Dogs can become stressed or confused when given full run of the house. A crate is more den-like, and it allows you to manage the dog’s behavior during the training process and even while you are away from home or unable to supervise. The crate should never be used as a form of punishment. “Time-outs” are not an effective training strategy. Positive reinforcement should be used instead.

Type of crate
Some dogs find the mostly plastic airline types more den-like than the metal, epoxy-coated ones. The metal crates have different amounts of space between the bars, so that may be a factor to consider when choosing that type of crate.

Size of the crate
The crate should be big enough for the dog to stand up and turn around. If the crate is too big, then the dog may soil it. If you have a puppy, you may use a divider to reduce the crate’s size until he is larger, at which time you remove the divider. Some crates come with dividers. You may also try a piece of cardboard if needed.

Preparing the crate

  • Do not place squeaky toys or any plastic bowls that the dog may potentially chew inside the crate. Many dogs, when stressed, will do things they wouldn’t normally, such as chew or chew something they usually don’t when calm. A Kong toy stuffed with a few pieces of dog food and sealed with peanut butter (which may be frozen overnight) are a great distraction for him. Only give this Kong or other high-valued treat when the dog is in the crate.
  • A used blanket or old sweatshirt may be used as bedding. The smell may comfort the dog.
  • Dogs may find it soothing to be in a cozy, dark environment, which you can create by covering the crate with a sheet or thin blanket on three sides, leaving only the front exposed. You don’t want the crate to become too warm. Keep in mind that the dog may pull the sheet or blanket inside the crate.
  • If you have a crate that needs to be assembled (as opposed to the plastic airline kennels), set it up and prepare it before the dog sees it, if possible.

Introduction to the crate
Place toys, treats, food and water inside, with the door open, and allow the dog to roam in and out of the crate and check it out on his own. Give lots of praise whenever he enters the crate.

When he enters and becomes occupied, gently close the door and let him be. Your dog may immediately be comfortable in the crate, or it may take the dog several days or weeks to become more relaxed. If he shows signs of stress, you may try this progression:

  1. Sit next to the crate with the door shut. If he becomes more relaxed, then
  2. Sit across the room where he can still see you. If he seems relaxed, then
  3. Leave the room.
  4. When settled and quiet (and time potentially expires), re-enter the room and use the command “good” to mark this silence/relaxed behavior.

The purpose is to gradually leave the room (and the house) without the dog being stressed. Start with 10 to15 minutes and add 2-3 minutes per session. Practice crating exercises three times a day.

If you have been able to successfully correct the dog for undesirable behavior in other circumstances, you may correct him for whining, barking, panting or pushing the door. Otherwise, ignore the behavior.

Once the dog has positive experiences in the crate, you may give a command, such as “crate” in a happy, high-pitched voice, for him to enter the crate, or you could guide him gently on leash. If he resists, be calm but firm. Never yank the leash. You may try feeding the leash through the back of the crate to provide direction while giving encouragement.

If dog is able to escape the wire crate, try a mostly plastic airline crate. Some dogs find this type more den-like.

Releasing from the crate
Never release him from the crate until he is quiet. As with children, he will otherwise learn that whining gets him what he wants. “Release” is a good command to use when letting him out of the crate.

Important tips

  • When he is not required to be in the crate, leave the door open, place treats to entice him if needed, and allow him to roam in and out of the crate at will.
  • Do not only crate the dog when leaving. The dog will then associate the crate negatively with your leaving the house. Furthermore, do not make a big production when leaving or excitedly greet the dog when you return. He will then feel like it’s “doomsday” when you leave and “party time” when you return.
  • Always give meals in the crate to associate positive experiences with the crate.

Time in crate
We recommend that dogs not be left in the crate for more than 6 hours at a time. This will depend on the age, size and bladder of the dog. If you will be gone for an extended period of time, consider gating off the dog in a room away from any things that he could potentially chew or get into, such as the trash.