Some people look at dog crates as nothing more than small “prisons” and vow to themselves they will never make their dog go into one. But that would be a mistake!
A dog crate is not a prison, but it is a vital part of teaching your dog independence plus responsibility. A dog’s crate is his safe space, an enclosed place that mimics the ancestral feeling of a den, providing security and a sense of calm.
The first thing to do is to get the right size crate for your dog. You don’t want to get one that is too big, as this defeats the purpose. If you start your dog out as a pup and don’t want to purchase another as he gets bigger, then buy a crate that will be large enough for his adult size and put in a crate divider until he grows into it.
You want your dog to associate his crate with relaxation and rest, so they will enjoy being there. Wait until your dog is calm and perhaps tired after exercise, then use the crate for about ten minutes at a time and gradually increase the length of exposure.
Some people like to put soft towels or a dog bed in the bottom of the crate, but depending on the dog, this may or may not work out. Some dogs will tear up the bedding and just prefer to sleep on the floor of the crate, so you will have to experiment to find out what works for your dog.
You’ll want to treat your dog after he goes into the crate. One of the best ways to do this is to use a toy like a KONG and pack it with peanut butter (make sure the peanut butter you choose does NOT have xylitol, a sweetener that is deadly to dogs!!) This will encourage your dog to stay in the crate longer.
You can also make your dog’s crate an integral part of games, as this encourages him to go in and out of the space on his own. Toss the ball into the crate during playtime or even hide toys or treats inside the crate for him to find.
Make sure you don’t leave your dog in the crate too long and that he has adequate time out to eat, to play and run and to relieve himself. Also, on a safety note, remove your dog’s collar or tag before you leave him in the crate, to prevent him getting hung up and choking himself.
When you are ready to leave your dog in the crate for a longer period of time, do this in small increments. Go out for only a half hour or so and then come back. It can be very helpful to use some sort of recording device or even a webcam to see what your dog does and how he reacts when you leave. Be sure to reward your dog when you get home and let him out.
Crate training does not happen overnight. Six months is a reasonable time frame to anticipate. If you don’t have success by this time or your dog is especially resistant to the crate, it’s time to consult with a professional trainer.