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How to Crate Train a Puppy the Easy Way

By Aviram K.
Published in Training & Behavior
December 30, 2020
9 min read
How to Crate Train a Puppy the Easy Way
🏥 The information in this article is not a substitute for professional help.
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Whether you have a new puppy or an adult dog, crate training can be very beneficial to you both.

A crate can be your puppy’s own safe and comfortable space, where he enjoys his time alone and learns to keep himself busy. It also prevents unwanted behaviors and accidents around the house.

Being crate trained is a great skill for a dog to have in many situations. For example, when traveling or going to the vet.

You want your puppy to be already comfortable going and staying inside a crate in case the situation warrants it.

Training your puppy to love the crate is not hard at all. Dogs are denning creatures, and staying in a crate should come naturally to them.

All you need to crate train your puppy in a crate and some chew toys.

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Step 1: Choose the Right Crate for Your Puppy

Best Dog Crate Type for Training

There are many types of crates available on the market. For training, however, only wire or plastic crates are useful.

For growing puppies, I recommend getting a wire crate with a divider. A wire crate is cheap, easily cleanable, and adjustable (using a divider that usually comes bundled together).

I highly recommend getting the MidWest Homes for Pets Dog Crate. I have personally used it with great success when training my puppy.

You’ll want to get a crate that will comfortably fit an adult version of your puppy (based on his breed), along with a divider.

When the puppy is still small, use a divider to make the space inside smaller or bigger, depending on your puppy’s current size. This way, the puppy will always have the optimal amount of space at all stages of his life.

For adult dogs, both wire and plastic crates are fine.

Best Crate Size for Training

Correct crate size is crucial for success in training. You may want your dog to have a lot of space in there, but it is not the best way to go about it during training.

Your dog should have enough space inside the crate to stand up, lay down and turn around comfortably - but not more.

Dogs tend to not soil where they sleep. But, if the crate is too big, they may go potty on one side and sleep on the other, setting the training process back.

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Step 2: Introduce Your Puppy to Their Crate

After you get a good crate in the correct size, you can continue introducing your puppy to their crate.

Your goal in this step is to get your puppy comfortable going in, out, and staying inside the crate. Baby steps are the key here.

Don’t force your puppy to go in at any stage - wait for him to do it himself.

At first, your puppy may shy away from the crate since he doesn’t yet know what it is.

You can start by engaging, playing, and rewarding him in the proximity of the crate, so he starts associating it with the good stuff.

Then, start throwing some dog food or treats in the back of the crate to lure him inside.

Don’t close the crate door at this point yet.

After he goes in and out of the crate a few times, you can try closing the door behind him when he goes inside, without locking it. Reward him generously, and open the door again to let him know he can freely leave when he feels like it.

At this stage, you can start locking the door behind him.

Don’t forget to reward him after every little sign of progress.

If your puppy feels comfortable enough, start increasing the amount of time he’s inside with the door locked. Keep opening and closing the crate door to remind him it’s his choice to go in and out.

When your puppy can calmly stay inside for about 30 minutes, you can start giving him some unsupervised time inside. You can leave your house for short periods or let him sleep inside through the night at this point.

This process may take a few days to a few weeks, so stay patient and consistent.

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Step 3: Build Value While Inside the Crate

After you’ve familiarized your puppy with his crate, it’s time to build higher value for it.

This step aims to get your puppy to associate the crate with positive and fun things.

I recommend feeding all your puppy’s meals to him inside the crate. Using a Kong filled with water-soaked kibble and frozen is even better.

Your puppy probably LOVES food. Feeding him inside the crate will speed up the process of him associating his crate with fun times.

The act of chewing is very soothing and calming to dogs and helps them learn to soothe and calm themselves. You put a chew toy inside the crate with your puppy to keep him busy and calm. I recommend getting this Nylabone Power Chew Toy or this Durable Benebone Chew Toy.

Avoid using plush or interactive toys inside the crate. You should reserve those for playing and building the bond together outside the crate.

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When To Crate Your Dog

You should crate your dog whenever you can’t 100% supervise him - this means both during the day and the night.

Don’t make the mistake of only putting your puppy in his crate at night. This may cause him to associate bad things with his crate (“Fun times always stop when I go in the crate”).

However, the crate is by no means a long-term confinement space. Dogs are very social creatures and need constant interaction to thrive. 

You should never crate your dog for more than 4/5 hours straight at any age, and at most 2/3 hours for small puppies.

The exception is at night when dogs’ metabolism slows down and allows them to hold their bladder for a bit longer. However, small puppies’ bladders are still tiny and may require them to go pee in the middle of the night.

