You wish your dog would accept his crate for what it is: a quiet, comfy place to chill. Instead, your reluctant pooch digs in for the long haul when you escort him to his den. A fearful dog who associates his crate with prison requires your patience and guidance to get over it.
Select a weekend day to begin crating your pooch if you normally work on weekdays. You'll need to spend extra time and have lots of patience before you'll be able to keep him in his crate for a long period of time.
Choose a crate that will allow your dog to stand up and turn around, but not much bigger than that.
Assemble the crate out of sight of your fearful pooch's peepers. Place the crate on a soft surface, such as an old throw rug. A metal kennel or plastic crate can make quite a ruckus. A slamming door or the sound of metal on the floor may be just the negative association your pooch doesn't need. Heaven forbid the crate should slip and slide with him inside.
Open the crate door and leave it wide open. Place his favorite bed or blanket inside. Add a couple of safe toys or treats to entice him inside and to keep him busy once he's in. You want the crate to feel like your dog's very own Taj Majal.
Call him into the room to meet his pimped out new crate in his own good time. Let him sniff it out. Watch his body language for fearful signs, such as a tucked tail, a stiff body or anxiety. He may have a look of terror in his eyes, but don't coddle him; you'll reinforce his feeling of fear.
Grab a couple of tasty snacks, such as freeze-dried liver or small chunks of hot dog. Anything that smells irresistible. Toss it just inside the crate's door. Toss another treat a little further back into the crate if he approaches and eats the first one. Leave the door open.
End your training session if he is too fearful to approach, then just chill out with your dog in the room for a while, letting him see that the crate is not about to eat him alive.
Return to your training session after your break, and sit a few feet away from the open crate with delicious treats in your lap. Reward him with a treat if he approaches you. Sit quietly for a few minutes, then park yourself closer to the crate, and repeat until your dog slowly gets comfortable with the crate's presence in the room.
Feed your dog his meals in the back of his crate with the door open. Slowly shut the door for a few seconds but do not latch it, then open the door after a few seconds. Refrain from praising the dog when he comes out. He'll associate reward with coming out of the crate.
Repeat opening and closing the door, very slowly increasing the time the crate door is closed. If he happily accepts his crate for longer periods of time and doesn't show resistance, whine, or scratch to get out, leave him in a bit longer.
Give your dog something extra special to chew on if he's quiet in his crate. He'll associate this special reward with being inside the crate.
- Open, metal crates are often more comfortable for fearful dogs than their solid plastic counterparts.
- Don't open the crate in response to the dog's whining unless he needs to go out to potty.
Elle Smith has been an advertising professional for more than 25 years. Her work for ABC, CBS and Sony Pictures Television has appeared on radio, on air, in print and outdoors. In addition, Smith has more than 20 years experience in marketing, graphic arts, commercial photography and print production, and is a licensed real estate agent with property management certification in California.