How to Crate Train a Puppy: Tips for New Owners
If you’re a new puppy owner – congratulations! This is a very exciting time for you and your new best friend, and we know you’re eager to learn how to start your puppy out on the right paw in life. One excellent strategy for your new dog’s health and wellness (and your peace of mind) is crate training.
Here, we explain how to crate train a puppy, including tips on where to put a puppy crate and the proper crate training schedule. Read on for all things crate training!
All About Crate Training
While you’ve likely heard of crate training, you might still not know what it is. There are some very real misconceptions and myths about crate training that we’ll dispel here. Let’s look at:
- What crate training is
- What crate training is not
- Some alternatives
What Is Crate Training?
Crate training is the process of getting your dog comfortable with spending time in a crate. A crate is a wonderful substitute for a den, which is a small space where wild dogs choose to sleep and live. A dog crate is the same thing as a dog cage, though most people are patently uncomfortable with that word and prefer to use “crate.”
The crate plays upon your pet’s instincts to spend time in a den, as their wilder cousins do. Pet owners choose to use crates for several reasons. As outlined below, there are many benefits to crate training a puppy, not least of which is that it makes housetraining much easier.
Crate training is a necessary caregiving activity if you ever want your dog to spend time in a crate. It takes time, patience, and consistency to get your dog comfortable with this space and ensure that their crate time will be happy and relaxed, not stressful or scary.
Crate Training Is Not Disciplinary
Crate training is entirely humane and not intended as a punishment or disciplinary tool. By crate training, owners give their dogs a safe place where they can retreat and feel soothed and comfortable. The crate is to be a special home for the dog.
Dogs need to be free and roam, yes – they shouldn’t spend all of their time in the crate. But they also need a place they feel comfortable going into to rest and relax. The crate provides that for them.
All Dogs Are Different – Some Might Not Like the Crate
Because dogs are den animals and like having a sequestered space, most canines will take crate training pretty easily. But not all dogs are the same, and some will simply not cooperate with a crate.
Before you give up completely, you should make sure there is nothing wrong with the crate itself. It may be too small, made of a material your dog doesn’t like or smells unpleasant. If you feel that you’ve exhausted all your crate options and done a good job trying this strategy, it might be time to consider alternatives. If you can’t make a dog crate work for your pooch, other options include dog gates or playpens, or possibly a dog sitter or doggie daycare.
The Benefits of Crate Training
Many experts and veterinarians laud the benefits of crate training. People choose to crate train their puppies for many reasons, including:
- Help with housetraining
- Reducing stress and supporting a dog’s emotional health
- Reduces household damage and the need for discipline
- Helps your dog prepare for possible injury or evacuation
Great for Housetraining
Crate training is a great tool for teaching a puppy not to go to the bathroom inside the house. Dogs have an instinct, not to poop or pee where they sleep and eat. So while in the crate, they are highly unlikely to go to the bathroom because they can’t avoid their waste.
Your pet will instinctively hold their bowels and bladder while they are in the crate and wait to go until you let them out. This is not only a matter of your puppy learning when it’s okay to go – but staying in the crate also strengthens the muscles they use to hold it.
Gives Your Dog a Safe Escape
In the same way humans like having a special place that’s all their own, dogs can appreciate it, too. Crate training provides your dog a space where they can retreat when they are feeling stressed or uncomfortable. This is especially useful because your dog can use their crate as a communication tool. When Fido heads for his crate, he’s telling you he’s had enough and needs a break. This can help you navigate healthy relationships among your whole family and provide space for your pooch when he needs it.
Many events can trigger stress for dogs, from a fireworks show to a thunderstorm to a new pet in the house. With a crate, your pet has a comforting place to retreat to when things get overwhelming. This is one of the greatest benefits of crate training a puppy.
Reduces Household Damage
When your puppy has fewer opportunities to damage the house or cause trouble, that means you’re a more calm and content owner. By stopping these problems before they happen, you and your dog can have a more positive, wholesome, loving relationship full of snuggles and pats – not disappointments and scolding!
