By Heather Venkat, DVM, MPH, DACVPM
Today is your day to start crate training!
It’ll make travel easier, it’ll prevent destructive puppy behavior while you are away, and it will put your puppy at ease.
Crate training will also serve as your puppy’s home away from home (when traveling) and is great for housetraining too.
And no, by using a crate, you are not imprisoning your puppy.
Dogs and puppies are natural den animals.
Meaning they love having a safe space to retreat to when their environment is loud or overwhelming.
By training your puppy to use a crate, you are simply building on his/her natural canine instincts.
Let’s look at a tried-and-true method for crate training your very own puppy.
How to Crate Train Your Puppy
Follow these steps to teach your puppy how to best use his/her crate.
1. Choose a crate.
There are wire crates, plastic crates (also known as “flight crates”), and collapsible crates.
Plastic crates will offer more privacy for your puppy.
Wire crates are more open.
Some crates are easier to clean.
Others are harder for your pup to escape from.
Take your pick on which crate you think your puppy will like best.
The crate doesn’t need to be fancy, though you’ll want to make sure it is large enough for your new puppy.
It’s true dogs do enjoy small, confined spaces.
However, it is important their crate is large enough to stand up and turn around in.
So look for a crate that will be large enough for your puppy’s adult size.
Once your pup is an adult, will she be able to still stand and turn around inside her crate?
While your puppy is still small, simply add dividers inside the crate so your puppy feels snug and secure.
As your puppy grows, go ahead and remove the dividers until your growing pup is eventually using her whole crate.
Another option for finding the perfect crate size for your growing puppy is to rent a crate.
Then as your puppy grows, you can trade-in your crate for larger options.
2. Puppy meets crate!
Place your new crate in a common family space (your family room could be perfect).
Then, after your puppy has played and is feeling calm, kneel by the crate and begin speaking in a happy tone.
Open the crate door and secure it so it doesn’t hit and scare your puppy.
Then place treats near the crate to encourage your puppy to come near her crate.
Once your puppy is comfortable near the crate, place new treats just inside the crate door.
Again speak in a happy tone to encourage your puppy closer.
After your pup is comfortable just inside the crate, place new treats further inside her crate.
Keep doing this until your puppy is completely inside the crate.
If your puppy is not motivated by treats, try using a favorite toy instead.
Or you might even place a blanket inside that still has the mother dog’s scent.
Whatever the case, never coerce your puppy inside her crate.
Instead, stay positive and remain calm as you continue encouraging your puppy with treats, toys, and lots of puppy praise.
3. Mealtime in the crate.
Following step two, your puppy should be comfortable entering her crate.
The next hurdle is getting her to stay inside her crate for longer periods of time.
This is where mealtimes come in.
Again, begin feeding your puppy near the crate so she forms a pleasant association with her new crate.
Over the course of several meals, slowly move her dish inside and further back in her crate.
Once you are placing the food dish at the back of the crate, begin closing the door while your puppy enjoys her meal.
For your pup’s first several meals like this, open the door promptly after she is finished eating.
Then begin waiting one minute after your puppy is finished eating, then two minutes, and so on until your puppy is content to stay in her crate up to ten minutes following mealtime.
4. Leave the room.
At this point, your puppy is comfortable spending short intervals inside her crate following each meal.
Next, it’s time to teach your puppy to enjoy her crate while you are away.
This way you can provide a safe and cozy place for your puppy to stay out of trouble while you are away.
To do this, again place a treat inside the crate, then point inside and say “crate”.
After your puppy enters, give lots of verbal praise, reward with a treat, and close the crate door.
Sit near the crate for the first ten minutes, then leave the room for five minutes before returning for the last ten minutes.
During this time, if your puppy begins showing signs of anxiety, simply shorten her time in the crate.
You may need to start with five minutes near the crate, then two minutes out of the room, then five minutes again near the crate.
Try different time intervals until you reach a place where your puppy is relaxed and happy the entire time.
Then slowly increase crate time and decrease your time spent near the crate.
Lastly, when you return to your puppy to let her out after you’ve been gone, try to stay silent.
Making a big deal of your arrival and therefore of the puppy being released from the crate could make her more anxious when you leave.
5. Plan for the perfect amount of crate time.
As your puppy grows, she will be able to enjoy longer stints inside her crate.
Nicholas from Preventive Vet offers a timeline on the max amount of time a puppy should spend inside their crate at one time.
9-10 weeks: 30-60 minutes
11-14 weeks: 1-3 hours
15-16 weeks: 4-5 hours
17+ weeks: 4-6 hours
Plan For Crate Training Success
Good crate training doesn’t just happen.
Here are specific things you can start doing today to guarantee a better crate training experience.
First, make the crate comfortable.
Perhaps it’s adding a doggy bed, including a favorite blanket, or laying down a doggy towel.
Or maybe it’s removing everything but the crate mat (especially if she is a heavy chewer).
Often puppies actually enjoy hard surfaces so watch your pup carefully to see if she prefers a plush bed or a crate mat only.
Second, let your puppy go naked.
Before entering the crate, remove all tags and leashes from your puppy.
This way she won’t choke or get hurt from her collar getting caught on something inside the crate.
Prepare for crate time.
Before you encourage your puppy inside her crate, give her lots of playtime and healthy exercise.
Then take a quick potty break so her bladder is empty.
Avoid leaving a water dish inside the crate overnight as it could cause your puppy to have an accident before morning.
Consider playing calming music or turning on the radio so your puppy realizes it’s time to relax.
Crate training doesn’t happen overnight.
In fact, it can take up to six months.
If this happens to you, know that it is totally normal.
Simply stay positive and continue moving forward in small steps.
(Bonus tip: If your puppy becomes an escape artist and continues breaking out of her crate, contact a professional animal behaviorist or veterinarian for advice.)
Always, stay calm.
Regardless of how your puppy is behaving, remain calm and be consistent.
Don’t reward whining.
In fact, if your pup starts whining, barking, lunging, or scratching at the crate, ignore her until she stops.
Otherwise, she may resort to whining or scratching as her new favorite act.
(Another bonus tip! Crate covers are one way to keep a pup calm inside her crate at bedtime.
By simply adding a crate cover, you are able to remove all visual stimuli while letting your little pup know it’s time for lights out.)
What NOT to do when Crate Training
Never use the crate as punishment.
Your puppy’s crate should represent a place of safety and comfort for your puppy.
Leave the crate door open throughout the day so your little pup can retreat there anytime she likes.
Never leave your puppy inside her crate for super long periods of time.
If your puppy is forced to remain in her crate for too long, she will likely become depressed and anxious.
Plus, she’ll suffer from poor exercise.
Not to mention, it will harm her growth and joints long-term if she’s always kept inside the crate.
If you are required to be away from home for long intervals, consider leaving your pup at a puppy daycare or hiring a dog walker to give your puppy a break and get in her much-needed exercise.
That’s a Wrap!
Go forth and ace crate training your puppy!
If you have questions along the way, don’t hesitate to drop them below.
We are here to see you be successful in your puppy parenting journey.
If you are still looking for your perfect little puppy, come on over and meet these newest puppies for sale.
Otherwise, don’t miss our next post about helping your puppy safely explore and learn the ropes of his/her new home.
See you there!
Dr. Heather Venkat has been a veterinarian since 2013, working in companion animal medicine with dogs and cats, as well as veterinary public health. Her passion is in prevention, One Health, and strengthening the human-animal bond. A bonafide animal-lover, she competes in dog sports and currently shares her home with a border collie mix named Luna, three cats, and two leopard geckos.