Updated: Jan 6
A crate is an indoor kennel that is designed to be a safe, cosy space for you dog to relax in. You can train your dog to enjoy this space and feel comfortable in it, either in addition to, or instead of their regular bed.
Training a dog to be comfortable in a crate is a hugely useful thing to do. It means the dog will be comfortable in a safe, enclosed space that you can use for travel, in the car, or if you want the dog out of the way when you’re having renovations or some noisy guests round. It means your dog will be infinitely more comfortable at the vets than other dogs, and that if they ever need ‘bed rest’ this will be less of a problem.
Step 1: Select and set up your crate
You want your crate to be a cosy little den for your dog, so aim for it to be big enough for the dog to lie down and stand up in, fit their bed, food and water bowl, but not much else. For a puppy undergoing toilet training, it is particularly important not to make the crate too large, otherwise they will feel more comfortable toileting in a far corner of it and may not alert you that they need to get out.
Wire crates in particular can be noisy to set up, so do this when your dog is not around and have it all covered in blankets and comfy bedding before you introduce it to the dog.
Step 2: Introducing your dog or puppy to the crate
Do this during the day and start slowly. Allow the dog to explore the crate at their own pace. Never pick them up and force them to be inside it.
Throw some treats into the crate and encourage the dog to run in and get them. Allow them to sniff around and get a feel for the crate. If the dog has a favourite bed already, pop this inside the crate so they get the idea that they are supposed to go in and relax.
Repeat the treats several times. You could even try feeding the dog a meal in the crate. Importantly, allow the dog to make their own decision about entering the crate.
Step 3: Reward voluntary time in the crate
When the dog chooses to go in by themselves, reward this behaviour with praise and a treat.
Start to only feed the treats when the dog is fully inside the crate, rather than throwing them in.
Encourage the dog to relax in the crate by leaving them with a long-lasting chew, kong or food puzzle toy, so they start to associate time in the crate with great rewards.
At this stage, always leave the door to the crate open, so the dog never panics and feels they can’t get out.
If you are making this crate your dog’s primary bed, leave the door open overnight so the dog doesn’t feel trapped and puppies can get up to go to the toilet if needed. You can always set up a larger play-pen round the crate or use a child-gate to stop the puppy wandering off through the rest of the house overnight.
Step 4: Getting used to the door being closed
Only start this step once your dog is happy and comfortable with spending time in the crate and sees it as their safe place.
When your dog is totally engrossed in a food toy inside the crate, slowly close the door. They probably won’t even notice. Stay close by, then open the door again just before they finish the food toy, so they can leave if they choose to.
Repeat this step a few times. Once the dog is not batting an eyelid at the door closing, start to leave it closed for a few minutes. Always give the dog something to do in the crate, or try this when they are happy to sleep, so they don’t get frustrated. Start to move further and further away from the crate and show the dog that it is fine to be left inside the crate when the family are busy doing other things. Initially, just try being on the other side of the room, and gradually build up to being out of sight.
Keep a close eye on the dog and if they show any sign of distress at being locked in, open the crate door and go down a step for a few more days before trying again. We always want our crate to be positive for the dog, never a punishment.
Eventually your dog will be happy to sleep in a locked crate all night and even travel in their locked crate. It will become your dog’s ‘happy place’ and give you a perfect, safe way to control where your dog goes if there are hazards around. You can take your crate in the car and on holidays so your dog always has a little home-from-home.