There's 3 phases in getting your cat used to the crate: Phase 1 is about getting used to seeing the carrier. Phase 2 is about getting used to eating in the carrier. The key in the first two phases is patience! Phase 3 is about getting your cat used to being in the carrier. consistency is key here. Work your way through each of the the 10 steps that will take you and your cat through the phases, and in less time than you expected, you can will be use to staying calm and waiting patiently in the crate. No stress involved. Just a daily habit.
Table of contents
The 3 Phases
Phase 1: Seeing the carrier
Phase 2: Eating in the carrier
Phase 3: Staying in the carrier
Hi, and welcome to our world. If you made it here, if means you're a dedicated cat-parent, open minded and a bit curious to see if a crate training habit might be for your and your beloved feline. I'm honoured to have the chance to introduce you to this life-changing habit, and I am excited to share with you my proven, step-by-step method to crate train your cat.
"But anyway, how do I crate train my cat? The last time I got him in there, it was a heck of a fight. I'm not going there again!" I feel your pain. I once was asked to put a cat in the carrier before a vet visit and had to wear leather gloves, 2 sweaters and goggles (can you picture it? I mean, really, can you picture a human trying to approach you looking like that? Bug eyed, bigger than usual, and with claw-like hands. Would YOU want to get near that monster?). And then I decided "Enough of that. Cats are smart creatures, and smart creatures can learn. I'm not going to fight my cat anymore. I am going to train him.
And the rest is history.
The method I am sharing with you has been tested and approved by scores of cats and owners. Each of them share that some steps took a surprisingly short time to master, while others they had to spend more time on. The key here is to respect your cat's boundaries, and to be patient and consistent. and remember...
It's not about the crate.
Without further ado, let me share with the first 5 steps to crate training your cat. My lady kitties worked particularly hard to bring you B-roll of every step. The may even have been bribed. They'll never admit to it though. They're proud cats, after all ❤️🐱.
For those of you who would rather watch than read, here's our timestamps for the different phases.
01:11 - The 3 Phases
01:21 - Phase 1: Seeing the carrier
01:36 - Step 1
02:56 - Step 2
04:03 - Step 3
06:44 - Phase 2 : Eating in the carrier
06:48 - Step 4
07:02 - SURPRISE FOOTAGE, courtesy of Iberia
08:12 - Step 5
11:01 - KITTY CAMEO, courtesy of Britannia
We're going to divide training your cat into 3 separate phases:
Phase 1 - Seeing the Crate
Phase 2 - Eating in the Crate
Phase 3 - Staying in the Crate.
Phase 1 - Seeing the Crate
Let’s start with phase one - Seeing the carrier. All of the steps that you're going to take in all of the phases, you really want to be patient in, but particularly in this first phase, you really really want to not make it about the crate.
Pull your crate out of storage or wherever you kind of hide it, go ahead and place it where your cat will be able to see it and will probably have to walk by it on its day-to-day life, but where it's not going to make your cat so uncomfortable that it's not going to be able to have its meal. Make it as close as your cat allows but if your cat is worried about it don't worry pull it back. After you've placed the carrier in its final position, you're just going to ignore it. You don't want to stand by the crate and you don't want to look at it. It has to be... NOT ABOUT THE CRATE!
Repeat this step as many times as you need until your cat is comfortable with it. When your cat is finally eating and the crate is in sight, go ahead and take a picture of it, put it in a special folder in your smartphone and use it as a reminder of where you started. Once you're done with this process, you will see all of the steps you've gone through and it will really give you a sense of the success that you've achieved and the level of comfort that your cat has gained when it comes to their crate. If you want a shout out and you want some support, go ahead and tag me on that picture and post it on Instagram. I'm really looking forward to seeing where you're starting from and supporting you in your journey to getting your cat used to the crate.
