If you have a dog, you’ve probably heard how important it is to crate train. But what if your dog doesn't like his crate? There are two possible scenarios: Your dog needs to be introduced to it more slowly, or your dog has crate trauma.
When your dog doesn’t like the crate
Some dogs take longer than others to warm up to using the crate. Proper training can take up to six months of consistent training, so be patient. You also need to make sure you’re using the best methods and equipment.
First, make sure you have the right crate for your dog. It needs to be large enough for your dog to be able to stand and turn around comfortably but is still snug for sleeping. There are different kinds of crates, such as a wire crate, which is very open, or an airline or kennel crate, which is more enclosed for dogs who like fewer distractions while sleeping or calming down. Your dog may prefer one kind over another.
Next, you’ll want to introduce the crate when your dog is calm. Don’t try to put him in when he’s excited from playing, or when he’s frightened by a thunderstorm. Eventually, he may go there himself when he is afraid, but only if you’ve taught him that his crate is a place where he can feel calm and safe.
Introduce the crate slowly, using treats when he goes in calmly, such as our Saint Rocco’s Treats or Sprinkles, then let him come back out. You can also roll a ball into the crate for him to bring back to you. When you begin closing the crate, close the gate for a moment while you’re right there, then open it again. Extend the time gradually. If your dog lies down or sits, he is comfortable in there. Then slowly begin walking away, going into the other room for a minute or two, then come back and open the gate.
When you leave your dog in the crate, be sure to remove his collar so that it does not get caught on anything. Never leave your dog in a crate longer than he can reasonably hold his bladder. Let him have a special “crate toy” or favorite “crate treat” like maybe our Salmon treats, or a Saint Rocco’s Venison Bone, which he only gets in the crate. Expect crate training to take a long time, as you gradually build up to keeping him crated at night or when you go out for a few hours.
But what if you feel like you've tried everything and he just doesn’t like it? He probably has traumatic memories that need to be acknowledged and worked around.
When your dog has crate trauma
Our dogs can develop traumatic memories, just as we can. If you’ve adopted your dog at an older age and he doesn't like the crate, there is a good chance he has an unhappy memory: maybe he was kept in a crate too long or the crate was used as punishment.
In training our dogs for any skill, our goal is to develop positive memories so he will want to do it – whether that’s to sit and stay on command or to use the crate. If he already has negative associations with the crate, it will be a challenge to overcome them. You'll have to feel your dog out on this one and go slowly.
If your dog really despises his crate, it’s best to start by creating positive memories. Make the crate a place of pleasure and unique treats or toys. Some owners have found success using a high-value treat to encourage a reluctant dog to enter the crate. You could break up one of our larger treat bars, such as Helt’s Honey Treat or Carnivores Choice, and make a trail of pieces into the crate. You could even feed your dog in the crate. Put his bowl near the opening, just inside the door, and mix our Poultry Entree or Beef Entree into his familiar food, gradually increasing the amount of fresh food entree so that he associates this high-quality, delicious food with his crate. Your goal is to change his memories and associations. Little by little, you can move the food bowl further into the crate. Gradually switch to other, smaller treats and try the training suggested above, once he has become less afraid of the crate.
However, some dogs simply will not adjust; in such a case, you may need to do the adjusting. For instance, one of our buddies, Henry, was adopted at one year old and did not like his crate at all. If his owner was ever able to coax him into it and go out for a short time, by the time she arrived back home, the crate was in the middle of the floor and Henry was beside himself. She tried everything, until a friend suggested that he might have crate trauma - kept in one way too long at a shelter.
Henry was fine when he was gated into a small section of the house. The owner tried leaving in very small spurts of time (one minute at first) and worked up to many hours, gradually, making sure Henry was not stressed and would not rip apart the house. This compromise worked for them.
Remember to consider your dog’s feelings, provide him with a slow introduction to crates, and make it a positive experience for him. Take your time, give him some healthy treats during the training process, and you’ll soon have a crate-trained dog.