Last week, I shared some of my reasons why I feel that it’s important to crate train Archie. While there are many benefits to crate training, it can still be a long and sometimes difficult process for both puppy and pawrents.
A lot of pet parents know that crate training a young puppy can make for a few sleepless nights, but crate training an older or rescue dog can bring a whole new set of challenges. The purpose of crate training is to provide a safe place for your pup, but he or she might not see it that way at first – especially if their first experience with a kennel wasn’t positive.
As a rescue, Archie had already had his share of negative experiences with enclosed spaces when he came to me. However, we’ve been working to make his new crate a positive, safe, and soothing place for him to rest and relax, so I hope crate training will be the beginning of a healing experience for him.
Here are my 5 favorite tips for crate training that have been helpful for us along the journey:
1. Make it Positive
When crate training your pup, the most important thing you can do to start is to introduce their new crate in a positive way. You can do this by putting their favorite toys or blanket inside, placing a lick mat filled with peanut butter or throwing special treats inside, feeding them their meals in their crate, and rewarding them with treats and praise whenever they sniff the crate or step inside it to investigate.
In the beginning, the crate door should always stay open and every experience with the crate should be as positive as possible.
2. Take Your Time
As you acclimate your pup to their crate, it’s important to take things extra slow every step of the way. Is your pup afraid to even approach the crate? Start by rewarding them with treats and praising them when they glance toward the crate from the next room! Every dog is different and the best thing you can do is meet your dog where he or she is at.
Try feeding your pup their meals a few inches closer to the crate each day until they are cautiously enjoying their food inside it. Try closing the door of the crate for a few seconds then a few minutes at a time before trying for a few hours. If you need to go back and repeat a step, it doesn’t mean you’re not making progress!
3. Play Fun Games
Training should be fun and using your pup’s crate as part of their training can help them feel more comfortable settling inside it. An easy way to start is by throwing your pup’s favorite treats into the crate. When they go inside to get them, reward them with lots of praise.
Once they are entering the crate consistently, you can start adding a verbal cue such as “kennel” each time they enter. Then transition to saying kennel and offering the treat after they go in. Once they know the command “kennel,” you can play fun games like a doggy version of “Simon Says,” rewarding them for sitting, then spinning, then going into their kennel, then releasing and sitting again (or whichever commands they know).
4. Listen to Your Pup
Some crate training methods encourage puppy parents to let their pup “cry it out” for a few nights until they tire out and realize that crying won’t get them out of the crate under any conditions. This may be the fastest way to crate train a puppy, but I prefer a gentler approach that lets your pup know that they can tell you if they need something, like an emergency potty break. It can be more tiring and time consuming, but if your pup cries after crating, I believe it’s good for them to know that you’re listening!
The key here is for potty trips to be boring (don’t play or engage very much with your pup) so that they know crying only earns them a boring potty break before they return to the crate to sleep. This will likely need to be repeated several times a night, but it’s well worth the effort to establish this communication for the times when your pup has an upset tummy and really needs an emergency midnight potty break!
5. Comfort and Reward
Last but not least, think of ways that you can help your pup feel comforted while they adjust to their crate. Some new pet parents have a camp out on the floor next to the crate for the first couple nights so they can pet your pup’s head as they fall asleep. If sleeping on the hard floor sounds too uncomfortable for your back, a sweatshirt with your familiar scent draped over the crate or set nearby can sometimes do the trick. If your dog is a heavy chewer, just make sure that they can’t pull it inside where pieces could be chewed off and swallowed!
For Archie, his Snuggle Puppy has been a great comfort to him, and he loves to have it with him in his new crate. The Snuggle Puppy can be especially comforting for young puppies because it’s designed to mimic their mama’s heartbeat.
It can also be helpful to reward your pup for time spent in the crate with a frozen kong or other safe puzzle toy filled with goodies like apple sauce, peanut butter, and kibble that they only get when they are crater to help make kennel time something they look forward to and might even beg for in the future! (The toy section of my Amazon storefront has lots of great toy and puzzle options!)
The important thing to remember is that every dog is different so there’s no one-size-fits-all approach that works for every pup. If something doesn’t work after a few tries, try something else! Your pup might just have a different learning style, different past experiences with enclosed spaces, or different needs, and you know your pup better than anyone!
I hope that sharing these tips is helpful to those of you who are considering crate training for the first time or might have struggled with it in the past. Please comment any tips you have, as well: What challenges have you experienced with crate training? What has or hasn’t worked for your pup?
Disclaimer: I’m not a trainer, so take these tips with a grain of salt, and if your pup is struggling with anxiety or experiencing behavior issues, the best thing you can do is chat with a certified professional trainer or behaviorist!