Teaching a puppy to love it's crate is an important task. Regardless of whether you want to crate your dog at home, at some point your dog will probably be crated somewhere: the vet, groomer, or if you travel. So why not teach your pup to love the crate from Day 1.
I start by feeding all meals in the crate. The door is open, so the puppy is free to leave whenever he wants. Also, I throw a handful of his food in the crate every now and then. The puppy begins to think the crate is almost magical – that's where all the good stuff originates: his dinner, snacks, and unpredictable good rewards!
So far in Talos' training, I've not had to shut him in the crate and leave. However, tomorrow I'll have to do just that, so today I'll begin teaching Talos how to be alone in the crate for a few minutes at a time. To teach your pup (or older dog) this, start by gathering some of the most delicious food you've got. I recommend leftover chicken or steak. While your pup is watching, toss a treat into the crate (toward the back). When he's eating that goodie, quietly close the door. Toss him another goodie into the crate. And another, and another. You're teaching your pup that even better stuff comes when the crate door is closed. After about 45 seconds of this, open the door and allow the pup to leave. If he doesn't want to leave the crate, don't force him. Simply walk away. In about 30 seconds, repeat the entire process. As your pup improves and can stay in the crate longer (with you still there, tossing tasty treats), you're ready for the next step.
This time, after you've tossed the goodie into the crate to get your pup to go in, you're going to walk out of sight for just two seconds – no longer. Return and immediately drop a few treats in the crate for your pup. Repeat the process several times, ensuring the pup isn't in distress while you're out of sight for two seconds. If he's doing just fine, you can now increase the time you're out of sight. Keep this easy for the pup – increase your time in one- to two-second increments at a time. Don't jump from two seconds to ten seconds right away. You're teaching your puppy that good things happen when you're gone for a few seconds.
Gradually, you'll increase the time you're out of sight until you get up to five minutes or so. Once I reach that milestone, I usually begin giving the pup a peanut-butter filled food toy as I walk away. This gives the pup something else to focus on, and will keep him busy, too.
Spending time on this skill is well worth the effort. A dog who hasn't had good crate experiences isn't likely to enjoy the crate. He may begin to refuse to go into the crate or associate the crate with punishment. Make sure you start on this skill as soon as you bring your pup home.
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