Crate Training a Puppy

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This article is posted as part of PGAA’s curation efforts. This was originally posted at Me And My Puppy

 

Crate training a puppy is an important step in housebreaking.

Dogs are born with an innate desire to have a den – a space that acts as their own little getaway. A crate satisfies that instinctive need and is intended to be a happy place for a puppy.

It’s great to start puppy crate training when he’s young, but it can be effective with older dogs, too. In fact, it may be easier to crate train older dogs because they will have better bladder control than young puppies.

A common misconception that people have against crate training a puppy is that it’s cruel to lock up your dog. However, we need to remember that dogs think differently than humans.

If introduced thoughtfully and methodically, a dog’s crate will serve as a place where they can relax, sleep, or seek refuge when they get nervous. It’s an important space for dogs to have available to them.

Although crates are intended to be a happy place for dogs, they may not take to the new crate as quickly as we’d hope.

This guide has been created to help you to teach your puppy to associate with their crate positively and to make the housebreaking process easier on you.


A Word of Caution:
Never associate the crate with punishment and negativity. Puppies can grow to resent their crate if this gets overlooked. For crate training to work, we need to always keep a positive attitude towards crating practices.

Contents:

What are the Benefits of Crate Training?

Here are some of the top benefits of crate training a puppy.

Developing a healthy relationship between your dog and his crate is an important step in the overall housebreaking process.

Note that puppies bought from a pet store were likely forced to soil in their living space. Puppy crate training may take longer in these instances.

Crates are also great for travelling with your puppy! They can serve as a familiar space where they can relax if they feel anxious in a new environment.

For a more detailed look at potty training a puppy, please see the following:
How to Potty Train a Puppy (AN EASY GUIDE)

Further Reading on Travelling with a Dog:

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Important Things to Remember

As we prepare to begin crate training, it is important to note a couple of things:

  • The crate is NOT for punishment. Never lock your puppy in their crate to punish them or to prevent destruction of furniture. We want our puppies to love spending time in their crates and associate positively with them.
  • Avoid placing the crate in an area exposed to direct sunlight. It may become too uncomfortably warm for them.
  • Beware of putting your dog in the crate with its collar on. Many crate manufacturers recommend removing a dog’s collar before using a crate as the ID tags can get stuck in the bars. Be mindful of this.

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Choosing the Right Crate

Each crate option has its own pros and cons, but it’s mostly a matter of preference for you.

Please see the following link for a nice breakdown of different crate options:

  • Choosing the Right Crate for your Dog

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Furnishing the Crate

We want our puppies to love their crates. Furnishing crates can help to make them more appealing and inviting to young pups.

Start by laying a blanket or a soft towel in the crate for your dog to lie on. Most dogs will like this, but some won’t. If they chew or urinate on the blanket, permanently remove it from the crate.

Sometimes, dogs simply prefer sleeping on the hard floor. They may indicate this to you by pushing the blanket away.

Here are a couple of other tips for furnishing a crate:


Try This:
Putting a cover over the crate can help to calm nervous dogs and help them feel more secure. It will help make the space feel more den-like.

Now, let’s dive into the detailed process.

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How to Crate Train a Puppy (Step-by-step)

Before we go any further, it’s important to remember two things:

  • Stay Positive – Always associate the dog crate training process with positivity. This training only works when your dog likes their crate.
  • Be Patient – The following is a series of small steps. There is no way to streamline this and it will take some time. You will be thankful that you went through this process thoroughly and thoughtfully the first time.

Step 1: Introduce your Puppy to the Crate

Let your puppy explore the new crate.

Always let him enter the crate on his own terms – do not force him in physically. If he’s nervous about going in initially (and he likely will be), forcing him in would be a bad first interaction with the crate.

You can help to entice him to come to the crate by calling over to him in a happy tone of voice. You can also try throwing treats near the crate and gradually begin to throw them inside of the crate (deeper and deeper towards the back).

It might take some time for him to adjust to it, and that’s okay. Don’t rush it – remember to be patient. Keep these early individual sessions short.

Stay with your puppy as he investigates the crate. It’s okay to interact with him at this point. While he’s adjusting to the crate, it’s important constantly provide positive reinforcement and reward your puppy for going inside. The more enthusiastic your praise is for good behavior, the better.

We recommend putting the crate in a central location where you and the family spend a lot of time (e.g. kitchen, family room). This will help him feel like he’s still being involved in family activities and not isolated. However, make sure to leave the crate door open.

Step 2: Feed your Puppy Meals in the Crate

Feeding your puppy meals in their crate will help to make the crate a part of your puppy’s routine.

Start by putting the bowl close to the door initially. Then, gradually move the bowl towards the back of the crate as he becomes more comfortable inside.

Eventually, your puppy will happily enter the crate all the way. At this point, close the door while he eats. The first time you do this, open the door immediately after he finishes eating.

After the first time closing the door, experiment with keeping the door closed for longer periods of time until they are able to calmly stay in the crate for around 10 minutes after eating.

If your puppy starts to bark or whine, you likely increased the length too quickly. If this happens, let him out immediately the first time.

However, don’t let this become a habit. We don’t want him thinking that hell get his way every time that he whines. Wait for him to sit silently and calmly before you open the door.

Your puppy should understand that the crate is a safe space and he should be able to sit calmly in his crate for around 10 minutes at this point.

Step 3: Go Out of Sight

Now that your puppy is comfortable eating meals in their crate and spending some time inside, it’s time to start leaving him alone in the crate for short periods of time.

