No matter how puppy-proofed your home is, curious puppies can always find trouble when left to their own devices. One of the best ways to keep your pup safe and help with their training routines is to crate train your puppy.
Some people see crates as a dog jail, and when improperly used, that’s exactly what they are. Crates aren’t meant to be used for time out or punishments, but instead a safe and comfortable space to contain your dog when he can’t be supervised.
What is Crate Training?
Crate training your dog is a training method that involves teaching your dog to accept a crate or kennel as a den substitute. Wild dogs are den-dwelling, which means that when they are not hunting, exploring, or playing is spent relaxing in a den.
It's a natural instinct for dogs to accept a crate the same way they would accept a den. Not every dog will welcome a crate with open arms, but a consistent training routine will help them accept the crate as a safe and comfortable space of their own.
Crate training can begin at any age but is most common in puppies as it helps to build routine and positive habits.
Benefits of Crate Training your Puppy
Puppies thrive with structure and boundaries, and crate training is a useful part of that. If you wonder if crate training is right for your puppy, then take a look at some of the benefits of crate training and how it can help you navigate the delicate puppy stage.
Puppy-proofing your home helps make a safer environment, but even there will always be dangers lurking. Cords, cleaners, planters, even the string from your curtains can be a hazard if a curious puppy decides to explore.
Crating your puppy will prevent him from putting himself in danger when you can’t be there to supervise him.
Puppies are very curious and can get into lots of trouble when left to their own devices. Safety aside, puppies can learn some very destructive habits when they are bored. Chewing is soothing during their teething stages, and most pups aren’t that particular about what they chew.
Your couch, shoes, even your baseboards are at risk to an unsupervised and under-stimulated puppy. Crate training can be useful for preventing your puppy from learning these bad habits.
Potty Training Aid
Young puppies have a lot to learn, and balancing all of your puppy’s training by blending their routines can make the whole process easier. Crate training goes hand-in-hand with potty training, so crates can be especially helpful for teaching your dog to build their bladder control.
Sometimes puppies just need some time alone to destress. If you have other pets in the house, young kids, or even just multiple people sharing the living space, your puppy will benefit from having a quiet space that is just his.
In time, your puppy may go to his crate voluntarily, to nap, to nom his favourite chew or toy, or just to hide away from all the commotion in the house.
Crates are excellent for travelling too. Whether you are taking a road trip, camping with your dog, going on a flight, or just visiting friends or family, crates are an excellent tool for keeping them safe, contained, and calm.
Crate training your pet before travelling will make the journey much less stressful for your pooch.
The Best Crate for Training Puppies
Before we get to the actual crate training, we need to talk about how to choose the right crate for your dog. The wrong crate can make training your puppy more difficult, but the right one will set you and your puppy up for success.
Before you pick out your crate, there are a few things you need to consider, like style, size, and position. Let’s start with style.
We use the term crate, but that’s only one type of cage. Crates, kennels, and carriers can all be used for the same purpose, depending on your dog’s needs. Choosing the right one can ensure your puppy is comfortable and safe in his cage.
So what’s the difference, and how do you know which type is the best for your puppy?
A crate is the most common option because it’s large and open. It’s basically a wire cage that allows for open lines of sight and lots of fresh air and sunshine. These are often preferred for large breed dogs but are offered in sizes to suit dogs of any breeds and sizes.
Kennels are similarly sized to crates but are made of a hard plastic shell with long slits for windows and a wire door. These are preferred for dogs that need more sensory deprivation to stay calm. They allow in less light and limit your dog’s line of sight, which can be comforting for puppies with anxiety. They can also stay a little warmer because they are more enclosed.
The last option is a carrier. Carriers are designed for travel, but a soft-sided carrier can be a comfortable and safe space at home for small breeds. These are great for short-haired breeds who get cold easily, like chihuahuas, and are easily portable to meet your needs. Carriers are very limited in size, so these are only ideal for toy and mini breeds.
Size is an important factor in choosing the best crate for your puppy. A crate that is too small would be uncomfortable, but choosing too big of a crate can be an issue as well.
Choosing an appropriately sized crate for a growing puppy can be tricky. Puppies start small, but they grow, and it’s not always cost-effective to purchase new crates as your puppy gets bigger.
In general, a crate should be large enough for your puppy to stand up straight, turn around easily, and lay down comfortably. Anything smaller will make it uncomfortable for your pup to be in for too long.
Going with a crate that’s too large may seem more comfortable, but it will also encourage some bad habits like going to the bathroom in the kennel and more vigorous play. The crate should be a place for calm activities and naps.
