The crate is a very useful tool when training your dog, but it can be difficult to get them to actually like their time in it. Crate games are a great way to help your dog to realize that the crate is not only a safe place but a great place that’s just for them! These games will help your dog think of the crate as its own special den!
GAME 1: THE MAGICAL CRATE OF FANTASTIC THINGS!
This is a great beginner exercise to introduce your dog to the crate. When the dog isn’t in the room, put a few treats or toys in the crate. You can use kibble, a stuffed Kong, or a favourite toy of theirs. Let the puppy discover the goodies that are in the crate on its own; the puppy will connect that the crate is a place of fantastic things and isn’t something scary at all!
Leave the crate’s door open for the first few times you do this. If the dog seems happy and secure while in the crate, close the door for a few seconds while they are happy and distracted, then open the door to allow the dog to exit.
GAME 2: KIBBLE TOSS GAME
When your dog is entering the crate on its own, you can start more interactive games. For this game, have a large amount of kibble ready and toss one into the crate. Let the dog enter on its own – don’t coax or force them into the crate! Once the dog enters, immediately praise them!
After they eat the kibble piece, call them back to you using their name and then throw another piece of kibble into the crate and let them re-enter. Repeat this for 5-10 minutes, but pay attention to your dog. If they get bored, give them a break and play the game again later.
GAME 3: CLOSING THE DOOR
When your dog is comfortable retrieving kibble in the crate, you can extend the Kibble Toss Game by closing the door for short periods of time. Start by tossing a piece of kibble in to the crate and letting the dog enter. Once the dog is in the crate, close the door for 2-3 seconds.
The goal is for the dog to stay quiet and calm while in the crate. Timing is key when you start this exercise because if you keep the door closed for too long, they may start to bark, whine, or scratch at the door. If you open the door during any of these behaviours, you will be reinforcing bad behaviour – they’ll learn that making a ruckus makes you open the door. The best way to combat this is to keep the door closed for brief amounts of time initially and slowly adding a few more seconds each training session. You can toss more than one piece of kibble into the crate to keep the dog distracted too.
These are great introductory games to get your dog used to the crate so that they see it as a place of safety and good things. In our next post about the crate, we’ll go over some crate exercises for dogs that are used to the crate.