Look at the picture and you can probably guess the direction this blog posting will take. As a canine behavioral trainer, I love the crate. The reason is simple. Dogs (canines) naturally see the world at three distinct levels of safety. The first, and most important, is their den. This is the place that, if they feel threatened or "simply want to leave the party", they can retreat to and be assured that they are 100% safe from anything. This is their den, their safe place. The lions, tigers, and bears can NEVER get them in there. (I will discuss the other levels in another posting. That information is not pertinent regarding this discussion.)
Some dogs naturally love the crate (Wolfie does) and some dogs seem to have a hard time with the crate. These dogs might have come from pet stores or puppy mills where the crate was used as a containment area instead of a safety area. They might have been inappropriately introduced to the crate as a "time out place" and physically thrown into the crate while their master was yelling and screaming. The crate might have been kept in the garage or outside in the far corner of the yard where they felt ostracized from the rest of the pack.
So what do you do if your dog is fearful of the crate or you have a new puppy and you want to make sure that they will like the crate?
- Make sure the crate is a fun place. Put his toys in the crate or feed him in the crate. Do not initially close the door. Let him wander in and out so that he will get the feeling that "this is a cool place to be".
- Have the crate near you. Move the crate during the day so that it is near the rest of the family. He can be in the crate and the rest of the pack is there too. This will remove any appearance of being ostracized by being in the crate.
- Open and close the crate door. We want to start to let him know that the door can be opened or closed and everything is still fine. You do this by removing the fact that closing the door means anything. Open the door for a while and then close it (while he is inside). Do this at different times and make no big deal of it.
- Leave him for a bit. Walk out of the room or out of site for a moment while he is in the crate. This helps to remove us as the main safety resource and to reinforce the crate as the safety resource. It is also a critical part of separation anxiety training.
- Actively engage him while he is in the crate. Wolfie shouldn't feel like "bubble boy" while he is in the crate. Get down next to the crate and engage him with conversation or play with the door open or closed. This will further disengage the crate as a possible inappropriate enclosure.