So what about large breed dogs? Full-grown, they will need a larger crate to accommodate their length and height, but they need significantly less space when they are little. Many crates and kennels have optional dividers to limit the space until your dog grows.
Where you put your dog’s crate can make a difference too. High traffic areas in your home may make it difficult for your puppy to stay calm or nap. This includes places where your dog can see outside, hear passers-by, or be agitated by other pets in the house.
Kennels and crates are best stored in bedrooms or living spaces that are easily accessible but less busy. This provides less stimulation, allowing your puppy to remain calm and sleep soundly.
You should also consider choosing an area that is easy to maintain the temperature of. Drafty areas or direct sunlight can easily make your puppy uncomfortable if they're stuck there for several hours.
How to Crate Train a Puppy
How you introduce the crate is incredibly important. First impressions are often lasting ones, so make sure your puppy isn't fearful or anxious around the cage before you lock them in it.
Crate training takes time, but we put together some important steps and tips for making sure the training is a seamless and stress-free as possible.
Crate Training a Puppy: First Night
The term sleeps like a baby is especially relevant when it comes to puppies. Much like human babies, they don't sleep through the night right away and will often get up and whine or bark to get your attention.
Crate training will help build an appropriate sleep schedule for your puppy, but it won't happen overnight. Literally. The first night in a new home, puppies will need a safe and confined space to sleep to prevent them from getting into trouble or having accidents all over your house.
You should take the time to introduce your puppy to the crate properly but be prepared to lose a little bit of sleep on the first night, or seven. We'll get to these steps below, but understand that the first night in the crate doesn't always go smoothly, no matter how you introduce the crate.
Crying, whining, and barking are all very common reactions from a puppy that doesn't yet understand or accept the crate. Hearing them cry isn't pleasant, but this behaviour will change as your puppy gets used to his new hang out.
Giving in too easily to the whining will make it harder for your puppy to adjust and will prolong the crate training process, so try to be strong and let him cry it out.
The younger the puppy the more frequently they'll need to go to the bathroom, so try to schedule short bathroom breaks a few times throughout the night until your puppy can hold their bladder through the night.
Crate Training your Puppy in 10 Easy Steps
Now that you’ve found the right crate for your dog, you need to introduce your dog to the crate in a positive way. Pushing your puppy too hard can be stressful and make them fear the crate. To help you get started, here is a simple 10 step process for crate training your puppy:
1. Let them Explore
The first introduction to the crate should be very casual. Leave the door open and let your puppy approach the kennel on his own. Puppies are very curious, so most pups will want to investigate. Sit next to the crate and call your puppy over to you, but don’t force him in.
If he goes in on his own, that’s great; even if he just sniffs the outside, that’s great too. All you want are signs that your puppy is willing to approach.
2. Reward for Good Behaviour
Have lots of very small treats on hand. The smaller and tastier, the better. Every time your puppy walks into the cage, touches the cage, sniffs the cage, or even just approaches the cage, reward him. You can use the treats to direct him closer to the cage if he’s hesitant to approach.
Reward constantly to encourage him to get close and stay close for a few seconds at a time. This means giving treat after treat to keep him near the cage and to help him associate the cage with a positive reward.
3. Baby Steps
Any progress is amazing, so try to set small goals. Toss a treat into the cage, close to the door and encourage your puppy to retrieve it. Throw treats further and further into the crate until your pooch is comfortable walking all the way in to get the snacks.
If your puppy is willing to go all the way into the cage, then try to get your puppy to sit or stay for a few seconds, but don’t lock them in yet. Reward constantly for as long as your puppy is willing to stay in the cage (within reason, of course).
Don’t forget lots of verbal praise too. He knows he’s a good boy, but it doesn’t hurt to tell him anyway.
4. Practice Closing and Opening the Cage
While your puppy is in the crate, close the door for a second or two, then open it and ask your dog to come out. Reward immediately. This process may seem silly, but what you are telling your pup is that the door opens after it’s been close. He won’t be trapped forever.
5. Rinse and Repeat
You’ll want to repeat this process several times, rewarding the whole time. If your puppy is hesitant to go back in, start from step 3 again, but be consistent. Use the same language and tone to make the positive association of the reward with the crate.
6. Take Breaks and Have Some Fun
At this point, you’ve probably been at it for a while. While this is a great mental activity for your pup, it’s important to give them time for potty breaks and to reset. Offset your training with physical exercise, chew toys, and just downtime.
