Crates can be useful for travel, for dogs that need crate rest for medical reasons, or to keep dogs safe and out of trouble for short periods during the day. Some dogs can be comfortable in a crate overnight as they sleep but they should not be used for more than 2-3 hours during the day. Over use of crates can be detrimental to a dog’s mental and physical health.
The sessions were roughly 5-10 minutes in length, and were conducted at least 1x each day for 10 weeks.
These training exercises require a high rate of reinforcement rate. I am using a moist, meaty, nutritious food that supplemented meals. In some cases, I used his breakfast and dinner for training.
The goal was to help dogs become comfortable with an open or closed door crate. Calmly and casually walking in and out and exhibiting relaxed body language and behavior while inside.
Step 1: Disassemble Crate
If your dog is very nervous with a crate, it’s a good idea to disassemble the crate and help him become comfortable with approaching and interacting with the bottom half first. If your dog is nervous about taking the food from the front lip of the crate, then place it 1-2 feet in front of the crate, or more, if that’s what your dog needs. Your dog WILL progress if you allow them the opportunity to progress at their individual pace.
Be patient. Forcing your dog into the crate, this will only prolong the process.
Step 2: “Two Paws In”
Once your dog is freely taking food off of the lip of the crate, you can begin to reinforce if he places one or two paws in the crate. Placing a non-slip training mat inside can facilitate the process.
Aim to reinforce for 10 – 15 second periods of time, before providing a short one minute break. This break will give your dog the opportunity to process the training, while building focus and engagement. It also also helps because your dog will come to trust that you will never push them beyond their comfort level. The less force you use, the more confident your dog will become and the faster your training will progress.
Step 3: “Four Paws In”
The next step is to teach your dog to step inside the crate, and then subsequently turn around. Break this down into two separate parts. When dogs step in, and quickly back out, or if your dog is stretching to take the food – this is a sign that you have raised criteria too high.
Step 4: “Bottom + Top”
Once your dog is stepping in and turning around you can begin the process of re-assembling the crate. You may need to drop criteria, by reinforcing once again for one or two paws inside. In some cases, it can be helpful for your dog to see another dog “model” the desired behavior.
Step 5: “Crate with Gate”
Add the gate back into the picture when your dog is fluently walking in and out of the assembled crate. When you first put the gate back on, you do not need to begin closing the gate right away. Assume that the sight and sound of the gate will be challenging enough. If you see your dog reaching for the food, or stretching out their back legs this is a sign that criteria is set too high. Deliver the food in a way that allows your dog to step forward and take it without any sign of hesitation.
Step 6: “Closing the Gate”
Close the gate for 10 – 20 second periods of time and provide a high rate of reinforcement while the door is closed. When you open the gate, provide a few more pieces of food before ending that training set. Many dogs find this step to be very challenging because they could experience stress associated with being confined, in combination with the sound generated by the gates locking mechanism. If your dog is not taking the food, or rushes out the second the gate opens, this is a indication that you should spend more time on the previous step. Let your dog set the pace. I normally close the gate once each session. Opening and closing the gate in repetition has the potential to generate more anxiety, especially for dogs that are sound sensitive or anxious with confinement.
Step 7 (Final Step): “Sleeping in the Crate”
The final step is “adding duration” in a manner that helps your dog associate the crate with a place of rest and relaxation. You can do this by positioning the crate next to your bed, and having your dog sleep there at night. Place comfortable bedding in crate, and keep the crate door open for 3-7 days before you attempt to close the door at night.
Bonus Training Tip
Think about your “point of delivery.” Point of delivery is the physical location of the food when its offered to the dog. If you are “overarching” criteria, you will know this, because you’ll notice your dog’s hind legs and neck are stretching out. If your dog is comfortable with your point of delivery, you will notice their hind legs are square beneath them and there is no reluctance to move forward to accept the food.
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