Your home is your favorite place in the world, mostly because it makes you feel comfortable and safe. And it’s time to help your puppy have the same kind of feelings for her crate, by learning how to crate train a puppy correctly.
Crate training allows you to give your dog her personal space inside your home that’s all her own. If you train her with patience and care, it will become your dog’s comfortable home.
Furthermore, a crate is useful when you need to protect your puppy against possible dangers and to teach her some manners for special occasions, such as traveling, having guests for dinner or staying in a hotel.
Things to Know Before You Begin
Dogs are den animals that need a personal space—a place to rest and hide in case of danger, just like their ancestors had in the wild. Because of this instinct, a crate can fulfill your puppy’s natural needs.
Why You Should Crate Train Your Puppy
The main reason to crate train your puppy is to housebreak her. Generally, dogs don’t soil their dens, and this natural habit helps your puppy learn how to control her bladder when she’s confined.
Even dog owners need a vacation (especially dog owners), and it’s expensive and often upsetting to a dog to be boarded away from her family. A trained puppy doesn’t have problems with staying inside the crate in the car, on a plane, and in hotels that allow confined animals.
3. Staying Out of Trouble
Despite your best efforts, your home may not always be pet-proof. You can use a crate to keep your puppy safe by keeping her away from dangers (such as electrical wires, garbage cans, or human food). You can also control the places to which your dog has access.
4. Dealing With Strangers
Your dog may not know how to react when you have a house full of people she doesn’t know. A private place where she can rest and hide from the crowd can help your puppy feel comfortable and, at the same time, spare you and your guests the situation of dealing with an agitated dog.
5. Handling Destructive Behavior
Some dogs have the bad habit of chewing shoes, carpets, or furniture, so keeping them in a crate when you’re not at home can help you reduce damages.
However, the crate shouldn’t be a permanent place to keep your puppy. Crate training works when you respect your dog’s need to eliminate outside, to play, and to exercise. Otherwise, it can be cruel.
Getting Ready to Crate Train
Puppy crate training doesn’t happen overnight, that's why you should have an appropriate place to keep your puppy until she’s willing to remain alone in the crate.
Organize a corner of your home for the time when you’re not around to watch over your puppy. A perfect place to do this is in the bathroom, but any other part of the house where the dog can’t harm herself will work as well.
You should have the following in your puppy’s special area:
- The crate (with the door always open);
- A water bowl;
- Some toys;
- A dedicated area, covered with paper or pee pads, where she can eliminate.
How to Choose the Perfect Crate
Your dog needs a crate large enough to allow her to stand up, turn around and lay down.
Most producers make adjustable models, which come with an additional divider that will allow you to resize the crate to fit puppy’s dimensions while she is growing. If the crate is too large, a dog will have enough space to use one of the corners as a toilet area and will learn to eliminate inside.
Considering one with a divider that will fit her as an adult, can save you some bucks.
Guidelines for Crate Size
If you don’t know which size of crate would work best for your puppy, you should look at the following guidelines:
- Dogs smaller than 10 lbs., such as Chihuahuas or Malteses, need small crates (18 – 22″);
- 11-20 lbs., like Bichon Frises or Jack Russell Terriers, need medium small crates (24″);
- 21-40 lbs., like American Water Spaniels and Field Spaniels, need medium crates (30″);
- 41-65 lbs., like Huskies and Golden Retrievers, need large crates (36-42″);
- 67-100 lbs., like German Shepherds or Rottweilers, need very large crates (48″);
- Dogs greater than 100 lbs., like Neapolitan Mastiffs or Great Danes, need extra-large crates (54″).
Buy a crate designed especially for dogs. Make sure it allows airflow and can withstand heavy handling, a necessity if you plan on traveling.
Equipping and Placing Your Puppy’s Crate
Whether you choose a wire crate, a soft-sided or a plastic one, you need to make it comfortable and cozy. Your puppy needs to feel safe and happy inside it, so don’t hesitate to provide her with as much comfort as you can afford.
Some puppies prefer their crates soft and comfortable, so use towels, blankets, or special dog products to make it warm and inviting. If your puppy chews the bedding, remove it from the crate to prevent accidents and substitute. If puppy likes flat surfaces, she will move the bedding by herself.
Toys and Treats
Dogs like to chew, so provide your puppy with some quality toys she can use, such as Nylabone, Tuffy, Kong, or Billy toys. Small parts of any dog toy can cause choking or internal obstruction, so check all items periodically and substitute them when they’re damaged.
