When Teddy came to us, he'd only spent one night in the crate. Needless to say, that first night with us was a little rough - he cried for awhile in the crate that night, and woke up frequently.
It's crucial for Teddy (and all dogs, really) to be able to relax in the crate for several reasons:
- As I mentioned earlier, the crate provides the pup with a safe place. It's really hard for the pup to get in trouble or get hurt while he's in the crate.
- Housetraining is a breeze if the pup is crate trained. Generally, a pup doesn't like to pee or poop where he'll be sleeping (smart pup!), so he'll hold it, vocalize to alert you to the fact that he's gotta go, and then you take him immediately outside to do his business. Easy peasy!
- At some point in a dog's life, he'll be at the veterinarian for a procedure that will involve crating. It may be something routine such as a spay or neuter, or it could be something long-term like an injury requiring strict crate rest. If your injured dog has never been in a crate and suddenly finds himself locked away, it's going to be a long recovery process -- for you and the dog!
- If you plan to do dog-sports with your dog like agility, lure coursing, nose work, tracking, Rally obedience (just to name a few), it's a pretty good bet that your dog will need to be crated. If your dog isn't comfortable in the crate, it's going to be a lot harder - and not nearly as fun - to participate.
How can you teach your dog to like the crate? Easy: feed your pup every meal in the crate. Keep the door open the first four or five feedings, then close (but don't latch) the door. Let him push the door open when he's done. Let him push the door open and exit the crate after his meals for another few days. Then begin to close (and latch) the door while he's eating. Have some really tasty morsels of chicken ready. When the pup is done with his meal, give him a piece of chicken. Wait a few seconds and give him another morsel of chicken. Continue to feed him chicken at four- or five-second intervals. Then you can open the crate door and let him out.
How can you ruin the crate experience for your dog? Using the crate as punishment is a sure-fire way to make the crate a drag for your pup. Also, don't bang on the crate to try to quiet your pup if he's barking. (A client told me their shelter adoption-coordinator gave her this advice as she was preparing to take her puppy home!) Don't put your pup in the crate ONLY when you're leaving the house. Get your pup used to being in the crate: when you're home and in another room, at home and in the same room, when there's activity going on, when it's quiet, when you're leaving the house...in short: get your pup used to being in the crate any time, any where, and for any reason.
What if your pup cries in the crate? That first night, Teddy cried quite a bit. I completely ignored him when he was making noise. When he quieted to take a breath, I very calmly said "Good boy, Teddy" in my most soothing, sing-song, calm voice. The instant he started to make noise, I shut up. He quieted, I talked. He barked, I got silent. Within five minutes, he was quieter already. I kept that up for about 10 minutes. Gradually there was much more of me talking and a whole lot less of Teddy talking!
Teddy's crate behavior has improved dramatically over the past few days. The first night he cried quite a bit, the second night he cried for only a minute or two, and last night he cried only briefly. I put him in his crate after his mid-day feeding and he whimpered once and went right to sleep. We're on the right track!