How to crate train a puppy

Crate training a Golden Retriever dog or puppy - A GR laying in a crate

 © Luckydoor | Dreamstime.com – Golden Retriever Dog In Crate Photo

I know: It can feel mean and sad to leave your new puppy in a crate when you're running to the store. But really, you're doing it for the greater good!

I know that, and eventually, your dog will know that, too. 

Crate training is one of the most beneficial things you can do to help a puppy's early development, and is just as useful for an adult dog too.

In this article you will learn exactly how to crate train a puppy or dog, no matter their age or level of previous training.

You should read the whole guide before starting, to gain a complete understanding of the process, including the tips and troubleshooting at the end so you can find the speediest success.

Why Should You Crate Train Your Dog Or Puppy?

Because forcing a dog into a crate without training them to be happy in one first can lead to them hating or even fearing it, the polar opposite of how we'd like them to feel.

In contrast:

A properly crate trained dog will enjoy time in there happily and stress-free, even relishing the chance to get down to some occupational chew toy time or just to chill out and relax. Dog obedience is key to get this result!

And you should go through crate training because only once you've trained your dog or puppy to be happy and content in a crate can you both enjoy the many benefits using a crate offers. Benefits such as:

  • Dramatically speeding up house training.
  • Keeping your puppy safe when you cannot watch them, while at the same time protecting your possessions from destructive behavior.
  • Giving your dog a cozy and comfortable place to call their own where they can sleep and relax, overnight or whenever they wish.
  • Giving you a tool to use for managing problem behaviors or to use for time outs to calm your puppy when needed.
  • Giving you a safe way to transport your dog both by car and air if the need should arise. So they can enjoy trips away and holidays with you.
  • Preparing your puppy for boarding at the vets, a kennel or at home to recover after medical treatment. Almost every dog needs crating at some time in life, so you're doing them a favor getting them used to it beforehand.

There are many benefits to using a crate when used correctly, but they can also be misused.

And there are also times when you should never crate a dog, regardless of their age or how much or little they can be trusted:

Times And Ways That You Should Not Use A Crate

There are a small number of dogs that suffer true anxiety and panic when placed in a crate. Under no circumstances should these dogs be crated…ever!

The signs you need to look out for are:

  • Any damage to the crate that show signs of attempting to escape.
  • Wetness or damp either on their body or the floor of the crate that's caused by excessive salivation.
  • Urinating or defecating in the crate.
  • Damage to any items outside of the crate your dog's been able to reach while inside.
  • The crate has moved at all while your dog is inside (they must have made some frantic movements for this to happen.)

These symptoms are usually a sign of an issue known as 'separation anxiety,' and a training class might help improve their behavior.

For a discussion of this, it's symptoms and what to do if you suspect your dog suffers from it, please see the following article: Separation anxiety – From The ASPCA

Separation anxiety and fear of the crate aren't the only times you shouldn't crate a dog.

You also shouldn't crate at the following times or for the following reasons:

  • Never for longer than your dog can hold their bladder.
  • Never if your dog has sickness or diarrhea.
  • Never when the weather is extremely hot.
  • Never for any time longer than 5 hours.
  • Not any time your vet prohibits it for medical reasons.
  • Never as a way to punish your dog or for punishment. Use obedience training to correct bad behavior instead.
  • Never just to 'get them out of the way' or because you 'can't be bothered to deal with them.'
  • Not if they've been crated too often, missing out on crucial exercise, companionship and life in general.

Crating your dog for any of the reasons above is either inhumane, dangerous or purely selfish.

For a fuller discussion on the times you shouldn't crate your dog and why, see: Times When You SHOULD NOT Crate Your Dog

But please know that the majority of dogs take happily to a crate and for many the crate becomes their preferred place to sleep and relax in after a short amount of training.

Getting Prepared

Before you can start crate training, you obviously need a crate. But you also need to make it a comfortable and happy place for your dog.

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Here's how to do it:

1. Choosing A Crate

Dog sleeping in crate

There are many different sizes and style of dog crate available, from tiny 20-inch crates all the way up to 48-inch (and bigger!) XXL crates. If you have a puppy, you'll want a puppy crate, since training puppies is a bit different.

There are wire dog crates, plastic, fabric and even high quality wooden crates that look just like pieces of furniture.

Each style and type have their own advantages and disadvantages:

  • Some are more durable and long-lasting than others
  • Some more enclosed and 'den-like' compared to others
  • The difference in looks and price is quite remarkable.

My recommendation is you start with a wire crate, perhaps have a plastic or fabric crate for travel, and a furniture style crate only when your dog is fully house trained and you'd like to fit the crate into the style of your home.

But the most important aspect of the crate you choose is its size:

  • Too small and it would be cruel to expect your dog or puppy to spend time in there
  • Too large and it loses the den like feeling dogs crave, not to mention they can use one end to sleep in while using the other end as a toilet, so it loses its effectiveness.

