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Crate Games and the Question of Value

Posted on 01/17/11 15 Comments

I got a question on my YouTube site last week about Crate Games, but for some geek-type reason unknown to me, my response never gets through, so I thought, why not blog about it?

Here is the original question;

I have been using crate games video with my puppy. What do you do when the dog doesn’t want to get out of the crate. He stays in there (which I do not want to ruin) but he gets out when he pleases. There are also times where he growls and paws at the door when it closes if we are not working on crate games. I am not sure how to handle this. I can’t work with him coming out and going in if he doesn’t come out in a timely manner

It always makes me smile when I see clever puppies figure this out. Today this may be happening in Crate games; but it will happen in other areas of your training. Key point to remember. Always evaluate your dog and her responses. Question continuously asking yourself;

Where is the value?

When you start Crate Games the value is entirely out side of the crate — found either with your or in the environment (which is why puppies can’t wait to be free of the crate) or with the food. Very quickly when playing Crate Games you get a transfer of value so that the value of the food rewards gets put into the Crate; thus you get a puppy that sees more value in staying in the crate then in coming out.

Too cute, too funny!

As an astute trainer you now recognize the balance of value is unevenly with the crate so you need to build some countering balance. That isn’t tough to do. Rather than giving high value cookies in the crate, for the next few reps give lower value cookies in the crate and  (for one or two reps) give higher value cookies outside of the crate!

This kind of reminds me of something Feature does every day on our walk in the winter. One day, after a walk around the field John and I were behind the house talking while the dogs were waiting for another lap of the field. I guess I kicked at the snow as we chatted (which Feature loves) so ever since, when we get near that spot Feature races ahead and waits there in hopes of me kicking snow at her. In this case it only took one repetition to transfer enough value to build a behaviour chain in Feature. Too funny. Too bad running contacts didn’t work that way:).

Feature has always loved the snow.

Anyway, back to Crate Games. If your dog has an understanding of his release word, when you open the crate and give that release word what should the dog do? Exactly — leave the crate as you requested. The release is a cue or command, when you give it, the dog should respond. So when he doesn’t leave the crate what do you do? If you are like most people you repeat your cue — not a good idea.

What if you asked your dog to do something like “come” and he didn’t do it –what would you do? Do you repeat the “come” cue? (if you have taken my recallers e-course you better know not to repeat it!).

No, there needs to be a consequence if you ask a dog to do something and he chooses not to do it (of course — I am not talking about a forceful or intimidating consequence).

In Crate Games (again ONLY if I believe the dog understands her release cue) when I give the “break” cue and the dog doesn’t come out– I just do exactly the same thing I would do at any time during Crate Games when the dog makes any inappropriate response . . .  I close the crate door.

Closing the door is giving your dog feedback — that was the wrong choice and will not earn any reinforcement.

If the dog doesn’t understand their release cue I wouldn’t punish them by closing the door, I would just do as the Crate Games DVD suggests and encourage the dog out — building value by rewarding good choices.

If you are reviewing Crate Games, I would go back and re-read past blog posts like this one before going much further.

Today I am grateful for the warm weather of Arizona. I flew in for a quick couple of days of business meetings — nice to get out of the snow no matter how brief the visit is. I can’t stay long as I have to get back for the group coming in for Advances in Dog Training and Critical Elements (the camp formerly known as “Puppy Camp” . . . my favourite!).


  1. Tracy F says:
    Monday, November 7, 2016 at 1:34pm

    Hi! We just received our Crate Games DVD and watched it last night. One of our goals is to have two of our dogs (Springers, age 3 and 7) sleep in their crates at night. They have had some crate training but we are going to start over with your program but how do we transfer the love for the crate into actually sleeping there ALL NIGHT? Our hope is we can use crate training to help us get an entire night’s sleep (which we have not had in a year since we adopted the 3 yo). Thanks!


    • Sally Guyatt says:
      Tuesday, November 29, 2016 at 4:27am

      I wondered the same. My dog uses crate for sleep and when e are out, goes there fine and stays calmly. Will crate games spoil this calmness?


  2. Rachelle says:
    Thursday, April 21, 2016 at 10:15pm

    Got the DVD yesterday! Watched it twice and started games today with my 10wk old Aussie. Do they need to learn the release cue first? He didn’t seem to know what to do. I see that I may have to switch the reward value as well. He also got to the point where he would just lie down and not sit when I touched the handle. Probably need to go back and do more of stage one. I was under the impression you had to do stage 1-3 all in the same sitting. My pup will do the game fairly well, but he isn’t “in love” with his crate. He prefers to be out of it with me. Help.


  3. Teresa Kämmerling says:
    Friday, October 3, 2014 at 8:24am

    Here in South africa crates are rarely used except by some proffesionals with multiple dogs. I looked around and found them expensive and hard to find. I dont really understand the whole crate thing. Dogs off leash are expected to have perfect stays and know where their basket is at home. Having never really seen crates used can someone explain the why they are considered important in training?


