Learning to love his crate is an important life skill for your dog. Crate training a puppy gives him a safe haven for when things are hectic or when he’s tired, ill or muddy. Even if you rarely use a crate when he becomes an adult, every puppy and owner should learn about crate training.
What is Crate Training?
Crate training is not cruel. In fact, it’s totally natural … for dogs. Dogs are den animals who seek confined spaces for protection from predators and the weather. A crate recreates this safe space where your dog can rest, take a nap, or hide from thunderstorms. Crate training takes advantage of your dog’s natural tendency to seek out a den.
You might notice that dogs without crates will improvise. You’ll find them napping behind the couch, under the bed, behind the toilet … any quiet, out of the way and … protected … place.
So dogs already have this natural instinct. It’s up to you to reinforce it.
Why Do Puppies Need Crate Training?
Here are lots of reasons to crate train your puppy.
- Helps with house training
- Reduces separation anxiety
- Prevents destructive behavior
- Creates a safe environment when children are near
- Provides a mobile hotel room for traveling
- Makes car trips (and vet visits) less stressful when traveling in their own bed
And crate training isn’t just for puppies. Even grown dogs can be crate trained if it’s done in a positive way. So these are some things to keep in mind for all dogs to ensure the crate is a pleasant experience.
Choosing A Crate
You want to have a crate ready for the first night with your new puppy. You can begin with an adult size crate. Choose a size so that when full-grown, your dog can stand and turn around inside the crate. When he’s still a puppy, you can block off part of the crate with a divider or a box. Otherwise, your puppy may use one side of the crate as his toilet, and the other side for sleeping. You want him to learn that the toilet is outside and the crate is for comfort and protection. As he grows you can give him more space.
There are plastic crates (designed for airline travel), wire crates and collapsible fabric crates to make transport light and simple. The fabric and plastic ones have solid sides that block light and distractions, but they can be too warm for some dogs.
Setting Up The Crate
Crates have a floor or a tray. You can leave the hard surface or add a bed, pad, pillow or towel for comfort. But beware, it might get peed on, so whatever you choose should be machine washable. You can add a t-shirt with your scent to help him acclimatize.
If you have a wire crate, you might want to get a crate cover or cover 3 sides of the crate with a towel or blanket to create the den sensation. If he wants to play, pull or chew the fabric, use something sturdier like carpet or a board.
Toys And Treats
You’ll want to save the best toys and treats for the crate so your puppy knows it’s the fun place to be. Ensure they’re large and solid enough so they don’t become a choking hazard.
The crate will be like a mobile home when you’re first introducing it. Move it wherever you are so your puppy is encouraged to visit it any time.
Here are things you can do so your puppy gets used to his crate.
Introduce Your Puppy To The Crate
For the first few weeks with your puppy, every opportunity becomes a crate training session to create good habits and a positive experience.
You want to start by converting your puppy’s crate into a treat paradise. You never want to force a puppy or dog into a crate. Instead, create a pleasant association. Drop in treats throughout the day. These discoveries will create a positive association. And he may return to check it out more often. Or put treats or his dinner further and further inside to draw him in. You can tie a favorite toy or chew to the back so he’s encouraged to stay there and play with it.
Now that your puppy has been introduced to the crate, the work– and fun – begins.
How To Crate Train Your Puppy in 6 Steps
He’s already liking his new hangout. Now here are 6 steps to crate train your puppy.
1. Play And Repeat
Let your puppy see you toss toys or treats inside. And praise him when he retrieves them. Repeat this several times in a row throughout the day.
2. Add A Cue
In a few days, he should master treat retrieval. Now when he does, toss the treat and use the cue “Get in your bed” as he’s running inside. And praise. Repeat the exercise several times and then many times throughout the day. Now change it up and use the cue first, AND … wait for him to enter before handing over the treat. If he doesn’t go in, there’s no treat. Wait a bit and if he still doesn’t go in, end the session and start fresh later. When he succeeds, lavish him with praise and treats. Repeat … but only a couple of times. You want to leave him wanting more.
3. Lockdown Inside The Crate
Next it’s time to close the door when your puppy goes into the crate on cue. Tell him to “Get in your bed,” then close the door. Feed treats through the door, then open it and repeat this several times. The next step is to walk around the crate with him closed inside. Toss him treats, and let him out after a minute.
4. Short Crate Stays
Now you want your puppy to learn to sit with you for extended periods of up to an hour or 2 … inside his closed crate. Get him a special bone to chew and some toys for his quiet time … and put his crate right next to you. Occasionally, leave for a minute or 2 and even return with snacks … for him! This will make his first experience in lockdown a good one.
Ignore him if he whines or barks … you don’t want to reward bad behavior with freedom or attention. If he’s quiet, let him out in 30 minutes .. but no fussing or treats. The fun stuff is reserved for inside the crate! Cue him to go back into the crate and give him a reward .. and leave the door open. If he’s reluctant, use treats or toys to tempt him back inside. You want him to know that going in the crate doesn’t mean he’s stuck there for a long time. After that, he can come out to stay outside with you.
5. Longer Crate Stays
If the short stay was a success, you can try longer stints. For a few days, close the puppy in his crate for longer periods as you work around the house. Make sure he has something tasty to chew on. If he objects by whining, leave him be. But when he’s quiet, be sure to keep the treats flowing. You want your puppy to know that you’ll always be back. So praise your puppy when you leave the room, and come back bearing treats. And do this often during the longer stays.
Gradually, extend these lockdowns without you around. You can follow this schedule:
- 1 minute
- 5 minutes
- 15 minutes
- 30 minutes
- 1 hour
- 2 hours
- 3 hours
- 4+ hours
Include a few shorter crate periods as you increase the time of his longer stays. Have your puppy go in his crate for just a few seconds to a minute with lots of rewards.
6. Leave The House
When your dog is content in his crate, you can plan trips outside the house. Use the same schedule and mix in short stays with lots of treats. When he can stay alone in his crate for an hour or more, set him up for success. Do this by planning to leave him home alone … after you’ve tired him out with a good play session. Leave him with water and a chew toy.
It’s key that you leave and return without any fuss. Be matter-of-fact as you leave and return so he learns it’s no big deal.
And here’s a bonus training tip.
How To Crate Train A Puppy At Night
Your first night with a new puppy can be stressful and sleepless for both of you … but it gets better. Keeping the crate next to you for the next few nights or weeks will help a lot. You’ll be close enough to reach your fingers into his crate and give him some comforting words.
If he doesn’t settle, take him out to go potty. But only potty, then right back to bed. This isn’t snuggle time or playtime. He needs to learn that now he is in his crate for sleep. You may need to do a couple of potty visits at night so make sure he knows you mean business and learns the house rules.
How Long To Leave Your Puppy In A Crate
Here’s a guide of how long a puppy can be in a crate without potty breaks:
- 8-10 weeks – 30 to 60 minutes
- 11-14 weeks – 1 to 3 hours
- 15-16 weeks – 3 to 4 hours
- 17+ weeks – 4 to 6 hours
Puppies and even adult dogs should never have to be in a crate for more than 5 or 6 hours. Being crated overnight is the only exception.
When a dog hates his crate, it’s because he’s learned it means he’s being left home alone. Dogs are pack animals so isolation is unnatural and it can be stressful for them. By crate training your dog in a positive way, he’ll learn to feel safe and secure when he’s alone. Don’t ever use crate time as a punishment. You just need to go slow and have lots of patience and rewards … and then he’ll learn to love his crate.