For detailed instructions on measuring your dog for a crate and selecting the right size and type to suit your needs, please see my article: Choosing The Right Size And Type Of Dog Crate

2. Making The Crate Comfortable And Safe

Dog In Soft Crate

After choosing the right crate, you then have to make it a comfortable, safe and pleasant place for your puppy or dog to love spending time.

For a detailed guide on where to place your crate and what you should put in it, you can read my article on: How to make a crate comfortable and safe for your dog.

In summary though, you should:

  • Put the crate in a room where you spend lots of time so your dog doesn't feel rejected and isolated.
  • Make sure the crate is out of any direct sunlight, away from heat sources like fireplaces or radiators, and away from any possible cold drafts.
  • Place soft, comfortable bedding inside. 'VetBed' for a puppy, or any purpose-made dog bed for adult dogs over the chewing stage.
  • Place 2 or more chew toys inside to keep them occupied and develop good chew toy habits.
  • If you have a wire crate, cover it either with a purpose bought crate cover or an old blanket or towel. (If using a blanket or towel, make sure your dog doesn't pull it inside and chew on it!)

Following the above 5 tips ensures the crate is a nice comfortable place for your dog.

But there's one more tip for safety that you really have to follow:

Your dog or puppy MUST have their leash and collar removed before going in the crate.

These pose a risk of choking if they happen to snag on anything, so no collars or leashes allowed. Your dog or puppy must be completely naked when crated.

And now we've been over the basics and you've got yourself prepared, it's time to start the crate training process.

How Long Will Crate Training A Puppy Or Adult Dog Take?

A happy Golden Retriever seen smiling through a crate door

© Depositphotos.com / monkeybusiness

It is impossible to say and will vary from puppy to puppy and dog to dog.

A quick Google search will turn up articles with titles like 'crate training in a weekend' and similar, but they all use the same techniques and putting a time frame on it is just wishful thinking.

If you have a dog that: 

  • Some puppies will take regular naps in the crate before you even start crate training.
  •  They might go on to show little interest or care about the door being closed.
  • They might be super confident and happy right away with a little alone time. 

You might be able to crate train such a dog in just a few short days.

But that isn't always the case!

Dogs like this can take many weeks to crate train:

  • Some puppies may show fear of the crate and not want to go anywhere near it.
  • Once carefully trained to go in, they might feel panic and fear when you close the door.
  • They might have mild separation anxiety and won't like being left alone. 

You have to go at your own dogs pace because if you rush them you can instill dislike or even fear of the crate in their minds, and then it will take far longer than it ever should have.

If you have a timid puppy, or an adopted dog who's had bad experiences and fears the crate, it could take many weeks. But many (or most) dogs will take to it quicker, and most puppies certainly will as they have no preconceived ideas, habits or emotions to overcome.

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When going through the steps above, if your dog excels at any stage you can quickly move to the next step. If they do not, if they show any fear or uncertainty, spend more time at a particular step until they are comfortable before moving on.

Your dog will show you when they are ready to progress and you should go at their speed, however fast or slow that may be.

How Long Can You Crate Your Dog Or Puppy?

It's universally agreed that during the day, no dog should ever be crated for more than 4 to 5 hours.

Why is that?

They need to be able to:

  • move around
  • stretch their legs
  • exercise their muscles
  • enjoy some mental stimulation

If they are regularly crated longer than this, behavioral problems will be the result, as well as the fact they have little in the way of a fulfilling life.

It's also recommended that if you have to crate a dog for more than 2 hours they should have a crate mounted water bowl or bottle. So it's good advice to buy one in preparation.

Puppies cannot be crated for even 4 or 5 hours though because they don't have the physical maturity to hold their bladders for this length of time.

It's said that puppies can hold their bladder for their age in months plus one hour. In my experience this is a bit optimistic, all dogs are different and when a puppy is very young, this is certainly too long.

So the guidelines are:

  • 30-60 minutes at 9-10 Weeks old
  • 1-3 hours at 11-14 Weeks old
  • 3-4 hours at 15-16 Weeks old
  • 4 hours+ at 17 Weeks old and older

At night…

Just like in humans, a dog's body slows down and they have far less need to go to toilet, so crating a puppy overnight is fine. This is with the exception of puppies from 8 to 12 weeks old who will need letting out once during the night. But after 12 weeks, they can last the whole night through.

If you work full-time…

it's essential that you exercise them well before you put them in the crate, come home at lunch time or have somebody come to let them out for exercise half way through the day, and again take them for a nice long walk in the evening.

Crating your dog when you work full-time means two lots of 4 or more hours crated and this is a long time, so quality time, exercise and stimulation before and after crating is essential. And minimize any crating at all other times when you're not working (evenings and weekends.)

