As a dog owner, we all want to have a happy, healthy dog that goes to the bathroom outside and doesn’t destroy our home. It sounds pretty simple, but with most dogs, it can be a challenging, gradual process to get to that point. That said, it’s not rocket science. By following a simple protocol and going into dog crate training with the right mindset, you can experience a high degree of success. Crating can be something that both you and your puppy actually enjoy as you become more comfortable with it.
Sometimes called kennel training, crating dogs is the act of teaching your dog how to use a crate as its den. This is actually leveraging a dog’s instincts as they naturally seek a safe, comfortable place to call their home. When a crate is used properly, it can be a very effective tool for potty training your dog and can speed up housebreaking, making them a happier pet and you a happy owner. Crate training has gained popularity in the last couple decades and for good reason. It has proven to be a highly effective tool when coaching a new puppy or adult dog. If used correctly, a dog crate can be a place your dog can retreat to relax and seek security when he is feeling stressed.
When to use crate training
Not all dogs will respond to a being crated in the same way. Some dogs love their dog crates from the beginning while others refuse to have anything to do with them and will do everything in their power not to enter the crate. Some will find ways break free from their crate, even at the risk of hurting themselves in their attempt to escape. It is so important to encourage your dog to view the dog crate as its den, retreat, or bedroom. This is why it is key to understand the purpose of crate training for both puppies and adult dogs. The more knowledgeable you are about dog crates, their purpose, and how your dog responds to crating, the more likely it is that your dog will love its crate!
You should not use a crate to punish a dog. Likewise, a kennel should not be used as a replacement for caring for your dog. If you are only putting a dog in the crate because you leave for long periods of time, you should find alternatives. Crate training should be used for dogs to establish their own comfortable space within a home and get into a routine of resting, sleeping or being transported. The ultimate goal is to help the dog understand boundaries and establish the right way of coexisting in your home. If this is not the main motivation for training, then you should consider alternatives.
Crate training is a complex discipline. While there are a lot of benefits, there are also some risks and downsides that you should be aware of. This method of housebreaking is just as much, if not more, work for the owner as it is for the pet. As a result, it is something that you should only take on as a dog owner when you are fully ready and educated on what it will take. It’s better not to do it than to do it wrong, or half heartedly.
Advantages/Pros of crate training
- Helps dogs to rely on their natural instincts of having a den or home
- Temporarily keeps dogs away from household food, dangerous substances, or other hazards
- Can help with potty training as dogs don’t like to soil their sleeping area
- Keeps pets from chewing on items around the house or using the house as a bathroom
- Can actually reduce pet separation anxiety if executed properly
- Keeps a pet out of your personal space when necessary (if you have company or need personal time)
- Gets dogs used to a crate or kennel for when you are traveling with (or without) them
- Can help to serve as a “home base” for other training with a single starting point or reference point to begin routines
Disadvantages/Cons of crate training
- Can cause emotional distress or frustration for both the dog and the owner
- Can be dangerous if not set up properly
- Crates can be expensive
- Takes time and effort on the part of the dog owner
- Often leads to crying or barking in the early stages of training
Overall, the pros typically outweigh the cons of kennel training, but you should certainly be ready to mitigate some of these things that could go wrong.
Purchasing the best crate for training:
For training purposes we recommend a wire crate with a removable plastic or metal pan. This is perfect for both puppies and adult dogs since it is very durable and easier to clean. Also, wire crates offer the most ventilation as well as unobstructed view of what’s going on outside the crate. If you are purchasing a crate for a small puppy, then you will want to keep his full grown/adult size in mind. By taking into consideration the projected adult size of your dog’s breed when purchasing your crate, you will not have to purchase a new one to accommodate his adult size.
Most wire dog crates not only have a plastic crate pan that slides out for easy cleaning, but they also come with a wire divider panel for the dog crate. This is important because the more room you give an untrained puppy, the greater the chance that it will go potty in the crate. Dogs never want to soil where they sleep and therefore the crate should only be big enough for the pup to stand up and turn around. The divider panel allows you to make the large crate as small as you need and increase the amount of space your puppy grows. Check out our crate sizing chart to make sure that you find the appropriate size for your pup.
