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Is Crate Training Not Working For Your Dog Or Puppy?

At some point in any dog’s life, being crated or kennelled will need to happen.

Your dog needs to be hospitalized or transported.

Perhaps “Fluffy” needs to be confined because renovations are going on in your home.

Or you have visitors who are scared of dogs.

In any case, crating Fluffy simply makes sense.

*I am not interested in debating the perceived morality of crating. If you don’t want to crate your dog, or if that’s illegal in your country, feel free to skip this story.*

I’m writing for people who want to crate-train their dogs.

As I was saying to Bin Jiang, I am averse to reading blocks of text.

And I love reading. But I will not read blocks of text.

Such as those in pamphlets from veterinary clinics.

Which team members disseminate to clients on dog behaviour, such as crate training.

As a professional pet dog trainer and veterinary professional, I foresaw challenges with those pamphlets.

If I didn’t want to read those pamphlets, how could we expect veterinary clients to?

Other problems I saw: some pamphlets suggested to owners about luring a dog or puppy into a crate with highly appealing food.

Which might work, or not.

Worse yet, waiting for a puppy or dog to go in on their own — could take a very long time.

Or simply forcing the puppy or dog into the crate and locking the door shut, waiting for the pooch to cry it out.

Which is inhumane.

Instead, I am going to present something a little different.

Teach a dog to LOVE going into a crate.

So much so, that dog is so joyful and runs into the crate.


  • A wire or plastic crate

Before you begin:

Dismantle the crate into constituent parts to help your dog’s success.

A wire crate will have a plastic bottom – pull that out.

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The next photo is the bottom part from a plastic crate.

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Onward to the first game!

The Paw Target Game

  1. Place a large blanket placed on the ground.
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Given a large enough blanket, a dog may step on the blanket seemingly by accident.

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When your dog steps on the blanket with just 1 paw, mark the behaviour with whatever sound or word you use such as a click or “yes.”

  • Reinforce the behaviour by giving a bite-sized treat.
  • Pause 1 to 2 seconds, say “search” and throw a treat or toy in a direction away from the blanket.

This increases the value your dog has for the blanket.

By allowing your dog the choice of returning to the blanket.

3) Upon your dog’s return, wait for a different behaviour than before.

Such as 2 or more paws on the blanket.

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Or a position such as a sit or down.

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Mark and reinforce for 2 or more paws.

  • Pause 1 to 2 seconds. Then say “search” and throw a treat for your dog to chase off the blanket.

Growing the Paw Target Game

Continue this game after your dog continues stepping onto the paw target intentionally after each “search.”

This time, while your dog is off the blanket, quickly reduce the size of the blanket

  1. Fold the paw target in half.
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2. Wait to see what your dog does with this half-blanket.

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If you have established the value of what that blanket means to your dog, you should see this or similar behaviours.

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3. Grow the paw target game some more by throwing a treat in a direction away from the blanket.

This time, while your dog is chasing the treat quickly reduce the size of the blanket by folding it into quarters.

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At This Point Of The Paw Target Game:


  • How is your dog doing with the quarter blanket?

Is your dog offering behaviours on this little bit of blanket?

If so, progress to the next phase.

If not, expand the blanket to the previous size (half or full) and grow your dog’s confidence at this power level.

  • Is this quarter blanket small enough to fit into a crate part?

Getting The Paw Target Into The Crate

Remember I asked you to dismantle your dog’s crate?

This is when those parts should be brought in.

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Your dog may be very interested and start offering behaviours.

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Ifthat is the case, keep playing the same game – throw a treat to get your dog moving off the blanket and crate part.

Because your dog is ready for you to put the crate back together.

Reassembling Pieces Of The Crate

You’ll notice the door isn’t back on this plastic crate yet.

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You want to make sure your dog remains confident about going on the blanket while the lid is on.

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If you have a wire crate, how comfortable is your dog about going into the crate with the paw blanket on the plastic bottom?

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Putting The Crate Together

Plastic Crate

  • Adding the door.

You’ll notice the blanket is still part of the crate at this point — we want to build on your dog’s confidence.

Move at your dog’s pace.

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Wire Crate

  • Put more of the plastic tray back into the crate.

As you see, with a more confident dog, you can place more of the blanket onto the plastic tray.

Again, move at your dog’s pace.

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If all has gone well, your puppy or dog should be happily running into the crate.

