Got a new puppy? They have a lot to learn, but one of the first things you should teach them is how to use their crate! Fi's professional dog trainer, Or Nessim, is teaching us how we can crate train our puppies:

Crate training is a great tool to have as it creates a quiet and safe place for your puppy. It also secures them in a place where they aren’t chewing on furniture or wandering around the house while nobody is watching.

It is important to note that while crate training is extremely important and beneficial for the dog owner, there are a few basic rules to keep in mind when utilizing the crate:

  • The crate must not be used as punishment for the dog or else he/she won’t associate it as their safe den.
  • Don’t leave your dog there all day and all night. Your dog needs daily exercise and leaving him/her in the crate or day can make the dog anxious, depressed, or even aggressive.
  • If your dog is a puppy, don’t keep him/her in the crate for longer than four hours at a time because puppies aren’t able to control their bladders for that long.
Border collie in her crate

Now that you know what not to do, we can now move on to successfully training your dog to see their  crate as their own comfortable space. Place the crate in a place in the house where the family spends a lot of time, such as the living room. To start, you’ll want to leave the door of the crate open. Lure your dog towards the crate using praise and drop some treats inside so that he/she can enjoyably explore the crate. Don’t force your dog in - let them sniff around and walk in and out of the crate at their own will so that they aren’t frightened from it.

The next step is to begin feeding your dog regularly near or in the crate so that they associate the crate with something positive that they enjoy. This step depends on your dog's comfort level - place the food bowl near the crate if your dog is hesitant to enter, but if they already comfortably enter the crate with treats and praise, you can place the food bowl inside the crate. Now your dog associates the crate with a place where they are fed which is their “happy place.” You can close the door while the dog is eating and open the door right when they finish. With each meal, leave the door closed for a bit longer after the dog is done eating.

Toshi would go into his cage as soon as I get into the shower. I’d love to one day leave him roaming freely around the house.

Entering the crate can become a command by calling your dog over and pointing to the crate while saying the word “crate,” for example. When they enter, close the crate door and give them a treat. Sit by the crate with the door closed for a few minutes, then leave the room for a bit, then come back and let them out. Repeat this process regularly and increase periods of time the dog is left in the crate each time gradually. This process will take a few weeks but eventually your dog will feel more and more comfortable to be in the crate while you are out of sight.

You can leave a blanket in the crate or toys your dog enjoys while you are gone. It is all a matter of routine and practice for the dog so the more you repeat the process, the more it will become clear to your dog what desired behavior is expected of them. It is important not to give your dog a treat when they are jumping or excited to get out of the crate when you return or having emotional or prolonged departures when leaving the dog in the crate. These will increase the dog’s anxiety.

There are potential problems that can arise with crate training, such as excessive whining or barking. Dogs desire their owners attention at all times and responding to the whining or barking will just reinforce that behavior because they will understand that it gets your attention. Try to ignore the whining and barking and don’t release them from the cage when they do so. Hitting the cage or yelling at your dog will only make the whining worse because negative attention is still attention and it may even create a negative association for the dog with the crate, completely ruining the positive foundation you have built. Whining can be as a result of having to go to the bathroom, or just wanting to get out. If you keep your dog on a schedule, they will get used to going out to eliminate at those regular times and won’t whine for that reason.

It may take a lot of patience (and a lot of treats), but eventually your puppy will learn to love their crate, and will even be happy to nap in there all on their own!