Step-by-Step Crate Training Guide
Prepare Your Dog’s Crate:
Setting your dog crate up for your dog is as important as the crate you choose. The puppy should be as comfortable and as safe as possible while it is relaxing in his new den. Toys, treats, and a soft blanket may be included but all of these items need to be checked for choking hazards. Put the crate in an area that will allow the pet to still see what is going on around them. Set the crate up when the pet is away rather than carrying it in or setting it up right in front of them.
Prepare your Dog for crate introduction
Just like preparing the kennel, you will also want to prepare your dog. Take your dog for a walk, run, or play with it in the yard before den introduction. Make sure that the dog has gone potty and has burned off some energy. Remove any leashes, harnesses or collars before introducing your dog to its new home.
Introduce your dog to the crate
Walk your dog over to the crate and talk quietly, in a positive tone. Place a treat inside the crate and reward your dog each time it takes a step toward the treat. This can be a slow process, so it’s okay if your dog doesn’t immediately enter the crate. You may need to reward your dog with a treat for movements in the direction of the crate to keep inching closer.
Make sure that the door is fully open and won’t hit the dog, then work with the dog until it enters the crate. Once it enters the crate, continue with a positive tone and reward it with a treat or a toy. This introduction may take a few tries, but your dog will eventually warm up to it. Don’t close the crate the first couple of times the dog enters.
Feed your dog in the crate
Once your dog has become comfortable moving in and out of the crate multiple times, the next step is to give your dog food in the crate. You don’t have to switch all feedings to this location, but it’s a good step to crate more positive associations. This should happen many hours or even days after your initial introduction to the kennel.
Gradually move the food dish farther back into the crate as the dog becomes more comfortable after a few feedings. If they seem scared or anxious, back it out. Eventually, the dog will step all the way into the crate to eat, then you can start to latch the door and let your puppy stay there for a few minutes. Keep the door closed until the crated dog starts whining, then let them out.
Increase time and distance
Once your dog has some experience going into the crate and staying there, you can increase from a short time to a longer time that you leave them in. When you start, you’ll want to stay near the crate and release your puppy when it whines, but you can start to step farther and farther away over time. Gradually continue this process until you are able to leave enter and leave the room without causing whining or anxiety to your puppy. If your puppy shows any signs of going backward with their comfort level as a crate dog, feel free to go back a step or decrease time and distance. This won’t be a totally linear process.
Leave your dog overnight and when you leave the house
Eventually, you will get to the point where your pet is happy in the crate, sitting quietly or sleeping for long periods of time. This is when you are ready to start having the dog sleep in its kennel overnight and leaving it when you leave the house. Once again, start with a short time period, then work your way up. You don’t want to test this with 8 hours the first day. It can be helpful to use a baby monitor or recording device while you are away to see how your dog handles being crated. You can use whining, anxiety or other negative behaviors as an indicator that you may need to take a step back and decrease the amount of time that you are leaving them in their bed.
Keep reinforcing habits
Once you are at the point where your dog is staying longer periods of time in the crate and sleeping through the night, your work is not done. Like humans, dogs can slip out of their habits for seemingly no reason at all. Don’t get frustrated if your dog takes a step back. Make sure that you keep reinforcing the positive habits and associations with the kennel and feel free to use some of the early tactics at any time to reestablish your dog’s comfort levels.
Tips for Crate Training
- Don’t put a dog in a crate with a collar or leash. This can be dangerous if it gets caught on the crate.
- Find the right crate size. If it’s too small or large, it can be uncomfortable or dangerous for your puppy, or could lead to going potty in the crate.
- NEVER use the crate as a form of punishment. While it may be tempting, you always want your puppy to have a positive experience and associations with this new den. This will not only interfere with your training, but will likely not lead to the behavior change your are seeking.
- Don’t leave your dog in a crate for too long.
