Love Your Crate – Crate Training

All dogs should be crate trained. Some people seem to think crate training is cruel. I think it is cruel to not crate train your dog. There will be times in your life when you may have to hospitalize your dog or kennel your dog while you go on vacation. If your dog has never been crate trained, this will be a very stressful experience for your dog. Yes, crate use can certainly be abused, but training your dog to like being in a crate a couple hours a day, and to find it a safe and secure place, is not abusive.

My first dog, Tika, was crated by her previous owners, 20-22 hrs/day. For that reason, she would understandably be nuts when she came out of the crate and reluctant to go back in it. After I got her, I never crated her again. Since I never crated Tika, I didn’t have a crate and never crate trained my next dog Maverick. When I got Cassie, I had to crate her because one of the reasons she was given up was because she was not housetrained. As soon as I put the crate up in the bedroom, Maverick ran in it and wouldn’t come out! I never realized he wanted a crate to sleep in for all those years. So I got a second crate, one for each dog. From that point on, I’ve had crates for each dog. The only time they are used is for sleeping at night.
The trick to successful crate training is to help your dog learn to love their crate!!! You will be shaping (shaping is a process whereby you reinforce tiny bits of successful behavior on the way to the final goal) your dog to go into his crate. Shaped behaviors are ultimately stronger behaviors because they get reinforced so many times, with each preceding piece of the chain reinforcing the next link in the chain.

The Love Your Crate process is two parts. The first part, below, deals with shaping the dog to enter the crate, spontaneously sit, and then spontaneously down.

MR = Mark & Reinforce
Mark = Say Yeah or Click
Reinforce = Give a treat
SS = Spontaneous Sit
SD = Spontaneous Down

  • Dog looks at crate, MR
  • Dog looks longer at crate, MR
  • Dog sniffs towards crate, MR
  • Dog leans towards crate, MR
  • Dog takes one step towards crate, MR
  • Dog takes two steps towards crate, MR, etc.
  • Dog sniffs crate, MR
  • Dog leans into crate, MR
  • Dog puts one paw in crate, MR
  • Dog puts two paws in crate, MR
  • Dog puts three or four paws in crate, MR
  • Dog SS in crate, MR
  • Dog SD in crate, MR…Yeah! You did it!!!

The second part involves use of my version of Dr. Karen Overall’s Relaxation Protocol. Dr. Overall is a renowned veterinary behaviorist. Her Relaxation Protocol teaches dogs to be calm no matter what is happening in the environment. The things I do differently are I do not tell the dog to sit or stay. The dog must do this on his/her own. If the dog gets up, you calmly wait for the dog to sit again, then start the process up again. If the dog breaks twice in a row, you are making it too hard for the dog–break it down and make it easier. Also, you don’t have to do all 15 levels of Rel Pro to be successful with Love Your Crate. I encourage my students to be creative in their Relaxation Protocol moves and do lots of backwards moves.

Once your dog is going into the crate and laying down right away, release the dog from the crate and do it again. Repeat several times. The goal is for the dog to want to run into his crate and lay down, because he knows this will pay off for him.

If your dog wants to come out–let him! Don’t trap him in there. Early in the training, we want to empower the dog to have some control over the process. This will ensure that the dog wants to continue to happily work with you.

You can help build his crate drive by having wonderful things happen when your dog goes voluntarily into his crate. Try this trick, put a stuffed Kong inside your dog’s crate and close the door–the Kong is in the crate and the dog is outside. Then ignore your dog. Wait for him to notice the Kong. When he has indicated he knows the Kong is there and wants it, go up to the crate, wait for a SS, then open the crate and let him in to eat the Kong. At first, leave the door open. The next time, close the door but don’t latch it. At some point, close the door and latch it while your dog is eating the Kong.

I worked this process with one of my clients. This little terrier mix was extremely stressed in his crate and was urinating in it. We worked the Love Your Crate process and got the dog to love his crate so much he didn’t want to come out. We were forced to lure him out of the crate and then closed and latched it so we could work on some other exercises. The dog actually unlatched the crate so he could go back inside! As a result of working Love Your Crate, he stopped urinating in his crate.

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