Crate Expectations Part 1: Shaping interactions with a new crate

I have been helping a student get her dog used to a crate, which reminded me of the crate training tutorial I wrote a year ago, and never ended up sharing anywhere! I’m going to split it into 4 blog posts. If you try this protocol with your own dog and run into problems, feel free to ask your questions in the comments, and I’ll try to help you out!

Traditionally, dogs used to be “trained” to spend time in their crates by means of just putting them in the crate, closing the door, and not letting them out until they stopped whining or barking. Not only is this stressful for your dog, it’s also hard on your neighbors, who might not approve of your dog barking in her crate all night. The good news is that there are other, less stressful ways of getting a dog used to a crate. It might take a little longer to get duration than if you just locked your dog in, but it will be much less stressful for both you and your dog.

dog training, life skills, crate training, dog crate, dog kennel

If your dog already has negative associations with her crate, I recommend getting a different model (plastic instead of wire or wire instead of plastic) and starting from scratch with a new crate in a different location. It’s easier to build positive associations to an entirely new object than to change your dog’s feelings about a crate she already dislikes.

I usually use a combination of shaping and luring to get started. If you are an experienced shaper, feel free to free shape the behavior instead. Also, please note there is more than just one way to train your dog to enjoy spending time in her crate. The steps I’m sharing here with you have worked well for me – that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t get equally good results with a different and equally stress-free training technique.

Crate Training Setup

  • Remove all other objects around your crate to make it obvious to your dog that your training session is about the crate.
  • If your dog has a tendency to wander off or is a young puppy with a short attention span, put an x-pen around yourself and the crate, or keep her on a leash.
  • Keep each session to 1 minute – set a timer to remind you to stop training and give your dog a break.

Click any Interaction and Feed in the Crate

  • Click any and all interactions with the crate. Throw a treat into the crate so the dog eats inside the crate! If your dog hesitates to step in the crate, put the treat near the door so all she has to do is stick in her head to get it. With every click, put the treat a little further inside the crate until your dog has to step in to get it – first one paw, then two, three, and finally four.
  • Can you get in three to five more clicks and treats while your dog is still in the crate, has just finished eating her previous treat, but hasn’t had time yet to come out again? Great!
  • After three to five rapid-fire clicks and treats, wait a little. If your dog comes out of the crate, wait to click until she shows interest again. If she stays in and waits, add another click and treat inside the crate, then click and throw a treat out to set her up for another rep.

Hadley – Session 1

At the time I worked on this tutorial, Hadley was the least crate-trained dog in our house, so I’m using him to demo the first steps. I chose a crate he has never been in, and a location I have never worked on crate training before: out on the patio. In order to keep him from running off, I put an x-pen around Hadley, myself and the crate. He’s making it easy and has no trouble going all the way in when I feed in the crate after the first click. Note that I don’t wait for him to go all the way in before each click – I really do click any interaction with the crate. Looking at it is enough at first! That’s the shaping part of this exercise. However, I feed in the crate so he has to go all the way in for his treat. That’s the luring part of it!

00:54 Now I want more than just looking at it – walk towards it to get a click!
01:23 For the first time, I wait a little bit to see if he’ll stay in on his own, or come out again. Just a fraction of a second … He stops and looks at me, and I immediately reinforce this choice with a click and treat.

Hadley – Session 2

00:13 I delay the click a tiny little bit to see if Hadley chooses to stay in the crate rather than come out … And he does, and looks at me expectantly! Yey!
00:23 Click for sticking the head in the crate.
00:51 Click for one paw in.
01:08 Click for two paws.
01:16 Again, I delay the click, and Hadley chooses to stay in the crate rather than come out.

  • Delay the click just a little longer once your dog is successful: you started with clicking for looking at the crate and proceeded to clicking for sticking the head in, putting one paw in, then two paws, three paws, and finally all four paws.
  • Once you get four paws in, start adding duration: with your dog standing in the crate, delay the click longer and longer: dog in the crate – click immediately. Dog in the crate – count to 1 in your head, click, and treat. Dog in the crate – count to 2 in your head, click, and treat. Dog in the crate – count to 3 in your head, click, and treat.
  • When your dog leaves the crate before the click, wait for her to go back in, and start building duration from scratch: dog in the crate – click immediately. Dog in the crate – count to 1 in your head, click, and treat. Dog in the crate, count to 2 in your head, click, and treat. Etc.
  • Eventually, most dogs will offer a sit or a down in the crate – just standing there gets boring. Jackpot the sit or down with praise and a hand full of treats!

Check back next week for the following steps!

Chrissi travels internationally learning about dogs, and makes money to support her roaming by teaching online at FDSA, in person in Guatemala, and seminars around the world. Contact Chrissi for more information, or join her December class at FDSA: Finding Five – Training for a Busy World.

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