Take frequent breaks to avoid your puppy from getting overwhelmed, frustrated, or just tired.
Now that your puppy has had some practice, it’s time to start letting your puppy spend some time in his crate. Start small and work your way up. The first time left alone in the crate only needs to be a few minutes.
Close the door, give your puppy a treat, and walk out of sight. Your puppy might start to whine a bit, that’s ok. Hold your ground. At the end of the time, walk back into the room and verbally praise your puppy and give him a treat through the bars.
8. Coming Out
This next step is an important one. It’s now time to practice how you let your puppy out of the crate. Your puppy will likely try to storm the gates to get out, but he must learn to exit the cage calmly.
If he rushes the door when you reach for it, stop and wait for him to calm down. Use vocal commands, like wait or stay to help him understand. Try again, and repeat if your puppy keeps rushing out. Eventually, he’ll learn to wait until you invite him out. Reward generously when he succeeds.
Take a short break and try this whole process over again, but start extending the amount of time your puppy is in the cage. Try 5 or 10 minutes. Take another break and allow your puppy to play a bit.
Now you are ready to try a longer crate session, but this time you’re going to leave the house. Go for a walk, run an errand, or just sit on the porch for an hour. This longer session gives your puppy time to figure out what to do with himself when left alone.
He’ll likely whine or bark, but most puppies learn to relax when they don’t get the desired response from their behaviour.
10. Stick to a Schedule
Practice will make perfect, but practice is nothing without consistency. Crate training a puppy is more than just a way to keep them out of trouble; it’s also a way to provide day-to-day routine. A crate training schedule can help you with other routines, like potty training and eating habits too.
A great schedule to start with for puppies under 6 months is a basic two-off, one-on format. This means two hours out of the crate and one in, rotating this pattern during the time of day that you would normally be out of the house for work or school. This will allow for frequent potty breaks while getting your puppy used to spending time in his crate every day.
The point of crating your young puppy during the day is to help them adapt to your work schedule. In the evenings, or the times you would normally be home, your puppy will need much less crate time and you should use this time for training, playtime, and exercise.
As your puppy gets older and develops more bladder control, they will easily adapt to spending the day in the crate while you are out of the house or busy.
Crate Training a Puppy with Another Dog in the House
Crate training can be made more challenging when another pet, especially one who doesn't need to be crated, is sharing the same home. This could be another dog or even a cat.
From behind bars, your puppy may find it extra difficult to stay calm or nap when another furry friend is allowed to roam free. If possible, it's better to keep free-roaming pets in a separate area.
Put your puppy's crate in a bedroom or another room that other pets can't get to. This will prevent a jealous reaction and allow your puppy to self-soothe without interruption.
How Long Does it Take Crate Train a Puppy?
This process can take days, weeks, or even months before your puppy is fully comfortable in his crate. Every dog is different, so be patient and consistent. Most puppies get the gist of the crate within the first week or two, but that doesn’t mean they like being left alone.
Over time, a consistent schedule will help your pup adapt to his new hang out, so don’t give up. Connect with a trainer if your dog is showing signs of separation anxiety.
How Long Do Puppies Need to Be Crate-Trained For?
While crate training is an excellent tool for puppies and new pets, some dogs won’t always need to be crated when home alone. Once your puppy has learned appropriate behaviour around the house, you may consider trying to allow your puppy some limited freedoms in the house—section off one room or floor of the house that your dog can roam when home alone.
Dogs with behavioural issues or anxiety may never feel comfortable alone, so crating them even into adulthood may be necessary to keep them safe.
How to Crate Train a Dog
We've been over how to crate train a puppy, but what about an adult or dog? Good news! Crate training an adult dog is pretty much the same as crate training a puppy, with only a few minor differences.
Typically, adult dogs will have better bladder control, so your crate training schedule can be altered around this. This means your dog won't need as many potty breaks at night and will be able to spend more time in the crate during the day.
On the downside, older dogs can be more stubborn. Unlike puppies who are likely to tire themselves out, adult dogs have more stamina and can keep up the tantrum a lot longer. This is stressful for both of you (and your neighbours), so slowly easing them into accepting the crate is very important.
How to Crate Train a Dog with Separation Anxiety
One of the most common reasons for crate training an adult dog is to help reduce destructive behaviours stemming from separation anxiety in dogs. Separation anxiety is a fear of being left alone, unprotected, or vulnerable.
Different pets may suffer from varying degrees of separation anxiety. Mild cases may result in your dog barking or crying when you leave, while more severe reactions can lead to your dog destroying your home when left.
