Crate Games, it is not just for breakfast anymore.

Posted on 02/16/09 23 Comments

I had small workshop here yesterday with 9, mostly adolescent dogs, and their handlers. It went quite well with a few “aah ha” moments and the odd “oh my” thrown in to balance things out.  We started the day with some grids and body awareness exercises and then finished up the afternoon with some handling drills. Working with dogs that have a solid foundation of Crate Games makes handling drills so much easier. Not only do the dogs have the understanding of control behaviours (necessary for a great start line) but the understand is also there to

Not only do the dogs have the understanding of control behaviours (necessary for a great start line) but the understand is also there to ‘explode’ off the start line once the dog gets his release cue. In my 15+ years competing in agility I have only ever had one dog break a start line (and she only did it two or three times). That is seven dogs, with a combined experience of 43 years trialing in agility with less than 4 broken start lines in total and none since 1998. Crate Games is a big reason for this understanding. I would guess that CGs could be one of the most under-utilized program I have. I think most people are  like,

I would guess that CGs could be one of the most under-utilized program I have. I think most people are  like, “oh yeah, I did that. . . next skill!”. There are so many fundamentals to teach an agility dog, and you just can’t wait to get on with them all, so it easy to gloss over the less “sexy” ones in favour of the ones that appear to be more “agility-like.” I don’t want this blog to sound like an informercial for my stuff, but quite honestly everything in my program comes back to Crate Games so it is worth the extra time. I was forwarded an email last week that was sent to [email protected]  from someone asking if I thought there was anything in the DVD that would help with obedience “stays.”  Aaaah yeah, of course there is. But it will help ANY dog sport in so many ways, as it is the ultimate activity to introduce the concept of the transfer of value. Sure you have a model to work distractions so that all of the toy-throwing and run bys on the contacts or  weave poles training will seem like a walk in the park to your dog, but you will have so much more.

More distraction work through crate games. Seven-week old puppy “Export” being an “expert!”
7 Week old puppy holds sit in position with food distractions on the floor in front of him. More distraction work, holding his sit in position with food distractions on the floor in front of him.

In addition to the control you gain, you will also be teaching drive! Both the drive to move one ahead of you in agility and drive as in motivation. So if you are working on increasing speed or building more intensity, refer back to you DVD before you do anything else.  It will make a difference if you apply the program as it is outlined on the DVD. I could go on but really, dust of your disc and watch it again please, this time with intent!  Okay take a look at these pictures of Tracy Sklenar’s (one of our instructors) cute little Export as a 7 week old puppy (a few years ago). I mean really, how else do you get a 7 week old puppy working through distractions like this!     Check him out learning to drive ahead . . . his first gamble at 7 weeks old, how cute is that?? Did I mention he is only 7 weeks (you should see him now, fast and yet with lots of self control).

One KEY thing I would change if I was doing the DVD again is the use of the wire crate. I had to use the wire crates to make the DVD so you (the viewer) could see what the dog was doing. However, when I teach this to my own dogs I use a hard shell crate. That way I can be more enthusiastic and throw the cookies into the crate during the “You’re Out-You’re In” stage. Wire is not a problem, I know lots of people that use them with great success but I myself don’t use them much. In the DVD I ‘hand’ the cookies to the dog (to prevent them flying out the back through the wires) but in reality I throw ’em.

The start of distance work! Puppy Exie driving away from Tracy into his crate. The start of distance work! Puppy Exie driving away from Tracy into his crate.


Group shot of Crate Games graduates.         Group shot of Crate Games graduates.

Here is a picture I almost hate to put in because of the stereotypical pigeon-hole Crate Games is already put in. . . working stays. But I will do it anyway, this is our instructors dogs chilling in their crates during a puppy camp. Yes puppies are running all over the place having fun and clearly it is not concerning these dogs.  In case you haven’t seen this before, here is a short clip highlighting some of the CG benefits. Export is the ripe old age of 9 weeks when we shot this video.  Too funny. It was also nice to see the short little clip of my girlie Twister who appeared briefly with the other three dogs I owned at the time (before Feature’s day) during the opening.


Today I am grateful that John is such a sound sleeper as it is 11:00 PM (way past my bedtime) and I am jammin’ to this old Grand Funk song  as he is sawing logs. This song (FootStoompin’ Music) reminds me of my brother Steve. I don’t know how he is able to hear today. When we were kids he would take the two stereo speakers off the stands and place them on the floor facing each other about 2′ apart. Then he would turn up the tunes full blast and lay his head on the floor between the two speakers! Oh my! I guess it is not so different to what some kids do with their ipod today eh?


  1. Nancy says:
    Tuesday, September 27, 2016 at 3:18am

    Is it still possible to have the crate games DVD? I live in Italy but will be visiting the US soon if shipping would be easier there. My dog loves his crate, so it never seemed important to work a lot on crate games, but I’m beginning to see the value for quick entry and exit when I decide. One problem: the crate weighs too much for me to haul it around! We do our games by rearranging the furniture in the house. It’s really the best I can do.


