There is a specific psychology that goes into using the crate as a training tool for your dogs. Essentially, the crate is small, safe space or den for your dog that is theirs and theirs alone. You want it to be a place they love. Somewhere they can go to seek refuge as they are adjusting to life in their new home. The crate is not a place of punishment or banishment and should never be used as such. You want the crate to work for you and your dog as their very own happy place!
In the wild, dens provide clean, safe shelter for whelping mothers and her pups, pre birth and in the weeks that follow. While dogs do spend most of their lives outside, their earliest days are within the safe confines of the den. In our domesticated society, the crate is the safe, effective equivalent; it protects young pups from disguised dangers in and around the house but also acts as a vehicle for housebreaking. The crate is where dogs sleep therefore they will instinctively avoid accidents at all costs. This helps dogs strengthen the length of time they can hold their bladder and as they grow, the crate then transcends to a small sectioned off part of the house (say a mudroom or kitchen) and eventually, the whole house.
It’s important you set your crate up appropriately to encourage a positive reaction from your canine companion. The crate needs to feel like a den so be sure to cover the back, sides and top with a blanket. Before you ever leave your dog in the crate, warm them up to the idea of it. Leave the crate door open while you are home with your pup and let he or she sniff around and walk in and out of it. Work in five minute training sessions with your pup each day where you lure them in with a treat and say the command, “home” or “crate”. You want them to positively associate that command word with their new space. Do this as often as you can throughout the day.
The first time you do leave your dog in the crate, make sure it’s only for a short period of time so they trust you are returning. Give them a huge praise toy or treat like a Kong filled with kibble or peanut butter (a personal Canine to Five favorite!). You can fill several Kongs with peanut butter and pop them in the freezer ahead of time to keep on hand! One small tip: make putting your dog in the crate the very last thing you do before leaving the house and try not to linger after doing so! Your dog will likely bark and that’s normal. Don’t feel guilty or immediately open the crate to comfort them. Dogs feed off of our energy and if they sense your uncertainty or negativity, they will associate that fear or negativity with the crate. Remember, you are protecting your best friend from the many unforeseen dangers in and around the house that they could get into without your supervision. Remind yourself of this and move on.
When you return home and are releasing your pup from the crate, do not let them bum rush the door. You want your dog in a calm stable state in the home and that behavior begins in the crate. Therefore, use your body and physical presence to maneuver your pup back until they are calm and stable. This may take some time and patience but you can do it! Also, if you are in the process of potty training your dog, make sure you immediately take your dog outside. They have been holding their bladder so as not to mess in their crate and will need to release it ASAP!
If you have any further questions about this or would like to schedule a one on one training session, please contact Canine to Five owner, Chrissy Wohltmann at firstname.lastname@example.org!