Place the crate progressively closer to where your cat eats (possibly so that the bowl is right in front of the entrance). Again, patience is key here. If your cat is not comfortable, just use this step to get closer to the entrance. Once your cat is used to the "old spot", repeat this step moving the bowl closer and closer to the front of the entrance. If you need to, go ahead and use a little piece of tape to remind yourself where you placed their dish. Also, remember that you want to do this step after they've had the biggest meal of the day.
Repeat step two for about a week. Some cats are going to be able to move a lot faster and they'll be okay in a couple of days. Some cats may take seven days or a week. Let your cat's natural inclination guide you. Don't be rushed. This part is the part that's going to go slower, that's going to require the most patience from you (I hear your frustration, I DO! But trust me, if you trust the process, it will happen. This method is a no brainer.. for cats, too!), but you will see that, if you are patient and you respect their boundaries in this phase, all of the next phases will go a lot faster. Because again, it’s NOT ABOUT THE CRATE.
Eating in front of the crate. We're upping the ante. Up until now, you've put food in your cat's dish, you have fed your cat, and then (once they’re done with their meal and not around anymore) you have moved the carrier to get them used to seeing it nearby. If your cat is comfortable with it, you might already be in step 3 and not realise it, because in this step you have to put the bowl down right in front of the carrier. This means that, in this step, you and your cat are going to be right next to the crate, together, at the same time. Now, before It was kind of - you know - non-confrontational. In steps 1 and 2, you just moved it. It had nothing to do with feeding and it's possible that when you moved it your cat was not even around, so your cat and you were never together by the crate. This is what this step is about.
Repeat this step for a few days. Again, the timing depends on your cat. I would do three to four days at least, if you have time a week.
Now, here's where it can get fun. Treats are a really fun way to teach your cat that the crate is an awesome place to be. Instead of giving a treat on the couch or in the kitchen or wherever you usually do it, go ahead and walk to the crate, and feed them right there. Obviously, again, it’s not about the crate, but you are creating an association that “Hey, being in front of this thing is pretty awesome, because: I get fed; I get my treats; I'm happy; my owner's happy. This is an awesome step to take your time and really establish the habit. Once you're done with this step, you are done with phase one. Congratulations!!!
When your cat is comfortable eating in front of the crate, go ahead and take a picture, put it in your special folder, and go ahead and tag me and show me you know how far you've come! It's awesome to see people's progress, and sometimes your progress can actually make somebody else feel like “Hey, you know, it's not that difficult! I can do that, too.” If you're done with this step, CONGRATULATIONS, you finished Phase 1. You're going to graduate to Phase 2: Eating in the carrier.
Phase 2 - Eating in the carrier
Place the dish inside the crate. Some crates will have a little bit of a lip, so that when you are putting the dish in, you're kind of going inside of it. Others like the one that I have, are flat, so as long as you place the dish right on the inside of the door, you're doing fine and that's deep enough.
Throughout all of these steps, this is the key: put the food down AND WALK AWAY. It's not about the crate. It's not about the situation. They need to get used to it and having you there kind of hovering actually makes them think “Whoa! Something is wrong! This must be a big deal”. But it's not!
You're going to repeat step 4 and instead of only putting your dish right in front of the door, you're going to push the dish a little bit further in. Ideally, you would like your cat's shoulder to be hidden by the entrance of the crate.
Placing the dish all the way inside of the crate. Once your cat is used to eating halfway in the crate you are ready to move on to Step 5. You're going to place the dish in the WAY back and a little bit to the right side. You want to do this to help yourself get your cat used to turning around in the crate in the next steps, and if it gets used to eating in that corner it makes it a little bit easier, so when you feed your cat and when you're giving treats to your cat (if that was a habit that you'd already established) make sure that you always place them all the way to the back.
