Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Why Crate Time Is Important for Service Dogs in Training

All of our service dogs in training are crate trained. Until they’re 16 weeks old, they ride in a crate in the car. At home or at the office, our puppies spend time in crates. They’ll spend time crated while they’re in advanced training, and they will most likely spend some time in a crate after they’re placed as working service dogs.

The goal is for the dog to go into their crate on cue (“kennel”) and then be able to spend at least 8 consecutive hours quietly relaxing inside with the door closed. The dog should be able to relax quietly in their crate overnight, during the day, when they’re alone, and when people are around.

There’s a misconception that crate time is a punishment, but that could not be farther from the truth. A dog’s crate is their safe spot. Think of the crate as the dog’s bedroom. It’s a place to relax, where they don’t need to think about working.

Why is crate training so important?

There are many reasons why crate training is important for service dogs.

Crates are a way for puppy raisers to manage their dog’s behavior.
If the raiser has errands to run and cannot take their puppy with them, crating the dog can prevent that dog from getting into mischief while they’re home alone. For example, crating the dog will prevent them from forming bad house manners, such as hopping on furniture or countersurfing. 

Our dogs never outgrow crate time. Crate training is actually part of a dog’s good house manners, and dogs that cannot spend time quietly in their crate may be discharged.

Dogs spend time in crates during advanced training.
When our dogs in training come to the kennel for advanced training, they will be spending time in a crate. We may have anywhere from 15-20 dogs in advanced training at one time. While the dogs spend time working with our trainers and going out in public with our volunteers, they don’t train for the entire day. They need time to relax, and one place where they do that is in the crate.

Crates give service dogs a place to relax.
We recommend that our partners get a crate for their dog. It gives the dog a place where they know they can relax stress-free. For facility dogs that are supporting many people or children, the crate becomes even more important. Working with an entire classroom of students is very challenging for a service dog. In fact, it takes a special temperament to be able to do this work because it can be very stressful. Having a crate—a safe spot—gives facility dogs a stress-free zone to relax, take a nap, or chew on a bone.

Crates are a place where service dogs can safely sleep.
It’s the partner’s choice whether their service dog is allowed on the bed. Not all of our partners want their service dog to sleep in bed with them. Depending on the person’s disability, it may not be possible for the service dog to sleep in bed. For example, a person may use certain medical equipment at night, or it could be that any movement by the dog on a bed causes the person pain. The crate becomes the perfect place for the dog to sleep, eliminating the possibility that the dog will help themselves to the bed during the night.

How to crate train your dog

To help your dog enjoy being in their crate, start by putting the crate in an area where your dog will still be able to see people. You don’t want your dog to be isolated from everyone when they’re in their crate. You can also include a soft blanket and a safe, favorite toy.

Introduce your dog to the crate simply by tossing a piece of dog food inside. Let your dog go inside to eat it, but leave the door open. If your dog chooses to stay inside the crate, great! Leave the door open and keep tossing kibble inside every few seconds. If your dog chooses to exit the crate during this exercise, that’s okay, too.

Once you’ve introduced the crate, feed your dog a meal inside it at least once a day. Soon, your dog will associate good things (food and mealtime!) with the crate.

When your dog is inside the crate, it’s really important NOT to let them out if they whine or bark. If you let them out every time they whine or bark, they’ll learn that making noise is the way to get out of the crate. Only let them out after they’ve been quiet for a little while. This part of crate training can be very challenging for puppy raisers because some dogs can be very determined barkers! But stay strong and wait them out. You, our trainers, and the dog’s future partner will all benefit.

Once your dog is comfortable being quiet in their crate, move the crate to different locations and add challenges! Your dog should be able to relax quietly and calmly in their crate when:
  • Other dogs are crated nearby
  • Other dogs are off leash around the crate
  • You're working with another dog (Team up with a friend if you don't have two dogs available.)
  • The crate is outside
  • Adults or children are playing or working nearby
  • The doorbell rings or someone knocks on the door
  • There's a thunderstorm


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