So I have to admit, I have returned from the National Bite Prevention Conference at RAF Odiham, more than a little bit inspired!
In a bid to get this written down rather than randomly blart information at people like a nutter, here's a guide on crate training the right way - and when I say the right way, I mean the effective, KIND, way so that neither you nor your pup/dog suffer any undue stress!
There is as you may have guessed (though many people don't!), quite a bit more to it than just shoving the dog in, shutting the door and ignoring them until they shut up. In fact, crate training should not involve ANY shoving, shutting the dog in, or ignoring, AT ALL!
Ok so, what do I do then?First of all, consider how you want your pup to feel about being in his crate. You may want pup to sleep in there (in your room please!) or to travel in there or to be happy to rest in there whilst you are busy, or all of these things.
Crates used properly can help with toilet training and provide a safe space for a pup to go to when they want some peace and quiet - it can also be very useful if you need to take your pup away with you on holiday or if they have to stay in the vets for any length of time.
We want a pup to feel relaxed and happy about being crated, we want the crate to become a place they associate with chilling out, chewing on a toy or sleeping, in other words, it is a NICE and CALM place!
So we won't achieve any of that by locking him in and ignoring his screams of frustration and fear!
Ok ok, I got that... so now what?So, arm yourself with a crate the right size for your pup (big enough to turn around, stand up, lie down and stretch), line it with a comfy bed, some vet bed, a fleece blanket or two - stuff that is easily washed and dried and provides a good level of comfort!
You also need some very high value rewards - chopped up hot dog sausage, bits of cheese, chopped up cocktail sausages, roast chicken pieces etc etc - as I very frequently state, shop bought dog treats are NOT high value, Bonios and Gravy bones SUCK!
As a guideline of treat size, from one cocktail sausage you should be able to get 20 or even 40 tiny treat sized morsels, we are NOT feeding whole sausages here, tiny tasty bits please!
For the later stages, have a couple of toys you can stuff with food such as Kongs, Linkables etc.
If you have conditioned your pup to a clicker or marker word such as YES! then you can use this but its not crucial.
Sit on the floor by the crate with your puppy, show him the treats and toss a handful into the crate, he should follow and eat them.
Here's the huge secret that most of us wouldn't figure out...
Do not close the door on the puppy. Allow him to come out the second he wants to, but he gets no treats for coming out!
The crate is where these treats happen, get him to go back in for more treats, this time see if you can encourage him to stay in by adding more treats through the side bars of your crate. If he stays in a few seconds this is where you can click or use your marker word, if he settles down, huge praise and more treats!
When you get to the point where your pup is dashing into the crate because he has figured out it makes you give him treats, then you can think about pushing the door closed.
If at ANY time he wants to come out, let him out. Do not hesitate, do not linger, do not think 'I'll just make him wait one second' - the SPLIT second your pup wants out, he can get out. This is honestly and truly the way to teach a pup that a crate is a SAFE place to be, even if it feels counter intuitive right now.
Letting your pup come out of the crate the second he wants to is a huge part of increasing his confidence in being in the crate.
Animals are VERY highly aware of when they are trapped, and feeling trapped means a huge increase in stress, anxiety and fear - we feel it too, hence the number of people who are claustrophobic, who get stressed in lifts or other tight spaces!
By teaching your pup he can come out whenever he likes, you increase his confidence, and when he is completely relaxed and confident about the crate, he will WANT to stay in it and you can teach him to stay in it for longer and longer periods.
You should be doing this training in very short sessions several times a day, and end each session on a high note, even if it means the session turned out a little shorter than you had planned. Never ever push a dog too far for 'just one more go'!
Once pup can stay in the crate for a few minutes with the door pushed closed, you can attempt to lock the door, for just a second. Try not to build this too fast and mix things up a bit, don't go from door pushed shut to door locked to door locked and you walking away, because he will soon realise that EVERY time he goes in the crate he is locked in and you leave him!
Instead mix it up, if he can stay in the crate with the door pushed to for a few minutes, then add in you stepping away for a second or two then. If he is good in the crate for five minutes with the door shut, add in some sessions where you don't even shut the door.
Once your puppy can lie in the crate for more than a couple of minutes, it's time to introduce a toy filled with something tasty, such as a Kong, or his meal in a bowl (or his meal stuffed into a kong!)
If you put in the work, it is possible to crate train a puppy to be happy shut in his crate for half an hour within a couple of weeks - but ONLY if you take it at his pace. If you start rushing, you will teach him that being locked in is nasty and he should avoid it at all cost!