I’m working with an Alberta Bulldog Rescue foster dog right now. His name is Manny and he has a few behavior problems that need to be addressed. The first and foremost is safe containment. Manny has a really hard time travelling in a vehicle and also has an upcoming knee surgery where he’ll have to kenneled for long periods of time.
(I have lots of other reasons for crate training dogs which can be found here).
So the question is: how do I get an adult dog with impulse control concerns, barrier aggression and handling sensitivity to go into his crate and love it?
Here are our steps:
1. A very large wire crate is put into Manny’s living area so he can go in and out as he pleases.
2. I throw a treat into the kennel and Manny follows it cautiously. I actually had to back up anyway from the kennel before he would go in for the treat.
3. We repeat the throwing cookie a number of times. Manny is getting braver and is staying in there a bit longer. Anytime he stays in the kennel I toss in additional treats.
4. Manny’s foster mom had success practicing with him over the last week. He goes in for up to 5 minutes at a time on his own. At this point we’re still leaving his kennel door open. Manny can also be found sitting in there on his own without treats.
5. Now we’re going to add a cue word. I say “Go to Bed” and wait for the dog to move into his crate on his own. He gets the treat once he’s inside.
6. Once Manny figures out what Go to Bed means then we can start asking him to do that first and receive a cookie once he’s already in there.
7. It’s time to add the closing of the kennel door. For most dogs you’d close the door, deliver a few treats and then open it again. The length of time should be gradually increased. We also want to teach Manny there’s a command for when he’s allowed to come out so we would open the door, use our legs to block the entry (while still rewarding) and then give a cue work like “All Done” and move out of the way.
Eventually we’ll be able to have him stay in there for longer time periods and wait patiently to be released to come out. Crate training can take a long time depending on the dog. It’s important to give yourself at least a few weeks and in the case of dogs who suffer from separation anxiety a lot longer (up to a year).
I highly recommend using an interactive feeding toy like a stuffed kong to help get your dog comfortable in the crate. Feeding all meals with a stuffed kong (or similar toy) will give your dog daily practice. Very large bones or antlers can also be used but as always use common sense and if needed supervise your dog so he/she doesn’t choke.
Remember if your dog has severe anxiety or any signs of aggression you should work on these training solutions with a Behaviourist (someone who has a Master’s degree or PhD in animal behavior) or Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT designation).