A Message from the Vet - February 2014
Crate Training

Animals naturally want a safe den that acts as a private, comfortable retreat. Crates are a great way to provide this safe haven, and can also function as an area to keep pets out of mischief when unsupervised. When starting to train your pet to enjoy their crate, make sure you are allowing them freedom to come and go into the crate, and also providing regular feeding and bathroom trips. Pets will naturally want to keep their den clean and should not be expected to use the bathroom in their crate. The crate should be large enough for your pet to stand in, turn around, stretch, and lie down comfortably. Keeping the crate in an area where your pet can still see you or be in the presence of family or other animal company can also be helpful.

Starting with a puppy or kitten is the easiest time to crate-train because young animals are open to experiences and easily influenced by positive associations with their crate.
Here are some easy steps to follow to teach your pet to love his or her crate:

  1. Allow your pet free access to the crate so he may come and go at will.
  2. Make the crate comfortable with bedding and toys.
  3. Praise your pet every time she goes into the crate; reward her with a special treat in the crate.
  4. Never use the crate as a time-out or place of punishment.
  5. Don't disturb your pet while he is in the crate; let it be a place of refuge.
  6. At first, only close the crate door for short periods of time while you are there to provide your pet company. Slowly increase the length of time the crate door remains shut.
Some adult dogs have been traumatized by previous crate experiences. Systemic desensitization with or without anti-anxiety medication can help your pet accept a crate as a positive, peaceful place. This may take some time, but patience and positive training can go a long way!
Here are tips for re-introducing a crate in a positive way:
  1. Keep the crate in a high traffic area of the house (kitchen or living room).
  2. Make the crate comfortable with familiar bedding.
  3. Make the crate enticing with special food treats and toys.
  4. Initially remove the door to the crate (you may also remove the top part of the crate).
  5. Feed your pet progressively closer to the entrance of the crate.
  6. Eventually move the food bowl across the crate threshold.
  7. Slowly move the food bowl toward the back of the crate so your pet must put more of his body in the crate to eat his meal.
  8. Always praise your pet for being in or around the crate.
  9. Do not close the door to the crate until your pet is entering the crate willingly on her own.
  10. If desensitization is going well, the next step is to close the door for short periods while you stay in the area. You may choose to do this at times when your pet is eating in the crate, or resting in the crate.
  11. Gradually increase the duration of time the door stays closed. Eventually you should be able to leave your pet confined for a lengthy period of time. Do not leave your pet alone in the crate while you are away until he is perfectly comfortable in it while you are there.
Crates should be a positive part of a pet's home. Please let us know if you have any questions on crate training or if you feel your animal may need medical treatment to assist the training process.

Jill Yoshicedo, DVM

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Last updated 2014 May 10.