The dog diaries: crate training

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How does Billy the Airedale take to his brand new den? One owner tracks their dog’s crate training from start to finish.

Dog sitting in crate

We have a young Airedale called Billy. We managed to house-train him fairly easily, but we’d reached a point where we wanted him to calm down a bit so we could leave the house without him going bonkers. A friend of ours with several dogs told us about dog crating, which seemed like a good idea. A dog crate is a cage (we don’t call it that!) or indoor kennel (much better) that acts as a safe, secure area for your dog to ‘retreat’ to during the day. It’s a practice that has crossed over from the United States, and it’s growing in popularity in the UK and Europe. After reading up on the pros and cons, we decided to give it a try. Easier said than done?

Expert tip: Crates aren’t only useful for calming your dog’s separation anxiety; they can also help with:

  • house-training a puppy (she’ll be reluctant to go to the toilet in the crate where her bed is, and so will be more likely to give you an indication that she needs to go outside)
  • practising for a vet visit or a stay in the kennels
  • providing a dog with a safe space when she’s feeling nervous or frightened, such as during fireworks or parties.

Choosing the crate

We spent about a week looking online. Nothing seemed to be right. We needed a crate that would be big enough for Billy to stand up in when he’s fully grown, so we knew we had to buy a fairly large one (he’s an Airedale, remember…), but the big cages we saw all looked like something you’d keep in the zoo, not our kitchen. After visiting a few pet stores and seeing the crates in person, we finally settled on something that looked about right.

Day one

The dog crate arrived. Poor postman. We unwrapped it and unveiled it to Billy as if it was a birthday present. Naturally he took an interest, though mostly in all the cardboard. For now, we’ve put it in the kitchen-diner where we spend most of our time. We made sure it was a welcoming place with some comfortable bedding and a couple of his favourite chew toys inside. Then we just left it with the door secured open so it couldn’t bang shut. Apparently, you have to leave it open for a bit to get your dog used to it. To be honest, I think it’s going to be harder for us!

Day two

Billy has shown no interest in the crate whatsoever. This morning, we placed a few treats inside (making sure he was watching), but he still didn’t catch on. Eventually, we made a breadcrumb trail of food leading to the crate, trying to lure him in. Billy was smarter than us – he ate it all from the doorway of the crate and wandered off, looking smug. We tried again later by putting a little pile of treats in the middle of the crate. He went half inside and gobbled them up. Progress.

Day three

We went through the same process a few times. Billy’s coming round to the idea of the dog crate being there without showing too much inclination to sit in it, so we moved his feeding station next to the crate door. I think we’re all getting used to it now (this was the first morning that I didn’t stub my toe on it…).

Day four

Billy’s been eating quite happily from his food bowl, but today we placed it right inside the cage when he came over to eat. He baulked at that and left it, so we took it out and placed it by the door again. Before we went to bed, we left a last feed of his favourite food in the crate.

Day five

The bowl was pretty much empty this morning. Now we’re getting somewhere! For Billy’s first feed we put the food bowl straight inside. He thought about it for a while, then went in and ate it. From now on all his feeds are going in the crate. Crate 1. Billy 0.

Day seven

We went to the next stage today and closed the door while he was eating. It felt a bit mean, but he didn’t seem to notice and sat down to lick himself for a while. We stayed close, but as soon as he’d had a quick groom he began making a fuss, so we let him out. We repeated the process for every feed, leaving the door closed a little longer each time. He’s calmed down now, but we stay by the crate while the door is shut.

Day nine

We left Billy alone in the crate for the first time. He began whining pretty quickly, so we let him out immediately, but we repeated the process for every meal, popping back in and out all the time. I think he’s getting more comfortable with the situation. We’re giving him a good long walk at night to tire him out, too, and we’re still leaving him some treats inside.

Day 10

Billy was sitting in his crate when we came down this morning! We gave him lots of praise and fed him. I think we’ve cracked it! This is going to be his den from now on, somewhere he can chill. I’m almost jealous!

Day 20

A few weeks on, Billy is fully crate-trained – and so are we. We’ve got a good routine now of putting him to bed at night and getting him out in the morning. The crate looks a bit more lived in now, with a nice pile of blankets scooched up in one corner (he’s made himself a sleeping area, a food pile and a chew toy zone). The nice thing is knowing that he’s happy in the crate if we ever need to leave him during the day – and I’m sure it’ll make transporting him a lot easier when we go on holiday. I guess that’s the next thing to plan!

Expert tip: unfortunately crate training won’t always go as smoothly as it did for Billy – often it can be quite traumatic…for dog owners! If your puppy is really reluctant to go in the crate, then try putting their favourite smelly treat inside and closing the crate door, with your puppy remaining outside. Now let your puppy’s natural inquisitiveness take over! Hopefully she will try to get into the crate to secure her treat. After about 20-30 seconds, open the door and see if she’ll now go in. If she does, she will be rewarded with the treat inside, reinforcing the crate as a positive place for her.

Find out more about dog obedience and training tips here. Crate Training Guide

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Date of review January 2022

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