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