Home Sweet Home: Crate Acceptance

Harmonious is the house where the dog willingly goes into his crate when directed and is content with the door closed.  Humans who are uncomfortable with the notion of confinement for the dog may be unaware of the benefits.  Once adjusted to it, many dogs choose to hang out in the crate and accept owner-requested time in it. 

Early Adjustment

It’s a pity that most puppies arrive in their new homes without any introduction to crate confinement.  If contained at all, they have made some level of adjustment to a playpen.  The playpen can be a helpful tool, but doesn’t usually segue into crate adjustment.  It is not a long-term substitute for the crate, either.  Landing in a new environment is very stressful for dogs, especially puppies.  What do they have of life experience?  They must transition to alone time without the huddle and company of litter mates.  The best scenario is a crate in the bedroom at night, and one in the kitchen/family room area for convenience during the day.  Puppies find comfort in the nearness of their new human family. 

“Door open” and “door closed” are two separate exercises that can be worked concurrently.  During this adjustment process, you still need the crate – with the door closed – for management.  Gradually increasing crate time is the best strategy.

With the door open, toss one treat at a time into the crate until your puppy is comfortable walking all the way in.  Don’t close the door with this exercise.   Your puppy will become confused about what to anticipate and is likely to stop going into the crate for the treat.

For the “door closed” exercise, place the puppy in her crate with several small, delicious treats.  Close the door.  Linger near the crate, but don’t make constant eye contact with the puppy, especially when she’s vocalizing.  You can use a phrase such as, “I’ll be back.”  When a moment of quiet (or de-escalation) occurs, open the door and allow the puppy to exit the crate, without calling her out of the crate.  There will be times during this process when you must leave your house.  With as little emotion as possible, place your puppy in his crate with a Kong Classic (stuffed with small bites of treats/peanut butter inside).   A NylaBone teething ring is also safe to leave with your puppy.  Close the crate door and exit the house.  You may hear vocalizing as you leave.  (A video camera may be set up aimed at the crate.)  When alone, most puppies vocalize for a short while.  Then, they do what dogs should do when alone:  sleep.

Don’t abandon the “door open” exercise, if you want your dog to learn to go into his crate on cue.  As dogs mature, placement is easy when they willingly respond to, “in your crate”.  Transition from tossing the treat into the crate to holding it in your palm and luring your dog in.  With this exercise, the food lure is gradually faded, the door closes, and the dog receives his treat after he is in the closed crate.

Crate Bedding

During the adjustment period, you can hold off on crate bedding.  Many breeders send puppies to their new homes with a small blanket or towel from their time with litter mates.  This can be placed in the crate as an emotional comfort object.  After several weeks, you can replace or add to your puppy’s crate bedding.

With adolescents and adult dogs, crate bedding may serve as an absorbent potty surface or large toy to be shredded.  Assess your dog’s potty preference (outdoors!) and crate cleanliness.  If a dog is uber-stressed by containment, because it’s totally unfamiliar, he’s likely to excessively chew/shred fabric bedding.  For a time, place him in the crate with only a stuffed Kong Classic (the black one for large breeds or intense chewers).  When you feel he’s settled in, try an old towel and a 20-minute departure.  (He still gets the Kong!)  Assess chomping on the towel.

While the pan in the crate may appear an uncomfortable resting spot, your dog will not miss bedding.  This is – above all – a safety precaution.  Ingesting shredded fabric and polyfill can cause an internal blockage. 

Benefits of Crate Acceptance

Using a crate during housetraining yields much faster results.  Opportunities to soil anywhere but the potty place are seriously limited.  Most dogs are motivated to keep the crate clean.  They learn to “hold it”, pending access to the outdoors. 

Puppies and busy adolescents/adult dogs need help learning to chill out and engage in a quiet, independent activity.  A yummy chew inside the crate (door closed) is a great way for these animals to decompress.  They also learn to enjoy an activity without direct human engagement and to spend relaxed time alone.

Training in new behaviors takes time, so the undesirable old behaviors must be managed in the meantime.  The crate provides the right management solution.  One example is a “sit/stay” front door greeting.  The food delivery person’s arrival is the wrong time to practice this!  Place the dog in the crate during the transaction and actively prevent him from any old behaviors, such as running out the door or jumping on the person there. 

For timid dogs, the crate can function as a safety zone.  No one bothers the dog when she’s in her crate.  Social gatherings in the home can be really stressful for a shy dog.  When a shy dog is left out and about, guests may inadvertently cross her comfort boundary and elicit fear responses.  She is less stressed when in her safety zone, happily chomping on a new bone.

These are only several advantages to crate use.  The list is long.  Most groomers and boarding facilities hold and house dogs in crates, too.  These experiences are less stressful if your dog is already adjusted to crate confinement. 


Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel  CPDT-KA, 2018  all rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC