How to Crate Train Your Dog Properly

My dog chilling in her crate!

Some people are blessed with dogs that are crate lovers. But for the rest of us, we may have that particular dog who just will not like his or her crate at all.

For people who have stubborn dogs, this post is definitely for you. Here’s how to properly crate train your dog for any age!

My dog just chillin’ in her crate!

The Crate Introduction Stage

If it’s your first time for your dog to see a crate, place it in an area where you usually hang around, preferably the living room. Your dog will be curious and possibly stressed to its crate.  You may leave the crate door closed (without your dog inside) for now.

Study the behavior of your dog. If your dog shows a negative reaction, just leave the crate until it gets comfortable with the crate. This could take a few minutes or it could take days. It all depends on the temperament of your dog. Just be patient.

Once your dog shows more curiosity and more confidence,  open the crate door. Open the dog crate slowly and act happy. Do not overreact to anything.

At this point, closely observe your dog’s behavior. Your dog may naturally sniff around and check out the opening area of the crate. Your dog might even just go right in.

The key to this step is to make them feel comfortable. Most people fail to realize that it takes a lot of time for some dogs to accept their crate, so be patient until you see your dog doing this below!

dog crate training
This is what you want to see your dog do eventually with the door open.

All dogs are different, so just let your dog do its thing. It is important however to not force anything on your dog. Watch some TV or grab cup of coffee as your dog is checking out it’s crate.

My Dog Still Won’t Go Inside: What Do I Do?

If your dog will absolutely not enter its crate, try to build some interest by placing some treats or its favorite toy inside the crate near the door. Each time you do this, start to slowly place the doggy goods further in the crate. Some dogs will still not enter its crate at all, so be patient.

The introduction phase takes a lot of time. It is very important not to force anything. If all fails, try again the next day.

Basic Crate Conditioning Phase

As your dog becomes comfortable with entering the crate, start placing your dog’s meal inside the the crate. Let it feed inside the crate with the crate door is open.

Observe your dog’s behavior. If your dog is feeding but seems a bit cautious, leave it alone and let it finish it’s meal. Rinse and repeat until your dog gets used to feeding in its crate.

Once your dog is eating its meal enjoyably, you are ready to move to the next step.

Just assure that your dog is positively comfortable feeding in its crate. Condition your dog to its crate as much as necessary to make your dog comfortable. Again this may take days to accomplish.

Closing the Door

Once you are absolutely sure your dog is comfortable, start to close the door silently and let your dog feed as the door is closed.

Some people watch their dog while it eats inside the crate but I personally like to leave the room and grab a cup of coffee. Once I see that my dog is finished, I open the crate door. As time passes, I gradually increase the time my dog is locked in after each feeding. (E.g. 1 minute, 3 minutes, 5 minutes.)

For some dogs, 3 minutes could be challenging so let your dog out when it wants to get out during this stage of basic conditioning. Remember, we are just conditioning your dog so nothing should be forced on your dog.

Keep rinsing and repeating this step! Try to reach up to 10 minutes at a time.

Advanced Conditioning Phase

As your dog is learning to become comfortable start teaching it commands to go in the crate and reward it with a high value treat. I like to say “crate” or “inside” as the command for my dog to go in. Again do not force anything. If your dog is not responding or is getting somewhat uncomfortable, revert back to the basic conditioning phase.

However, if your dog is doing well with its crate. Once it enters its crate, lock the crate door and just hang out next to the crate while your dog is inside. Your dog may remain standing but what you really want to see is your dog lying down in its crate and just getting comfortable inside.

Wait 5 to 10 minutes and open the crate door and leave the room. Your dog may remain in its crate or just go outside. Let it do whatever it wants. Do not force the dog out of the crate.

This is what you want to see. Calm and relaxed, while the crate is locked.

No one should ever bother your dog when it is inside the crate. If you follow this rule, your dog will learn that its crate is its personal space and a secure place of refuge when the dog wants to be left alone.

More Advanced Conditioning

Once your dog is lying down in its crate with the crate locked, leave the room and grab a cup of coffee. Make some noises to make your dog aware that you are present the next room. Move the crate to a different room. Talk on the phone or talk to a family member in the house. Some people like to have the radio or television on in the next room. Leave for 10 minutes then return. Do not let your dog feel anxious in anyway during this phase. We are still conditioning the dog.

As each day passes, practice leaving your dog in the crate but aim for longer 15 minutes and more. Rinse and repeat with each succession going for a longer time limit and do something different like brushing your teeth, putting your jeans on, or something that signifies you’re getting ready to leave… but you don’t leave.

Whenever it feels anxious, let it out immediately. Remember we are still in the conditioning phase.

The Sleep Test

So your dog is properly conditioned through the detailed instructions above.

Now it is time for the real deal, but what is a good way to know? How do we do this?

You need to perform a sleep test.

To do this, I move the crate to my bedroom or a place you usually sleep at. I prefer to have my the dog crate in my bedroom because it is where I am the longest at night. As I prepare for bed (brush teeth, fix the bed, and etc), I put my dog in its crate and close the crate door, turn off the light, and fall asleep. You dog should not feel too anxious because you are near the crate.

If your dog is able to sleep in its crate the entire time you are asleep (4-6 hours), you’re ready to try leaving your dog in its crate alone!

The Real Deal: Leaving your dog in the Crate Alone

This may sound difficult but it is actually easy, it will just take time. Once you performed the sleep test as written above, try leaving your dog alone for hours at a time, but you need to gradually grow to that point. The only difference now is that you need to show your dog that your leaving the house. Put on your work pants, comb your hair, grab your car keys, start the car engine. Do anything you normally do that will signify you are leaving but in a quiet and orderly fashion.

Your dog may be anxious as it is locked in its crate. This is normal. Leave the house for about 5 – 10 minutes and return promptly but quietly.

Once you return, do not let your dog out right away. Go grab a drink and chill for a couple of minutes. Do not give your dog any attention every time you return home.

If your dog is anxious let your dog calm down by hanging around near the crate. Read a book or watch some TV. Once your dog calms down, reward your dog with treats or some quality play time!

Rinse and repeat but do each sessions a little longer than the last. Continue doing this until your dog is just used to being left alone for an hour. Make sure your crate has an attachable water dispenser.

Maximum Time Limit In a Crate Alone

Personally, I will not leave my dog unattended in its crate for more than 4 hours. Some people leave their dogs inside for up to 6 hours. Some dogs can stay inside a crate for longer periods but pet owners only do this once or twice for very special occasions (e.g. a 12 hour direct flight from NY to Hawaii).

To leave your dog in its crate for more than 6 hours everyday is cruel to my opinion. Like us, dogs need to relieve themselves. If a dog is unable to urinate when it needs to and holds it in for a long time, you increase the chances of your dog getting kidney stones or a bladder or urinal tract infection, which can be a very a serious disease. The chances of infection are usually higher in female dogs so please do not leave your dog crate for long hours.

If you can, make your dog relieve itself before before placing inside its crate.

Conclusion

It is important, to never force your dog to do anything when crate training. Crate training can take days and even weeks so patience is very important.

Take things step by step until your dog become accustomed to its crate. Once it is able to be comfortable, practice leaving your dog alone but briefly at first.

Just remember that dogs are not meant to stay in crates for a long time so be sure that they can properly relieve themselves at least every 4 hours.

Good Luck!

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