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Crate Training

Q: My puppy loves being in his puppy pen in the TV room, which is one of those foldable metal fences, open on the top. He hates his actual crate, which is a metal cage for dogs, quite large, with plenty of room. I can get him to go quietly into it if I give him a wildly desirable treat.

But once the treat is gone, so is his patience for the crate. I try to go in to release him only when he is being quiet, and I'm trying to work up the time he spends in the crate. Also I try to put him in the crate at "sleepy" times. But the crate training is so hard to do emotionally...he yowls! He is lonely and bewildered...he can't be loose in the house, because he chews and eliminates. So we are working on the house-breaking and chew-toy training. He is a whiz at clicker training though, and only 8 weeks old!

Floppy dog

A: Here is something I tried with a puppy recently and it seemed to work very well. Once the puppy runs into the crate, eats his treat and turns around to come out the door, say "wait," close the crate door and then open it. Don't lock the door or leave it shut even for a second. Just tap it shut, click the clicker, open the door, and treat him when he comes out.

Do this a few times until you can see his little puppy brain start to work. Then, the next time you do it, say "wait," count one or two seconds, click the clicker, open the door, and give him a treat when he comes out. Each time (maybe 2-3 times a day), increase the number of seconds very gradually (by one or two seconds) until you get to 30 seconds. Then you can start increasing it by 5-10 seconds at a time. I find that I have to work very, very gradually in the beginning, maybe even not increasing it at all for several times in a row, but once I get to a few minutes, I can increase the time by 5 minutes at a time, and it's much easier. Later I can increase it by 10-15 minutes at a time.

I actually set a kitchen timer to the desired time so I don't forget and leave him in there forever, because I want to let him out BEFORE he gets impatient and starts whining. I don't open the door as soon as the timer goes off, because I don't want him to think that the timer is the click.

You can see that after a while, this becomes a game to the puppy and he is willing to perform the "wait" for a wonderful treat. To make it even easier for him to wait, you can start adding desired things like chew toys to the inside of the crate.

With my dogs, I always give them certain toys in the crate that they can't take out with them when they leave, such as rawhide chews. I just remove the rawhide as they exit. Then you can put chew toy back in there and shut the door to the crate when they exit the crate. After a while, they will ask to go in the crate so they can play with the toy.

You don't have to keep any of these training methods up forever. You don't need to, after you have created the positive associations.

Done properly, dogs just adore their crates and will opt to enter them all the time. I generally leave all the crate doors open with a dog bed inside, and I always feed them in their crates, with or without the doors open, and they really love them. I never knew that dogs could love their crates so much. It wasn't until I had a puppy chewing electrical cords when I was asleep and I couldn't do anything to stop him that I turned to crates. The motivator for me was when I smelled smoke in my room and decided it was more humane to crate train him than to turn him in to the dog pound or let him burn us all up.The one thing that might be technically wrong with my method is that I add the verbal cue first, before he's learned the "wait" behavior. But at least it works!

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