Our Lab, Carson, is 9-months-old and we’ve had him since he was 8 weeks. He is a very high energy pup! I’ve been working from home the whole time we’ve had him, but I just got a job where I will have to go into an office several days a week. We are going to hire a petsitter to come over and exercise him midday, but I’m not comfortable leaving him free in the house because he still chews things up. We’ve never crated him (probably a big mistake) and now we need to. I’m worried that he’s going to be really bored and will learn to hate the crate.
You are wise to consider crate training Carson. He is at an age where he can not only destroy your house, but could also consume something dangerous. If this change in his routine will happen soon, you need to do several short training sessions every day. Initially, it might be a good idea to have the petsitter come a couple times during the day and have them really run him during each visit. In addition, you need to commit to a good exercise session for Carson before you leave in the morning and again when you come home.
In addition to crate training, start feeding him exclusively out of frozen Kongs. Kongs are an inexpensive and reusable way to feed meals and are available at local pet stores. They will keep his brain busy while he works to get the food out. Start this new feeding routine before you start leaving him in a crate and once he’s hooked, move the feeding into the crate.
Get Kongs shaped like a light bulb. Plug the small hole with a soft treat and soak some of his kibble in water until it is mushy. Fill the Kong with the mushy food then cover the large hole with peanut butter and freeze the Kong. Carson will have to work hard to get the food out as it melts. Buy a few Kongs and keep them in the freezer.
Here’s a five-step process you can use to crate train Carson:
Step 1: Start with the crate door open and toss in some irresistible treat. If he hesitates to go in, drop the treat close enough to the opening so he can stand outside and get it.
Step 2: Gradually toss the treat farther into the crate so he has to go farther in to get it.
Step 3: When he is routinely entering and exiting the crate without hesitation, start using a verbal cue such as “go home” as he goes in.
Step 4: When he happily goes into the crate and stays in, gently swing the door closed. Don’t latch it! Give him a treat through the door and then open it. Repeat this step, gradually increasing the amount of time the door stays closed before he gets a treat.
Step 5: When he will stay in the crate for at least 10 seconds without anxiety, latch the door, take one step away, return to the crate, reward and open the door. Repeat this, varying the time and distance.
You might also try giving him his “meal” Kong in the crate with the door open. This will help build a positive association with being in the crate.
Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog Training and Education Center in Truckee. If you have a pet topic/issue you would like to see covered in the Ask the Trainer column, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.