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How to Teach Your Dog to Love the Crate

Crate training your puppy or adult dog is beneficial for both you and your dog. If you introduce your dog or puppy to the crate gradually and with lots of positive reinforcement, the crate will soon become a safe, den-like space that your dog enjoys resting in. You can either train your dog or puppy to love the crate slowly, over several days or even weeks, or in just a weekend, depending on what works best for your dog and your schedule. Adult dogs may take a bit longer to crate train than puppies, but be patient and your dog will learn to love the crate in no time.

Preparing the Crate

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  2. Choose an appropriately-sized crate. Your dog’s crate should be just large enough for the dog to stand up in, turn around, and lie down comfortably. One of the reasons that crate-training is effective for housebreaking a dog is that dogs will not eliminate waste where they sleep. If the crate is too large, the dog may use one end for sleeping, and use the other as a latrine. [2]
    If your puppy is still growing, you can buy a crate that will accommodate his adult size, and block off part of it with a divider (sold with some crates) to fill up the extra space.
    Many humane societies and some veterinarian’s offices rent crates, so you can get one that is the appropriate size for your puppy and trade up as the animal grows.
    If you plan to use the crate for air travel, be sure to choose one that is approved by the FAA or your airline of choice.

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    Choose the right kind of crate. There are many different kinds of crates you can buy, including wire, plastic, and soft-sided. Choose the best crate for your dog and circumstances.[3]
    Wire crates are the most inexpensive and breathable, and usually come with dividers for walling off part of the crate to accommodate a growing puppy.
    Plastic crates feel cozier to most dogs, and can usually be used for air travel. However, they aren’t the best choice in hot weather, or for dogs that get hot easily.
    Soft-sided crates are lightweight and portable, however many dogs can chew their way out of them, and they can be difficult to clean.

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      Find a good spot for the crate. When you begin crate training, it is best to put the crate in a place where you and your family spend a lot of time during the day, like the kitchen or living room. Dogs are social animals, and like to feel that they are part of the pack. It is important not to put the crate in an isolated location, like the basement or garage. The crate should never feel like a punishment for your dog.[4]

      • You should plan to move the crate to your bedroom at night when training a puppy, so you can take the puppy out when it needs to go to the bathroom.
      • Some dog owners simply set up two crates, one in the living area of their homes, and one in the bedroom.
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      Make the crate comfortable for your dog. Place a blanket or towel on the bottom of the crate for the dog to sleep on. If you are using a mesh or wire crate, you can also drape a breathable blanket or towel over the top of the crate to create a cozier, more den-like atmosphere that may help your dog feel more secure.

      • Some dogs and puppies might mistake the bedding for something to chew on, or as bathroom material. If this is the case, remove the bedding and clean the cage, and proceed without bedding. You can add it back in later as your dog matures

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      Be enthusiastic about the crate. As you set up the crate, your dog may come over to investigate it. Say positive things about the crate to show your enthusiasm for it, and allow your dog to explore. However, you should not try to force your dog into the crate or close the door right away if he goes inside. Getting used to the crate takes time and patience, and the more excited you seem about the crate, the more excited your dog will become.

      Crate Training Gradually
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      Open the door to the crate. Leave the door of the crate open and verbally encourage your dog to check it out. Your dog may go in to have a look see, or may not be so easily convinced. If your dog does enter the crate, be sure to give a lot of positive praise to let him know that you are pleased.
      Do not shut the door on the dog if he does enter; wait until the dog is secure being in the crate before you close the door.
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      Put some treats inside the crate. You can close the treats inside the crate for a few minutes to build your dog’s interest, or let the dog get to them right away. It is OK if the dog just pokes its head in to get the treats at first. Gradually move the treats further and further back into the crate until the dog has to go completely inside to get them.
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      Place a favorite toy inside the crate. If your dog is not responding well to treats, try placing a favorite toy, or a brand new and especially tempting chew toy inside the crate.

      1. Feed your dog meals in the crate. Once your dog will voluntarily enter the crate to retrieve a toy or treat, you can begin feeding him meals inside the crate. Put the food dish all the way back in the crate, and leave the door open while the dog eats his first meal or two in the crate.
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        Begin closing the door. Once your dog seems content standing and eating in the crate, you can begin closing the door while he eats. Stay nearby where the dog can see you. At the first few feedings, open the door as soon as the dog is done eating. Then gradually leave the door shut for a few additional minutes after each feeding, until the dog is staying in the crate for 10 minutes at a time.[7]
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        Get your dog used to longer stays in the crate. Once your dog is used to eating in the crate with the door closed, you can leave him in for longer periods of time. Call your dog to the crate and give him a treat. Then choose a command, such as “kennel up,” point to the crate, and encourage him to enter. When he does, give him a treat and close a door. Stay near the crate for the first 5 to 10 minutes, then leave the room for a short time. Come back in the room, and let the dog out.

