Crate training tips

There are many ways to help pets cope during air travel. Some pets are naturally anxious and will need special preparation. Any new situation is potentially scary even for pets that are not usually anxious. Your first consideration should be that of having the pets familiarised and comfortable with their travel crates. Here, we provide you with some tips in getting your pet used to the carrier/crate. Please also read our article Reducing travel stress for your pet for information on dealing with anxiety during the flight.

Tip #1: Start early

Get the travel crate as early as possible so that your pet can become comfortable with the idea of being crated. The more time you have in case there are challenges, the better. Try to get started 2-3 months before travel.

Tip #2: Recognise stress

There are many signs of stress in dogs and cats. Any of the following could indicate that your pet is anxious:

    • Panting
    • Trembling/shaking
    • Muscle rigidity / tenseness
    • Lip licking
    • Nose licking
    • Grimace (retraction of lips)
    • Head shaking
    • Smacking or popping lips/jaws together
    • Drooling
    • Vocalisation (excessive and/or out of context)
    • Frequently repetitive sounds, including high pitched whines, like those associated with associated with isolation
    • Yawning
    • Immobility/freezing or profoundly decreased activity
    • Hyperactivity
    • Hiding or hiding attempts
    • Escaping or escape attempts
    • Lowering of head and neck
    • Inability to meet a direct gaze
    • Staring at some middle distance
    • Hyper-vigilance/hyper-alertness
    • Increased grooming
    • Aggression

Do not continue to the next stage of crate training if you see any of these signs. Please contact our animal behaviour experts at Mooikloof EduPet Training and Behaviour if you have concerns about your pet's anxiety level.

Tip#3: Make the crate part of the home

Place the crate in a spot in or around the home where your fluffy friend spends favourite time. This may be the living room, kitchen or patio, but it needs to be a place where you can leave the crate until the day of the pet’s departure. Allow your pet to feel part of the normal daily household activities even when inside the crate. Ensure that the crate is placed on level ground and does not rock or tilt when the pet enters the crate as this could ruin that all too important first introduction.

Tip #4: Make the crate the happy place

The aim of crate training is to make many positive associations with the crate. Knowing your pet best, you will know which things they enjoy, be it toys, treats, affection, praise or food. When your pet is in and around the crate these things of enjoyment and pleasure should be made readily available. The crate must become the "happy place". You can feed your fur-friend their normal food inside the crate, as well as special treats which they don’t get in any other place. Make it comfortable inside the crate with a soft blanket, sheepskin or cushion.

Tip #5: Scents are everything

Dogs and cats glean a lot of information about their environment from scents. They have a very advanced sense of smell compared to us mere humans. Being able to smell something that reminds them of their favourite human or humans, will help them make positive associations with the crate and also help them stay calm during the trip. So do the strip and put your (unwashed) T-shirt inside the crate.

Tip #6: Pheromones are your friends

Pheromone products help dogs and cats feel safe. They are available as sprays (for cats and dogs) and collars (for dogs). The products are Adaptil for dogs and Feliway for cats. The Adaptil collar for dogs lasts a month and you can use it throughout your preparation period. The spray can be sprayed inside the crate three to four times a day. It takes about 20 minutes to have its effect. Some animals are scared of aerosol sprays, so preferably only use it when your pet is not around. Pets are not allowed any neck collars during air travel, so be sure to spray the crate shortly before departure.

Tip #7: Be patient

Once your pet is happy going in and out of the crate, you can start closing the door/gate for a few seconds at a time, gradually extending the time period. Vary the length of time you have the crate closed, so that it does not become a predictable pattern. When you start with this step, place extra-special nice treats or toys inside the crate. Don’t fuss over them when the crate is closed – act normal so that your pet will be convinced that it is indeed normal to be closed inside a crate for a short while. Go out of sight and return immediately, not paying attention to the crate. Repeat this on a daily basis, and your pet should quickly be happy to stay inside for an extended time period, even with you being out of sight. Don’t rush this part of crate training – if you go too fast your pet may feel trapped and develop an unpleasant association with the crate.

Tip #8: Get moving

But wait, there's more! If you have managed to get your pet to a point where you can leave them in their crate for 15 minutes or more with them being completely comfortable with it, you can consider the next step. This will involve having the pet get an idea of the crate moving whilst they are inside. For smaller pets, you can simply pick up the crate with them inside and put it down again. Keep up with the rewards. For larger pets, consider putting the travel crate in a car and going for a short drive around the block.

Good luck with your preparations, and do not hesitate to contact our experts at Mooikloof Pet Relocations should you have any queries!