Crate expectations part 4: Building Relaxation

This is part 4 of a 4-part crate training tutorial. Click here to read part 1, here for part 2, and here for part 3!

What happens after the 1-minute mark?

Once my dog can stay in her crate for a minute without getting up, I introduce a different kind of reinforcer: a long-lasting chew such as a frozen Kong or a bone. At the 1-minute mark, my crate (or mat) training starts to look very different from building a duration stay for obedience. Now my dog has understood the concept of staying put, I am introducing the element of relaxation.

Introducing a Kong or bone in the crate

  • Get a good book or your laptop – you’ll need it to entertain yourself! You’ll also need the timer app on your phone.
  • Send your dog in her crate. Mark and feed in position.
  • Give her a long-lasting chew such as a frozen Kong or a bone.
  • Set your timer to intervals between 1 and 3 minutes – you can randomize these or take turns feeding after 1, 2 and 3 minutes respectively.
  • Hang out near your dog, who should be enjoying her Kong or bone. Read your book or play on your laptop. Feel free to talk to your dog anytime you feel like it.
  • Every time your timer rings, feed a treat.
  • End the session after 15 minutes by trading the Kong/bone for food, and releasing your dog.

Phoebe demonstrates this step on a mat. For crate training, just imagine the mat were a crate – I do it exactly the same way, with the door open. You don’t have to watch the entire video – it’s long and boring, just like relaxing in a crate or on a mat should be for the observer! However, check out the last 30 seconds of this video: Phoebe doesn’t want to leave her mat! That’s the kind of association we want to build to mats and crates!

Transitioning to using your crate in real life

Congratulations! Once you get to this point, you’ve already conquered the most difficult part of crate training! There’s a few tricks that will help you transition from these structured training session to relaxation for longer periods of time, when you’re not sitting next to your dog, and with the door closed.

Removing yourself from the picture

Do exactly what you did in the previous step: offer a Kong or bone to your dog, and set the timer of your phone to random intervals. The door to the crate should still be open at this stage.

  • With your dog relaxing and chewing in the crate, move around the room, doing random things such as cleaning, doing the dishes, or organizing your bookshelf.
  • Every time your timer rings, return to your dog and feed her a treat.
  • End the session after 15 minutes by trading the Kong/bone for food, and releasing your dog.

What if your dog gets up and comes out?

No big deal. Trade her Kong or bone for food if she brought it with her, send her back into the crate, and return the treat or Kong. If she keeps leaving, go back to the previous step (sitting near the crate rather than moving through the room) for another session. You can also ziptie the bone or Kong to the back of the crate so your dog can’t carry it outside!

Closing the door

  • Set up just like you did in the previous step.
  • At this point, your dog should be so comfortable staying in her crate that you can close the door after handing her the Kong without making a big deal out of it. Close it!
  • Set your timer to intervals between 1 and 3 minutes.
  • Move around the room, doing chores.
  • Every time your timer rings, return to your dog and feed her a treat.
  • End the session after 15 minutes by trading the Kong/bone for food, and release your dog.

Removing yourself from the room

  • Set up just like you did in the previous step.
  • Give your dog a Kong.
  • Close the crate door.
  • Set your timer to intervals between 1 and 3 minutes.
  • Go about your business in your house – both in the room with your dog, and outside the room.
  • Every time your timer rings, return to your dog and feed her a treat.
  • End the session after 15 minutes by trading the Kong/bone for food, and release your dog.

Extending the time between bonus treats

  • Set up like before: Kong, closed door.
  • Set your timer to intervals between 5 and 7 minutes.
  • Go about your business in your house – both in the room with your dog, and outside the room.
  • Every time your timer rings, return to your dog and feed her a treat.
  • End the session after 15 minutes by trading the Kong/bone for food, and release your dog.

Staying relaxed – even after finishing the Kong or bone

  • Set up like before: Kong, closed door.
  • Set your timer to intervals between 5 and 7 minutes.
  • Go about your business in your house – both in the room with your dog, and outside the room.
  • Every time your timer rings, return to your dog and feed her a treat.
  • With every session that you do from now on, keep going for 5 more minutes – even if this means your dog finishes her Kong or bone, and has nothing left to do! Build up to the crate duration you are aiming for.
  • Keep feeding the interval treats even after your dog has finished eating her Kong.

Fading the interval treats

  • Once your dog can relax in her crate even after finishing her Kong or bone, you should be able to stop feeding interval treats. Personally, I like keeping a treat bowl on top of the crate and just dropping one in every once in a while for the rest of her life.

Fading the bone/Kong

  • From session to session, choose smaller and smaller bones, or Kongs with less filling – until all you you need to do is feed your dog one treat when she goes into the crate.
  • Keep feeding Kongs or other chew delicacies in the crate every once in a while to keep up her positive association to the crate! Anytime I leave my own dogs in their crates for a longer time, they something delicious to chew on.

Start using the crate in real life!

If you’ve been following this tutorial with your own dog, leave me a comment – I’d love to hear how it’s going!

 
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. I’ve got an amazing group of students working on a variety of skills and games. Registration is open until tomorrow – come join us!

5 thoughts on “Crate expectations part 4: Building Relaxation

  1. laurelb2003 says:

    Hi Chrissi

    This is the best crate training series I’ve seen. We’re at the Relax in the crate after the Kong is done stage and I’m feeding interval treats. My dog starts barking once I’m into the feeding interval treats stage. How should I manage this? Thanks

    • Chrissi Schranz says:

      Is there a minimal amount of time your dog is able to stay relaxed after finishing the Kong? If she can stay calm for 2 minutes, but starts getting barky after three – only ask her to stay in her crate for 2 minutes after the Kong is done. If she is able to stay relaxed for 30 seconds, but gets antsy after 45 – start with asking no more than 30 seconds. Stay at that stage for a couple of sessions before slowly increasing the time she stays in her crate after finishing the Kong.

      Make sure you’re feeding your interval treats when she is calm – not when she is barky. Ideally, the session would end before she starts barking. If she does start barking, keep doing random chores rather than paying attention to her. Attention and treats keep coming at random intervals – but only for dogs who are calmly settling in their crates!

  2. laurelb2003 says:

    Thank you. Part of the problem is I don’t know when he’s finished because I’m not in the room and he barks when he’s done. Should I just treat, leave the room, return in 30 seconds, treat, repeat, for a few times?

  3. Chrissi Schranz says:

    The manners minder is a great idea for this! There’s also free apps that allow you to watch your dog remotely: you set up a laptop with the camera pointed at your dog in the crate, and watch a live stream of what’s going on on your phone. I don’t know the name of a particular app, but there are several out there (for pets or babies), and they should be easy to find.

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