It’s normal for a dog – especially a puppy – to be inspired to chew on things. Since you can’t watch them every minute, putting them in their crate with appropriate toys ensures they won’t chew on furniture, shoes, or other forbidden items. This also keeps them safe because puppies sometimes get into dangerous things for them to consume and might cause bowel obstruction or choking. Crate training creates an encapsulated, dog-safe environment that will keep your little buddy safe and out of trouble.
Prepares for Potential Injuries or Emergencies
There are some scenarios where you might have to put your dog in a crate. It might be an emergency of some kind where you need your dog sequestered in one spot, or you need to make a quick exit and control your animal while doing so. Sometimes, veterinarians will put dogs on “crate rest” to keep them from moving too much after a surgery or injury. You might even have to move your dog across the country or travel with them in an airplane, which means they’ll need to go in a crate. If your dog is already familiar and comfortable with a crate, that makes these possibilities much easier to manage for both you and your dog.
How to Crate Train a Puppy: Pro Tips
Crate training provides many benefits once your dog is comfortable with the crate, but it takes time, love, and attention to get there. Here are some pro tips for crate training a puppy:
- Choose the correct crate size and material
- Make it comfortable for your pet
- Put the crate in the right place in your home
- Keep your dog “naked” in the crate
- Be optimistic about the space
- Don’t leave your dog crated for too long
Finding the Right Crate
There are two major things to consider when shopping for the perfect crate for your puppy: size and material. You might have to do some guesswork about your dog’s adult size while shopping for a crate for a puppy. The more you know about their DNA and breed, the easier that guesswork will be. You want the crate to be large enough for your dog to stand up and turn around in, now and once they are fully grown.
Obviously, this will likely be too much space for your dog as a puppy. Block off one end of the crate using pillows or blankets to reduce excess space. If your dog’s crate is too big, they might feel like they can use one end as the toilet area and still have a clean den space (which defeats the purpose of crate training).
You might also consider renting a crate while your dog is small and getting a permanent, larger one when he starts to grow into his full size. Some rescue organizations and shelters will rent out crates for this very purpose.
When it comes to material, most people go with a classic plastic crate, sometimes called a flight kennel. These plastic crates tend to block most light and external activity and can be great for dogs who like to sleep in the dark, while the metal crates are suitable for pets who want to socialize and like feeling involved even while in their own space. You might not know this about your dog’s personality yet, but you’ll learn – possibly through crate training them!
Fabric and metal/wire crates can be helpful for people who move around or travel a lot because they tend to come on collapsible, packable frames. Fabric crates aren’t great to start with because your dog can damage or tear into the crate quite easily.
Make It Comfortable
Your dog might want blankets or even a cushion in the crate, and they might not. Some dogs actually prefer to sleep on a hard surface and would rather have their crate empty. The cushion or blanket might encourage your dog to shred or chew or even urinate inside the crate. You’ll have to do a little experimentation to figure out what works best for your pooch.
Choosing Where to Put a Puppy Crate
When choosing where to put a puppy crate, you’ll want to find balance. Your dog needs to see the crate as a safe space where they can escape, while you want to keep the crate where you spend a lot of time, so it feels safe and familiar to your dog. Most people put the crate in the corner of a living room or kitchen where there is still interaction with the family, but your dog can also feel separate from the activity if they need some space.
Of course, keep your puppy’s crate away from vents, radiators, and fireplaces. You also want to keep the crate in a place that won’t get too much direct sunlight, so it maintains a steady temperature.
No Tags, Harnesses, or Collars While Closed
When the door is shut, your dog should never wear collars, harnesses, tags, or any other kind of accessory or clothing while inside the crate. It’s okay if your dog retreats to their crate with the door open while wearing their collar, but if you are closing them in, they need to be “naked.” Accessories present the risk of choking if they get caught on handles, hinges, or parts of the crate.
Make Positive Associations with the Crate
The crate should never be used as punishment. Just the opposite – your dog should associate their crate with positive experiences, comfort, and safety. You can even use some special snacks to encourage your dog to love their crate and enjoy being in it.
It’s normal for your dog to whine or scratch at the sides and door of the crate in the early days of training. Don’t ever yell or bang on the crate in an effort to stop this behavior. It’s likely to make things worse and scare your dog, which will make crate training ineffective and useless.
