To a human, a crate looks very much like a cage. But to a puppy or dog, a crate can be a safe place, a haven, and a home base. With the right training, a crate-trained dog can be a happier, safer pup, and he’ll save his human counterpart a lot of worry.
Crate training is recommended by vets and breeders, and while it’s not a cure-all or a magic pill to be used whenever an owner is frustrated with a dog (crate training should never be used as punishment), crate training assists with potty training, helps a new puppy or rescue dog feel more secure, and preps a dog for any necessary vet or kennel visits. But many dog owners have questions about how to crate train a puppy, or wonder how long crate training takes. Read on for 10 things every new dog owner should know about crate training.
How To Crate Train A Puppy In 10 Steps:
1. Keep In Mind The Pros
If your new puppy or dog doesn’t instantly catch on to crate training, it can be tempting to abandon the whole thing. Besides, you just want to cuddle and play all day with your pet, so what’s the point of crate training a puppy? Keep these pros in mind when crate training motivation wanes:
- A crate helps a puppy learn potty-training naturally. As long as the crate is properly sized and your dog isn’t left inside for too long, he won’t want to soil his own space and will wait, within reason, to be let outside.
- Crates are a safe-haven. A puppy will likely grow anxious during events that are loud and scary: fireworks, thunderstorms, visits from your in-laws… and he’ll feel safer if he has a refuge where he can relax.
- Crates are homes on-the-go. Dogs can be especially anxious when they’re in unfamiliar environments like at the vet. Crates provide a consistent, familiar space even when you can’t control other factors.
- Crates keep everyone happy. Your dog wants to please you, but if he happens to find your new shoes when he’s left alone for a few hours… well, every dog has a limit. Crates keep your puppy from doing things he shouldn’t until you can trust him alone in the house.
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2. Select Your Crate Wisely
Bigger is not better when it comes to a dog’s crate. She needs to feel cozy and safe without the pressure to patrol a crate the size of a studio apartment. What seems spacious to a human may be overwhelming to a puppy or dog. Keep these tips in mind when shopping for a crate:
- Your puppy should be able to stand, turn around, and lie down with outstretched legs in her crate. Get a crate based on the size your puppy is rather than the size she will be when grown. You may need to buy larger crates as she grows or start with an adjustable crate.
- Start stiff! It’s tempting to get a soft, comfy-looking crate, but opt for a stiff plastic crate (sometimes called an airplane carrier) or a metal/wire crate. This ensures that your dog will stay secure. After your dog loves her crate you can try a softer or more stylish crate.
3. Place Your Crate With Care
Now that you’ve got the crate, it’s time to set it up and get started! Where you first set up the crate doesn’t have to be its final resting place. At first, you want the crate in a space where your pup can still be as close to you as possible.
- Consider the temperature of the area. Is the crate in direct sunlight or near a HVAC vent? Make sure your dog isn’t going to be freezing or overheating because of where you put his crate.
- Choose a quiet spot. The crate should feel calm, so busy hallways, entryways, or under a speaker are not good options.
- Choose a safe spot. The crate should keep your pup out of trouble, but if he can reach poisonous plants or power cords, he could still get hurt even while crated.
- Crate train a puppy at night by placing the kennel inside your bedroom. Not only will your puppy sleep better knowing you’re close by, this proximity will strengthen your bond and make it easier to tell if your pup needs a potty break during the night.
4. Add bedding
If your pup is a chewer, try chew-resistant mats or beds to start. Bedding should be easily washable in case of accidents. Favorite toys are also a good crate addition. Of course, make sure she still has plenty of room to lie down.
5. Use Rewards
Most dogs are food-motivated, so giving treats when they get in their crate will help them be excited about crate time. If your dog is less food motivated, consider a treat that the dog values more highly, like a piece of cheese instead of a dry treat, or a toy that he only gets while in the crate. All rewards should be paired with praise.
Build more positive associations with the crate by feeding your dog near his crate. As he gets comfortable, try placing the food dish just inside the crate and slowly moving it farther back.