Entice him to come to the crate by calling him over and giving him a treat when he goes in the crate.


Try This:
Toys such as a KONG® stuffed with food (e.g. peanut butter, cheese) can work wonders to keep your dog occupied while inside the crate.

Associate a command word such as “crate” or “bed” so that he understands that the reward comes after he goes inside of the crate. It’s important to be consistent with the command that you choose.

Begin by sitting with him as he gets comfortable inside of the crate. Hopefully he’ll have some of his favorite toys inside to keep him occupied (and less focused on you).

If he’s calm and relaxed after about 5 minutes, quietly and briefly leave the room. Begin by first leaving the room for only about 10 seconds, but gradually increase the length of time as you continue to practice.

Naturally, he’ll be excited and anxious to see you. It’s important not to reward this behavior because it will likely make him anxious and stressed in the future waiting for you to come home.

When you are back inside, sit with him for a bit and then let him out of the crate.

Repeat this several times every day.


Try This:
It can be beneficial to practice at different times during the day to make sure that your dog is used to going at a variety of times. Try mixing up the schedule a bit.

Decrease the amount of rewards that your dog gets as the two of you continue to practice so that the command word becomes enough for him to understand.

Once he can be alone in the crate without you around for about half an hour, we can move to the next process.

Step 4: Leave for a Little Bit Longer

Now that your puppy can handle staying in the crate alone for a while, it’s time to start experimenting with leaving him in his crate for longer periods of time while you leave the house.

Before he goes into the crate at this stage, make sure that:

  • You take him outside for a pee
  • He gets fed, and
  • He gets some exercise so he’ll be able to relax more in the crate

Remember to praise him when he enters the crate and leave him silently to play with the toys that you left for him.

Note that we don’t want to make it emotional when we leave him alone, so praise him quickly and then be on your way.

When you arrive home again, don’t reward excited behavior. We don’t want to make them more anxious awaiting your return in the future.

As you practice this, continue crating your dog while you’re at home so that he doesn’t only associate going in his crate with being left alone.

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Problems You May Face

Your Puppy is Too Young: It takes time for puppies to control their bladders. They will have to pee quite frequently (typically 8-12 times per day) when they are young, so it’s recommended that you don’t crate train a puppy until they are at least 8 weeks old.

When they don’t have control of their bladders, it will be harder for them to keep their crate clean. We don’t want them to develop a bad habit of relieving themselves in the crate.


Try This:
If you have to leave your puppy for a short time before he is old enough for crate training, leave him in a blocked-off area (laundry room or kitchen typically work well). That way, if he is forced to pee, it will be without much consequence.

Too Much Time Spent in the Crate: Puppies will get restless if they are left in their crate for too long at a time.

Dogs have physical and emotional needs, and being locked alone in their crate for too long at a time could negatively affect their wellbeing. Dogs are social animals – they need to spend time exercising and playing with you.

Whining in the Crate: Your dog may be whining in the crate because:

  • He simply wants to be let out of the crate, or
  • He needs to go outside to potty

Try using the phrase that he associates with going to the washroom, and if he becomes excited, take him outside. However, don’t prolong the walk. The outing should be quick and with a purpose.

If you determine that he’s whining because he just wants to be let out, try to ignore it as much as possible. DO NOT yell at him or pound on the crate – it will only make it worse.

Separation Anxiety: The crate is not a solution for separation anxiety. Having him in the crate may prevent destructive behavior, but he may hurt himself trying to escape. Consider seeking professional help to deal with separation anxiety.

For more information, see below:

  • Separation Anxiety in Dogs
  • Preventing or Reducing Anxiety When Left Alone
  • Does Your Dog Freak Out When You Leave?

For more information, see below:

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For How Long Can a Puppy Stay in a Crate?

As your puppy gets a bit older, he will gradually be able to stay in his crate for longer and longer.

There is no exact science to this, but a good rule of thumb is that they can spend as many hours in the crate as they are months old, plus one month. For example, a 3-month old puppy should be able to stay in a crate for approximately 4 hours at a time.

However, professionals advise to limit crating to an absolute maximum of 6 hours at a time for dogs at any age.

Therefore, it’s never acceptable to leave your young puppy alone in their crate for an entire workday. If you are unable to attend to them during the day, consider seeking help from a neighbor or a friend.

Typically, they can stay in the crate longer at night (about 1.5 times longer) because their bodies aren’t as active at night.

These estimates assume that your dog is being active while outside of the crate. It’s important that they spend time playing with you.

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If Your Puppy Barks in the Crate

If your puppy is barking in his crate, he may be feeling one of two things:

  • He’s anxious that he’s away from you (his pack)
  • He thinks that he’s in danger

He doesn’t yet understand that the crate is a safe space, and that’s why associating puppy crate training with positivity is so important.

It’s also possible that your puppy was crated too soon without taking the proper steps outlined above.

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Wrap-Up

Puppy crate training is the best way to housebreak a new puppy.

However, by now you understand that it is a significant process to train a puppy effectively. It’s important to make sure that you follow through with the steps and not try to progress through them too quickly

You and your puppy will be thankful if you go through this process thoughtfully.

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See Also:

References:

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Me and My Puppy is an online, user-friendly source for puppy training info for new dog owners. We aim to cover a variety of puppy training topics in a simple, yet detailed manner. The site will update as new information becomes available and the scope of content will increase as we continue to grow.