Crate training a puppy or training an adult dog new to your home is an important step in house-training your dog and safely acclimating them to a new environment.
In this article, we’ll break down what crate training is and why it’s a necessity for all new dogs you bring into your home, what supplies you’ll need to effectively and easily crate train your dog, and what your crate training process should look like.
We’ll also address some common crate-training hiccups and pitfalls to avoid when working with your pup.
To get started here’s why almost all authorities on dog training recommend crate training puppies quickly after bringing them into your home.
When dogs and especially puppies are brought into a new environment it can be a disorienting and even traumatic experience if they are very young and leaving their mother and littermates for the first time.
Often, breeders and rescue organizations don’t have the resources to keep dogs longer than 8 weeks and their natural weaning process is disrupted.
Using a crate is just one way to help your puppy feel safe and secure when adjusting to your home and family environment.
Also for older adopted or rescued dogs it’s difficult for even experienced dog owners to know what your new dog’s particular triggers may be and how past ownership experiences have affected them.
Contrary to what some new owners may think, a dog crate is not a place to keep your dog to pen them up or punish them in any way. Used correctly, the crate actually becomes a place of refuge that your dog can go to:
The reason is that dogs’ canine ancestors were naturally “denning” animals, meaning that they prefer to live and sleep in smaller enclosed spaces like caves or burrows. Dogs have retained at least some of the genetic coding which is why you will often find dogs burrowing into couch cushions, under coffee tables, or sometimes even into their owners’ laps.
Providing a set-aside “den” for your dog in the form of a crate will help them get acclimated to their new environment over time and provides the consistency they need to feel comfortable. Many owners think of a crate as a bedroom for their dog and treat it as such.
For owners who are house training a puppy, using the crate is a key part of the process, as dogs typically do not like to use the bathroom where they sleep.
By training your dog to not relieve themselves in their sleeping area, they can then extend that training to the rest of your house and learn your potty procedures as well.
When it comes to choosing a crate for your dog there are several factors to consider:
Puppies are rapidly growing creatures and your dog may quickly outgrow their crate in less than a year. In general, a crate should offer enough space for your dog to stretch out, lie down, and turn around comfortably within the crate.
Any crate environment where a dog can’t do these movements is too small and will give them anxiety and cause them to act out. Never put your dog into a crate that’s too small for their size.
Many brands of crates offer features to increase their transportability and function. Plastic crates are airline safe and car safe but don’t collapse down the way wire crates do. Soft-sided crates are also the most light-weight out of all the crate options but are not the best for training new dogs.
For plastic and wire crates there are many options that are reasonable within most budgets, but they do range in price and it’s important to consider how long you will be using the crate, and what makes sense.
There are higher-end crates, such as fashion crates, that blend into the furniture of your home in a way plastic and wire crates do not, yet they are much more expensive.
Let’s break down some of the common crate types and why they might be the right fit for your dog.
Plastic dog crates are one of the most common options on the market today. They are safe to use when traveling with your dog on a plane, and they provide more of an enclosed space for your pet.
Wire dog crates are the other most commonly seen crate option, and the one most owners prefer as a “first crate” for a puppy. Wire crates typically come with an extra wire divider that is adjustable and can be used to make the crate smaller, and then larger, as a puppy grows.
Some models of wire crate actually have two doors which make them more versatile for car rides and can decrease any fear of entering the crate for the first time with two doorways open.
The other crate types, such as soft-sided crates, fashion crates, and heavy-duty crates are typically not used to house train new puppies, so we’re not going to go into detail on them in this article, but be aware they’re out there and do your own research if you’re interested.
Many dog owners can get by with just one crate for their dog, but some owners prefer using a two crate system where one crate is designated as the overnight sleeping crate which is usually near the owner’s bedroom and a second crate that’s in whatever room of the house that is the most active and supervised.
For owners who want to keep their puppy close by at night while they sleep and also around during the day, but don’t want to have to continually move a bulky crate all over their house, using two crates is a reasonable solution.
This method also reinforces the expected behavior of your dog in each crate environment, however, it’s possible to substitute one crate for an exercise pen or just stick to one crate period.
Consider your budget, your training plan, and the personality of your dog and breed as you decide.
In addition to the crate itself, you’ll need a few other commonly used training supplies in order to be as prepared as possible to begin crate training.
Here’s what we recommend:
Having these handy will help transition your puppy from in the crate time to out of the crate time.
Your best friend and key to rewarding your puppy for following your commands.
It’s a great idea to leave some of your pup’s favorite toys in their crate so they can self-entertainment while you’re away. But be sure to only leave them with toys that cannot be destroyed or ingested, such as a rubber Kong.
Having a towel or sheet to cover part of your crate a night can help if you live in an area where a lot of outside light seeps into your home and you want to help your puppy feel more comfortable.
Many crates come with one as their base but if your crate does not look into placing one of these inside.
Crate training a puppy takes patience and time, it’s a period of trial and error as you and your dog are getting to know each other and get acclimated to the new environment. Expect mistakes to happen based on incorrect bathroom timing or a young puppy still getting the hang of listening to their owner.
