Crates are one of the best management tools a dog owner can use. For new puppies, a crate is crucial. As a former animal control officer, I have seen puppies get sick or injured because they were allowed too much freedom. The trick to teaching a dog or puppy to love their crate is to build desire. Using force or bribes will only backfire on you.
1. The first step is to think a little like your dog. Your dog does not want to go into the crate because he does not want his freedom taken away. Given a choice, your dog would be much happier chewing on the corners of your coffee table than being stuck in a crate. Knowing this, if we physically force the dog into the crate he will make negative connections and will resist everytime we attempt to put him into the crate.
2. The next step is to build desire in your dog. How can we get it so your dog is actually fighting to get into the crate? We will start with a Kong toy (available at any pet store). A Kong toy is a hard rubber toy with a hollow center. With your dog in front of his crate, you are going to stuff the Kong toy right in front of him. Put a generous portion of peanut butter or cream cheese in the Kong with his nose inches from it. Then place some strong scented liver or bacon treat into the Kong. Now you have a stuffed Kong that your dog wants very badly.
3. Now with your dog very excited at the prospect of getting a bacon and cheese stuffed Kong toy, you are going to throw it into the crate but you are NOT going to let him get it. You are going to close the crate door as soon as you throw the cheese stuffed Kong into the crate. Now your dog is on the outside looking in. He wants the Kong but it is on the other side of the door.
4. Now this is where we start to build desire, don’t open the door right away and let your dog in. Wait until he paws at the crate and whines a little. Wait a few minutes and then let him into the crate and get the toy.
5. Repeat this exercise a few times a day. If your dog knows that he is going to get the toy he will try harder and harder each time. Just like if you open the crate door when your dog is barking, he will learn that the louder and longer he barks, eventually you’ll break down and let him out.
6. Don’t close the crate door when your dog goes in and grabs the Kong. Let him take it out. If you close the crate door when your dog goes in he may not go in voluntarily again. You need your dog to make the decision to stay in the crate on his own. How do we do this? Simple, read on to step 7.
7. You now want to secure the Kong toy inside the crate. You want your dog to go into the crate but not leave with the toy. This can be accomplished by tying a string around the Kong and tying it to the back of the crate. Now when your dog goes into the crate and can’t leave with the Kong he has to lay down inside the crate and get the goodies. Once he does that, then you can start to close the crate door.
The first time you close the crate door don’t secure it. If your dog turns around and hits the door it should open. After a few days you can start to secure the door for a few minutes at a time.
Teaching your dog to love the crate takes time. If you move too quickly it can backfire on you. Taking a few days to teach your dog to enjoy his crate is well worth it.
In my book The Amazing Dog Training Man, I go on to explain that at some point in your dog’s life he will have to go into a crate – groomers, vet’s office or travel. It’s much better for you to teach your dog to like the crate in the comfort of your home than some vet tech stuffing your dog into it.