Teaching Your Rescue Dog To Love Their Crate

Teaching Your Rescue Dog To Love Their Crate

According to the ASPCA, around 2 million dogs are adopted in the United States each year. Many of these dogs come from unknown backgrounds, with histories and potential traumas not always known to their new pet parents. It’s important to remember that you can “teach an old dog new tricks”, and you can help a rescue dog to learn to love the safety, security, and comfort provided by their crate.

Learning how to crate train a rescue dog might be a little different than learning how to crate train a puppy, but both are just as accessible with compassion, patience, and a few tips and tricks. Rescue dogs with unknown histories and some anxieties will even learn to take comfort in their crate, allowing you to give them a level of security that perhaps they never had before. According to the American Kennel Club, crates are known to provide comfort for rescue dogs, as they provide them with their own space for decompression that they know is theirs and theirs alone.

Breaking Down How To Crate Train A Rescue Dog

Having a list of steps to follow is starting out with a game plan. You know where to start, what to do next, and how to measure where you are on the path to success. The steps to follow for crate training a rescue dog are:

Choose The Right Crate

The most important step is the first one and that’s choosing the right crate. Without the right crate, every step you take is going to be harder and you could wind up causing crate aversion rather than crate appreciation. You’ll want to select a sturdy, safe, and escape-proof crate that can be used at home or on the go. If you plan to use the crate mostly at home, a stationary dog crate may be most suitable. If you do a lot of traveling, and plan to take your dog on lots of adventures right along with you, a collapsible crate might be more convenient. 

Once you have your crate selected, it’s time to determine the correct size. Size matters in selecting the perfect crate, and you’ll want to choose one that allows your dog to walk in, turn around, and lay down comfortably. Ideally, the crate will be about 2 to 5 inches taller than your dog’s height and longer than your dog’s length according to Rover.com. It might be tempting to “size up” when selecting a crate, with the belief that more room equals more comfort, but this can defeat some of the purpose of the crate to begin with. Having a small, but cozy, space keeps dogs feeling secure in their “den”, so the ideal crate size is one that keeps your dog in closer but comfortable quarters.

Teaching Your Rescue Dog To Love Their Crate

Start Crate Training When Your Dog Is Relaxed And Sleepy

When you’re feeling excited, energetic, and “ready to go”, you’re not going to feel satisfied by lying in bed. The same goes for your dog, which is why it’s best to approach crate training your rescue dog when they’re feeling calm, relaxed, and tired. You may want to introduce them to their crate in the evening when they’re usually ready to wind down, after a walk, or after a good training session. When learning how to crate train a rescue dog, you’ll quickly learn that timing matters to make your success come quickly and easily.

Use Comfort Items To Make The Crate More Inviting

Comfort items can help to make the crate more inviting. A sleepy rescue dog may naturally prefer a cozy sofa, soft carpet, or cushy pillow over the hard bottom of an empty crate, just like a human would prefer a soft bed over a tile floor. A safe and durable comfort pad can help to make the crate a more inviting space. If your dog is not prone to chewing fabrics, you may even want to include a favorite blanket or soft T-shirt that smells like you for added comfort and security.

Find A Positive Association Chew Or Toy

One of the simplest ways to positively introduce a rescue dog to their new crate is with positive association. Placing something positive in their crate and allowing them to spend time with it while using the space will lead them to associate this happy feeling with being in their crate. For instance, you may have them eat their dinner in their crate, go into their crate for their favorite snacks or treats, play with a favorite toy in the crate, or go to their crate for a little supervised chew time.

To begin this positive association training, start slowly. Provide the dog with a favorite toy or snack that will take them around 10 to 15 minutes to enjoy. One great idea is using frozen snack-filled toys that serve as treats, puzzles, and toys all in one. Lure them into their crate using the positive object, allow them to enjoy the object while in their crate, and if they wish to leave their crate after the 10-to-15-minute mark, they’re welcome to do so. Doing too much too quickly can cause crate aversion, making your job of positive crate training more difficult.

Teaching Your Rescue Dog To Love Their Crate

Start Increasing Crate Times Slowly

Increasing crate time should be a slow and steady sort of process. Going from 10-to-15-minute crate breaks to a 6-hour day spent in the crate can be stressful for your rescue dog. Once your dog has grown comfortable and happy with their 10-to-15-minute treat breaks in their crate, start offering the crate for longer naps. These may be as little as 30 minutes at first, gradually working your way up to comfortable crate time for a couple of hours. The crate should be viewed as a space to enjoy cozy rest and relaxation, not a place for stress.

Never Use The Crate As Punishment

While children may respond to “time outs”, dogs aren’t humans, and the crate should never be used as a punishment space. If your dog begins to have a negative association with their crate, you could wind up undoing all of the hard work you put into crate training in the first place. This proves plausible for rescue dogs, who may have unknown histories or known histories of trauma.

Focus should always be kept on keeping the crate a positive, cozy, and secure space your dog can retreat to when they need comfort and peace. This positive association is what keeps your dog calm while in the crate and gives them this invaluable resource when they’re feeling insecure, overstimulated, or afraid.

Tips And Tricks For Making Crate Training Even Easier

While learning how to crate train a rescue dog, you’ll quickly find out just how appreciated tips and tricks can be. Every dog is an individual, no two dogs are the same, and this rings particularly true for rescue dogs. You might find challenges with your new rescue dog that you never faced before while crate training previous dogs. A few tips and tricks that can help to make your crate training process easier for you and your dog are:

  • Get as much background history as possible – Not all rescue dogs will have known histories, but any tiny bit of information you can find is better than nothing. For instance, if a dog is known to have an aversion to certain sudden sounds, keeping their crate in an interior part of the home where they’re less likely to hear potentially scary outside sounds could work in your favor. If your rescue dog tends to get excitable around other dogs, or has issues with being territorial, they may benefit most from being in their own solo space during the training process. For rescue dogs with separation anxiety, keeping the crate near where you will be is likely to be most beneficial.
  • Give your crate a command word – Some dogs love having a job to do, and they love to impress their owners with tricks that prove how smart and efficient they are. Giving your crate a command word can help you to create positive association with dogs who enjoy work and are looking to please. Saying the word “crate” or “kennel” and tossing your dog a treat when they enter their crate turns crate training into tricks for treats.
  • Patience is key – Patience is the most important skill pet parents can exhibit while crate training their new rescue dog. According to Wag, it can take months to crate train a puppy, and this could be even longer for rescue dogs. New pet parents of a rescue dog shouldn’t be surprised if it takes up to a year to fully crate train their new best friend. The most important factor to remember is to keep association with the crate positive – and this means not losing your patience during those challenging times. Slow, steady, and positive consistency is key to making sure your crate training is successful and as fast as possible.

Teaching Your Rescue Dog To Love Their Crate

What Crate Training Success Means To You And Your Dog

When learning how to crate train a rescue dog gets particularly challenging, it’s normal to stop and think, “Is this really necessary?” Frustrations happen, but when it comes to crate training – the reward is worth it! The crate serves as a safe space your dog can enjoy away from the dangers of the unsupervised home when you’re not around to keep an eye on them. For rescue dogs with unknown histories, feelings of safety and security might be foreign to them. The crate gives them that secure feeling of their own space for (what could possibly be) the first time. In short, the crate is a comfortable and safe solution for rescue dogs and their new pet parents alike.

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