Don’t expect a crate-trained dog overnight; give it time and continue to consult professional dog trainers throughout.
As described in the previous section, gathering all the necessary supplies before introducing your dog to the crate will streamline your training and keep everything together as you go through the process.
If your crate doesn’t come pre-assembled like most plastic crates and needs to be constructed, ie. a wired crate, do so away from your dog. Have someone else watch them while you build their future doggie home.
Now, it’s finally time to introduce your dog to their crate. It’s recommended that you exercise your dog anytime before you are going to crate them even for short periods of time.
Take them for a nice walk or play a vigorous game of fetch before their crate date.
It’s recommended that you introduce the crate as a fun environment for your dog — you can actually turn entering and leaving the crate into a game!
If your dog is wary about entering the crate for the first time, this is incredibly common, simply toss a treat or two into the back of the crate and encourage your puppy to go get them. Never force your dog into a crate!
Often wired crates have a swinging door which can move back and forth, be careful that it doesn’t bump into your dog or spook them with a metallic “clang!”
If you can tie the door back to another surface or the back of a chair it can eliminate this concern entirely during their first encounter with the crate.
Once your dog is safely inside their doggie den, you can hand-feed them treats and praise them for a job well done. Repeat this several times per training session and when they are comfortably inside, try closing the door and let your dog get used to being inside the crate with you nearby.
When your dog is inside the crate it’s recommended by some trainers to remove their collars as they can get caught in the wire mesh of a wire crate and cause injuries.
Many pup trainers use an approach where they will place a dog’s food and water bowl inside a crate prior to mealtimes and let your dog associate the crate with another positive activity. However, it is generally recommended to not leave a food bowl in your dog’s crate if they are going to be inside for an extended period of time.
Water bowls, however, are okay but should be monitored as some dogs will “swim” in their bowl or knock it over inadvertently. Many opt to fix a water bottle to the inside of the crate so their dogs can drink as needed without taking up any space.
It is common for many house-trained dogs to leave their crates behind and start sleeping in a dog bed instead.
Some owners include a dog bed inside their crate, but be forewarned that with very young puppies they may mistake these softer surfaces as a place to use the toilet. Get to know your dog before you try adding a dog bed inside the crate. This also applies to soft mats and stuffed animal friends as well.
The chances are you will not be able to stay home with your new puppy all day every day, (if only!) and you will have to leave them on their own inside the crate.
Before you get to this stage, begin to train your dog to be in the crate by themselves with smaller blocks of time. You can even start as small as 5 minutes while you leave the room and work your way up to a 30-minute stretch.
If you are going to be gone for a longer stretch of time, consider hiring a dog walker, dog sitter, or enrolling your pup at a doggie daycare facility.
While you are gone it may be enlightening to record your dog on video to learn how they react when you leave.
Do they bark and whine? Did they have an accident? If so, after how long? Did they eventually settle down? This is important information to your dog’s personality and well-being and can help you be a better, more caring owner.
As stated at the beginning of the article, the crate should never be seen as a place of punishment. This will incentivize your dog to avoid their crate and complicate their training.
Likewise, how you treat your dog when crating them during the day and at night can have an effect on the success of your training.
This is also true for how you behave with your dog when you return after your time away. It’s best practice to praise your dog with treats and positive reinforcement when putting them inside their crate but to treat them neutrally when returning home.
It may be tempting to want to run over to your pup and give them a big sloppy kiss after a long day away but in the early phases of puppy training, this will be detrimental to your efforts. This can communicate to your dog that being in the crate is less desirable to being outside of it.
We want our dogs to be perfectly fine existing in the crate from time to time. When you come home, simply release your dog from the crate and let them get back to business!
When it’s time to put your puppy in the crate for the night, have a plan in mind for when you will wake up to check on them and give them a potty break.
For very young puppies their bladders aren’t large enough to hold it through an entire night and if left unchecked you may be waking up to more than just your dog in the crate.
A general rule of thumb to calculate how many hours you can leave your puppy without a bathroom break is their age in months + 1. So a 3 month old dog can go about 4 hours without a break. Of course, every dog is different so be prepared for some accidents.
When you take your dog out at night, don’t turn it into a late-night play session. This will spike their energy levels and teach them a bad behavioral pattern. Allow your dog to do their business and bring them back inside to sleep again.
As your dog grows you can allow them to sleep for longer periods of time without rousing them and eventually move to a regular walk schedule with an evening and early morning walk.
Keeping your dog’s evening crate in your bedroom offers an additional opportunity to bond with your pet. A lot of owners will start off with the crate in the bedroom and overtime move it further away to a permanent spot as their dog grows comfortable in the home.
If you’ve followed the game plan outlined above and have slowly acclimated your dog to using their crate, you should be on your way to a crate-trained dog that feels happy and safe in your care. Remember, as dog owners, we’re in for the long haul with our furry friends and we want to make both our lives and theirs the best they can be.
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