By now, your cat will be used to eating in the crate. Maybe the first day she might feel it’s a little bit strange because - you know - they have to go further in, but don't worry and don't stress! If you just walk away, they will move at their own pace to go and get their food, and after about a week or ten days - and you can see, we wait a little bit longer than before - after a week or 10 days, your cat will have established a daily habit for eating in the crate. I'm so proud of you! 🎉🏅
After a week or 10 days, your cat will have established a daily habit for eating in the crate
This is a huge huge step for your cat: to be almost completely inside of the crate is HUGE and for them to get the feeling that they are covered (so they are feeling protected but at the same time maybe a little bit confined) and yet they're eating food... this is wonderful “psychologically” for them to get used to! Keep on this stage quite a long time. My suggestion would be go on for about a month.
Stay in this stage! You are not in a hurry to get your cat in the carrier. You are trying to establish a daily habit, and as you know from all of the youtube videos that we all watch about setting a new habit, it usually takes 30 days, for animals as well. It just takes time. AND it has to become a routine thing, so stay on this step, stay patient, stay consistent!
Setting a new habit usually takes 30 days... for animals, as well!
Once your cat is completely used to it, I would say towards the end of the 30-day period, go ahead and take a picture of them while they're eating (maybe make sure that your phone is on silent mode so that you don't scare them) and then go ahead and tag me on Instagram. I'm really looking forward to seeing your success.
... 30 days later...
All right, 30 days have passed and you are now ready to move on to phase 3: Staying in the crate. Let's go over to step 6 and let's start with the last phase of crate training your cat.
For those of us who would rather watch than read, here's our timestamps for the different phases:
Phase 3 - Staying in the Crate
If the first two phases were about patience and respecting your cat's speed and boundaries, this new phase is about CONSISTENCY. You want to repeat every single step, every day, exactly the same way. You really need to keep in mind that it is NOT ABOUT THE CARRIER.
Phase 3 is about CONSISTENCY
Introducing the door. When your cat goes to eat, you're going to carefully close the door while still holding it in your hand (remember to leave space for her tail!), open it again and then you're going to walk away as usual.
You're going to be thinking “Oh my god, my cat's going to get startled. She's not going to want to go in there. I'm going to go backwards! 😱” TRUST ME, YOU'RE NOT! You are establishing a habit and the habit is IT'S NOT ABOUT THE DOOR!
If your cat is not all the way in because they're a long cat, it's not a problem, just bump their butt, open the door again, and walk away. The first few times your cat is probably going to take a step back and go “WHOA! What just happened?” but you walked away, so it was not about the door. It might have been a mistake for all they know! You're not going to look at your cat. You're not going to be in the area. Just let it go! This will get them used to the feeling of something behind them.
You know that you're ready to move on from step 6 to step 7 when your cat: first of all, does nothing when you touch them, they continue eating “It's not a big deal, I'm used to it!", and will bring their butt forward.
Teaching your cat to turn around in the carrier. You're going to need an extra little cat dish. If you don't have it, you can easily clean the lid of a jar and use that as one of the cat dishes. Here's how you're going to set up your two cat dishes: one of them is going to have just enough for two or three bites; the second dish is going to have the larger portion of your cat's meal. You're going to walk to the carrier with both dishes (and your cat following you cuz - you know - they’re hungry beasts 😸), you're going to place the dish with the smallest amount in the very back in the right hand corner (just like in step 5 and 6).
When your cat goes in, you're going to close the door (leave space for their tail!) and you're going to hold the door shut (while still leaving space for their tail) for a second. Your cat might try to come back out, or she might do nothing until she’s finished. Eventually she’s going to figure out that she needs to turn around.
As soon as you see her turn around, so that her butt is not pushing against the door and her head is facing, you're going to put the second dish in front of her right inside of the carrier. You're going to open the door, put the dish in and you're going to walk away. YES, YOUR CAT IS GOING TO GET OUT OF THE CRATE AT THIS POINT. It's okay because you kind of surprised them. You upped the ante. They were not expecting it, but it's not a big deal.
You're going to repeat this step continuously until your cat turns around and starts eating right away. You're now on the final stretch. Steps 8, 9, and 10 are about establishing the habit of staying in the carrier.
