Puppy Training: The Crate

January 31, 2021

Forge laying calmly in his kennel

Crate Training the Puppy

One of the most essential life skills my dogs possess is their ability to be crated comfortably. For safety reasons they are in their car crates when we travel, they are crated when we are not home and when one of the herdy dogs needs a break (Toad). And of course I have Pixie who would not be alive if she could not be crated.
Since Tower is just a baby we are working on the skills he will need to be successful in this house for his whole life, and crating is definitely one of those necessary skills. Unfortunately, he has some feelings about it.

The Challenges

I know that Tower has feelings about being alone and confined because he screams when he is confined, he jumps at the pen, but most importantly he bites me when I let him out. Yes, I know, Malinois. They bite stuff, but being bit is never fun. Right now he is small and has small bites,  I can’t let him bite me when he is bigger and comes barreling out of the kennel. I guess I need a training plan.

The Plan

Crate training puppies should begin when they are around 6 weeks old. Breeders should be introducing puppies to confined spaces in a positive way so as they grow they understand this is part of life. Tower can go in and out of the crate fine, and he is okay as long as I am nearby. This is where I begin my training plan.

Eating cookies in a comfy box

First, we start with many reps of can you go in the crate to get a cookie. Then once you are in, can you come out and get a cookie. I call this the “in and out game.” When he can bounce out of the kennel, eat his cookie and turn back to go in the kennel, then we start loading the kennel with cookies. Can you eat many cookies in the kennel before we come out? Are you coming out before you finish the cookies?
Once he is choosing to stay in the kennel while I load it with cookies, I will start to touch the door and have him help me close it. It is important to make sure they know the door is closing and they don’t have any negative feelings about it. I did not do this with Cargo and well, her kenneling behavior needs some work. Even trainers make mistakes.

In the meantime,

when he has to be confined because he’s a puppy and I have stuff to do, I make sure it’s as low stress as possible. I have set up my laptop next to the puppy pen and worked there. I have kenneled him in the car while I do some things around the house. He is better when he can’t see me and when the other dogs are not barking at him. He also goes to appointments with me so I am usually nearby in the car, and we don’t have as many feelings about that kennel.
I’ll be honest, this is boring training. I have to be aware of how he is feeling and what I am doing, but it is repetitive and not fun. I’d rather be training the fun things like recalls and stationing. I know that letting this slide know will create more grief in the future so I am making myself stick to it.

Milestones

This is not something that will happen quickly, so I need to have small milestones to keep myself moving forward and make sure I am on the right track. Here are a few of our milestones as I work through Towers feelings. 

  • Can I touch the door without him jumping up to get out of the kennel or pen?
  • How quickly is he choosing to lay down inside the kennel while we are working?
  • Am I seeing active settling or relaxed settling? Relaxed settling means we are starting to develop the right feelings about being confined. 

I know some days will be better than others so I will keep notes of these milestones so I know I am making progress. Just like being on a diet or having a workout plan. Small milestones help you reach the larger ones and keep you motivated to continue on. Dog training is no different! 

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