Crate introduction: Top tips
- Do make the crate comfortable before showing it to your dog.
- Introduce the crate as a step-by-step process, over several days if possible.
- Handle your dog gently throughout the crate introduction process, and keep your voice kind and positive.
- Keep other dogs out of the room during crate introduction sessions.
- Food can be used to tempt your dog into the crate. But take care not to exceed your dog’s daily food ration.
Above: Dixie the dachshund in her crate after spinal surgery. Photo courtesy of S. Lythgow
Dogs are quick learners, and they will soon learn to hate their recovery crate if their first experience of it is unpleasant. It is therefore best to introduce your dog to the crate gradually and carefully. Manhandling your dog into the crate and then slamming the door closed will make your dog anxious and is likely to lead to future behavioural problems.
Take some time to make the crate comfortable before you even show it to your dog. For successful crate introduction, the inside of the crate needs to be made to appear more attractive to your dog than the rest of the room. Before your dog first enters the crate, furnish it with comfortable bedding, a draught-free place to rest, food, water and your dog’s favourite toys. Check that the floor of the crate offers good footing and does not wobble, otherwise your dog will lose confidence as soon as they step inside. If your crate contains a removable base tray that wobbles, then it is best to remove this. Line the base with non-slip matting before placing bedding on top of this.
A positive approach is essential during crate introduction. Dogs are quick to pick up on our emotions, so do your best to keep your voice positive and kind throughout the crate introduction process. Shouting at your dog, or rough handling, will make them anxious about the crate.
Your dog may choose to come up to you for attention when you first show them the crate. If so, then act in quite a low-key, boring way. You can give them a few kind, reassuring words, but don’t reward your dog for coming to you at this point by lifting and carrying them, or with food from your hand or a game. At this moment, you don’t want to give your dog the idea that life is more fun outside, than inside, the crate.
If you have other dogs, then put them out of the room during crate introduction so that they don’t act as an extra distraction.
Food is usually the best way to tempt your dog into the crate. It’s a good idea to start crate introduction at a time of day when your dog is likely to be hungry. If your dog will do anything for food, then bits of their usually dog kibble may be enough to tempt them in. For fussy eaters, you may need to use tasty dog treats. When using food and treats during crate introduction, be careful not to overfeed your dog. Check how much your dog should be eating each day, measure this out each morning and take not to exceed this, even if some of the food is being scattered onto the floor of the crate or is fed from a Kong®. If using dog treats, then break these into tiny pieces, and reduce the rest of your dog’s ration to compensate.
Crate introduction needs to be a step-by-step process. This will allow your dog to accept their new situation gradually. If your dog is allowed to walk about a little, and if your vet is happy for your dog to walk into and out of the crate on a lead, then follow Method 1. Many crates have an awkward “lip” at the entrance, and your dog may not be safe to walk back and forth over this. If your dog is not safe or mobile enough to walk in and out of the crate, then follow Method 2 for crate introduction.
As a general rule, the recovery crate should be introduced over a few days. In some cases, gradual introduction is not possible. If your dog has to be confined to a crate straight away then please click here for further advice.
If you are worried about how your dog will cope in a crate, then do discuss the situation with your vet (in advance of any operation if at all possible). Depending on your dog’s size and personality, “room rest” may be a possible alternative, though you must discuss this with your vet first. In special circumstances, your vet may consider prescribing something: not a heavy sedative, but a drug to reduce your dog’s anxiety. However, this option would be reserved for select cases as there are no medicines licensed for this purpose in the UK. If you anticipate that your dog will get really anxious about being crate-confined, then you may even want to consider referral to a veterinary behavioural specialist. It’s always easier to nip behavioural problems in the bud at an early stage, so don’t wait for things to get really bad before asking for advice.
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