how your dog is doing. DON’T RUSH THIS! You don’t want your dog becoming concerned about the door being closed and beginning to bark, whine, or get upset.
As your dog is showing confidence with the door being closed with your hand holding the door, now lock the door and stand up straight. If your dog is showing confident behavior, drop some treats in, wait 5-10 seconds, drop another treat in to reinforce the desire behavior.
Now, when you begin to unlock the door, if your dog begins to nose the door or push it, just hold the slider portion of the lock quietly and wait for your dog to pull their nose and/or head away from the door, mark that behavior with a “YES!” or a clicker, give your release cue and open the door.
Again, based on how your dog is doing, you will be gradually increasing the amount of time you’ll keep the door shut and begin to take some steps away from the crate. Be mindful of how long you stay away from the crate before returning to mark the desired behavior you’re seeing (calmness and confidence in the crate with the door closed) and reward them. Do this a few times in short sessions away from the crate and then repeat the opening of the door routine above.
Remember – set them up to succeed! Don’t create stress – build confidence!
5. Kennel Up!
During this fun game we will introduce the cue word that you want to use to have your dog go into the crate on their own. You can choose from words or phrases like “Crate”, “Kennel Up”, “Go Home” or any other word that you choose, that your dog will learn means to go into their crate and stay there.
Your dog should be happily and confidently going into their crate and hanging out and comfortable with the door closing for at least 30-60 seconds before playing this game. We want the behavior consistent before adding a word to it.
Here is how we play. Say the word you wish to use and then toss the treat into the crate. Your dog already knows to go in the crate, so this will be fun and easy for him. As soon as he enters the crate, mark the behavior with a “Yes!” or use a clicker and toss another treat to him. Release him out of the crate and repeat this 4-5 times and then let him rest or play with him for 5-10 minutes and come back again to the Kennel Up game.
Play this game with your dog multiple times a day for a few days in short successful sessions. Begin to give the cue word from different angles and sides of the crate and from 1-3 feet away. Remember, give the cue word – then toss a treat (if you do them at the same time, the word will be tied to the food and you’ll have a lot of trouble removing the food), then mark the desired behavior and reward.
Remember, even if your dog is going in their crate after a few times of playing, or even a couple of days, doesn’t necessarily mean your dog knows the word. Keep this up until you can give the cue word (Kennel Up) from a few feet away and from different angles/sides of the crate. Then you can begin to fade tossing the treat after the cue word is given and wait to reward until after your dog goes into their crate in response to the cue word given – mark the desired behavior and then reward!
Happy Crate Training!