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Crate Training 101 [Part 4]: Exercises for Happy Crate Training!

Puppy Crate Training | Vanillapup

We’ve come to the 4th part of this crate training series. Once you’ve prepared your dog for crate training, here are some recommended exercises you can do! By professional dog trainer Barbara Wright.

Crate Training Benefits | Vanillapup

Congrats, you’ve made it to the last part of this crate training series!

For those of you who just got here, please read the other parts of the series before continuing with this final part. This will ensure that you are well-prepared to crate train your dog the right way.

Part 1: What is crate training and why you should do it

Part 2: How to choose a suitable dog crate

Part 3: Preparing for responsible crate training

Now that you’ve gotten the right crate and understood how comfortable your dog is with it, you are in a better position to help him learn to enjoy being in his “den”.

Once your dog is ready, here are the recommended exercises for happy crate training!

1. Teaching your puppy to go in and out of the crate

1) Show your puppy a very high value treat

2) Say “into bed” or “into the crate”

3) Throw the treat into the crate

4) Praise your puppy as he goes in and eats the treat

5) Encourage your puppy to come out of the crate

6) Praise him as he does

Repeat these steps a few times and then change the order of events slightly.

For example, instead of throwing the treat into the crate after you say “into bed”, wait for him to go in on his own before doing so.

If your dog doesn’t enter on your cue, simply wait. Do not ask him a second time and do not crack and throw the treat in. You can encourage him in with hand gestures but even this is riskier than simply waiting.

If he doesn’t go in, end the training session without comment. Try another session after a short while, withholding the reward until the dog goes in on his own.

When he goes into the crate on his own (and they all do eventually, so hang in there), give him a double or triple reward.

Do this a few more times before ending the session. Always leave your dog wanting more.

2. Teaching your puppy a positive association to the crate

Responsible Crate Training | Vanillapup

1) When your puppy isn’t looking, hide special treats in the open crate for him to find in his own time

2) Tie a special chew with a strong string at the rear of the open crate, so that your puppy only has access to it when inside the crate

3) If you offer a high-value chew in the open crate, never let your puppy carry the chew out of the crate. If he does, gently take the chew from him and put it back into the crate

4) Feed all food and meals inside the crate

5) Play the “in and out of the crate game” and offer numerous treats when your puppy is in the crate

Repeat these steps as often and as many times as possible and your dog will learn to love the crate more and more!

3. Teaching your puppy that a shut crate door is great news

1) Play the “in and out of the crate” game, only now close the door after he goes in. Feed him super high-value treats as you wait 1-2 minutes before opening the door

2) Do this several times and then practice walking around the crate and around the room while he is locked inside, offering treats occasionally. After a few minutes, open the door and let him out. No matter what you do, make this a positive experience for him

3) Repeat this exercise in different places and situations

4. Increasing crate duration exercise

Puppy Crate Training | Vanillapup

1) Rent yourself a movie and get ready special dog chews, treats and interactive toys stuffed with delicious food. Keep your puppy a little hungry a day before doing this.

2) Take him to the toilet, then set up the crate right next to you before you sit down to enjoy the movie

3) Ask your puppy to go into the crate. After he goes in, give him a chew toy, close the crate door and start the movie. Intentionally leave the room a couple times to grab some popcorn or a drink, but always come back within a minute or so

4) The first experience being locked in the crate for some time must be overwhelmingly easy and pleasant. If you think your dog is getting agitated, give him a break to the toilet or to stretch his legs. If you feel that your puppy is getting restless, you can also distract him with another chew toy or some “magically appearing” food

5) Prevent your puppy from getting stressed. However, ignore any noise, agitation or tantrum from him, given that you have prepared him with the recommended exercises and ensured that his needs have been met. At the end of the movie, if he is quiet and settled in the crate, simply open the door and let him come out

6) Once he’s out, ask him right back in for a treat or two without closing the door before you finish your training/movie session. If he refuses to go in, do whatever it takes to get him in (e.g. coaxing, luring, enticing him with a yummy treat), reward him and continue to work on your in/out exercises

7) Now, repeat locking your puppy in the crate when you’re at home, going about your usual business regularly

Do not entertain misbehaviour

Even a well-trained puppy may at some point decide to whine or cry to get out of the crate. Try to avoid responding to such requests as you may be teaching your puppy to cry for freedom.

Always try to distract or ignore him to achieve quiet behaviour before letting him out.

If you think he needs to go to the toilet, take him to it. But ensure that straight after the toilet break, you put him back in the crate. Only allow freedom once he is settled and relaxed.

It is important to understand the difference between a puppy having true separation or confinement trauma (test 2 and 3) and a puppy simply demanding freedom.

5. Leaving the house with your dog in the crate

1) When your dog is going into the crate without fuss and is no longer vocalising distress, you may start leaving the house with him in the crate

2) Leave for 30 seconds to 1 minute over and over for the first “leaving home” session

3) Then, over the next few sessions, gradually extend the time you are gone from 1 minute to 5, 10, 15 and 30 minutes, and then from 1 hour to 2, 3 and 4 hours. Throw in some short sessions (5 to 60 seconds) in between to mix it up

4) Depart and arrive without any fanfare

5) Tire your puppy out with exercise and training before the longer sessions

6) It is important to gradually condition the dog to be in the crate this way before using it day-to-day.

Crate problem shooting

Under no circumstances should you open the door to the crate when your dog is misbehaving. If you do, you are conditioning the behaviour. If you do not like it, do not reward it.

When you open the door, don’t gush and hug the dog. Make the exit an anticlimax. Behave very neutrally. All the good stuff should happen while he’s IN the crate and behaving nicely.

If your dog is soiling his crate, the first thing to do is to remove the pee pad or blanket for a week – the porous material may be triggering elimination.

Also, be sure that you are not stretching it too long between toilet trips, forcing him to eliminate in his crate.

Keep your dog and the crate scrupulously clean. It would be prudent to have him checked for a bladder infection if he is urinating really often.

Finally, a minority of dogs is just not inhibited from eliminating by crates or have lost their cleanliness instinct by being confined continuously. If you think this is happening with your puppy, please speak to a professional trainer.

Please read: important rules for responsible confinement training

Yorkie on a walk | Vanillapup

You should never confine your dog for many hours at once. Slowly increase the amount of time your dog spends in a crate to a maximum of 5-6 hours a day.

1. Balance confinement with freedom

All dogs need mental and physical stimulation and companionship. If you are teaching your dog to be in a crate at certain times of the day, you need to make sure he also gets daily walks, playtime, time to run free and time with you.

2. Keep your dog close

When using a confinement area for long-term management, it is important that this area is close to the family – exposing the dog to experiences with us. Confinement training involves including your dog in family life and not excluding him from social companionship.

3. It’s about fun, not punishment

Confinement always needs to be fun (give things for entertainment), never punishment.

The aim of confinement training early on in training is to prevent your dog from learning bad habits and to teach him to be comfortable being confined when necessary. As your dog’s behaviour gets more trustworthy you can then allow him more freedom.


Photo credit: Sappymoosetree and _tar0_ via Foter.com / CC BY

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Barbara Wright
Founder at Positive Puppies
Barbara Wright is the founder of Positive Puppies, Sydney's premier dog training, walking, and boarding company. She is an honours graduate of the Academy for Dog Trainers at San Francisco SPCA with Jean Donaldson.

Barbara is a mother of five - two children, a Border Collie called Ace and two free-flying Cockatiels.
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