Monday, August 13, 2012

Getting Your Dog Comfortable with a Crate

Getting your dog to be comfortable with a crate is a good idea for several reasons:

* If there's a natural disaster such as a tsunami and you need to evacuate your house, the emergency shelter will only takes crated pets.  If you suddenly crate your dog then it will be an added stressor for your dog in an already stressful situation.

* If you ever have to travel with your dog, e.g. plane, train, you will most likely have to crate your dog. Why not train him ahead of time to be comfortable in a crate rather than waiting until last minute?

* If you your dog gets rambunctious in the car or reactive towards the environment while in the car, then you can crate your dog within the car for your peace of mind and your dog's peace of mind.

* Once your dog is used to his crate, it can become his safe/quiet den within your house.

CONDITIONING EXERCISES

There are several steps you can take to get your dog used to a crate gradually and in a positive manner.

* For the first several days, feed all her meals in her crate.  If she typically gets only one feeding per day, you might try splitting it into multiple smaller meals during the training period, so that your dog has more opportunities to have positive experiences in the crate. During this initial training period, don't close the crate door.  Also, if your dog seems hesitant to go inside the crate or stick her head inside it, then make it easy at first - i.e. instead of putting the food bowl at the far end of the crate, put it right inside the opening, and gradually put it at the far end.  In general it's a good idea to let the dog go inside (or eat the food) on her own instead of trying to coax the dog.

* If your dog is not motivated by kibble alone, you can mix wet food or treats with the kibble to make the meal more enticing. Here's an article I wrote with recommendations on treats:

http://woofpackhawaii.blogspot.com/2011/09/training-treats-biscuit-aint-gonna-cut.html

* Leave the crate in a cozy spot in the house at all times, with door fully open, and see if she starts to go in on her own.  You can put a dog bed inside or a cooling pad, or whatever she likes.  You can also reward her by throwing treats into the crate any time she voluntarily goes into the crate and lies down.  Or,  you can always leave a few treats inside the crate so that she learns to go look for them there.

* If you dog is more toy-motivated, you can leave his favorite toy in the crate instead of treats.  Any time you notice the toy lying around your house, put it back into the crate so your dog can go look for it in the crate.

* If things are going well and your dog doesn't seem to mind going into the crate, then you can start to close the crate door for short periods at a time, such as 5 minutes, and gradually longer periods, up to a maximum of 3-4 hours.  Unless it's overnight, I don't recommend crating a dog for more than 4 hours at a time.

* When you close the door, give your dog a food toy.  Instead of feeding her meal out of a bowl, you can stuff her meal into a big Kong toy (mix kibble with wet food and even freeze to make it harder if you want) and then let her work on it in the crate.  Instead of a food toy, you can also give some other high-value item such as a bully stick or raw beef bone that will take your dog some time to eat.  As soon as you open the crate door to let your dog out, take away the food toy (assuming your dog does not resource-guard).  This way, your dog learns that being in the crate = delicious food toy, and getting out of the crate = no more delicious food toy. It's a good idea to supervise the dog (or be in the house) at first so you can make sure the dog isn't stressed.

* Here's an article I wrote with enrichment food info including food toys and raw bones:

http://woofpackhawaii.blogspot.com/2011/10/enrichment-food-toys-for-bored-and.html

* If all goes well, you can try leaving your house for short periods of time while your dog is in the crate, and work towards longer periods.

TYPES OF CRATES 

Below are the pros and cons of the different types of crates that are available:

* Plastic crate - This is good if you will need one for traveling anyway.  It's the only kind of the 3 listed here that is approved for airline use.  The top and bottom come apart for stowing, and it's not too heavy to transport.  It gets a little hot in there if there's no wind though, because of the plastic walls, so it would not be ideal for hot environments.

* Wire crate - This stays nice and cool because it's all wire.  It stores easily because it collapses and flattens out.  It is also very solid and escape-proof. At the same time, the dog can still see through the wires, so it's good for dogs that prefer if you stay in view. The down side of the wire crate is that it's heavy to transport. But it works well as a home or car crate if you plan to leave it in place.

* Canvas crate - This stays nice and cool as well, because the sides have netting with covers that unzip.  The crate is collapsible and easy to transport and store.  The down side is that if you have an escape artist dog, then she/he can probably rip right through the netting! I recommend getting your dog used to plastic or wire crates first, then transitioning to canvas.

SUMMARY
 
In general the idea is to make the crate a "good/safe" place in the dog's mind through positive associations and training at the dog's pace.  If you find that your dog has an unusual aversion to the crate please contact a dog trainer or behavior consultant, so they can offer additional advice.

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