You can safely crate your dog for short amounts of time, letting him out every 1-2 hours to interact with him and let him do his business.

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Crating a Puppy Is Not Cruel—If You Do It Right

Dogs are denning animals. They tend to love curling up in small spaces. That’s why you can see most dogs chilling under the table, behind the sofa, or sleep under the covers at the end of the day. 

The purpose of crate training is not to cage and restrict your dog forever.

The crate should be a safe and comfortable place for your dog to chill while he learns the rules of the house and how to keep himself occupied.

Think of your puppy like a baby. Even human babies need to be put in cribs whenever we can’t supervise them.

Total freedom around the house means endless options to make mistakes.

By temporarily limiting their freedom at certain times, you set them up for success while reducing bad or unwanted behaviors.

As your puppy matures and learns how to behave when he’s completely free, you can gradually stop using the crate if you wish.

Although, if you followed everything in this guide, you might find that your puppy loves the crate and wants to go inside all on his own.

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Troubleshooting Common Issues With Crate Training

Barking, Whining or Crying in the Crate

It can be very annoying if your pup cries and whines endlessly, especially during the night.

If he is a new puppy, there is a very high chance of this continuing throughout the first couple of days or even weeks. It’s completely normal. 

Your puppy has just gone through a separation from his mother, littermate, and old house rules. He just needs some time to adjust to the new environment.

Whether your puppy is still young and getting used to the new environment or not, there are several things you can do to reduce or eliminate it:

  • Determine if your puppy is crying for attention or needs to go to the bathroom. Usually, your puppy will stop crying or whining within a couple of minutes of being ignored completely. If your puppy whines for many minutes or hours on end, it could be that he needs to go to the bathroom. Try taking him straight outside to do his business. If he doesn’t pee or poo within a minute or two and seems relaxed, bring him back inside the crate. You’ve probably got an attention seeker on your hands.
  • Keep ignoring him. Do not let him out just because he cries. If you have determined that he doesn’t need to go potty or pee, getting him out of there to stop the crying will only make it worse in the long term. It will reinforce the notion that if he cries, he can get out.
  • Remind your puppy of his mother and littermates. If you have a blanket or plush toy that still has your puppy’s mother and littermate scent on it, put it beside the crate. It will help alleviate his stress a bit. Some people have also reported success in calming their puppy using a ticking clock or a Heartbeat Toy.
  • Reward your puppy immediately after he stops. When your puppy takes a little break from crying or whining, be sure to jump on the opportunity to reward him immediately. Not need to use treats here. Just praise him using your voice. “Good puppy” in a cheering, calm tone is fine. He’ll recognize this positive tone of voice if you’ve been training him for a while. If he starts whining again, just continue ignoring him and reward him with verbal praise when he stops like before.
  • Exercise your puppy thoroughly before crating him. If possible, try to exercise and play with your pup every time before putting him in the crate. An exercised puppy is a calmer puppy and will have less need to bark, cry, or whine.
  • Give him proper chew toys to keep him occupied. Chewing is incredibly calming to dogs. Chewing on a toy inside the crate can sometimes stop the crying altogether. Try pupping chew toys like the Nylabone Ring Toy inside.
  • Try touching the crate to let your puppy know you are there. Don’t give your puppy attention, but only make your presence known. This has the added benefit of distracting the puppy from crying or barking. Use this distraction opportunity to praise your puppy even if he stops just for a bit.

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Your Puppy is Rushing Outside When You Open the Crate Door

You have an excellent opportunity to work on some inhibition training with your puppy if he is rushing outside immediately when you open the crate door. 

To train him to stop rushing out, do this:

  • During the day, after he’s been well-exercised, put him inside the crate and lock the crate door behind him.
  • Then, start by unlocking the door and opening it ever so slightly, making sure your puppy still can’t get out.
  • Your puppy may try to rush out, but since he won’t be able to get out, he’ll probably stop trying after a while.
  • When he does, immediately reward him generously by throwing some treats in the crate and verbally praising him.
  • Repeat the cycle of opening the door a tiny bit and rewarding when the puppy calms down - opening the door more and more after each iteration.
  • After a few iterations of this, your puppy should naturally want to stay inside. Who doesn’t want to get many delicious treats for staying calm?

Avoiding Accidents in the Crate

Accidents in the crate during the first couple of weeks is completely normal, especially if your pup is not yet completely potty trained.

I recommend keeping the beddings, newspapers, blankets, and plush toys outside the crate at first.

Puppies naturally don’t want to soil where they sleep. Still, puppies can go potty or pee on the bedding and push it aside, causing a setback in potty and crate training. 

I can assure you that your puppy is just fine with the bare crate floor and may even enjoy it more than having bedding.

After a few weeks or months of your puppy not having any accidents, you can return the beddings in the crate. You should then be monitoring your puppy’s behavior - and at any sign of regression, take the bedding back out.

Separation Anxiety

Some dogs with separation anxiety won’t do well in a crate due to their history, including abuse or psychological issues.

Please consult a professional dog trainer in your area to help you with your specific case. Some general tips may not be applicable in your dog’s specific case.

Things like putting a chew toy inside the crate and rewarding your dog for quiet behavior can sometimes help with the anxiety, though.

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How To Tell If Your Puppy Is Ready To Stop Using the Crate

When To Keep Using the Crate

A general rule to follow is this:

It’s probably safe to gradually stop using the crate if you can’t remember the last time your puppy had an accident or chewed up his bedding. 

Not Using the Crate Anymore

At any stage, if your puppy seems to be having more accidents or regressing in some other way- go back to using the crate for a bit before trying again.

Start by setting up a puppy-proof area. Set up a playpen inside a large space or designate an entire small room for your puppy to stay in while unsupervised and puppy-proof that area.

Before leaving your puppy unsupervised for extended periods, make sure always to do these things:

  • Give him plenty of exercise and playtime.
  • Take him outside to go potty and pee.
  • Give him chew toys to keep him occupied.

In the beginning, leave your puppy unsupervised for only a few minutes at a time. Then slowly increase the time you are absent if your puppy is continually successful.

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The DO’s and DONT’s of Crate Training

  • Do crate your dog whenever you can't supervise him throughout the day, and not only at night. Crating only at night may cause a negative association - "the fun ends when we go to sleep :("
  • Do keep your puppy "naked" inside the crate - to avoid choking hazards with collars and harnesses getting stuck.
  • Do give your puppy chew toys to help him occupy himself in the crate.
  • Do feed your puppy his meals in the crate. Preferably in Kong filled with water-soaked and frozen kibble.
  • Do keep it low-key when leaving the house and randomly mix up the time you put your puppy inside the crate before leaving.
  • Do reward your puppy whenever he willingly chooses to go in and stays calm inside the crate.
  • Do cover most of the crate at night using a blanket or a specially-made case for the crate if you use a wire crate. This helps the puppy sleep better.
  • Don't use the crate as punishment. The crate should be a safe and comfortable place for your puppy and be associated with positive feelings only.
  • Don't leave the puppy in the crate for too long unless it's night time (max 4-5 hours at any age and max 2-3 hours if under six months of age). Hire a pet sitter or walker to help you reduce the time your puppy is in the crate if you can't do it yourself.
  • Don't use the wrong size crate. The puppy should be able to stand up, lay down, and turn around comfortably - but not more.
  • Don't crate training a dog with separation anxiety - it can make it worse. Consult a professional dog trainer in your area.
  • Don't put beddings in the crate in the beginning. You can try adding beddings in after a few weeks of success - meaning no accidents or chewing in the crate.
  • Don't quit using the crate cold-turkey. Do it by slowly increasing the time you are leaving your puppy unsupervised and free around the house.
  • Don't use fabric or fashion crates for crate training. They'll just give your puppy more options to make a mistake and chew them up. Help your puppy succeed.

Some of images used in this article are: “Leaving Winston Home - 7/52 Weeks for Dogs” by Austin Kirk @ Flicker.com (CC BY 2.0), “First shot of new pup.” by Jamie McCaffrey @ Flicker.com (CC BY-NC 2.0), “Siblings enjoy treats in privacy of a crate” by moccasinlanding @ Flicker.com (CC BY-NC 2.0), “wonton chewing a (fake) bone” by Jim Winstead @ Flicker.com (CC BY 2.0), “2017 (Day 233 - 21st Aug): Luna loves her new-and-improved bed-crate” by Tim Walker @ Flicker.com (CC BY 2.0)


Tags

Crate TrainingNew PuppyDog TrainingHow To

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Table Of Contents

1

Step 1: Choose the Right Crate for Your Puppy

2

Step 2: Introduce Your Puppy to Their Crate

3

Step 3: Build Value While Inside the Crate

4

When To Crate Your Dog

5

Crating a Puppy Is Not Cruel—If You Do It Right

6

Troubleshooting Common Issues With Crate Training

7

How To Tell If Your Puppy Is Ready To Stop Using the Crate

8

The DO's and DONT's of Crate Training

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