        • Repeat this process a few times a day for several days, gradually increasing the time your dog spends in the crate.
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        Crate the dog while you leave the house. When your dog can successfully stay in the crate for 30 minutes without whining or showing signs of distress, you can leave him in the crate while you leave the house for short outings. Make sure to exercise your dog before you leave, and put him in the crate. You may want to leave a toy or two with him. The simply put him in the crate as you have been doing and leave without any extra fuss.[8]
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        Crate your dog at night. It is best to keep the crate in your bedroom initially, especially if you have a puppy that may need to pee during the night. As the dog gets used to sleeping in the crate overnight, you can move the crate to a different location if you prefer.[9]
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        Don’t keep your dog in the crate for too long. Dogs need exercise and social activity to remain physically and emotionally healthy, and over-crating can lead to problems. Be aware of the following crate-time guidelines, and avoid leaving any dog in a crate for over 5 hours at a time, except at night.[10]

        • Age 9-10 weeks: 30-60 minutes.
        • Age 11-14 weeks: 1-3 hours.
        • Age 15-16 weeks, 3-4 hours.
        • Age 17+ weeks: 4+ hours (but never more than 6!).
        Respond to whining appropriately. Don’t let your dog out of the crate because of whining, unless you believe the animal needs to eliminate. Otherwise, you are rewarding the whining and encouraging the behavior in the future. Ignore your dog’s whines for a few minutes. If he does not give up, take him outside quickly and matter-of-factly to eliminate, and then return the dog to the crate. Make sure you do not teach the dog that whining = escape from the crate.[11]

        Crate Training Over a Weekend

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          Make a schedule and train your dog over a weekend. Many people don’t have time to spend weeks crate-training a dog. If you follow the prescribed steps here, and remain positive and patient with the dog, most animals can be conditioned to love the crate in a single weekend.[12]
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          Get the crate ready ahead of time. Purchase your crate and place it in the desired location. You can do this a few days ahead of time to get the dog used to the crate’s presence. Leave the door of the crate open so your dog can explore.
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          Begin placing treats in the crate Friday night. Sneak a few treats into the crate on Friday evening, and replace them as your dog discovers them. You can continue to sneak treats into your dog’s crate after the initial training period is over to help maintain the positive association with the crate.
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          Serve Friday night dinner in the crate. Put your dog’s evening meal in a bowl in the back of the crate. If your dog is reluctant to enter the crate completely, slide the bowl closer to the door, but as the dog begins to eat, try to push it further into the crate. If the dog seems comfortable, close the door until he is done eating, but only if things are going well.
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          Begin active training on Saturday morning. For the first training session, sit down next to the crate and call your dog. Show the dog a treat, and give a command to enter the crate (for instance “go to bed” or “kennel up”,) then toss the treat into the crate. When the dog goes into the crate to get the treat, give him enthusiastic praise, and another treat while he is inside. Give your dog another command (e.g. “come out” or “OK”) to leave the crate, and then repeat.

          • Repeat this process 10 times, then take a short break, and repeat another 10 times.
          1. Ask your dog to earn the treat. Later Saturday morning, do another session. Give the first few treats as before. After a few times, instead of just throwing the treat into the crate, give the command and don’t give the treat until your dog has entered the crate. Then give the command to leave the crate and give your dog another treat when he comes out.

            • Repeat this about 10 times, or until your dog appears to understand what is happening.
            • Take a short break, and then do another 10 repetitions.
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            Close the crate door on Saturday afternoon. Begin by sending the dog into the crate and giving him a treat a few times as before. After a few repetitions, send the dog into the crate, give him a treat, and then gently close the crate door. Feed the dog a few treats through the door, and then open it. Give your dog the command to come out, and repeat.

            • Do the exercise 10 times, leaving the door open a little longer each time. Try to build up to 10, then 30 seconds.
            • If your dog seems anxious, only close the door part way at first.
            • Using lots of positive reinforcement throughout this process will minimize your dog’s anxiety.
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            Increase the time in the crate. Take a break, then repeat the above exercise. This time, once you close the crate door, sit down near the crate for increasingly long intervals of time, until the dog is comfortable being in the crate for a minute at the time.
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            Accustom your dog to being in the crate alone. On Saturday evening, begin practicing leaving the dog alone in the crate for short periods. Begin with a few short stays in the crate as above. Next, send the dog into the crate, and then walk across the room or out of sight before coming back and rewarding your dog. Repeat this process 10 times. Then take a half hour break, and do it all again.
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            Practice longer crate times on Sunday morning. Get a chew bone, or a KONG toy stuffed with food, and ask your dog to enter the crate. Then give him the toy, close the door, and then relax in the same room reading or watching TV for half an hour while the dog chews the toy. When the time is up, give your dog the command to come out and open the door and take away the toy. Repeat the process an hour or two later.

            • It is best not to celebrate the dog coming out of the crate too much. You want the dog to be excited going into the crate, not coming out.
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            Give your dog a good workout. For the next session, you will want your dog to be well-exercised and ready to rest. Take him out for a long walk or play session, and get him tired out.
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            Leave the room. Send your dog into the crate, and give him his special chew toy. Close the door and then leave the room for 10 minutes. Come back and let him out for awhile, then repeat the process with increasingly longer times in the crate. Make sure to give your dog play and bathroom breaks in between, and build up to an hour of crate time for your dog.
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            Leave the house. On Sunday evening, it is time to try leaving the house. Send your dog into the crate and give him his chew toy. Then leave the house for 10 minutes. When your return, let the dog out of the crate and go about your evening. Do not celebrate or act excited about leaving or returning. You want to teach your dog that entering and exciting the crate is a totally normal event, and nothing to get excited about.[13]
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            Head out on Monday morning. After the weekend crate training, your dog should be ready to stay in the crate for several hours at a time, depending on the dog’s age. Exercise your dog thoroughly in the morning, and then send him to the crate and give him a chew toy. Be sure not to make a big fuss about leaving, and only stay gone for a few hours before returning to give your dog a midday break. Remember to follow the age guidelines below, and don’t leave your dog in the crate for too long:[14]

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