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How to Crate Train a Puppy

When you have a new puppy, finding ways to help them adjust to their new environment can be tricky. One of the most useful training tools you can adopt to make the process more effective is the crate training method. Crate training for a dog involves using crates to offer your puppy a safe and familiar location where they can relax and practice calm behaviour. Many vets, trainers and breeders recommend this training technique for young puppies, as the earlier they begin, the easier it will be for them to learn (although you can still crate train a dog at any age). Knowing how to crate train a puppy has many benefits, including assisting in toilet training. To help you decide whether crate training is right for you, here is some information about the technique and the benefits it can offer.  

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Understanding your dog: Insights from Kimberley Nicolle, Qualified Force-Free Dog Trainer

Useful information about crate training and the benefits it can offer.

Choosing a Dog Crate

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The first step when starting to crate train your puppy is choosing a suitable crate size. When thinking about how to pick a dog crate size and design, it is important to select one that is durable, comfortable and flexible to allow your pet room to grow and develop; consider the needs of your dog both now and as they grow. For instance, a larger dog will obviously need a roomier crate, but be careful not to buy a crate that will always prove too big in size for your puppy, as dogs like to retreat to smaller, enclosed spaces to feel secure. As a guide, your dog should be able to stand up, turn around and lay stretched out on their side when in their crate.

Puppy sleeping in a crate. Puppy sleeping in crate.

Crate Training Process

Like any training experience, it is important that the crate training methods you use offer a positive experience for your puppy. Be sure to first introduce your crate training schedule when they are calm. They will eventually view their crate as a place of rest, so providing a relaxed, positive environment is essential. The crate is an excellent management tool, especially for preventing undesirable behaviour when you cannot be actively managing and supervising your puppy. Many crate-trained dogs and puppies will choose to go and rest in their crate. Make sure to never shut your puppy in the crate if they are not comfortable with it, as the key is to slowly build up to them being happy to remain in a closed crate.   

You can begin your crate training schedule by devising a plan in advance and taking it one step at a time, working at your puppy’s pace. Some puppies need to take things a little slower than others. The goal is to create a strong positive association with the crate, making it crucial that the process is not rushed.

How to Introduce a Puppy to the Crate

  • Step 1:

    Reward your puppy for showing any interest in the crate by marking the behaviour with ‘yes’ followed immediately by giving them a treat. The interest in the crate can include looking at the crate, sniffing, etc.

  • Step 2: 

    Place a treat inside the crate but right at the entrance. Allow your puppy to approach, place their face into the crate and eat the treat. Remember to mark the desirable behaviour with ‘yes’ so that your puppy knows exactly when they have done what you want them to do. 

  • Step 3: 

    Place a treat inside the crate but at the back. Allow your puppy to enter the crate before saying ‘yes’ and then let them eat the treat, then exit the crate. 

  • Step 4: 

    Repeat step 3, but instead of waiting for your puppy to exit the crate, mark and reward them (say ‘yes’ and feed a treat) several times while they are still in the crate.

  • Step 5: 

    Add a verbal cue. Toss a treat to the back of the crate. As soon as your puppy moves into the crate, say ‘go crate’. Mark and reward your puppy for being in the crate. 

  • Step 6:  

    Once step 5 is happening reliably and your puppy is readily moving into the crate, begin to slowly fade out the use of the tossed treat and use the verbal cue only. Remember to still mark and reward your puppy for being in the crate by saying ‘yes’ and feeding a treat. 

  • Step 7:  

    Cue your puppy to go into the crate. Briefly close the crate door behind them, mark and reward your puppy, then immediately open the door again allowing them to leave the crate if they wish. 

  • Step 8:   

    Repeat step 7 but begin to wait longer and longer to open the crate door (as long as your puppy is calm and comfortable). 

  • Step 9:  

    Gradually extend the amount of time your puppy is in the crate with the door shut. Provide them with long lasting enrichment to encourage relaxation and the release of endorphins.  

Feeding Puppy in the Crate

Feeding your dog in the crate can be a great way to further reinforce that the crate is a positive place to be. With the help of a dog chewy or some dog treats, you can ensure that your puppy feels loved and cared for every step of the crate training experience. You can even feed your puppy their meals in the crate.

Crating Your Puppy at Night

Crate training a puppy at night can begin on the first night your new puppy spends at home. Using your puppy crate as a bed can help structure the schedule you will follow to help your new dog adjust to spending more time in the crate. For example, if you are looking to build up to leaving your dog in the crate while at work, overnight training will make a big difference in helping your pup get used to the space within the crate. When leaving your puppy in the crate for longer periods, be sure not to have collars or other equipment on them while in the crate to reduce potential hazards like strangulation.  

Longer Crating Periods

When thinking about how long a dog can stay in a crate, you will need to consider the different needs of your pet. A general rule is to ensure that your dog is in their crate no longer than eight hours overnight, and roughly around four hours during the day. When training a puppy, they will need to be let out of the crate much more regularly for toileting opportunities. This will help them to maintain a positive relationship with their crate. When used correctly and in line with what your pup needs, a crate can be a useful tool for keeping your dog safe at home.

Benefits of Crate Training

There are many positive benefits to having a dog who is crate trained. Some advantages of crate training include helping the dog to learn to self-soothe or deal with stressful situations by providing an enclosed space that they can use for shelter when they need to rest and relax. One of the biggest crate benefits is the opportunity for smoother, calmer travel, particularly in emergencies. If you need to transport your dog or evacuate a location quickly, then the use of a crate will make these situations considerably easier for both you and your puppy. 

Cons of Crate Training

The main disadvantage of crate training is that it can take time, with some puppies able to progress faster than others. Dog whining is a natural behaviour for a puppy to indicate that they have a need or are distressed. If your puppy is whining in the crate, you may be progressing through the crate training steps too quickly and risk negative associations forming. If you have concerns that your puppy or dog may have separation anxiety, the first step should be to speak to a veterinarian to discuss options to manage this condition.