Many dog toys can be filled with treats, which is a useful method to relax your puppy, guiding her attention to recovering the good stuff inside.
All treats should be part of your dog’s daily food intake, to avoid health issues and overfeeding.
When you’re home, a dog shouldn’t have water inside the crate, as this generates an irregular elimination schedule and she may begin to soil the crate. Give her access to the water bowl periodically and then take her out to eliminate.
When you leave your puppy all by herself for periods longer than 2 hours, place a mountable water bowl inside her crate. But try to avoid this until your pup is at least 4 months old, to reduce possible accidents.
Where to Place Your Puppy’s Crate
During training, your puppy should stay near her new adoptive family. Place crate in the room where you spend most of your time, such as the living room or the kitchen. No matter which location you choose, put the crate close to an entrance to allow easy access outdoors when your puppy needs to eliminate.
Crate Training a Puppy in 8 Steps
Step 1: Introduce Your Puppy to the Crate
Place the crate in the corner of the house your puppy has quick access to. Take her close to the new crate as if you were playing, and let her explore it if she’s interested. Make sure the door remains open!
To increase your puppy’s interest in the crate, place some of the following nearby:
- her favorite toy;
- some treats she likes (like pea-size pieces of chicken, cheese, or special dog treats from the pet store);
- a chew bone;
- a Kong toy filled with her favorite food.
Start by leaving these items outside the crate and, as she learns that 'crate=treats,' you can guide her inside. Start with the treats close to the door and gradually move towards the center of the crate.
This first step in dog crate training can take a few days or several weeks, depending on your puppy’s personality, so you need to be patient.
Remember, though: never force your puppy inside the crate.
Always keep some treats nearby and, if you see your puppy entering the crate, praise and reward her immediately.
Step 2: Feed Your Puppy in the Crate
You know you’re ready for this step when you see your puppy exploring her crate regularly for treats.
Many dogs don’t go inside to get their meals right from the beginning. To encourage this, place her food bowl in the very front of the crate, allowing her to eat even if she keeps her body outside the crate.
Each day, move the bowl a little further into the crate and away from the entrance. When your puppy starts stepping inside, you can place the bowl in the back of the crate.
Step 3: Close the Crate Door
You can start this stage after your puppy’s learned to eat her entire meal inside the crate.When your puppy starts eating, calmly close the door.
Open the door right before she finishes her meal.
Around this stage, some dogs are already used to their crates and start taking naps inside in the afternoon. If you find your puppy sleeping in the crate, slowly close the door.
Observe her and, when she wakes up, praise her, reward her for the good behavior, and immediately after opening the crate door and take her out to eliminate.
Step 4: Add a Command
Choose a particular verbal cue that tells your puppy to enter the crate, such as 'crate up,' 'in your crate,' 'kennel up,' or 'go to bed.' Choose a different command for the moment when you want her to come out from her crate, such as 'okay' or 'free.'
Sometime in the morning, take some treats and place 2 or 3 of them in the crate. The moment your puppy enters to get them, say the command, but only say it once. When the puppy has entered, praise her and reward with another treat. Say your release command to let her know she can come out. Repeat the exercise 10 times, then take a 5-minute break and start over.
Later the same day, organize a second training session, this time without treats waiting for her in the crate. When your puppy is nearby, say the enter command. If she goes inside, praise her and reward her with a treat.
Say the release command immediately, so she learns to associate this second verbal cue with leaving the crate. Do the exercise 10 times, take a short break, and then repeat.
After a few hours, continue with the last part of this step. Begin by doing the previous exercise a few times, so she remembers the verbal cues, then command her to get inside the crate again. Praise and reward her and slowly close the door for about 8-10 seconds.
During this time, offer her some more treats. After the 8-10 seconds are done, say the release command and open the door. If she barks or whines, ignore her until she stays silent for a few seconds, then give her a treat and let her out. Repeat this exercise just like in the previous training sessions.
Don’t reward your puppy after she leaves the crate. Good things should happen when she’s inside!
Step 5: Extending Time in the Crate
This stage repeats the last part of Step 4.
You need to teach your puppy to remain inside the crate for longer periods by gradually increasing the time that the door remains closed (10 seconds, 15 seconds, 35 seconds, 1 minute, 3 minutes, 5 minutes and so on).
