Puppies bring a whole new element of surprises and responsibilities to your daily life. Crate training a puppy can help create a safe quiet den that provides security and comfort, especially while your puppy is learning to navigate acceptable behaviors and people in your home. Your dog’s crate can also reduce anxiety and be a useful tool for transporting your dog and stays away from home. Successful crate training helps dogs enjoy having a space of their own…with less destruction of the spaces you own!
Many dog owners find establishing a crate routine with young dogs helps manage behavior and set expectations for times you and your dog are apart. However, crate training a puppy doesn’t happen overnight. Owners can expect anywhere from a few weeks to a few months of learning and reinforcement to crate train a puppy. Don’t force a young dog into a crate or use crate time as a punishment. Crate training a puppy should focus on positive, stress-free reinforcements.
After hours of research and personal experience, here are some important tips and strategies for successfully crate training a puppy.
#1 Choosing a crate
There are two common types of crates for dogs, either wire or plastic. One of the biggest things to keep in mind is to choose a crate that is the right size for your dog to feel safe and enclosed, but still be able to stand up, turn around, and stretch.
Pro Tip: Since your puppy may still be growing while you work on crate training, ask your local pet store about what crates are best for the size your pup will become. Some crates are adjustable to different sizes.
#2 Positive crate introductions
Try to keep crate training a puppy as stress-free as possible. Start by keeping the door to the crate open and leaving a treat or two in the back of the crate. If your pup is reluctant to explore the back of the crate, treats can be placed near the front of the crate and gradually move them toward the back as your furry friend becomes more comfortable. A favorite toy might also work. Young dogs are curious and will be even more interested to discover a treasure in a new hiding spot! Repeating this exercise will allow your puppy to explore and enter the crate willingly without any force from you.
Pro tip: If your puppy is still hesitant to approach the crate, consider the location of the crate. Would your puppy like to be closer to you or in a bedroom? Does your puppy need to be away from noise or light? See what location works best for your new friend.
#3 Use command keywords
Praise and using simple command keywords like ‘crate’ or ‘bed’ will also help your puppy build a positive association with their new environment. The first step will be to place a toy or treat inside the crate. Next, say your chosen command keyword as your pup enters the crate for the toy or treat. Wait for your pup to enter their crate before rewarding them with an additional treat and verbal praise.
Pro tip: Keep command words simple and repetitive. Humans are used to hearing full sentences, but one or two words can be best for training.
#4 Lengthening the time
At the beginning of crate training, your puppy may think it’s a game. You say a command, they go inside to get a treat, and they go back outside the crate to play and explore. Now that they are comfortable entering the crate on their own, try to lengthen the time they stay inside. Many dog owners find a favorite chew toy or blanket can keep them distracted and comfortable for longer stretches of time.
As you likely already understand, puppies need plenty of exercise and potty breaks throughout the day, so you may want to try a longer time in the crate when your puppy is tired and not focused on an activity. According to the Humane Society, puppies under 6 months old shouldn’t stay in a crate for more than 3-4 hours at a time.
Pro tip: Start crate training a puppy with smaller durations of time and slowly lengthen the amount of time.
#5 Leaving the home
Once your puppy is agreeable to 30-45 minutes of crate time, prepare to leave the house for a short amount of time. When you are almost ready to leave, and without extra emotion, use the command keyword to signal to your puppy that it’s time to go to their crate. Start small with a short walk or quick errand. When you return, evaluate their behavior for signs of anxiety or stress and let your pup out of the crate to continue with your day.
Pro Tip: Keeping things gradual and casual will help your young dog understand that crate time is just a part of the day and you will come back to them.
#6 Crating at night
Using the same familiar crate time command keyword follow your crate routine at night. While they are young, it can be best to keep the crate in or near your bedroom so you can hear them cry or bark when your puppy needs a potty break. Once they can make it through the night, you may transition the crate to another area of the home.
Pro Tip: When you take your puppy outside for a bathroom break at night, keep it short and sweet. Night crate training your puppy will be more successful if your dog doesn’t expect playtime breaks!
We hope these steps and tips provide you with a crate training success story for your puppy. If you are working to teach your dog additional training at home, we’ve put together an guide that can help you train at home each step of the way.
Not all dogs find crates to be a comfortable environment. Some canines may feel trapped or anxious. If your dog appears stressed while crate training, reach out to your vet or animal behavioral specialist for ideas and support that might be specific to your dog.