January Is National Train Your Dog Month

Did you know? Less than 5% of all pet dogs are intentionally trained

Consider your canine patient population. In particular, ask your front desk team about their observations of dog leash manners. Then ask them to select a number from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) to describe their level of agreement with the subtitle.

Between 30 to 60% of dog owners do not walk their dogs because the dogs pull on leash (1). Dogs pulling on leash are the most common behaviour problem reported to veterinarians (2). Beyond a dog behaviour problem, dogs pulling on leash compromise human health.

From 2001 to 2020, an estimated 422,659 individuals presented to emergency departments across the United States from injuries related to leash-dependent dog walking (3). Within the same time frame, 1 in 5 injuries treated at USA emergency departments involved a dog pulling on leash (4). Nearly 90% of the injuries happened to individuals aged 18 and older. A common injury reported was traumatic brain injury (TBI) from falling as a result of a dog pulling on the leash (3). Canadian data will likely be comparable–maybe even more so given that we have universal health care.

What does that mean for your clients and patients?

Let’s assume some of your clients or their immediate family members have been injured from a family pet pulling on its leash. This means your practice can expect to be contacted by clients asking for referrals to pet dog trainers.

After experiencing a fall from walking a pet dog, clients may immediately turn to quick-fix methods for changing the dog’s behaviour. Unfortunately, many quick-fix methods involve using positive punishment which simply suppresses the leash pulling rather than teach the dog how to walk politely on a loose leash . Additionally, positive punishment used in the name of training often results in negative impacts on the human-animal bond and compromises dog welfare (Hiby, 2023)

Prioritising Patient Welfare

Note that dog training remains an unregulated profession globally. However, this is not common knowledge to the general public. This presents a wonderful chance for your team, where client education can be provided regarding positive reinforcement pet dog training methods. Ideally, one team member will have expertise speaking about positive reinforcement pet dog training and even demonstrating some of the mechanics involved for teaching a pet dog to walk on a loose leash, offering a short coaching session to the client. This may occur as part of the patient’s appointment, or scheduled as a separate visit specifically addressing common behaviour challenges. In addition to the leash-pulling, complaints from pet dog owners include dogs running away or foreign body ingestion. If you have a team member who happens to be an accredited pet dog training instructor holding membership with the following associations (Canadian Association of Professional Dog Trainers, Pet Professionals Guild), wonderful!

Game Plan

Considering some of the physical injuries on humans, some immediate strategies your practice can offer would be equipment:


-head halters[2]

Please let your client know these tools simply manage the dog’s behaviour, so training still needs to occur. Additionally, the relationship still needs to be repaired–which is where positive reinforcement methods can help, because quick successes will keep the client engaged with educating their pet going forward.

Sources cited:

  1. Cutt, H., Giles-Corti, B., & Knuiman, M. (2008). Encouraging physical activity through dog walking: why don’t some owners walk with their dog?. Preventive Medicine, 46(2), 120–126.
  2. Townsend, L., Dixon, L., & Buckley, L. (2022). Lead pulling as a welfare concern in pet dogs: What can veterinary professionals learn from current research?. Veterinary record, 191(10)
  3. Maxson, R., Leland, C. R., McFarland, E. G., Lu, J., Meshram, P., & Jones, V. C. (2023). Epidemiology of Dog Walking-Related Injuries Among Adults Presenting to US Emergency Departments, 2001–2020. Medicine and science in sports and exercise.
  4. Forrester M. B. (2020). Dog leash-related injuries treated at emergency departments. The American journal of emergency medicine, 38(9), 1782–1786.
  5. Hiby, E., Rooney, N., & Bradshaw, J. (2004). Dog training methods: their use, effectiveness and interaction with behaviour and welfare. Animal Welfare, 13(1), 63–69. doi:10.1017/S0962728600026683
  6. Todd, Z. (2018). Barriers to the adoption of humane dog training methods. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 25, 28-34.
  7. Knights, H., & Williams, J. (2021). The influence of three working harnesses on thoracic limb kinematics and stride length at walk in assistance dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 45, 16-24.
  8. Blake, S., Williams, R., & Ferro de Godoy, R. (2019). A systematic review of the biomechanical effects of harness and head-collar use in dogs. bioRxiv, 759258.

[1] Not all harnesses are made equal, and fit is very particular for each dog’s body type. Measurements to gather from the dog are neck and chest width. Harnesses should permit non-restrictive movement to a dog’s forelimbs (7)

[2] Head halters may not be appropriate for all breeds. Consider your patient’s breed before recommending this for leash-pulling (8)