Give your puppy some time to get used to this exercise. This might mean you don’t do everything in one training session, instead split it into 2-3 sessions over the course of the entire day.
If you feel that’s too much for her, cover this step in 2 days or even more. Take as long as you and your puppy need.
Step 6: Leave the Room
Your puppy is ready for this when she has learned to remain calm in her crate with the door closed for 25-30 minutes.
After closing the crate’s door, wait for a few minutes and leave the room without fuss. At the beginning of this exercise, you can go in and out of the room several times. Always act normally when entering or exiting the room.
With time, you can leave your puppy alone for half an hour or more. Remember to praise and reward her when you come back and to use the release command before opening the door.
Step 7: Leave the House
Once your puppy has learned to stay in her crate alone, you can start leaving the house. It the beginning, stay out for just a few minutes. You can increase the period of time you’re outside over the course of several training sessions.
Don’t lock up your puppy right before going out. Give her some time to get settled in the crate (between 2 and 10 minutes) before leaving her alone.
Continue to use the crate when you’re at home to avoid the association between the crate and your absence.
When you arrive, don’t be too enthusiastic. If you encourage your puppy to be excited about your return, she’ll spend all her time in the crate waiting for you, and this can cause forms of anxiety.
Step 8: Crate Your Dog at Night
This step is one of the easiest steps if your puppy loves her crate and has learned to see it as a 'den.'
Before leaving your puppy inside for the night, make sure she has her favorite toys with her so that she feels comfortable. When it’s time to go to bed, command your puppy to get into the crate, praise her, reward her and close the door.
After this, you may leave her for the night.If your puppy is used to eliminating during the night, you must continue to wake up and take her outside as usual. Then put her back in the crate and go back to sleep.
Things NOT to Do When Crate Training Puppies
1. Don’t use the crate to punish your dog.
Remember that your mission is to make your puppy love her crate and to make her feel comfortable inside. If bad things happen when she’s inside, she’ll be scared of it, and you won’t be able to leave her inside alone anymore.
2. Don’t use the crate for too much time during the day.
According to The Humane Society of the United States, puppies under the age of 3 months should stay in a crate for less than 3 hours a day. You can’t keep the dog in a crate longer than she has the ability to control her bladder.
Note that puppies under 9 weeks are not supposed to stay in the crate for long periods at all, because they need to eliminate up to 12 times every day.
How Long Should You Keep Puppy in Crate?
Most pet owners use these recommendations when crating their puppies during the day:
- 0 to 10 weeks: from 30 to 60 minutes
- 11 to 14 weeks: from 1 to 3 hours
- 15 to 16 weeks: from 3 to 4 hours
- After the age of 17 weeks: from 4 to 5 hours
Negative Consequences of Crating for Too Long
Too much time in the crate can have negative consequences to your puppy, such as:
- learning to soil her crate
- developing separation anxiety
- losing muscle strength due to lack of exercise
3. Don’t allow your children inside the crate.
The crate is your puppy’s personal space, which means she’s the only one allowed inside. Children must learn to respect your puppy’s need for privacy. They should also stay away from puppy once she’s decided to take some rest inside her 'den.'
4. Don’t leave your puppy in the crate if she hasn’t exercised first.
Dogs have energy, and they need to use it! Take your puppy outside to play, exercise, or walk around the neighborhood. Keeping her inside without allowing her to exercise first will make her agitated, and she may end up harming herself.
Some breeds have high energy levels, which can make crate training slower.
5. Don’t encourage your puppy’s demands to be let out of the crate.
If your puppy whines or barks to be let out of her crate, the best thing you can do is remain calm and ignore the noise. Avoid yelling or any other form of response, positive or negative. Any reaction you have is a 'reward' for your puppy’s efforts, so you’ll obtain the opposite result: your puppy will learn the barking works.
6. Don’t crate your puppy with a leash or collar on.
Always remove your puppy’s collar or leash before putting her in the crate. There is a high risk of choking to death if the collar gets stuck or suspended on something in the crate.
7. Don’t lock your puppy up in certain situations.
You should never crate your puppy if the following situations apply:
- She’s too young to control her bladder;
- She has medical issues such as loose stools or vomiting, or is recovering after an illness;
- She hasn’t eliminated;
- You haven’t exercised her;
- You must leave her for an unusually long period of time;
- It’s extremely hot.
Problems When Crate Training
Problem 1: Your Puppy Cries Inside the Crate
Generally, dogs make noise when locked up in four different situations:
1: Your puppy needs to eliminate.
