Wednesday, January 6, 2010

I Used to Think Crate Training Was Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Katie and Louie love their crates so much that they frequently get in them without being asked. As previously seen on our blog they will sometimes even cram themselves both into the same crate.

For a long time I was not a believer in crate training and actually thought it was cruel to put a dog in such a small space. About ten years ago Scarlett the Siberian Husky showed me that my beliefs about crates were wrong. When she had knee surgery at the age of 7 she had to stay in a crate for 23 1/2 hours a day for 6 weeks during the beginning portion of her recovery. Scarlett drove me to tears several times during those six weeks with her relentless verbalization of her dissatisfaction with her captivity. So I was sure that once freed from her crate she would shun it forever. But again, I was wrong (that seems to happen often with preconceived notions). Once Scarlett didn't HAVE to be in the crate she started seeking it out. For the next eight years Scarlett spent probably about 10 hours a day in her crate by her own choice.

After my experience with Scarlett I began to see why it would be beneficial to crate train a dog from day one. Now, if Katie or Louie need to be in their crates at a show, while traveling or at the vet's office it's no big deal. Their crates are actually a comfort to them in strange situations.

A lot of people have asked me how I crate trained Katie and Louie, so I thought I would post it here. The strategy I used is a compilation of many different methods I read about over the last few years. My main goal was to make crate training very positive and happy for the puppies.

We were lucky that their breeders put Katie and Louie in crates as pups, so they got a feel for it early. However, at that time they were in a crate with several of their litter mates, so being in one by themselves was a new experience.

The first thing I did to start crate training was to feed them all of their meals in their crate from day one. I left the doors open so they could come out when they were done eating. Since they passionately love food the crate quickly became a happy place in their minds.

The second step for us was to start saying "Katie Kennel" or "Louie Kennel" when standing beside it. Then we tossed a treat inside so the dog went in to get it. At that point, we praised them like crazy. We did this several times for a couple of days.

The third step was to say "Louie Kennel" while standing by the crate and then PAUSING. We gave the Newfs a chance to offer the behavior and when they did we immediately gave them a treat and praised them a lot. We did this many times for a day or two.

Next, we repeated step three above except after the dog entered the kennel we shut the door without giving the dog the treat. We praised and fed the treat to the dog through the closed door. Then we opened the door and let dog exit without any acknowledgement. (Note: you never want to give them praise or a treat for leaving the kennel. That is a neutral behaviour which should not be rewarded because they will cry to be let out in the future if they anticipate a treat upon exit.)

Fifth, we repeated above, giving treats with door shut and locked. This time we fed small treats through the door periodically for about a minute.

Gradually we worked up to longer time periods with the door shut and with longer intervals between treats.

Next we told the Newf "kennel", shut the door, gave them a treat and left the room for just a few seconds. (Note: If the dog whines or paws at the door ignore him until he is quiet. If he is being good give another treat then wait at least 10 seconds before opening the door.)

We gradually built up to being out of the room for longer periods of time. We came in at random intervals and gave the dog a treat through the door.

Some people skip all these steps and just put the dog in the crate and let them cry/bark it out. Sometimes that may be the only option as I had to go through with Scarlett since we didn't have time to do crate training before her surgery. But if you have a month to spend just a few minutes each day on crate training you can make the whole experience a very positive one for your dog. I think these furry bundles of unconditional love are so worth the effort!


JacksDad said...

You make it sound so easy! :)

Sam said...

Sounds like a great plan. Marge is in the process of crate training now - she's in the stage where she'll go in her crate on her own terms, or is willing to sleep in there if I tell her to, as long as she's tired enough. I frequently give her stuffed kongs and chewies inside the crate, too.

Byron said...

What a great explanation. I very much wish we had crate trained Byron when he was a puppy.
A question though, when you were doing this training, were they sleeping in the crate at night?

Byron's Mom

Charity, Katie, Louie & Natalie said...

We did not make Katie sleep in her crate as a puppy, but Louie slept in his until he was almost a year old. The first nights were hard for them both since they were used to sleeping with their litter. We just did the best we could with the crate training, but I think the fact that we were in the room with Louie made a lot of difference. I would put my fingers inside the crate to reassure him in the middle of the night.

Anonymous said...

What size crate do you use for your Newfies?

Charity, Katie, Louie & Natalie said...

Our crates are 42"x28"x31" high which is the next to the largest size offered by Midwest brand. I like the ones with two doors - it gives you more flexibility on how you orient them. Our Newfs are 115 and 130 pounds. If the male was any bigger I would want the next size up.

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