It's very important that you don't lock a highly anxious dog in a crate unless they are properly introduced to the crate. If you don't take the proper steps to acclimate your dog to his crate, they could end up having a total freak out, potentially injuring themselves trying to escape the crate.
Practice makes perfect, so take as much time as you need with each step. If your dog starts to see the crate as a safe and comforting place, it will help to soothe his anxiety every time you leave the house.
Crate Training Tips: The Do's and Don'ts
Like any training process, not everything you try will work the first time, or the second, or sometimes even the thirtieth. The process of crate training your puppy is different for every dog, but you can increase your odds of success with a few simple tips.
Crate Training Do's
Sometimes the basic steps just aren't enough. Here are a few helpful tips to make sure your dog is more comfortable, happy, and safe in his new crate:
1. Make the Crate Cozy
You want your dog’s crate to be a comfortable place to hang out, so the hard plastic bottom of the crate won’t be ideal. You can choose to put a bed in the crate, but puppies tend to chew when they are anxious, bored, or throw a little temper tantrum, so beds are an expensive option to replace.
Crate mats are a better solution as they are flat and contain less fluff for your puppy to try to eat. They are also easier to wash and replace if needed. Pups that are notorious chewers may be better off starting with a cheap towel.
2. Keep Your Puppy Hydrated
Convenient clip-on bowls are a great option for keeping fresh water available to your puppy at all times. They clip onto the sides or door of the crate and keep the bowl off the floor to prevent puppies from spilling the water.
This helps prevent dehydration while your puppy is home alone for long periods.
3. Feed in the Crate
For pups that are fighting the crate training process, you can help your puppy get comfortable being in the crate by offering all their meals there. Start with the door open.
When your puppy gets used to this, then you can start closing the crate door while they eat and let them out as soon as they are finished. Eventually, your puppy will learn not to fear the crate and may start to go involuntarily.
Crate Training No-No’s
We’ve been over the benefits and the how-to’s of crate training, but we need to cover one more thing - What not to do when crate training your puppy.
We said this at the beginning of the post, but it’s worth repeating. Crates should never be used as a punishment tool. It may seem convenient to put your dog in jail when he misbehaves, but you’ll very quickly teach him to associate his crate with negative feelings.
This means every time your dog goes in the crate, he’ll think he’s done something wrong and is being punished. Keep the crate a positive tool.
2. Too Long
Eventually, most older puppies and adult dogs can stay in the crate during a standard workday, but younger puppies can’t. Beyond their bathroom needs, puppies just have less patience and can’t self-calm easily when they get frustrated.
Leaving your puppy in the crate for too long can instill bad habits like barking, whining, and even trying to escape the cage, which can lead to injury.
You might think that your puppy gets bored in his crate, which might be true, but try to resist the urge to load the crate up with tons of toys. You want to encourage calm behaviour, and overstimulating your puppy with too many activities in the crate will make it difficult for him to nap. Instead, pick one toy at a time.
Overcrowding the cage with anything can limit the effectiveness of the crate. Too many beds, pillows, or blankets limits the space your pup has to stretch out and might lead to some destructive chewing or digging behaviours.
4. One at a Time
Avoid putting pets together in a crate. Even pets that normally get along very well may get cranky when enclosed together. With no supervision, you could end up with a fight and no way for either pet to escape. Crates should always have a one-pet-at-a-time rule.
Exceptions can be made for very young littermates, but even then, they shouldn’t be left locked in the crate for too long unsupervised. Even siblings fight. Actually, I should say - especially siblings fight!
Is Crate Training Right for Your Puppy?
This is a question only you can answer. Crating your puppy is definitely a useful training tool but by no means necessary for every puppy. You should always choose the methods that are safest and the most effective for you and your pup.
Crate training isn’t a permanent solution for every dog either. You can use the crate to support your puppy’s initial training, like good bathroom habits and general house training, but as your puppy learns and grows, you may find crating them to be unnecessary. It all depends on your dog’s behaviour, environment, and routine.
If you are struggling to train your rambunctious puppy and need more help deciding on the best training methods, then look for a local trainer, training classes through your local SPCA, or ask your vet for tips and advice.
The key to training is consistency and patience, and with puppies, the patience part is extra important. If you find yourself getting frustrated or discouraged, take a break, take a breath, and calm yourself before continuing with your puppy’s training. And most of all, remember to reward even the smallest victories.
Do you crate train your puppy? Let us know why or why not in the comments below.