With the return to school coming up, and the return to work for some, there is a rush to get puppies and dogs happily crate trained before the house will be left empty for a few hours. It is especially prevalent in these COVID times, where many puppies were acquired over the last 5-6 months, who have become used to having owners home and used to more free time than would typically happen if people weren’t working from and spending more time at home.
Here are some easy tips to help make the transition a little smoother.
*Set up the crate as a positive place to be. Reward entrances and even feed meals in the crate. Remember, door closed and locked is important, as this is what it will look like when you leave the house.
*Set up quick training repetitions for polite behaviour going in, and calm behaviour coming out. Making it more rewarding to enter, offering food, or a kong filled with something yummy, and require that your pup show some restraint and not just burst out of the crate. Make sure that they don’t get attention and praise for coming out, but rather that comes for going in. It should be more fun to get in than to get out.
*Don’t make a big deal about returning home. When you feed into over excitement at your return, you increase anticipation, which in turn, can increase anxiety. Instead, ignore you dog for 5-10 minutes upon your return, and don’t make greetings into a festival. Keep calm to help your dog remain calm.
*Put it one cue. Call the crate something, “go to your bed”, “crate”, “house” etc. And use a release work upon exit; “ok”, “free”, “done” etc.
*Don’t just put your dog in the crate at night and when you leave. The night time routine is typically easy to get through because there are clear indications that it is time for bed, however, if you just use it when you leave the house, it is a huge signal that you are leaving and can set some dogs and puppies up for anxiety. Have your dog spend some time in the crate while you are at home, to help get them used to it, number one, but to also reduce that anxiety around you leaving.
*Increase crate time slowly, offering reward for quiet and calm, such as food dropped in, or release from the crate. Never open the crate if your puppy or dog is making a fuss (unless you think they need to go to the bathroom – we always err on the side of bathroom for young puppies to reduce crate accidents – if they don’t go, just place them back in until they are quiet).
*Try not to feel bad about leaving your puppy or dog. Dogs pick up emotions and energy very easily and if you are feeling sorry for or worried about leaving them, this feeds into any anxiety that they may already have and makes the situation worse.
*Reduce any over abundance of attention that you might be giving your dog while you’ve been home. Dogs who are used to non-stop attention have a harder time handling your absence than dogs who learn how to be bored or properly self entertain. Don’t give in to your dogs every demand for attention and this will help to set them up to handle the reduced attention for them you go back to work and kids go back to school.
Preferably you started all this weeks ago, or months ago, but a lot can be accomplished over a few days to a couple weeks. Remain consistent, repeat and practice to help set your dog up for success to handle the crate. Remember crates keep both your dog safe and your house safe, and are an excellent addition to any training program.