Crate Training Your Puppy — 7 Basic Steps

By Nicole Ayers

Congratulations …. it’s a Puppy! As den animals, dogs are naturally used to being in small spaces where they feel safe and happy. Crates are den-like spaces that can benefit pet owners and dogs alike. If your puppy is quite young, it may take some time for them to warm up to their new “room.” Here are 7 steps on getting a puppy used to a crate while he learns the rules of the house. 

1. How to choose the right crate

Your first step to crate training a puppy is choosing between wire and plastic crates.

Wire, metal crates have a mesh-like design that makes them easy to fold flat for storage or transport. They’re also simple to clean and offer more airflow. Wire crates provide tons of visibility, which some dogs may prefer so they can see their surroundings. They often come in handy if you use a divider as well, which we’ll cover later in this step!

Plastic crates provide less visibility and are often called kennel or airline crates. They’re a great choice for dogs that want more privacy, like to sleep in the dark or feel more secure. If you plan to travel with your dog by plane, plastic crates are required by law. While they may not be your top pick for an in-home crate, they are great for homes with lots of activity such as families with young kiddos. 

Fabric crates are convenient, making them great for short trips. Still, it’s best to avoid them until your puppy grows older. Otherwise, he can mistake it as a chew toy.

Get a crate that’s large enough for your puppy to stand up to their full height without crouching their head, turn around in, and then lie down and stretch out comfortably.

Dogs won’t feel secure if the crate is too large. Oversized crates also make them likely to go potty in one area and lie down in another. A crate that is too small will restrict his movements, making him uncomfortable. He can also be injured when left in a cramped space. You may want to consider getting a wire crate with a divider that let’s you adjust the size of the crate area to grant your puppy more space as they grow. 

Place his crate in a high-traffic area where you spend a lot of time, like your family room or kitchen. Consider making the inside inviting with a soft blanket, towel, pillow or dog bed. Depending on the puppy you have, they may chew up their bedding, tear it apart or use it as a bathroom. In some circumstances, it may be best to let them just sleep on the crate mat itself.

2. Day one with the crate: introduce your puppy right

Start as early in the day as possible when getting your puppy used to a crate. Remove the crate door or prop it open, making sure it’s securely fastened so it does not swing closed, hit or frighten your dog while they explore the inside of their soon-to-be home. Bring your dog over to the crate and speak to him in a gentle, happy tone of voice. Introduce the crate slowly by putting food or treats near it and just inside. When he starts stepping inside, you can start moving food to the back of the crate. 

Tossing different types of treats in the crate throughout the day encourages your puppy to enter voluntarily. If your dog refuses to go all the way inside at first, don’t get frustrated or force him to enter. This creates fear. Just continue putting treats, water or safe and durable toys into the crate until he walks calmly all the way inside to get the treat, drink the water or play with the toy. Make sure your dog isn’t wearing collars, tags or anything he could choke himself on if it gets caught in the crate.

3. Habit and routine: the most important part of crate training

Puppies need time outside of the crate to explore their surroundings, play, exercise, eat and go potty. Plan and be aware of your puppy’s schedule and crate him only after these needs are met.Always take your puppy outside before placing them in the crate. Use the same command to when it’s time for them to go back into the crate. Reward them for going in. When it’s time for the puppy to come out, take them outside for another potty break and play session. 

Puppies can generally hold it for as many hours as their age in months, without an accident. Avoid leaving your dog alone in a crate for longer than four hour intervals during the day. Dogs generally don’t want to soil where they sleep but might do so if crated for too long without a walk.

If you have a full-time job or find your schedule requires your puppy to be crated longer periods, you need to take your puppy out on your lunch break or add a pet sitter or dog walker in to their routine. A dog that’s crated all day and night without enough exercise or human interaction can become depressed or anxious. 

4. Dinnertime is crate time

Once your pup is comfortable going in, coming out, and spending some time inside the open crate, start feeding your dog at least one meal a day in this room to make it part of their daily routine. Also have special treats that you only use as a reward for staying in the crate. Depending on your pup’s comfort level, put his food dish all the way at the back or around the middle of the crate.

If your puppy is reluctant to enter the crate at first, feed all or at least the majority of meals and treats in there while you supervise and then place the dog in the crate but do not leave the room. If they’re not comfortable finishing their meal inside the crate, place their food near the crate to help your dog build a positive association with it.

If your puppy is still unwilling to enter his crate, put the food only as far inside as he will go without becoming anxious or fearful. Start placing his food a little further back in the crate each time you feed him. Once your dog is eating meals comfortably inside his crate, begin slowly closing the door while he’s chowing down. 

Open the door as soon as he finishes his meal. From there, leave the door closed a few minutes longer with each successful feeding, until your pup is staying in the crate for 10 minutes after eating.If he begins to whine to be let out, try leaving him in the crate for a shorter period of time. If he whines, cries, digs or misbehaves while he’s in the crate, don’t let him out until he is quiet. If you do, he’ll learn that he can get out of his crate by exhibiting bad behavior, and he’ll keep doing it.