- Use toys, treats and games to keep your dog happy and entertained, both during training and when you leave for periods of time.
- Go slowly and gradually. Not all dogs are ready to sleep in a kennel from day one, so expect this process to take a few weeks and be patient with your puppy.
- Exercise your dog and allow them to go potty before putting them in the crate.
- When leaving the dog home alone, exit and enter calmly and quietly. It should not be a “big deal” when you come and go, so keep it light and don’t get your pup too wound up.
- When first getting your pet to step inside the crate, don’t close the door. Make sure to reinforce positive behavior with treats.
- A certain amount of whining, especially at night is to be expected. Try to rule out issues like physical discomfort or a need for food, then decide if it makes sense to reset your puppy by letting them out, or to let them cry through it.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is crate training necessary?
It can be very positive for many puppies and adult dogs, but you don’t have to do it. The key is promoting an environment where your dog feels safe, secure and is able to rest. If this can be accomplished without the use of a kennel, then crate training is not necessary. However, for most people, it is the best method of housebreaking their dog and integrating it into the sleep, stay and social schedule of a home.
When should you stop crate training?
The short answer is that you don’t have to stop, though the ongoing work will lessen. If the goal is to potty train or housebreak a dog, then a good rule of thumb is 6-8 weeks from the last accident.
Should I leave water in a dog crate at night?
Crated dogs do not need water at night as long as they are properly hydrated during the day. The crate should be a den for the dog to rest and recharge, so it is not necessary to keep water in a kennel.
Where should you place your dog’s crate?
Keep the crate in an area of the house where the dog can see what is going on and is not too isolated. You should also keep the crate somewhere that works with the flow of your home and your lifestyle. Just keep it consistent and avoid moving the crate too often. Most people try to put their dog’s crate in the corner or out of eye sight because it isn’t all that appealing to look at. When crate training, the crate should be placed in the most central/highest traffic area of your home. This will allow you to continue to interact with your pet and help him not to feel isolated or alone.
What should you put in a dog’s crate?
Most dogs are prone to chewing, so the toys and treats you select to leave in his dog crate should be specifically for chewers. Depending on your dog’s personality, the bedding may range from old towels to a soft blanket to a high-end dog crate bed. Please remember to check all items before leaving your furry pal alone in a crate with them. Items that can come off pose a choking hazard are those toys that have eyes or parts that your dog could chew off and swallow or choke on. We have learned a number of times that even those beds that look like they are tough, have no chance of survival when placed in a closed space with an aggressive chewer.
How long can I leave my puppy in a crate?
A good rule of thumb is that the total number of hours in a crate during the day should equal the puppy’s age in months, plus one. For instance, a three month old puppy can stay in a crate for four total hours during the day. Puppies under six months of age should never be left for more than three hours in a row.
|Puppy Age (Months)||Max Consecutive Crate Time||Total Crate Time Per Day|
|2-3 months||30-60 minutes||3 hours|
|3-4 months||1-2 hours||4-5 hours|
|4-5 months||2-3 hours||5-6 hours|
|5-6 months||3 hours||6-7 hours|
|6 months+||3-6 hours (depending on puppy)||7-8 hours|
Alternatives to crate training
If you don’t feel that this method is right for you, there are other methods of housebreaking and keeping a puppy happy. Playpens, fenced yards and dog gates are good alternatives to crates for keeping dogs contained, yet giving them more space to move about the house or yard. If the issue is leaving a dog for a long period of time, you can keep them loose in your house and enlist the services of a dog walker or pet sitter to break up a day into two sessions. Traditional dog training with a trainer is also a useful method of getting a pet accustomed to a home, though it also requires time and can be costly.
Purchasing a crate for your pet and using it as a method of housebreaking can be very beneficial for both the puppy and the owner. Make sure that you are properly educated and have a plan before starting this process. Understand that it will take some time before you can close your puppy in a crate and leave for long periods of time. If you go about it properly, providing your puppy with an environment where they feel safe and comfortable in your home can be the best treat that you ever give your dog.