A Crate Is a Tool – Not Your Dog’s Home
You need to follow a detailed schedule with crate training, as we’ve outlined below. Your dog’s crate is a training tool and a safe retreat, not a place where they should be confined all the time. Respect your dog’s need for socialization, outdoor time, and exercise. Too much time alone in a crate will negatively affect their physical and mental well-being.
Crate Training Schedule
Crate training takes time, and you must keep to a detailed timeline. A crate training schedule will help keep your dog on track to get comfortable with the crate without overwhelming them. Here are the steps we recommend for a crate training schedule:
- Introducing the crate
- Feeding in the crate
- Crating for longer time frames
- Crating while you’re away
- Crating overnight
Introducing the Crate
The first introduction to the crate should be a super happy occasion, full of treats and excitement and pats and encouragement. Put snacks and toys inside the crate to encourage your dog to sniff around and check it out. When introducing the crate to your dog during the initial day or two, do not close the crate door - this will come later.
This stage should not inspire any fear or nervousness in your pet. Don’t force them or push them into the crate. Let them get familiar with the new space on their terms. This step might take a few hours, or even many days – so it’s important to let your dog go at its own pace. This initial introduction is critical to the success of the crate training process.
Feeding in the Crate
After your dog seems comfortable with the crate, it’s time to try closing the door. The best way to do this is during feeding time. Place your dog’s food bowl inside the crate and while they are eating, shut the door. The first time you do this, open the door immediately after your dog finishes eating and celebrate with encouragement and pats. If your dog whines or cries to get out, don’t open the door until they’ve stopped the noise. If you let them out in response to their cries, they learn that this is a release method, and they will keep doing it whenever they are in their crate.
The next time you feed your dog in the crate and shut the door, leave the door closed for a minute or two after they have finished eating. Keep doing this until they are happy about hanging out in the crate for 10-15 minutes after their meal. This step will likely take days to weeks.
Crating for Longer Time Frames
Once your dog is comfortable eating their meals in the crate and hanging out in there for a few minutes afterward, it’s time to try “crating” them without meals while you are home. You might entice them with a treat. Don’t overplay their entrance to the crate with too much cooing and chatter. Simply open the door and say a decided command – such as “in” or “crate” – and then go about your business; start with a small time window, 15-20 minutes, and graduate to more extended periods.
Puppies should never be left in the crate for more than three or four hours while they are under six months old. Much younger puppies need to go to the bathroom far more often, as much as every hour. While crate training a puppy, it’s okay to release your dog for a bathroom break and return them to the crate to help them sustain longer crate periods.
Remember, never release your pet while they are whining because this will derail the crate training schedule and possibly require you to return to the first step. Trying to crate train a dog a second time is much more difficult because they are already negatively associated with the crate. It’s important to make the most of this initial crate training schedule so that your dog comes to the crate with a fresh perspective.
Crating While You’re Away
After your dog is comfortable with being left in the crate for a few hours while you are home, you can graduate to leaving them in the crate while you’re away. The first time you leave your dog in the crate while you’re gone, only go away for a half-hour or an hour. It’s also recommended that you get a monitoring device that allows you to see your dog’s reaction while you’re away, just to ensure that your dog isn’t experiencing any panic or stress. Provide plenty of encouragement, treats, and love when you return, and then you can graduate to longer periods of away time.
Now that your dog is happy being crated while you’re home and while you’re away, you can try “crating” at night if that’s a goal for your family. If your pooch is under six months, you’ll still need to wake up and let them out to go to the bathroom within that four-hour window (even overnight). For this reason, it might be good to put the crate near your bedroom.
There is a delicate balance between allowing the crate to offer space and privacy for your pet when they need it and being sure it’s not a social isolation tool that makes your pet feel lonely. This applies even when your pet is overnighting in the crate. Some of it will depend on your dog’s personal preference, and figuring this out will require some trial and error.
The entire crate training process – getting your dog completely comfortable with crate time in all its forms – usually takes about six months.
Get Your Veterinarian’s Advice on Crate Training
As always, your veterinarian can be an incredible resource and provide lots of advice on how to crate train a puppy. They can help you identify where to put a puppy crate in your home and help you create a more detailed crate training schedule using the steps we provided as an outline. Crate training a puppy takes time and love, like all forms of dog parenting, so be patient!