Crate training is one of the most important methods to implement while training a puppy. It definitely takes a lot of time and patience at first, but it is worth it. Crate training not only gives you peace of mind that your pup is safe and not getting into trouble, but it also helps with house training!
Many think that crate training is too much like imprisoning your dog. This is a very common misconception- much like their wolf ancestors, dogs are den animals. Because of this, dogs need their own space to feel comfortable and safe. In the wild, dogs don’t soil the dens where they sleep in order to keep the area clean. Most dogs will not soil their crate (their “den”) by nature as long as they are getting frequent outside potty breaks throughout the day. Crate training also helps reduce the likelihood of developing separation anxiety by teaching the dog that it’s okay to be alone, and helps teach dog show to have self control.
This doesn’t mean that your puppy will necessarily like the crate at first. They will most likely bark and cry, but whatever you do, do not give in and let the puppy out! I know how frustrating and heartbreaking this process can be, but one of the key elements to successful crate training is to never let the puppy out of the crate when they are crying, barking, whining, etc. If you let your puppy out while they are making noise, they will learn that if they want to get out, all they have to do is cry or bark. By letting them out while they are making noise, you reinforce that behavior. Dogs can be extraordinarily persistent! Wait for your dog to quiet down, then let them out.
There are many different options out there when it comes to crates, so you have to choose the one that works best for you and your dog.
Type: The three common types of dog crates are: metal/wire, plastic, and soft-sided. There are pros and cons to each type of crate, and which one you get depends on your individual dog. A metal/wire crate is usually a good one to start with. This type of crate gives you more options and flexibility than plastic and soft-sided as you can choose to put a blanket over the top to make it like a den or leave it open. They also allow more airflow (if you leave a blanket off) which is great for dogs that overheat easily.
Size: There is a perfect size crate out there for every size dog! If you don’t want to buy a new crate as your puppy grows, it might be best to get one that will fit your dog when they are fully grown. When we first get our puppy, we tend to want to give them the whole crate to have space to move around in, but the smaller the space, the less likely you are to have an accident occur. The crate should be just big enough for your pup to sit, lay down, stand, and turn around in comfortably. Many wire crates come with a divider that you can move as your pup grows.
The crate is one of the most helpful and often underutilized tools when training a puppy. A young puppy’s day should be centered around being in the crate, not having free roam of the house. When your puppy’s day revolves around being free, you will have more accidents inside, your pup will get into things they shouldn’t, and you will constantly be worrying about where your puppy is. Your puppy should earn their freedom by going to the bathroom outside. Once they have gone to the bathroom, you know you have about 20-30 minutes where your puppy can be free without worrying about having an accident and they can be out of the crate.
Another reason you want your puppy’s day to revolve around the crate is you don’t want your pup to be overstimulated. There are so many smells and things for your pup to get into around the house (no matter how well you puppy proof, they will find something!) and it can be very overwhelming for puppies. When a dog gets overstimulated, they start to lose self control and can become hyperactive. When this happens, we start to see more unwanted behaviors like nipping and mouthing, as well as being destructive. My rule of thumb is: if you can’t keep your eyes on your pup 100% of the time they are out, they should be in the crate. How long your pup can stay in the crate depends on how old they are. Puppies can hold their bladder for however many months they are plus one. So, if your dog is 3 months old, they can hold it for 4 hours. The only exception to this is overnight. Most dogs can hold it all night while they sleep. There are some dogs that will wake up in the middle of the night crying because they have to pee. Wait for them to stop crying, then pick them up out of the crate and bring them outside.
I would say 4 hours at a time is the max for dogs under the age of 6 months to be in the crate (with the exception being overnight crating). Now, as your dog gets older, they earn more and more freedom until they can have free roam. Some dogs will start misbehaving when given more freedom. This just means they aren’t ready for that much freedom and need to go back on a more structured schedule in the crate. When you give your dog freedom depends on the dog, so it will be a little bit of trial and error at first when figuring out how much structure your dog needs.
1) Never use the crate as punishment. If you do, your puppy will begin to associate the crate with negativity and won’t want to be in there or even go in the crate.
2) Feed your dog her meals in the crate (door closed). Another great way to help the crate become a positive place is by feeding your puppy all of their meals in the crate. This also allows your pup time to settle and digest their food after they’ve eaten.
3) Always give her some toys and things to chew on while she is in the crate. Imagine being stuck in a room with nothing to do. It would get quite boring, wouldn’t it? We want to make sure our pup always has something to play with while in the crate. Switch up the toys every once in a while so they don’t get bored of them.
4) Give her a high value treat like a frozen stuffed Kong or a bully stick in the crate. Give your pup something they don’t normally get outside of the crate and it will get them really excited to be in the crate!
5) Randomly place treats in the crate without your dog looking so when she finds them it’s a pleasant surprise.
6) Place an article of clothing that you’ve worn in the crate so it smells like you.
7) Don’t leave your dog in the crate too long. A dog who lacks social interaction and exercise can easily become depressed or anxious.
8) Do not crate your dog only when you leave. This will create an association between the crate and being left alone. Use a crate schedule to get your dog used to being in the crate when you’re home and when you leave.
9) Do not make a big deal out of your dog exiting the crate. If you make it a big deal they will begin to think “Oh, it’s a good thing I got out of there!” As soon as your dog exits the crate, get them to sit and then you can pet/praise them.
1) Start by throwing a treat into your dog’s crate. Click or say “yes” when they going to the crate. Each time you do this, throw the treat further and further into the back of the crate so the dog has to go further inside.
2) Continue throwing treats into the crate, but wait to click or say “yes” until after the dog has eaten the treat, but is still inside the crate. Continuously treat your pup for however long they stay inside the crate.
3) Hold your dog on a leash and throw a treat into the crate. Before you let your doggo enter, say, “Go Crate!” or whichever cue you would like to use. (It’s best to keep the cue short so “Crate” or “Go Crate” works really well!) Click or say “yes” when they go into the crate. Then Click or say “yes” for your dog staying inside the crate.
4) Once your dog starts getting the hang of the cue “Go Crate!” say the cue without throwing a treat first. Give your dog a treat once they are in the crate.
5) Say the cue without throwing a treat first, but this time, close the door when goes into the crate. Give them a treat once you close the door and ask them to sit.
6) Teach your dog a release word, like “okay” or “free” when you let your dog out, so they know they are good to come out. This helps with self control so your dog doesn’t come charging out in excitement.
- Wake up and immediately take puppy outside for potty → 15 minutes
- Stay outside and play with your puppy or let explore → 15-20 minutes
- Feeding time (food + water) + digestion time* → 30 minutes* (inside crate or supervised all the time)
- Take puppy outside for potty → 15 minutes
- Stay outside or come inside and play with puppy → 10-20 minutes
- Back inside crate for rest and/or chew time → 1-2 hours
(provide stuffed Kong and chew toys)
*Don’t give your puppy food or water 2 hours before bed
*When a puppy is out of their crate, they should go outside every 20-30 minutes