Questions about crate training rank high among many dog owners, particularly if they are new dog owners. The internet is certainly filled with conflicting advice and often strong opinions, adding to the anxiety and confusion.
Crates can be wonderful and very effective TOOLS in certain situations, but will quickly send the relationship with your dog into a downward spiral if used as a CRUTCH. Like any training tool, you need to implement and use it thoughtfully.
What crates are NOT for is to store your dog, or to temporarily restore peace to your household with a poorly trained dog, or a dog that does not get enough exercise and mental stimulus. Crating your dog all day while you are at work will ensure your household remains intact during your absence, but it begs the question why you have a dog in the first place. Much like improper use of electronic collars, indiscriminate use of prong or pinch collars, and reliance on easy-walker harnesses and head halters, people latch onto crates because it provides a seemingly instant solution to a big problem, not realizing it is a Band-Aid that only deepens the problem. A crate doesn’t teach a dog anything.
So what are crates for then? They are a necessary tool for transporting your dog in a car; either for a trip to the vet or to the beach as having a dog free in your car is a very bad idea. Air travel certainly requires a crate, and they can also provide a temporary, safe holding place when attending dog training classes in a group setting, particularly if you have more than one dog. In your home, a crate can be a short-term, comfortable resting place for a dog that is tired from plenty of exercise, mental stimulation and training. Having a tired puppy or young dog sleep in a crate during the night will greatly aid in house training. The common denominator here is that the crate becomes a place for calm, resting behavior, and the mode of transportation to (mostly) fun places. Our dogs usually cannot get into their crates fast enough if there is even the slightest chance of a trip.
So how do you make a crate desirable for your dog? Baby steps, as always in dog training. First, leave the crate in your living area with its door open and pretend it is not there. Later, without your dog watching put some yummy treats in it and let your dog find them. Again, pay no attention to the crate and thus aid your dog in self-discovery. Repeat the ‘baiting’ a few times, always without your dog watching and at random intervals. Then, tire your dog out and guide it into the crate with a treat and close the door. Watch yourself doing that in a calm yet purposeful manner. Praise your dog for calm behavior, walk away and come back after a few minutes opening the crate, but only if the dog is calm and quiet. Make the act of opening the door as neutral as possible. Then lengthen the periods of closed crate gradually. Use a light blanket over the crate to diminish visual stimuli if the closed crate is your puppy’s resting place for the night, and you can have a small radio playing nearby as well. Don’t forget to make it even more pleasant by putting a treat inside the crate, such as a Kong toy laced with peanut butter on the inside. In essence, your dog should learn to view the crate as a place where good things happen.