I love my crate

Puppy Tai – now 10 weeks old — was introduced to crate games this past weekend.  I mean Susan Garrett’s version of Crate Games.  Of course, he had been spending time in a crate prior to this…sleeping and eating; riding in the car; sometimes just hanging out watching the activity in the kitchen.  But now, thanks to crate games, Tai is starting to LOVE his crate.
Have you watched Susan’s DVD?  It’s such a great model of dog training to watch Susan take a 6 year old German Shepherd through Stage 1 to Stage 3 of Crate Games.  Mechanics?  Well thought out.  Criteria?  Clear as a bell.  Timing?  Perfect.  The result…a dog who totally understands what is being asked and is getting mightily reinforced for it!

I appreciate the value of crate games first hand – my six year old Breeze is a crate game “pro”.  He learned his release word at just about Tai’s age via crate games, waiting for a release from his crate and practicing self-control virtually every day after that introduction.  Ok…ok…. we’ve struggled with his start line.  Nonetheless, crate games have been an integral part of his agility training. For example, I use crate games to build drive to and self control on obstacles like the dogwalk and weaves.  Crate games can “amp up” any training session for Breeze – a great way to  get him driving lines and increasing obstacle speed.

So…how did it go with Tai?  Was our session as perfect as Susan’s in her DVD? Hmmm…maybe not 🙂

For those who don’t know…stage 1 to stage 3 are done within one session.  The dog is not allowed out of his crate until he successfully enters stage 3.   I prefer a wire crate to a hard shell crate…it’s just so much easier to see what the dog is doing.  In preparation for our session, I put duct tape along the bottom of the crate as Susan suggests to prevent the dog’s toes from getting caught in the wire opening.  But curious Tai saw this as a perfect opportunity to find just the spot where the tape wasn’t quite flat and made a game out of trying to rip it out.  Ok…ditch the duct tape for now.

Stage 1 is “I Love my crate”.  A series of reinforcements are delivered to the dog in this manner: Open crate door, lean in and deliver a highly desirable (soft) treat high and to the back of the crate, stand up and close the crate door.  Repeat.  Since the treat is being delivered high, the dog will usually sit…which is the desired position.  We got through this stage without a hitch.

Stage 2 is “Are you a Gambler?”.   In this stage, Tai learned to maintain his sit position while I clipped on his leash and while I held the crate door open for a few moments.  At any time if criteria were not met, the door closed.    Tai was a superstar in this stage.

Stage 3 is “Yer out – Yer In”.  In this stage, my hand on the crate door cued Tai to sit (perfect), I put on Tai’s leash while he maintained a sit position (perfect), then gave Tai his release word and waited.  The idea is for the dog to come out of his crate on leash, find no other reinforcement, and then choose to go back into his crate – the place where he has just received untold number of treats.    This is where we ran into a bit of a snag.  Tai came out and started chewing on his buckle and leash and showed no signs of wanting to go back into the crate.  Oops.  Remember the duct tape I mentioned above?  This puppy can make a game out of just about any object he comes across.   I tried to lift up the leash so he wouldn’t be able to bite it but that just encouraged him because he thought I was tugging.  I only let this go on for a bit and decided plan B would be in order.  I just needed to quickly figure out what Plan B would be.

I quickly enlisted my husband and between the two of us we created a circle of space for Tai.  I took off the leash. He couldn’t leave and we didn’t acknowledge him — even when he gave Dad puppy kisses — so he must have thought “oh what the heck” and he chose to go into his crate.  Whew.  Then we had a little party with a handful of treats thrown into the crate and lots of praise.  I repeated the Yer in Yer Out game a couple more times using the same technique.

And we’ve been building on stage 3 all week.  I’m seeing his drive increase to get into the crate and I’m starting to use just a little restraint to build drive into the crate,  he understands my hand on the crate door means to sit,  I’m upping the ante on self-control with the crate door open and he understands his release word.  We’re on our way.


  • Mary Jo Johnson

    I too have been playing the crate games with Lainie. She is good on the stage one and stage 2 but still isn’t that happy about running back into the crate. Except of course during the morning routine before I leave for work and she emulates the other dogs because everyone gets a peanut butter kong when I leave for work. High value reward!

  • Mary Jo:
    Maybe you could make more of a game of running back into crate at random times. Then have a party when she does. Start close to the crate then vary the distance. It’ll be worth it!

  • Mary Jo Johnson

    Thanks Anne, I will try that. Right now focus is on sully for Nationals and try outs. Puppy stuff is a bit on hold other than the regular training.

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