6. Dog Meet Crate, Crate Meet Dog
You want your pup to choose to go into the crate so that he doesn’t feel forced or punished; the crate should be a good place. If you already have the food bowl by or in the crate, continue to build positive associations by placing treats and toys in and around the crate to get your pup to explore. When he goes in, give him lots of praise and a treat.
Once your dog is standing comfortably in the crate, or you can gently place or command him into the crate, start shutting the door for very short periods of time. Make sure you close the door calmly and with praise for the pup. Take him out of he cries or becomes upset.
7. Build Crate Duration
A puppy or dog new to crate training may only be able to handle very short amounts of time in the crate at first. Be patient! If you spend the time to properly crate train a puppy, your dog will build a lifelong friendship with her crate. But trying to crate train a puppy fast can be counterproductive. Crate training can take days or weeks depending on your dog’s age and temperament, but it’s important to let your pet adjust at her own pace.
When you are first closing the crate door behind your puppy, make sure she has a favorite toy, food puzzle, or treat to work on so that crate time is fun. Depending on your dog’s age and comfort level, first crate sessions could be 15 seconds to a few minutes. Be careful not to increase the time too rapidly, and stay near while she is in the crate. If she whimpers, try decreasing the crated time or offering a better treat or more interesting food puzzle in the crate. Make sure your pup has already had a bathroom break before a training session—no one has a good time when they really just need to use the bushes.
8. Build Distance
Okay, your puppy is progressing and able to handle longer periods in her crate. Now it’s time to work up to being able to leave the house while your puppy stays happily in his crate.
While your puppy is crated, walk casually across the room and then come back. Repeat until you can walk out of sight for a short time without your puppy feeling stressed. How quickly you progress will depend on your dog’s age and temperament.
Gradually extend the length of time your puppy stays in his crate while you remain out of sight. See if your dog can handle the crate for a few minutes after he’s lost interest in his toy or treats. Start crating the dog when you go outside for a short period or when you have a guest over. If your puppy makes noise, wait until he is calm before letting him out. Once you know your dog is comfortable, try not to respond to whining unless your puppy needs to go or seems overly stressed.
9. Do’s and Don’ts
Are you and your canine sidekick getting the hang of things? Great! Here are a few things to keep in mind as you crate train a puppy:
- Don’t crate your puppy or dog while he is wearing a harness, collar, or dog tag. They can get caught on the crate and cause injury or even death.
- Don’t use the crate as a punishment. It’s essential for both of you that the crate be your dog’s happy, safe place.
- Don’t put your puppy or dog in the crate all day. If a dog is left in the crate all day he could develop anxiety or depression. A crate is not a replacement for proper exercise, interaction, and bathroom breaks.
- Do take your dog’s age into account: Puppies nine to ten weeks old should be let out every 30 to 60 minutes for a potty break.
- Don’t make grand entrances and exits. Calmly put your puppy in his crate five to 20 minutes before you leave, and stay calm when you return until you’re ready to let him out.
- Do make sure playtime and potty time happen before crate time so he’s ready to relax.
10. Problems To Look Out For
As you progress to longer periods of crate training or even crating your puppy at night, you still want to watch out for potential problems:
- Whining: Your puppy or dog may whine to be let out of the crate to eliminate, but if they are whining just to be let out, try to ignore him. Don’t yell at them or bang on the crate (that’s obvious, right?). If the crate training process happened slowly, they should know that whining won’t be rewarded. If the problem becomes severe, you’ll need to start the training process again.
- Separation anxiety: If a puppy or dog gets visibly distressed or behaves in ways that are not normal for him, he may have separation anxiety. This behavior could cause injury if he is desperately trying to escape his crate. You can try counterconditioning and desensitization and may need to consult a professional for help.
Deciding to crate train a puppy or dog should always be about keeping your pet safe and happy, not about having a free babysitter whenever you want. If done correctly, crate training can be a win both for you and your four-legged friend. Happy training!
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