Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Crate is Great! - How I crate trained Yoda

Although Yoda is almost 3 years old and is fully housebroken we decided for various reasons to crate her during the day while we are out of the house and at night when she sleeps for at least the first 2 months since we adopted her.

Reasons to Crate

  1. to make sure she avoids getting hurt while we cannot supervise (many dogs get electrocuted by chewing on wires, etc),
  2. as a way to promote housebreaking (many dogs have accidents after being re-homed),
  3. since we knew nothing about her at first, it was a good method to prevent bad habits from forming while we could not supervise and verbally correct her,
  4. as a training method by using earned freedom as a reward, 
  5. to allow her a safe den associated with good stuff where she can retreat anytime she feels anxiety.

Crate Training

Let's just say that the first few days after we came home, she wanted nothing to do with her crate. 

Dogs love routine and structure and if we were going to enforce house rules, we were going to have to start crate training from day 1.  But how?

Treats are the solution to all of life's problems

As with all things, the best way to succeed with training your dog is to make them love doing what you want them to do. Forcing doesn't create a long-term internal changes in us, and it doesn't work with dogs either! Love, patience and lotsa treats are the key! 

As a clean paleo eater, I always have some natural peanut butter at home and we all know just how much dogs looooove PB!

I tried putting some treats in the crate, but clever Yoda, would slyly grab them and bring them outside to eat them in all her splendor and glory. But her mama had to outsmart her somehow.

I took a spatula and smothered some PB on the very back grill of Yoda's cage so she would have to actually enter into the cage to get some and trust me, she ran in before I could ever ask her to!

Baby Steps

While she was in there, I didn't close the door or leave the room. She would look hesitantly up at me wondering if I would leave, so in order to ease that anxiety, I just stuck around with the door open and let her go in and out of the cage at her leisure. I also went in and out of the room myself with the crate door open.

Eventually, while she was in the crate, I closed the crate door and hung around for a while. She was SO engrossed in getting every delicious lick of peanut butter, she didn't even notice I had left the room.

Consistency is Key

After a week of using the words "Go in your Crate!" in a super happy fun time voice, she would run in on command. Now she goes in with a simple point of the finger in the direction of her crate.

I still give her a treat after I close the door and she has sat down calmly in the crate.

Other important tips

Sizing of the Crate

Yoda came with a 31" crate and I understood after a few days why we were having a hard time getting her to accept her crate. For an (underweight) dog at 52lbs, she clearly needed a 36" crate, so we bought her a new one and she is definitely much better able to stretch out, lie down comfortable and stand up fully, which has made the crating experience much easier and pleasant for all.

Location, Location, Location

Dogs, as social animals love to be around their people and in the center of the action.

DO place the crate in a busy part of the house where there is normally a lot of life. This will be easier on your dog psychologically, even though you are gone then.

Do NOT place the crate in the garage, an isolated room or the backyard where the dog never normally hangs out, or else the dog will feel like it has been cast away or thrown out.

Feeding Meals in the Crate

Associating the crate with food will also encourage your dog to seek out her crate. I handfeed many of Yoda's meals in or around her crate and she has a kong filled with treats that she only gets when she is in the crate. This way crate = yummy exclusive stuff!


Always provide your dog with fresh water in their crate, unless they are not housebroken, in which case you should not crate more than 2-3 hours and only as part of housebreaking training.

Special Toys

Providing your pup with a few special toys on rotation that she only gets once she is in the crate is another great method to get your dog to love being in her crate and to stimulate their brains and keep them occupied.

Do Not yield to the Dark Side!

At first Yoda sometimes whined or cried when we would leave the room. 

Do. Not. Ever. Give. In. To. This.

As heart-breaking as it is, whining, crying, or barking out of anxiety are not behaviours that should be encouraged. By consoling a dog that whines or cries, you are reinforcing their whining because they got what they wanted by whining! 

Dogs also interpret a master that pities them as being weaker than them.  Remember that dogs need calm assertiveness.

Pity = Weakness. Weakness = more anxiety in the dog. More anxiety = More whining. 

In order to avoid this vicious cycle, we enforce a no look, no talk rule when she whines and we only pay attention to her once she is calm. This way she has learned than whining will not get her out of anything and that acting calmly and quietly will work.

It has been one month since we got her (Happy One Month Gotchya Day Yoda!!!) and Yoda is very well behaved and has shown no destructive tendencies so we have just started allowing her to sleep on her dog bed outside of the crate at night.

Our goal is to work on her obedience training until she is fully responsive and reliable and then she will be allowed to be free in her doggy-proofed room during the day while we are at work with only occasional crating. Full freedom of the house is not something we will ever allow because of the potential for getting hurt or the risk of getting into trouble.

Do you crate your dog? How did you crate train them? Any feedback or tips that I could add? I love to hear feedback!


  1. Great information and I love that picture!

  2. this is a fabulous post! We crate trained Dakota as well (we got him when he was 8 mos old and he actually was used to being in the crate)...we stopped when he was a little over 2 yrs old. He decided on his own that he was done with it so we stopped using it. It was a Godsend when he was younger

    1. Thank you for giving me feedback, glad you enjoyed the read. I only got my girl for 1 month and as a rescue, it's tough, you never know how it's gonna hubs and I both work so we have to leave during the day, it was too soon to let her free before we train her... but we hope within a month or two she will be reliable enough to stay out free :)

  3. I know a lot of people swear by crate training however, we don't crate Titan nor have I ever crated a dog, simply because I don't feel comfortable with it. I envisioned a fire in my house and he couldn't escape the crate. I envisioned someone trying to break into my home and not being able to scare them off. We tried blocking half the house and he bust down the gate. Due to his previous 2 homes and rocky history, we decided to give him free roam of the house. At first, he chewed a few things up, tore up his pillow, box of tissues, but that ended quickly. He does really well now and if I sneak home during the day, he's laying on our bed just staring out the window keeping guard.

    To each his own on crating. I know if we ever brought another dog into the house, we would have to crate. One of the reasons we only have 1 dysfunctional pibbles. :)

    1. Gosh Bren, you really bring up a very smart point about a potential fire and the inability to escape! I don't worry so much about warding off an intruder, I'm sure she would help them to anything they wanted and even kiss them hello lol. But you bring up something to think about and one extra reason to keep working towards training her to eventual free roam. At least in a room with a doggy door.

  4. Thank you so much. I think crate training is vital,but it sure is heartbreaking. Splotchy cries and whines when we put her in the crate.
    Very slowly though, we are making progress.