In this case, you must take puppy outdoors immediately. Reduce interaction to a minimum—no playing or talking to her when you take her outside! If you have a small puppy, take her into your arms and transport her directly to the toilet area.
If your puppy is too large to be carried, use the leash, but don’t let her decide what speed to use for going outside. You must remain in control of the situation, so your dog knows you’re in charge.
After eliminating, bring pup back and continue your crate training session.
2: Your puppy wants you to let her out of the crate.
If you’re completely sure that your puppy doesn’t need to eliminate, then ignore her whining or barking. You can respond after at least 10 seconds of silence with praise, a reward, and even by opening the crate’s door for your pup. This way, she will understand that silence brings positive reactions while making noise means more time locked up.
Some trainers recommend covering the dog’s crate with a towel, cloth or a special cover when she is whining or barking as a possible method to help her relax.
3: You closed the crate door too quickly.
Crate training has precise steps, and each of them is important if you want to teach your puppy to love her new home. If you don’t give her time to get used to the new home, she’ll become agitated inside, and she’ll end up hating the crate.
Trust your instincts and, if you feel like your puppy’s not ready to go to the next step of training, scale back and make smaller steps. However, be consistent with your training to reinforce what you’re already taught.
Problem 2: Your Puppy Can’t Handle the Crate
In this case, your dog may be very agitated or stressed. She may destroy things inside her crate and, sometimes, she may try to escape. In most cases, you need to find professional help to teach your dog to accept changes and to correct her behavioral problems.
One possible solution is to reorganize the corner of your house you used before starting the crate training. Remember to pet-proof it and to secure the opening to prevent any escape attempts.
Problem 3: Your Puppy Is Afraid to Step Into the Crate
In many cases, you can solve this by choosing a different type of crate. Wire crates with a removable top are a solution. Start crate training without the top, so your puppy doesn’t feel confined, and complete the crate only after she’s learned to stay inside.
Another easy solution is to train her to walk and stay under a suspended blanket. This exercise can help her control her fear of the crate.
Teaching her simple commands, such as ‘sit,' 'stay,' or 'down' could help her remain calm when confined.
If your puppy had a slow start with crate training, give her more time with each step. Rushing crate training brings negative results.
Problem 4: Your Puppy Is Aggressive in Her Crate
There are two possible causes for violent behavior inside the crate:
- Puppy is afraid of something;
- Puppy feels she needs to guard her crate.
In the first situation, try to find what scares your pup and eliminate it. Sometimes it’s the crate itself; try switching crates to alleviate her stress.
Another possible problem might be that you’re trying to take her out of her den when she doesn’t want to leave it. Never try to force your puppy out. Teach her to leave the crate at your verbal command instead.
If your puppy is guarding her space, you are contending with your dog’s natural instinct. You must teach your puppy to control her behavior through consistent training.
In both situations, you should pay attention and be patient, as puppy’s instincts to protect herself and her home are stronger than what she’s learned from you.
Problem 5: Your Puppy Has Accidents in the Crate
Accidents are hard to avoid, especially when your puppy is very young. The key point is to act normally and not punish her. Clean everything with special products, as any 'marked' spot sends your puppy the signal she can use the crate as a place to eliminate again. Don’t use any cleaners containing ammonia though; they smell similar to urine and send the same message.
Crate Training an Adult Dog
Teaching your old dog new tricks is easier than you expect because older dogs can stay focused for longer periods of time on what you’re teaching them to do. However, crate training an adult dog takes more time than training a puppy, especially when you need to reshape some old behavior or modify your dog’s schedule.
Cover each of the steps described above, but take more time to complete them–don’t be afraid to use more training sessions than you would with a puppy.
Your adult dog may need more time to get used to staying in a crate, especially if she hasn’t been confined in the past. Give her more time to get used to it before starting to feed her inside. Furthermore, avoid leaving her alone inside if you don’t think she’s ready to handle the confinement by herself.
Crate training a dog is not about keeping your puppy locked up during the day. Instead, it provides your dog with a safe home, where she can learn to control her bladder while being always safe and protected.
Using tips described above, you can crate train your puppy fast, and she’ll learn to remain in the crate in silence when you’re out. Can you do it without punishments? Yes, if you have patience, care, and some tasty dog treats.
You don’t need to be a professional trainer to take care of your puppy. Start with small steps and give time to yourself and your dog to achieve the goals of each training session.