Tips For Better Crate Training

What follows are a few useful tips to keep in mind when crate training your puppy or dog. They will make the process easier and faster, while making sure your dog is comfortable and happy throughout the process:

  • Always make sure you take your puppy or dog to their bathroom spot before you crate them for any length time. They will be uncomfortable and noisily complain with a full bladder…but rightfully so! Also take them the moment you let them out as they will usually be ready to go.
  • Make sure the crate door is always open and your dog always has access to it so they can use it as and when they please. Most dogs will use it as a place to rest and this is a good thing.
  • Every now and then, place treats inside the crate when your dog isn't looking so it continues to surprise them with the good things in life and is thought of positively in their minds.
  • Always leave chew toys in the crate for your dog so there is something for them to do while crated. This will minimize boredom and teaches good habits of chewing on the right things.
  • Continue to feed them their meals in the crate. Also, reserve special treats like bones and stuffed Kong toys for the crate only and never outside of it, so they really look forward to spending time there.
  • Exercise your dog or puppy well before crating them for any length of time. A tired dog is one who is happy to relax and chill out. If they're full of energy being crated may drive them mad.
  • If you find your puppy nodding off and completely unable to stay awake (this happens a lot!) it's a good thing to scoop them up and carry them to the crate to sleep. This will speed up their acceptance of the crate considerably if they snooze and find themselves waking up in there often.

Confine Your Puppy When Young So They Can Enjoy More Freedom Later

A young puppy is like a child. They don't know right from wrong or what's safe and what isn't.  Crate training puppies is a great period of time to start.

And a puppy can pick up some very bad habits if left alone unsupervised, habits that can be very hard to break later in life. Your training methods can prevent this.

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There are so many adult dogs in the world with bad habits that spend most of their lives confined, or shut out in the yard when they cannot be watched because these dogs with little training cannot be trusted not to get into trouble when alone.

This isn't the dogs fault, it is a fault of their owners.

By crating your puppy when you cannot watch them, you keep them protected, your house protected, and avoid them developing habits that are hard to deal with later in life.

You have them out of the crate, experiencing life with you, guiding them and intervening when they do wrong so they learn what's right, then crate them to avoid bad behavior when you're unable to intervene.

Eventually, your dog learns the rules.

They grow up to be trusted as they've been shown what to do most of the time, and crated at others to keep them out of trouble and prevent bad behaviors forming.

And when they've proven they know the rules, when they've shown for many weeks they never try to toilet in your home, and they've shown for many weeks they will not dig, chew or scratch at your household belongings and only chew their toys, they can be granted more freedom.

Bit by bit you can open up your home to them when they're alone, until eventually they can have free run of your home while everyone is gone. And you can be confident you can trust them.

This time will come anywhere between 1 and 2 years old, but the time will come. And it will come for a far higher percentage of crate trained dogs than for those that never were.

You crate your puppy sometimes when young, so they can enjoy the rewards of trust and freedom when they're older. This makes it all worth it, wouldn't you agree?

How Do You Know When It's Time To Grant More Freedom?

It depends from dog to dog, their individual personalities and how fast they learn the rules you decide for them. Here's how you test the waters and slowly increase their freedom.

  • Once they haven't tried to either toilet or chew anything in your home in your presence for at least a full 4 weeks, you can try to grant them more freedom.
  • Start by fully 'dog-proofing' the room where you normally crate them (put away out of reach as many things as you can) and leave plenty of their toys out for them to keep busy with.
  • Lock the door to this room, or use a pet barrier (baby gate) to prevent them accessing other rooms in your home. Leave their crate in the room, just leave the door open.
  • Then simply leave them out of the crate, confined to this single room and leave the house. Only go for a short while at first, a 10 minute trip to the shop or so, and see what greets you upon your return.
  • If you find they've been to toilet, or destroyed anything, it was too soon. Carry on teaching them right from wrong and crating them when you cannot watch them. Try again after the next 4 weeks without an incident in your presence.

If you come back to find nothing has happened and your dog has behaved as you'd like, you try again, and again.

Lengthen the time they are alone slowly and you will find out if they can be trusted. 10 minutes, then half an hour, then an hour.

All the way to 4 or 5 hours (the maximum time you can leave them alone before they need to be let out for a toilet break.)

Once they have proved they can be trusted for a couple of weeks or more in this single room, try letting them into a second room while you're gone. If they make a mistake, back to the one room it is.

If they do not, open up another room and eventually every room you're willing to let them be free in.

References And Further Information

In my attempt to create the most thorough guide possible, I took some ideas from the following guides and added them to my own when writing this article:

  • The Ultimate Guide To Crate Training – From LabradorTrainingHQ. A very thorough guide of 8 articles going into great depth on the subject.
  • Why Crate Train Your Dog? – From Pets.WebMD. Another lengthy and detailed guide with some solid advice, most of which mirrors the article above.
  • Crate Training – From the Humane Society Of The US. There's little in the article that you won't find in the above two articles (it's a bit brief) but the video at the top of the page is well worth a watch.

More…

2015-02-10

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