EARLY CRATE TRAINING


Crate training will make your dog’s life easier and safer in the long run. Once your puppy is crate trained, they’ll think of their crate as a safe harbor where they can curl up to rest and be able to handle certain situations more calmly. With that being said, one of the questions we get often is whether you have to crate train, and the answer is no. While we definitely recommend it, many pet parents choose not to and live happy and safe lives with their dogs. The great thing about crate training is that once your dog is crate trained you can choose how often (or not often) to have your dog use their crate. Chances are they'll like resting in their crate on their own, but you don't need to put them in for designated time periods. Some owners are comfortable having their (trained) dog roam their house freely and sleep with them at night. That's totally normal and a personal decision.


Situations where your dog will be in crate:

  1. Potty training: Crate training can go hand in hand with potty training because your puppy is unlikely to use the bathroom in the same space where they are. You can either use the crate to regulate their potty needs, or use an extension with a pee pad if you're training with a pad (useful if you don't have a yard).
  2. Decrease separation anxiety: The physical barrier between you and your dog will begin to teach them independence. They will learn to feel safe on their own. 
  3. Travel: Dogs have to be put in a carrier for all air travel. In fact, if your dog is over 20lbs they won’t be able to fly in the cabin with you. The week before heading to the airport is not the time to get them used to their crate. 
  4. Vet, boarding, and grooming visits: Depending on the length of your visit and the facility, your dog might be placed in a crate at some point while under the care of a provider. This can be a stressful environment for your dog, and not being crate trained can make it worse for them.


Starting the crate training process


Location

The first decision you need to make is where to put the crate. Generally speaking, people will either have it in their living room, kitchen, bedroom, or move it back and forth depending on the time of day. The right location for it will be trial and error to see what your puppy prefers. A common issue pet parents run into is a puppy crying in the middle of the night and moving the crate into the bedroom can solve this. The idea behind it is that your puppy feels safer when they can see you and having them stay in the crate the whole night is too long to be apart from you. During the day, you'll want your puppy with you, so move the crate to where you spend a lot of your time. As your puppy becomes housetrained, you can also begin to use gates to keep your puppy in a room during certain time periods. This will give them more room to roam than the crate while you're there.


Methodology

There are two things to remember: keep them occupied with a treat and start with small time periods


When you’re first starting out, have the crate door open and place treats inside. Direct your puppy to go grab the treats. The first few times place the treat close to the door so it does not require them to go in for it. Do this at least 3 times a day, each time leaving several treats.


As you progress, place the treats further into the crate so they’ll step inside for them. Don’t close the door the first few times they are inside. Run through this exercise a few times a day. As you do this, ensure the crate door is secure and can’t swing open to accidentally bump your puppy. It could frighten them and make the whole experience harder.


Now that they’ve been inside a few times, go ahead and try closing the door. Watch their reaction closely. The first time you close the door, you should only leave your puppy there for a few seconds and make sure you’re still visible. It’s important to start in small increments so you can work up to longer time periods. Give them a bigger treat like a bully stick or stuffed Kong as you begin to work up to 5-10 minute increments. This will keep them distracted while inside and begin to form a positive association to the crate.


If you’ll be crate training at night as well, you should expect quite a bit of whining. It’s totally normal so don’t be discouraged. If you are using a crate for night time, make sure you schedule potty breaks during the night. Don’t wait for your puppy to wake up crying or barking to be let out. They might learn that barking gets them out of the crate so you want to avoid it. The same way you have a schedule during the day to go out every 2-3 hours, the same should happen at night.

Should I feed my dog in their crate?

If your dog is food motivated, having meals in their crate is a good way to build positive associations with the crate. This again should be gradual. Don't force your puppy into the crate, place the food bowl inside and walk away. You'll want to have the bowl just inside the crate at first so your puppy can eat without stepping into the crate. Then, similar to the treats, begin to move the bowl farther back over the next few days.


How should you set up your crate?

You want your dog to be comfortable in their crate so make sure you truly make it a home for them:

  • The crate should be clean at all times. Accidents will happen, and you'll have to make sure you properly clean the crate so there's no residual smell.
  • Line the crate with something soft for your puppy to rest on. You should take special care to make sure you line the crate with something durable, to prevent your puppy from chewing and ingesting the towel or bed. And trust us, you'll want it to be machine washable. Unless you're using a crate extension (explained below), don't line the crate with newspapers or pee pads.
  • Place your puppy's favorite chew toy inside the crate. You can also give them a more sizeable treat when they're inside for longer to keep them occupied. For a puppy that just came home, you can add a blanket or toy that has their mom's scent.
  • There are also puppy toys that have a heart beat. If your puppy is struggling in the crate at night, this might be a great solution. The heart beat reminds them of their mom and littermates (remember: your puppy is not used to sleeping alone!).
  • Your dog doesn't need to have water in the crate, assuming you're only leaving them for 2-3 hours which is around their max point. Water in the crate can mess up your potty training schedule and also make a mess if they tip over the bowl. If you'll be gone for longer than that, consider having someone watch them instead and if not, they should have access to water. Never use water restriction in the crate as a way to punish your dog.

What about crate extensions?

This refers to tying two wired crates together. If you have two crates and place their open doors right next to each other, you can hook them together. This is good for potty training on a pee pad if that's what you're after. One crate will serve as your puppy's place to rest and be lined with something comfortable like a bed or mat, while the second crate serves as the bathroom and is lined with a puppy pad. The theory behind it is similar to crate training. Since it is unlikely that your puppy will go to the bathroom in the same place where they are resting, they will make their way over to the crate with the pee pad and use the bathroom there.