Now that you’ve learned the importance of socialization, the next important piece needed for your foundation is crate training. Crate training is the first thing you need to do the moment you step foot into your house with a new puppy or adult dog. I cannot stress enough how important this is. For those of you who have rescued an adult dog, this may look different for you depending on the dog’s past experience with a crate or being confined. The information and exercises in this blog are still great resources to help dogs of all backgrounds. As for new puppy owners, this blog will give you what you need to set up your puppy for success and will translate into every aspect of your training and your puppy’s life.
Crate training helps you with many things such as potty training, provides you with a safe and effective management tool, prevents separation anxiety, and the list goes on! The first thing I did when I brought my dog home was play crate games and by the time we went to bed he was happily walking into his crate. I also made a point to give him lots of exercise and playtime before going to bed so he fell right asleep. I’ve made mistakes in the past with this important step and it took a lot of work to undo my mistake rather than starting off correctly right away. I was uneducated when it came to crate training so I just put my first dog in her crate and that was that. I had been told to ignore her when she cried until she was quiet again, but that only made the problem worse. This mistake also led to an extreme case of separation anxiety.
There are a couple exercises I do both with puppies and adult rescues. With an adult dog who has had a bad history with crates, this process will take longer and require much more reinforcement. But the reward for patience and love is worth it!
When I brought my current puppy home, I started crate training by putting him in his crate every time he got sleepy or laid down for a nap. The crate became a relaxing and safe place to hang out, with or without the door closed. In between naps I played the crate games described below to solidify the positive association with his crate.
The first thing you want to do is make sure you remove all distractions that could potentially be a self-fulfilling reward (toys, food or treats on the ground, and so on). Toss treats into the crate and let your puppy explore and eat them at their own pace. Leave the door wide open so they can go in and out as they please. You’re building up the value of the crate in such a way that they recognize the crate as the source of rewards.
Once they are comfortably going in and out, toss the treats in and close the door for a second, immediately opening it again. After doing that a few times, increase how many seconds the door is closed. Slowly build up the length of time until the door is closed after they finish the treats. Toss some treats into the crate with the door close, then open the door. You want to assess if your puppy is exiting the crate or is staying inside. Reward them immediately if they stay in the crate. If they come out, repeat this exercise.
If your puppy hasn’t begun learning “sit”, you can introduce it during this session by luring your puppy into a sit while inside the crate. You then close the door, wait for a sit, and then let your puppy out. Remember they don’t get treats when they exit, only when they enter. Make the crate the best thing in the room!
Repeat these exercises multiple times during your puppy’s first day at home. If he goes to sleep, put him in his crate. This helps build the association that the crate is a relaxing, safe, and quiet place to be. Then as you get ready for bed, make sure he has gone potty and had a chance to release his energy. Put some treats in his crate and close it. Depending on the puppy, he may pass out right away with no problems, or he’ll cry and whine during the night. If your puppy is the latter, position the crate where he can see you and you can put some fingers through it to console him.. Reassure him and continue making the crate a calm and positive place to be. A couple of nights like this along with continued crate games and naps in the crate will help him adjust to a point where you won’t have to do these exercises/games anymore.
These games and exercises work for your new rescue as well, just take your time with them and remember to never force your dog into their crate. It’ll not only worsen their negative association with the crate, but it will aslo build a negative association with you. If you’re struggling with crate training, I offer private lessons both virtually and in your home so we can work together to help your dog become comfortable and relaxed in their crate!
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