    • Say Yes Team says:
      Tuesday, September 27, 2016 at 4:29am

      Hi Nancy, yes, we have the DVD in our store. Here is the link for you:


      • Nancy says:
        Tuesday, September 27, 2016 at 12:50pm

        Thank you! Waiting for your answer, I snooped around and found the store. So sorry to bother you! Gotta get working on my crate games now!

  2. Michelle says:
    Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 3:32am

    I have started crate games with my dog a while back and have been encountering some problems with my smart little dog.
    In the beginning we built up value for going into the crate as stated on the DVD. Then my dog did the usual I get good treats in the crate why should I come out? Then I switched the value for coming out being higher for one or two exits, then he decided he did not want to go back in. My next attempt to solve this problem was to use treats of equally high value for going in as for coming out. This worked well for 3 sessions. Now he has decided he really does not want to play this game anymore. He will still go in the crate, but does not really take the treat anymore, eventhough I know he really wants it. He sniffs it and looks at me almost like asking “Can I have this?”, despite the fact that I have never told him he could not take a treat while in the crate during crate games. (we are also playing the its your choice cookie drop at different times to teach him to wait for me to say he can have the treat, maybe this is my problem?) Do I need to increase to a higher value treat again?

    What do I do if my dog goes into his crate when we are not playing crate games to lay down. Is he allowed to come out without my saying the release command or should I keep the crate closed?


  3. Chris says:
    Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 4:00pm

    Hi Susan,

    I just got your Crate Games DVD for Christmas and my 4 year old Sheltie loves it already. The only problem I am having is that he doesn’t pop into a sit when I touch the door. He holds his sit in there from the beginning of playing. I didn’t find the answer to what to do about this on the DVD (maybe it is there). Can you advise me?



    • Susan says:
      Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 4:45pm

      @Chris, there could be so many reasons you have got that. Make sure when he goes back into the crate you are not HANDING him his cookies but rather tossing them into the back of the crate. That will keep him busy so he doesn’t just automatically go into a sit (as you feed him).


      • Chris says:
        Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 8:40am

        Thank you so much Susan! I will give that a try!

  4. Cath Pete says:
    Friday, July 23, 2010 at 5:31pm

    Will crate games work for a 3-year-old dog or is it too late in the game??


    • Susan says:
      Friday, July 23, 2010 at 9:09pm

      Crate Games works at ANY age. We had someone bring a 13 year old dog to camp and start Crate Games (that is the oldest that I know of to start it’s Crate Training!).


  5. Tonya says:
    Friday, May 21, 2010 at 4:47pm

    Today was our second session of Crate Games. What do you do when your dog doesn’t ever offer a sit (after 45 minutes)? What do you do when you’re playing In/Out Game and the dog doesn’t want to come out after being released, even after patting your legs and getting excited? She did go back in on her own twice during second session and after that she won’t come out again. I did not play back to back out/in games. I did get really excited for her going back in on her own the two times. The only time she was ever in a crate was at nine months old when I adopted her and she had a panic attack.


  6. Dani says:
    Saturday, May 23, 2009 at 11:44am

    Hi Susan

    I have both the Crate Games and The 2×2 Weave Poles DVDs. Love them both! I especially like the PDF workbook on the 2×2 DVD. I didn’t find one on the Crate Gamees DVD. Is there supposed to be one there? If not, is there one available?




  7. Jenny Ruth Yasi says:
    Monday, May 4, 2009 at 2:31am

    I love your crate games DVD! I knew it sounded like a “good idea” as soon as I heard the title, but it took me a few years before I got around to buying it. I am so glad I did, as it was exactly the instruction that I needed, to clean up my own loose training edges and clarify criteria for my dogs. Thanks so much!


  8. Alison Muddle says:
    Monday, April 13, 2009 at 3:29am

    I SO love crate games and it has helped me so much with building drive with my 7yo springer spaniel!

    He’s my first agility dog and I had been reinforcing CRAP (he was getting slower and slower to the point that I was ready to give up because it just wasn’t FUN!) for quite a few years until a friend gave me the jab in the ribs I needed! Crate games was one of the first things we started working on, and it’s something I keep on going back to. So.. I’m thankful for crate games and of course to my wonderful friend for picking me up when I was most down!

    I’m about to embark on building drive off a 2o2o contact position, and am hoping that I can get a transfer effect for his quick releases from the crate to a quick release from his contacts. Any tips would be appreciated! 🙂


  9. LeAnn says:
    Saturday, April 4, 2009 at 10:21am

    I have only wire crates but I learned early on my back did not enjoy the big reach in… so I made a snug crate cover (which I needed anyway) and the cookies just bounce off!! I felt like I was cheating. Now, I found your blog and learned it’s okay to do it that way! Life is good.


  10. moni says:
    Friday, March 27, 2009 at 10:52pm

    I definitely had an “Aha!” moment after reading this. 🙂 I’m working on crate games with my 14wk Aussie and was kind of stumped on how to get the speed TO the crate, he’s at more of a saunter. What you described makes SO much sense now! 🙂 He’s growing out of his little wire crate so I’ll definitely look into a Vari-Kennel type for his next one. Thanks again, the DVDs are amazing!


