Acclimating Fido to his Crate
Okay, so we know you'll love Fido's crate, but will he? You'll love it because it makes his housebreaking easier, it keeps him from eating all your shoes when he's left alone and because it can give you a break from him when he's drivin' you nuts. But what about Fido's feelings about his crate? We know you've heard from your friends, from the folks at the pet store and from us that dogs love their crates because of their natural denning instinct, but you may be about to discover that nobody told Fido about that! Some dogs are afraid of the crate, some find confinement frustrating and stressful and some just don't want to be left alone anytime, anyplace... including the crate. If it seems that your dog didn't get the "denning instinct" memo, there's plenty you can do to make him feel better about being left in his crate.
If you don't have a crate yet, read our "Choosing the Right Crate for Your Dog" article for information about the various options. Amazon.com offers free shipping on many of their dog crates. Click on this link and look for "Free Super Saver Shipping" to find the right crate for your puppy.
Start Fido's housebreaking program on a weekend or at a time when you have a light schedule for a few days. This will allow you to introduce the crate gradually before needing to shut him in for any extended period of time. We want Fido to have a positive association with his crate, so don't just shove him in there and close the door to see what happens.
If your dog isn't already familiar with the crate, you are likely to encounter one of two common problems. Fido may be afraid of the crate and think that it's too scary to approach or enter or he may be willing to go into the crate, but then not like being closed inside and left alone. Both of these issues can be resolved using the steps below, but you'll need to work more slowly and carefully with a scared or nervous dog.
During training, you are likely to find that Fido whines, barks or cries when closed in the crate. You may also find that he scratches or digs in an effort to get out of the crate or bites at the crate door. These issues can arise even if you are taking the proper steps to acclimate Fido to the crate. Usually, these problems can be turned around pretty quickly, so don't worry if he acts up a bit in his crate during the initial training period.
SAFETY NOTE: Although it is very rare, there are dogs who cannot be crate trained because they panic in the crate. If your dog hurts himself in any way trying to escape from the crate, if he successfully escapes a sturdy crate or if you have any other reason to believe that your dog is excessively stressed by the training, you should discontinue using the crate immediately unless you have the personal guidance of an experienced dog trainer. Please remember that Fido must never wear a collar of any kind when confined to a crate and be sure your crate is assembled properly and latched securely before leaving Fido unattended.
Fido's First Date with his Crate
We want Fido's first exposure to his crate to be a nice, happy experience. If he hears the crate banging around or sees you carrying it, he may just think it's a big, scary monster, so when you assemble Fido's crate, you should do so without him in the room and, if possible, do it in the area where you plan for the crate to be during Fido's training period.
We don't want Fido to encounter any unpleasant surprises while he's getting to know his new crate. In the early phases of acclimating him to his crate, you should leave the crate door off or prop it open with a heavy object so it doesn't suddenly close or bump into Fido. You should also place the crate on a surface where it will not slide and frighten him as he is getting in. If you have a wire crate, lay a piece of cardboard under the plastic or metal pan to keep it from making noise against the wire beneath it.
We want Fido's crate to feel like home, so put something in his crate to make it comfy, like a blanket, a dog bed or a crate pad. He can also have toys or safe chew bones so he has something to keep him occupied while he's in there. If Fido will be in his crate in your bedroom overnight or if he'll be crated near you at times when you're hanging around the house, you may want to avoid putting squeak toys in there with him, or he'll drive you nuts! Unless your vet recommends otherwise, Fido should not have water in his crate, since he'll not only have a full bladder, he'll splash around and make a mess. It can be difficult to assess whether he might have had an accident in his crate if he's had a big splish-splash party in his water bowl and everything's soaking wet.
SAFETY NOTE: Bedding, toys and bones are most likely safe to leave alone with your dog, but any of them can be a choking hazard if Fido is the type to rip, tear and swallow objects. The vast majority of dogs will do just fine with these objects, but you should take Fido's destructive tendencies into account when deciding what can be left in his crate. If in doubt, leave it out.
Some dogs, due to health issues, hot weather or extended periods in the crate, may need to have water in the crate. A water bottle (available in pet stores) is preferable to a bowl, since it will help to prevent Fido from spilling all of his water instead of drinking it. Another good option is a large parrot bowl that can be attached to the front of the crate, making it harder to spill. If you're unsure about whether your circumstances require water to be left in the crate, please consult your veterinarian.
Once Fido's crate is nice and cozy, it's time to see what he thinks. Have him come into the room and hang out for a few minutes. See if he sniffs around or wanders in. Do not try to force him toward or into the crate in any way! Click one of the links below to choose a training method based on Fido's initial response and what you know about his basic personality.
If Fido's a Young Puppy or a Lazy,
Relaxed Kinda Guy Continue
on to Acclimation Method #1
If You've Got Plenty of Time for Training or If Fido Seems Scared of the Crate Continue on to Acclimation Method #2
Good If Your Dog is Too Scared of the Crate to be
Lured in with Treats Continue
on to Acclimation Method #3
Good for Any Dog That Isn't Fearful Continue on to Acclimation Method #4
The Best Bet if Your Schedule Forces You to Leave Fido Closed in his Crate on Day One Continue on to Acclimation Method #5