  4. Nan says:
    Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 9:59pm

    is the DVD for crate games captioned? I am deaf and need the caption text to benefit from the video.


    • Susan says:
      Saturday, March 9, 2013 at 11:01pm

      No there are no text comments but the DVD is well demonstrated


  5. Lisa Rogers says:
    Thursday, January 10, 2013 at 4:25pm

    Hi, I’m just starting crate games with a puppy (no problems there – working great) and an older very high drive dog who is just not food motivated. She is VERY toy motivated but i have not been able to find a food / treat that has high enough value to keep her interest. She simply shuts down in the crate. I have tried liver, beef, chicken, cheese, salmon you name it. she will accept the treat, softly and slowly but that’s it.

    I got her as a young rescue and she’s competed very successfully in agility in the few shows she has been in. I have tried transferring the value to little success – I can “rev” her up with a tug but how do I motivate her to play? Waiting till she is very hungry hasn’t helped much.

    She has all of the usual “non crate game trained” problems – barks loudly in the crate while other dogs are on course, rushes the crate when excited etc so i think this would be great impulse control for her – but how on earth do I help my non food drive dog?


  6. Tiny Lee says:
    Tuesday, November 8, 2011 at 5:14pm

    Thank you for this post. Crate game of giving a lower value treat inside the crate and a higher value outside the crate. Great idea.


  7. Jean Turner Chapman says:
    Saturday, May 7, 2011 at 5:02am


    I am a total beginner who has a 1 year old airedale terrier. We have done our first crate training session today. You have alread answered one question about him not wanting to come out, but here is another 2.

    He isn’t popping into a sit. My hand on the gate doesn’t get him up. Once he sees the treat, he is up like a shot.

    Secondly he normally sleeps in his crate with the dooor open. He has now started going to his crate, sitting and then barking when the treat hasn’t arrived. Any suggestion how a rank ameteur can handle this.

    I have just been closing the door so he can’t get in, but now he is barking at bedtime.


    Sydney, Australia


  8. veronica says:
    Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 10:27am

    Crate Games
    Problem.Dog not exiting crate on relase cue.
    I think this must be common.I also had this problem.
    I had used high “valued” rewards ie something my dog really liked.That being some favourite treats.This will transfer the “value” to the crate.
    So the dogs gets “high” value treats when in the crate and “low” value treats when cued to release( get out)

    It is not hard to figure out why the dog wants to stay.
    I fixed this problem by just simply shifting the ” value”.
    ie.dog gets “lower” value treat in crate and “higher” valued treat when responds to release cue.
    ( in my case)I used chicken as a high value treat
    and small dry bit of kipple for low valued treat.
    Once the dog understood the game this was no longer an issue.


  9. Lindsay King says:
    Monday, January 17, 2011 at 3:06pm

    Loved this post. Please could you do a post on how to start and get a reliable release, daughter has new Boston Pup, 8 weeks old and the first thing I did was lend her Crate Games DVD. If you have covered this before, please point me in the right direction to find the post.
    Thank you


    • LINDA BLACK says:
      Monday, January 17, 2011 at 3:27pm

      Hi Lindsay:

      My reliable release was taught 100% through crate games…



  10. Mary M says:
    Monday, January 17, 2011 at 1:13pm

    Crate Games and 2X2 weaves are two wonderful foundational tools to have with your pup!

    2X2’s is great to train even if you are not doing agility, because Susan outlines very well shaping for this game and this only adds to the thinking on the dogs part.

    Great resouces to watch more then once because each time I find that I pick up more info from the DVD’s.



  11. Laura says:
    Monday, January 17, 2011 at 11:48am

    LOL!! I had this exact problem at one point – pup liked it too much in there!

    I have a question about the release cue, which I’ve had for quite some time and been trying to get my head around it. I have always thought the release cue meant ‘okay, you’re free to do what you want now’, and if they want to stay in the crate or sit by your side in heel position if that’s what you’ve been working on, what is wrong with that (except that it’s harder to do a repeat of what you’re training – LOL)? Nothing is wrong with it I guess, it’s just that it tells you where the strongest value is. But maybe your use of the release cue isn’t ‘you’re free to do what you want’, and that’s where my problem lies. So could you let us know exactly what your definition of the release cue is? Does it mean ‘now you must change your position’? i.e. if you’re in your crate, you must leave it, if you’re doing nose touches on the stairs, you have to get off the stairs, etc.?


    • Naomi says:
      Wednesday, January 19, 2011 at 2:36pm

      Hi Laura,

      I think your question was one that confused lots of people that did the online recallers course too including me.

      What I remember is that the release means “find the value” (that’s all). You answered your own question :)))

      I guess you can use a different cue that means ‘I am done with you, go mind your own business’ for me that is ‘that’ll do’.

      When training my puppy I ran into the same ‘problem’- if he did get out he started squeeling and screaming to get back in. We took some time off and then spent time on balancing the value 🙂


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