  11. Lori says:
    Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 10:30am

    I have a question about crate games that I wonder if anyone else has worked through. My Lab doesn’t lie quietly in her crate when I approach or walk around it like Susan shows her dogs doing. As soon as Lucy sees me approach, she jumps up, spins, etc. What should I do? My inclination is as soon as she jumps up to take a step back, wait for her to lie down, and start to aproach again and keep repeating until she remains in a down position with me standing right by the crate. Then, as soon as I touch the crate door, wait for a sit before opening the door to reward her. Does that sound like a good plan? THANKS FOR ANY FEEDBACK!


  12. JJ says:
    Wednesday, February 25, 2009 at 3:54pm

    I loved the Create Games DVD and I learned a lot from it. But I can’t figure out the best way to implement it for my pup. Um, I mean my 135 pound GREAT Dane. I use an x-pen for him because I can fit the x-pen in my car, but I can’t fit the giant soft-sided zipper crate that we have in my car.

    He refused to get in the wire crate that I had purchased before I got Duke (as a rescued full grown 3 year old). I know enough now (hopefully) to be able to shape getting Duke in there (it was small for him, though the biggest I could find on the web). But I donated that thing two years ago to a humane society. I can not afford to purchase another one now.

    I can see how an x-pen would have a lot of disadvantages for this training. I just don’t know what else to do other than to try to use the x-pen and modify the exercises. I open to any advice.

    Thanks! – JJ


  13. Shannon says:
    Thursday, February 19, 2009 at 10:42pm

    I have a comment/question about the crate games and your experience with multiple dogs. I have worked through crate games with five of my dogs now (and I will continue to do so, it is a great skill set! It is now the first thing I teach foster dogs in my home). My challenge is that I have built up so much value for the crates that my dogs are getting into snarly fights in their haste to get to their kennels in the house. There are a couple of doorways and laminate into the crate room which cause some bottlenecking and skidding (read border collies banking off the wall in mass piles of flying screaming fur). I have taken to just taking one dog at a time quietly by the collar and putting them in their kennels at home and doing the fun stuff at dog school. Have you come across this with other people? Suggestions? It is entirely my fault as I thought it was funny at first to watch them try and race each other to see who would get there first but it escalated quickly.


  14. Aliza says:
    Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 6:22pm

    I always struggled with recalls and impulse control.
    He has a high play drive and wanted to work but couldn’t stand to wait his turn.
    The week before I started crate games I was working with my other dog and he was trying to push out the bottom of the crate. Now he’ll wait quietly and be content. Not only did he have issues in the crate but he had major issues failing in his weave entries. I started working on shaping and the 2×2’s and after 2 weeks he just tries agian. He doesn’t have questions and he’s becoming increasinly independent and really fast.


  15. Aliza says:
    Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 6:13pm

    I have to tell you that crate games has saved my almost 2 year old ausses and I alot of frustration.
    I always struggled with recalls a


  16. MIchelle says:
    Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 11:29am

    It was an excellent training session yesterday. I learned so much. I watch DVD’s while having breakfast in the morning on my portable DVD player. This morning I started the One Jump video again and I am also going to get out the Crate Games video again. I dont think you can ever do too much Foundation. I dont know what I would do without these videos. Thanks for sharing your wisdom.


  17. Sarah says:
    Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 7:09am

    Must pipe in here– very timely subject! I have been saying “thank you thank you thank you” for Crate Games a whole lot lately 🙂 I started training CG in June with my new-to-me 9 mo english cocker… we still play them every single day. It’s part of her day-in-day-out life, as excitement is the name of her game. If she could she would be an out of control maniac, esp around the house with my other dogs. Not only have crate outings and innings become opportunities for FUN for her (there was much opportunity for the crate to become the Bad Place in her world) but they have taught her the most awesome self control, drive, work ethic, and focus.
    The neatest thing is that because my high-energy, foot-moving, busy busy busy girl learned to stay in place in the crate, she started to offer it outside the crate too! This I LOVE– the foundation she got with CG carried over so well that training stays has become a breeze, and she adores it. I love seeing her “you can’t mess me up, Mama” expression come over her when we work on this.
    In my previous life as a horse trainer, I had the blessing of getting to work extensively with equine clicker trainer extraordinaire Alexandra Kurland. Two phrases that she uses frequently have come to mind over and over again while I have worked on CG with my girl: “Everything is everything else”, and “we rarely stick with an exercise long enough to see what it can give us”. Crate Games have had a great impact on lots of other areas of training for us, and it’s neat to see what pops out as a result of all of those sessions. Thanks for sharing these games with us!


  18. Kelly says:
    Tuesday, February 17, 2009 at 2:12am

    I’m so glad I read this tonight. I was thinking that I was going to have to buy a wire crate for my new puppy (arriving in 10 days!), so I’m delighted to learn that my Vari-Kennel is not only fine but rather preferred. Yay! I’m looking forward to teaching Crate Games to another dog.


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