Crate-RileyMany articles online talk about how dogs are den animals, meaning that dogs should love their crate — which leads many puppy owners to be very confused when they put their puppy into a crate and go to leave, just to have their puppy make a fuss. Before long, the puppy begins to refuse to go into their crate at all.

Teaching dogs to love their crate is often fairly simple — the goal is to create a conditioned emotional response to their crate. That is, the goal is to teach them that good things come from and happen there.

4 Tips to Teach A Dog to Love Their Crate

  1. I usually recommend pet owners feed their dogs with their bowl at the very back of the crate, with the door open so the pup can choose to leave whenever they want.
  2. I also recommend that when they clean up, they place all the pups toys in the crate, and leave the door open. If the pup wants to play with a toy, they can go in, get it, and then bring it out.
  3. When they give their pup something special, like a stuffed kong or chewie, I recommend giving it in the crate (even if they leave the door open), so that the dog begins to run to the crate as soon as they begin to prep a special treat.
  4. Finally, I recommend that anytime they put their pup into the crate they give them a treat — a cookie or a stuffed kong. I always remind them not to give their pup anything they might be able to choke on when kenneling them for any period of time.

For many dogs, these things are enough — they’ll quickly learn to run into their crate and be quite happy there. But for other dogs this isn’t enough. For example, in a recent puppy seminar, I had a pup who had developed a serious distrust of her crate after being shoved into it one too many times.

I also had a client with a foster dog who had been labeled “aggressive” because he had twice snarled and air snapped at people who had pushed him into a crate.

I used a simple game in both cases and within less than 15 minutes in both cases I had the dog happily walking in and out of their crates. Whether dogs take naturally to their crate or not, I like to play the following game to further build their positive association with their crate.

How to Teach “Kennel Up”

To start this game you need 4 things — a dog, some yummy (preferably stinky) dog cookies, a crate and either an exercise pen (xpen) or a leash. If using an Xpen, set it up around the entrance to the crate, so the puppy is confined to the area, but NOT forced to remain in the crate. If using a leash, I recommend standing on the very end close to the door of the crate.

Then toss a few cookies on the floor in front of the crate for puppy to eat. To start, they shouldn’t even be inside the crate, just nearby. Once the puppy has happily gobbled up the first few freebies, set one cookie right on the inside of the doorway of the crate. It should be close enough to outside that they don’t have to step inside to eat it, and can just reach their nose inside to gobble it up. Reward this with a few more cookies outside the crate.

Gradually alternate between cookies outside the crate and cookies in the doorway, every 2-3 turns moving the “crate” cookie slightly further inside. Be sure to make it easier with some cookies and then gradually harder with a few more, until the puppy has to place first one paw, then another, inside the crate.

If you find the puppy doesn’t want to go further than sticking out her neck, try placing a small handful of cookies in the doorway so that half the cookies are within reach and half are *just* outside of the puppy’s reach. This will convince most pups to place that first foot within the doorway.

Before long, the dog is likely to be walking into the crate for cookies and then coming back out to finish chewing. During the first session do NOT close the door. You just want to build a happy emotional response to the crate. Take the puppy away or close the door with the puppy outside so that she can not go into the crate. Stop handing out cookies.

Wait a little while and then play the game again.

Before long, the dog will be happily chasing cookies into the crate. At that point you can begin to add a cue, such as “Kennel up” or “Go to your house.” Combine this with the tips above, and most dogs will learn pretty quickly to enjoy going into their crate.