Adding a count of 5 before opening the door. Once your cat is used to taking a little bite of food in the back of the carrier, and then turning around and eating in the front, you can actually stop placing food in the first dish in the carrier. You’ll still have the first dish, but now there is nothing in it. You only feed your cat with the food that is in the second dish.
Here is the extra in this step you're going to count to five. So this is how it's going to go: First dish, cat goes in, turns around, second dish, close the door, hold it close count to five... open the door, and move away. Again, it's not about the door, but it's about getting used to it and adding a little bit of that time that the door stays closed. Now, remember, this is really important: DON'T LOCK THE DOOR! Leave it open. Hold it in your hand. Just hold it closed and then reopen it.
You will know that you're ready to move on to step 9 when your cat doesn't pause on the second dish anymore. It will probably take a couple of days or it might actually only take one day because we know how smart our cats are! So once your cat just kind of - you know - looks at the dish but doesn't even try to eat, you are ready to move on to Step 9.
Locking the door of the carrier. This is the step where you're going to teach your cat that the door locking does not mean that they are locked in there forever. This is key in this step. You are going to repeat everything you were doing in step 8, but instead of counting to five you're going to lock the door, you're going to wait for your cat to finish eating, then you're going to open it again. I always accompany my hand movement with the word “IN”. I'm always talking to my cats, so usually I'll say “Okay”, you know “go on IN! Get your food!” or “IN you go” and I kind of emphasise it, so that they connect my hand movement and my words to getting in the crate.
Once your cat is comfortable with the sound of the lock, and gives you the "I don't care about what you're doing. I'm the center of the universe!🌎🐱" look (you know which look I mean... even my super-sweet, people loving cats give me this look. It's a variation of the "What are you doing home all day? Don't you need to earn money to feed me?" look they've been giving us since the lockdown happened 😂), you know you're ready to more on the final step. So exciting!
Getting your cat used to staying in the locked crate for longer periods of time. You're going to start with super small baby steps! Once your cat is used to being in a crate and eating with the door closed, you are going to start counting when your cat is done eating (instead of right away as in step 9). You're going to count to five, and then open the door. After you've done this for about a week, you're going to up the count to 10.
You can also make this step really fun: you can play games with your cat. For example, you can close the door of the carrier, you can wait for your cat to finish eating, and then you can walk to the window, touch the window, walk back, open the door. Or walk to the door of the room you're in, walk back, and open the door. Play this game consistently, so if you chose to go to the window, make sure that you keep walking to the window for three or four days in a row so that your cat gets used to it and it's no big deal.
You will know that you're done with this step because your cat will finish eating and then she will patiently wait for you to open the carrier door again. Congratulations🎉!!! If you made it to this step, YOUR CAT IS CRATE TRAINED!
Just repeat this every day, every time you're feeding them, and this will establish the lifelong habit that will make your cat comfortable in their crate. If you made it to this step, take a picture save it in your phone in that special folder, and then go ahead on instagram tag me and share it with me. I'm really looking forward to seeing your progress!!!
Helpful tips, for a cat momma to another
Now, I gave you a little bit of a sense of how long you should take for each step, but that really depends on you and your cat! Your boundaries, your cat's boundaries, your relationship need to develop. It is a new thing for you to work together this way and it takes a while to establish. Sometimes, with some cats, in three days they're set. Sometimes it can take two or three months, but that's not a big deal because it's not about the crate, it's not about the door, it's not about locking them in, IT'S ABOUT ESTABLISHING THE HABIT. Think of that and let that carry you through.
I made a printable for you that has the complete guide on everything we talked about, and it has a section that is printable that you can put on your fridge so that you can remind yourself where you're at (this is why i kept telling you take a picture! Because - you know - we all need to feel that we've accomplished something!). So go ahead and check it out, it's in the description. And as you're going through this, just remember: TRUST THE PROCESS, IT WILL WORK FOR YOU!
Have you tried any of these steps? Did any of them give you trouble or did any of them go much more smoothly than you expected go ahead and share it below. Let's discuss it. I'm really looking forward to hearing your feedback.
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