If your puppy is really crate-averse, try using a new type of crate. Also, try putting the crate in a different place. Some dogs may prefer to be near the action while others might be more comfortable in a quieter corner of the house.

Never yell at your puppy while putting him in the crate or use it as a form of punishment. Otherwise he will associate it with an awful place to be. If your puppy is misbehaving, put him in a room alone and shut the door for a few minutes. The crate should never cease to feel like a safe and comfortable space for your furry friend.

5. Make the crate safe and happy place

To ensure your dog doesn’t see his crate as a bad place, use it for fun games where they go in and out voluntarily. Try throwing a ball in the crate while playing fetch or hide treats inside for your dog to find. 

You can also show the dog a treat or chew toy, let it smell and taste it, and then toss it inside the crate and shut the door. Having the puppy outside of the crate and the treat or toy inside shows that goodies are in there, out of paw’s reach. As your pup begs, scratches and whines to get inside, open the door so he can get the treat. Allow your pup to stay in the crate and enjoy his treat for one to five minutes with the door closed. 

Some pups settle down and enjoy their treat with no fuss. Others panic and want to dash out as soon as they have the goods. If your puppy fusses let it out, but lock the treat back inside. You’re teaching your dog that he can fetch wonderful things inside the crate. Most pups get used to the door being shut as long as they have something to munch on.

Reward your puppy with treats occasionally when they go in an open crate and remain in there longer than a moment. You can then teach him a command for coming back out of the crate. Next, give him a cue to go inside the crate. Simply say “crate,” “kennel” or “Charlie, get in your crate” in a happy voice as you point to the crate. If he goes in, praise him with a treat. Then call him out without giving him a treat. Practice this step eight to ten times during the day and evening until he is going in and out of the crate on command.

Once your dog is in the crate, sit quietly near it while you read a book, watch TV or do something else. Allow the dog to remain in the crate for a few minutes and then let him back out. Gradually increase the time, leaving the room for 5 or 10 minutes. This will train your pup to feel comfortable spending longer amounts of time inside of the crate, and will reassure him that you will always come back. Try using treat balls or puzzle bowls to keep your dog busy while you’re in another room. 

Visit the crate and give your puppy treats through the closed crate door while he’s in there. This will help him build positive associations with being in the crate. You’re teaching him that his little room is a place where he gets rewarded for being a good boy. Only slip him treats when he’s behaving, not whining. Otherwise you will reinforce bad behavior. 

Once your dog is comfortable staying inside the crate, you can put the crate where you want to keep it in your home.

6. All night long: getting ready to sleep in the crate

When you’re ready for bedtime, toss your puppy’s favorite stuffed toy or rubber chew in the crate. This will keep him busy when he gets antsy about being alone. Use durable toys that he can’t tear apart or choke on overnight. Keep the crate in your bedroom or a nearby hallway at first. This will allow you to hear your puppy when he whines to be let outside to go potty during the night. 

Command your puppy to enter his crate and reward him with a treat. If you plan to have your dog crated outside of the bedroom or living room, gradually move it toward the preferred location each night as they get comfortable with the new sleeping arrangement.

Dim the lights to encourage quiet time. Crate training limits your puppy from exploring all of the sights, sounds and smells around him. You can block these out with a blanket so he can sleep without seeing anyone walking around. Blankets can also help muffle sounds that might scare him. Don’t use heavy blankets that cut off airflow and may cause him to overheat. 

7. Extend the time spent in the crate slowly

Once your dog is comfortable staying quietly in the crate for about 30 minutes while you’re home and out of sight most of the time, start putting them in the crate when you leave the house for short periods of time — a visit to your local coffee shop or short errands. Place your puppy in the crate using your regular command 5 to 20 minutes before leaving. Praise them with a treat, give them their favorite toy and then walk away like it’s no big deal. Avoid long, emotional goodbyes — this will make your dog anxious about you leaving.

Try different routines for goodbyes when you’re getting ready to leave the house and when you don’t. Repeating this process will teach your pup that being in a crate does not mean he will be alone. Avoid crating your puppy just when you’re gone so he’ll know the crate is a comfortable and safe where he can go to hang out.

Consider using a recording device to learn how your puppy behaves while you’re away. Is he anxious or calm? That way, you’ll know if he’s getting used to the crate. If your dog is excited when you return home, remain calm so as to not reward your dog for excited behavior. Try putting a radio, television,fan or ticking clock near the crate. Giving your puppy something to listen to can help keep him calm, distract him from surrounding activity and help him feel less lonely.

You did it!

Now that you know how to crate train a puppy, you’re ready to give them a safe place to go when they’re stressed, tired or need to take a break from house guests!

Getting your puppy use to a crate can take several days up to six months depending on your dog’s age, temperament and past experiences.

Don’t rush your dog’s crate training sessions or you will make him afraid and anxious. If your dog continues to show anxiety, misbehaves or whines and cries when in the crate, he may have separation anxiety. Try using other types of confinement (e.g. a child gate, separate room) to limit his access to the house until he learns where to go potty and what he can and can’t chew on. 

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