Owners may feel like they owe their dog free-range of as much square-footage as possible, even when alone, in order to imitate the most "natural" condition. "Cage-free" is a popular concept. The modern American dog, however, lives in an extraordinarily complicated and unnatural condition. Maximizing freedom of movement is not always safe or stress-free. In our society a crate-trained dog gets to go more places and spend more time with her favorite people.

At home, a crate can provide the dog a safe place to wait out unwanted (by the dog) visitors. Visiting children can be especially stressful for dogs who are not used to quick movements and handling by strangers. In the car, crating can protect dogs in the event of a crash and keep them out of your hair (literally) while you drive.

Behaviors like barking, whining, chewing, aggression, fence-climbing and house-soiling develop and become habits when a dog is left unsupervised in a house or yard. If the dog must be deprived of the company of its "pack", a kennel or crate is a safer and more manageable area of responsibility, especially for dogs under a year old. Young dogs frequently require surgery from swallowing pieces of string, fabric, plastic, wood or metal while unsupervised. Many die before owners realize that a blocked intestine is causing lethal harm.

In order to get the dog to recognize how safe the crate is, you first have to get him into it by making it a rewarding place. Throw food into the back of the open crate every time you walk past it and give the dog his regular meals in the crate.

For the initial 30-50 treats, don't shut the door of the crate when the dog is in it. Get your dog to linger in the crate by throwing a second and third treat in the back while she's still collecting the first treat. If you have some communication skills already installed in your dog, you can suggest that she try lying down or waiting in the crate and praise and/or reward that behavior when it occurs. Practice swinging the door in to shut it, poke a few treats through the wire, and then open it again. Don't pet or praise on exiting the crate. You want the dog to notice that being in the crate is full of interest and rewards, while outside of the crate is ho-hum. Don't force the dog into the crate or block her exit.

Once the dog feels comfortable waiting a few minutes in the crate for additional treats, door open or shut, give her a favorite chew-food (rib bone, KONG or rawhide) and shut the door. Stay where she can see you if she's an anxious type. Open the crate door a little before the dog finishes with the bone. Repeat the next day, leaving the crate door shut for a little longer.

At any point if the dog whines or barks, give no sign of noticing. Stay nearby and wait for an opportunity to release the dog once it quiets. NEVER RELEASE A WHINING DOG, even if it takes hours for her to stop. Wait until 30 seconds after her last sound.

Avoid violating your dog's "safe area" by reaching into the crate to drag him out, letting children crawl in with him, or banging on the top. For training purposes, the crate should be located somewhere where you and the dog can interface with it regularly throughout the day, such as the living room.

If your training gets short circuited and you have to put your dog in the crate before he is completely desensitized and content there, expect your dog to vocalize long and hard before giving up. Being noisy has been his strategy since birth to get attention so he's not going to give it up easily. It's nice to be far away, possibly across town, when this happens. Never, ever release, cajole, or feed a barking dog. Delay any interaction with the dog until he is completely quiet for at least 15 seconds. Also be careful in the early stages that you don't throw a party she wants to go to while she's locked in there. Don't wait until after the doorbell rings to try to stuff her in.

Avoid the Walmart-type crate with clips on the sides to hold the top and bottom together (like the one on the right). These are made of more flexible plastic and I see a lot of these crates with cracks in the upper shell and missing clips. Screw-fastened crates or heavy-duty clipped crates are sturdier. If you start with a folding wire crate, cover the sides with a blanket for a more den-like feel.

Most dogs like car rides enough that they are happy to get in a crate in the car. In fact, that's one way to get your dog familiar with the crate: make it a condition of going on car-rides. However, if your dog is more car-phobic you will need to take the time to reward him for being in the crate, in the car. If you plan on shipping your dog by an airline, make sure you do lots of car-crate conditioning before the trip and invest in an airline-approved crate from the start.

Use a hard-sided crate for initial training. Once the dog is settling promptly and reliably in the crate, a folding canvas crate is super convenient for travel. I have 2 that I use all the time, one is a sturdy canvas if I'm leaving my dog on a porch for an hour or two and the other is a very thin pop up crate that I can flatten or open with one hand. 

Skipping these steps is a sure way to make a crate-complainer. The dog has to be conditioned to recognize the crate as a supremely safe and rewarding place, so that as soon as he steps into that familiar space, the dopamine and happy thoughts will involuntarily start to flow.

A great blog post on crating




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