By Sherri Romig CPDT-KA
The crate should be the center of all wonderful things for the dog. Play with the dog by throwing toys into the crate to be retrieved. Hide treats and toys in the crate for the dog to discover.
Feed the dog in the crate. Begin by putting the food dish on the crate where the dog is likely to eat out of it. With some dogs, this can be the back of the crate. With other dogs, the crate is too scary for this and they will refuse to go in and eat. If this is the case, begin by placing the food dish in front of the crate, gradually moving it further back day by day as the dog becomes comfortable.
Use a high value treat to play crate games with the dog. Begin by treating the dog for looking at the crate, then moving towards the crate, stepping into the crate, and so on until the dog will happily run into the crate to receive a reward. It is important to use the treats to reward your dog for interacting with the crate, rather than using it to lure the dog into the crate. Do not touch the door during this game.
Once the dog will happily go into the crate, begin treating continuously to keep them in the crate for a few seconds, slowly building this duration. Encourage the dog to sit or lay down if possible, but do not push. Once the dog will happily remain in the crate for a short period to earn treats, begin by touching the door (without moving it) and then giving a treat. In this fashion, you can work up to closing and latching the door (at the dog’s pace!) by following each action with a treat. The dog should be happy and relaxed throughout this process. If the dog shows any signs of anxiety, you are moving too fast.
When you have built the dog up to be able to remain happily in the crate with the door closed for several minutes, begin by walking away and returning to sprinkle treats in the crate, slowly increasing the duration of your absence before returning to sprinkle treats.
You can also give the dog a stuffed Kong or marrow bone in the crate and move away (make sure the dog’s anxiety level remains low – the dog should remain engrossed with their bone.) Return while the dog is still eating, open the crate and take the bone away. Continue in this fashion, increasing the duration of your absences.