QWe recently adopted a puppy from a shelter, and she’s sweet and adorable, except when we go to put her in her crate. Sasha will not come to me, in fact we must chase her down and then put her in her crate with some difficulty. I’m worried that we are being too forceful with her, but I can’t figure out a better way. She does remain quiet once she is in there, so is what I’m doing OK? — Katie
AI think you sense that it really isn’t OK, Katie, and I would agree. If for no other reason than as Sasha continues to grow and mature, your problem in this area is likely to get bigger and become even more difficult to handle. My best advice is to stop everything you are currently doing in relation to the crate and start from the beginning. The goal should be to change Sasha’s conditioned emotional response from a negative one to a positive one to the crate in general and going into it in particular. Since I don’t have all of your unique details, I will do my best to cover all of the basics.
First, don’t ever attempt to call your dog to you when you really need her to do something she finds unpleasant. Not only will you be unsuccessful, but you can ruin a good recall as well. So in the future, if you ever need to place Sasha in an area that she isn’t fond of — like the bath tub, for example — go to her. Attach a leash to her collar and gently lead her to where you need her to go.
Now on to the crate. I’m going to assume that you have a common plastic crate with a metal door. Take it apart; remove the door and leave the bottom half of the crate in a place where Sasha can easily explore it. If she has a favorite blanket or toy, place those in the bottom portion of the crate, too. Give Sasha the time and opportunity to become at least less concerned about the crate.
You can help, too, by incorporating the crate into some activities. For example, when watching television, sit on the floor and toss one of Sasha’s toys in the general direction of the crate. As she retrieves it, keep throwing it, sometimes landing it in the crate, giving her a reason to step inside to retrieve the toy. If toys aren’t her thing, do the same with treats. You might also try burying a handful of treats under the blanket that is in the crate, and let her dig around in there to find and eat every one.
Another good practice would be to feed her near the crate. Begin by placing the food bowl within a foot or two of the crate and let her eat on her own. At each meal, you can move the food bowl closer, and eventually place it
inside the crate.
What these examples have in common is that they are pairing the presence of the crate with something positive. With repetition, and without pressure, Sasha will likely form a new conditioned emotional response to the crate, and it will be a pleasurable one.
Of course, you will need to put the crate back together again, but do it in stages. Put the roof back on but continue to leave the door off. Give Sasha lots of reasons to go into the crate, by throwing toys
or treats into the back of it for her to get. Next, put the door on, toss something into the crate and gently close the door when she gets in. Leave it closed for only a second or two, then open it and let her out with lots of praise and play.
As you repeat this process, add in a cue as she is going in, like “In your kennel.” Gradually add to your duration. Remember, you are doing this outside of the context of needing to put her into the crate — this should be sold to Sasha as no more than a series of fun games.
Once the concern about going into the crate has been resolved, remember these final
important points: Have Sasha go into her crate for a few short periods each day, even when you are home, letting her out again after just a few minutes. When you need to leave her crated for longer periods of time, be sure she gets a good amount of exercise plus some recovery time before crate time — a tired dog is more likely to settle down and go to sleep. And finally, place something in the crate with her, like a raw bone or enticing chewy of some kind, so she continues to maintain a positive association with being in the crate.