So you made the decision to crate train. Good for you. Crate training takes advantage of your pup’s natural instinct to find a safe quiet place to sleep and hide from danger. In the wild, dogs will look for a small cave to rest in, but since you probably don’t have a small cave in your house a crate is the next best thing.
Advantages of crate training
Crate training has many advantages. It provides a quiet place for your pup to retreat to when they are scared, tired or over stimulated. It keeps your puppy safe and out of trouble when you can’t keep an eye on them. It also teaches your pup that being in a confined place is ok. This is very important if you ever need to travel with your pup or if they need to spend time at the vet’s or a kennel. The most appreciated advantage to crate training is it tends to lend to quick house training. This is because dogs do not want to relieve themselves where they sleep, therefore they will do their best to hold it until they are out of their crate.
Tip: It’s important to make sure your puppy associates their crate with a positive experience.
The first step in crate training is deciding on a crate. To learn more about crates and sizing read What You Need for Your New Pup
Make the crate an inviting place
Next you want to make the crate an inviting place to be. Do this by placing the crate in an area that is central to your home but a little out of the way. A corner of the room where your family spends most of their time works well. Try to stay away from heating or cooling vents. Then line the crate with blankets and add a few safe toys. You can cover the crate with a lightweight blanket or sheet to give it a “den” feeling. Just make sure it is well ventilated and does not get too hot.
Tip: If you are getting your pup from a breeder ask for a blanket or toy that has your pup’s mom’s scent on it. Place it in the crate with the other blankets. The scent will only last a few days but it should help soothe the pup for the short term.
If at all possible you should have the crate setup before your puppy comes home for the first time. That way when your pup is exploring their new surroundings it will be just one of the many new things they will discover.
Getting comfortable with the crate
Allow your pup time to sniff around the crate, making sure the door is secured in the open position. If your pup walks away from the crate it’s ok. Don’t force them to enter the crate. After your pup has had some time adjusting to their new environment lure them back to the crate using a treat or toy. Make a game out of the process. Toss the toy in different directions for the pup to chase. Always have another toy to lure them back to you. After a bit of throwing and chasing, throw the toy just inside the crate. Since it is a small enclosed space they will probably be leery of going inside but may be willing to poke their head in to get the toy out.
After playing this game for a few minutes stop and do something else with your pup. Later in the day play the game again but this time using treats to lure your pup into the crate. Continue playing this game throughout the day so that your pup gets used to going in and out of the crate, each time throwing the treat a little further into the crate.
TIP: You should only leave toys in the crate when you can keep an eye on your pup. No toy is completely indestructible or completely safe. Our little Bella has gutted every soft chew toy we have given her. Even the ones labeled “indestructible”
Practice staying in the crate
Once your pup becomes comfortable with going in and out of the crate, toss their favorite toy or treat into the back of the crate and close the door. Give your puppy a few minutes to try to get to it from the outside. Then open the door so your pup can go in to get it. This time though close the gate behind your pup. Leave it closed just long enough for him to realize the door is closed, then open it again. Play this game on and off throughout the day.
Another way to help make your pup comfortable with being in their crate is to gently place them in there for naps and quiet-time breaks. Start in increments of 10 minutes and work up to longer periods. Do not take your pup out if they are crying. Wait until the crying stops. You may only have a moment to react before they start to cry again.
Remember to take your puppy outside immediately after you take him out of the crate so he can go to the bathroom. In the beginning you may want to pick your pup up to take him outside so he does not try to go inside. He will soon associate leaving the crate with bathroom time.
Hopefully your pup has become comfortable with the crate before it is bedtime but one day may not be enough time for them to become totally comfortable with the idea.
Follow these steps to make bedtime in the crate easier for your pup and you:
- A few hours before bedtime feed your pup so they will have time to digest and eliminate before being crated.
- A couple of hours before bedtime play with your pup to get them tired. Don’t do it right before bedtime because that will rile them up.
- Right before bedtime, take your pup outside to go to the bathroom. Do not rush this. Make sure he has time to completely empty out.
- Bring the crate up to your room, preferably next to your bed.
- Say goodnight to your pup and place them in the cage.
- For the first few nights it would be best if you went to bed at the same time next to your pup. That way your pup will be able to sense you are there and not feel alone.
A word about crying
It’s going to happen for the first night or two. Even if they were to sleep outside of the crate, they will still need some time to adjust to being without their littermates and mom. If you just let him outside (and you gave him time to do his business) he should not need to go to the bathroom right away. Give him some time to settle down without letting him out of the crate. But if your pup sleeps for a while and then wakes up crying take them outside, but do not talk or engage with your pup except to give the “go potty” command.
Crate Training Do’s and Don’t’s
- Don’t leave your dog locked in a crate all day. It is not good for their mental or physical health.
- Don’t leave your puppy in a crate for longer than two to four hours at a time. They will be unable to control their bladders and bowels for that long. The general guideline is 1 hour for each month old but not to go above four hours.
- Do crate your dog only until you can trust them not to destroy the house. After that, it should be a place they go to voluntarily.
- Don’t use the crate as punishment. The crate should be their safe place to go when they need down time.
- Do send your pup to his “room” to calm down if they have become over stimulated and need quiet time to rest but only for short periods of time.
- Don’t lose your patience. The learning process takes time.
For more tips on puppy training check out my other posts: