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If you’re reading this puppy crate training guide, you’ve probably just welcomed a puppy into your home, or you’re counting down the days until you collect your new best friend. It’s an exciting time for every family, and there’s plenty of preparation to be done before your puppy arrives.
Puppy crate training is a good idea for any young dog. It teaches them not to be anxious or distressed while they’re in a confined space. In fact, the den-like properties of a crate mimic natural behaviors and create:
- An area of calm between training
- Reduced anxiety if you have to leave your puppy
- A safe space away to sleep and limit destructive behavior in your home.
Starting early is the most recommended because older puppies or dogs can see it more as a restriction and act out. But, started young, and done properly your puppy will love their home.
So, here is the the ultimate puppy crate training guide to make this easier for you:
What is Crate Training?
Essentially, it’s the process of introducing and gradually acclimating your dog to a crate that they will sleep in.
For some people, their natural instinct is to oppose the use of a crate, for fear of traumatising their puppy. But, time spent in a crate can be a positive experience, helping pups to get used to situations where they may temporarily be in a confined space; such as during the night, while travelling in the car, or visiting the vet.
Crate training can therefore substantially reduce their anxiety! In fact, many dogs that are crate trained actively seek out their crate if they feel nervous or unsafe; for example, when the home is especially noisy, or if they are troubled by the shrieking of fireworks. Rather than apprehension, your dog is likely to find comfort and security in the crate.
Puppy crate training also supports the process of toilet training and general housebreaking; teaching your dog discipline and self-control. It does take time and patience, but an investment in early puppyhood will reap benefits throughout your dog’s life.
The Secret to Puppy Crate Training
One of the key concepts in puppy training is positive reinforcement. As the name suggests, this method rewards good behavior, which teaches your dog how to respond in any trained situation.
Positive reinforcement is not a form of punishment. We can’t stress this enough. Nothing bad happens to a puppy when it doesn’t perform the correct action or display the right behavior. You simply move on, and when your puppy does get it right, they’ll receive a reward.
In this situation, the aim is to make a connection between the crate and a good outcome in your dog’s mind. This encourages them to enjoy being in the crate, and with experience, they’ll recognise it as a safe personal space.
If they feel anxious or sleepy, they will begin to choose the crate as a place of refuge.There’s debate as to whether this has something to do with the natural canine instinct to seek a den, but what’s certain is that this route to positive puppy behaviour has countless success stories.
How Does Positive Reinforcement Work When Crate Training?
Always keep in mind that this technique is solely focused on rewarding good behaviour. If your dog acts up, doesn’t follow instructions, or becomes extremely distressed, do not punish them.
We’ll run through the various phases of crate training in further detail in the next section, but let’s illustrate the concept of positive reinforcement with a couple of scenarios.
Assume you’ve just brought your puppy home and they’ve spent a few days settling into the house. You intend to use the crate as both a comforting space and a practical solution when they can’t be left to roam around the house alone.
The very first stage of puppy crate training is to introduce the structure to your puppy. How would you use positive encouragement early on?
Your goal at the start is simply to guide your puppy into the crate. Introduce your intended command, which could be something like ‘crate’, ‘den’ or ‘bedtime’. Every time your puppy goes into the crate when given the command, give them a reward. You don’t need to go overboard on treats!
A vocal encouragement, fuss, or toy are excellent alternatives.
Now let’s assume your dog has become familiar and comfortable in the crate, and you’ve gradually increased the amount of time they spend in it. You now want to teach them self-control by opening the door.
If your dog rushes out before they’ve been given a release command, such as ‘out’ or ‘door’, don’t offer a reward. If they wait and leave only when you tell them to, immediately reward their good behaviour. Keep going with this until your dog responds appropriately to your commands.
The key benefits of positive reinforcement in puppy crate training are:
- It’s pain-free, stress-free, and trauma-free.
- It encourages mutual trust between you and your dog.
- Desirable behaviour is rewarded, boosting your dog’s confidence.
- It gives you plenty of opportunity to be affectionate and encouraging to your new best friend.
- It is proven to generate good behavioural training.
Now, let’s move on to the practical steps to positive reinforcement!
Puppy Crate Training: Getting Started
You’re already nailing the first part of the process – research! It’s important to go into this task with all the information in front of you. Check out this video for a quick overview of what to expect from crate training:
The first thing you’ll need to do is visit your nearest pet store, and pick up the following items:
Puppy Crate Training Shopping List
|🐶Item 🐶|| |
|A crate that’s big enough to accommodate your pup’s adult size; ideally one with a divider that can grow alongside your dog.|
|A blanket or soft mat for the bottom of the crate.|
|2 packs of puppy training pads. You’ll most likely need to purchase more along the way, but this will be enough to get you started!|
|Dog treats. Don’t overdo it, though! Buy small treats, so that if you give several over the course of a day, your dog won’t overeat.|
|A clicker, if you’ll be using it for positive reinforcement. This is also an ideal accessory for your puppy’s wider training goals.|
|Toys! There should be fun things to do in the crate, so your puppy knows it’s a welcoming and stimulating space from the start.|
A note about setting up your puppy’s new crate. It’s cost-effective to purchase a crate that will fit your dog’s adult size. However, when they’re still a puppy, they’ll have too much room. This might seem like a good thing, but it might actually encourage undesirable behavior.
If a puppy has too much space in a crate, they’ll be able to create separate sections; one for going to the toilet, and another for resting and play. You want to discourage your dog from using the crate to do their business and get them used to the dimensions of being in a crate. It’s, therefore, best to divide the crate so that the puppy has enough room to stand up, move around, and lie down.
Puppy Crate Training: Step by Step
Once you’ve set up your puppy’s crate, it’s time for introductions. Give your pup a chance to get settled before you begin – a few days after they come home is an ideal time to start.
Step 1: Using the Crate for the First Time
- Gently guide your puppy to the crate, giving plenty of verbal encouragement.
- Place a treat inside the crate.
- Decide on a command (which you’ll need to stick to throughout the process) and say it to your puppy.
This is all new to them, so they’re probably not going to dive straight into the crate and close the door behind them!
Eventually, they’ll take notice of the treat and curiosity will prompt them to go inside.
Once they’re in, provide vocal encouragement, use a clicker, give them a ball to play with, or provide another small treat. Over a few days of regular repetition, your dog will begin to understand that getting into the crate is a good thing that they shouldn’t be afraid of. They’ll also begin recognising the command as the start of this process.
Step 2: Understanding the Command
Once your pup has the hang of getting into the crate, it’s time to focus on the command word.
- Stop placing a treat into the crate before they get in.
- Use the command word only, and when they get into the create, only then give them a treat or use the clicker.
- Repeat regularly for a few more days.
This helps the dog to identify the command and understand it as their prompt to get into the crate, and you’ll be able to gradually stop giving treats.
Step 3: Closing the Door
The next step might cause your dog temporary anxiety, but don’t give up! It’s simply a matter of educating your puppy that a closed crate is actually a place of total safety.
- Once your dog understands the command system, and is comfortable getting in without a treat, you can progress to closing the door.
- Initially, you’ll just want to do it for a few seconds at a time.
This teaches your pup that although the door closes, it can also open, and that being in the crate is always temporary, thus preventing them from becoming overly anxious about the prospect of not getting out.
Gradually, you’ll need to build up the amount of time that the door is closed. During the first few days, sit with your dog while they’re in the crate. This soothes them and reinforces the idea that although the crate separates you, it doesn’t mean that they’ll never see you again. This may take several days to a week.
Step 4: The Disappearing Act
Once you’re confident that your puppy has got used to being in the closed crate, move out of sight for a few seconds. Again, this may cause them to respond negatively – although some puppy won’t be at all concerned!
At this stage, don’t give into crying, whining, howling, or barking. Otherwise, it will reinforce the idea that causing a ruckus will get your puppy what they want.
It may be distressing for you to hear your puppy upset, but in this situation you must be strong, and allow them to self-soothe until they calm down.
In the long run, this teaches them an important coping mechanism, and creates the sense that they are safe in the crate, even when you’re not around to supervise.
Keep going with this until your puppy can tolerate an hour on its own in the crate. You can build up to two or three hours, in preparation for times when your puppy may be left for you to run errands, have dinner, or do chores that are easier to complete without a rambunctious pet on the scene!
A Warning About Crate Training:
Don’t leave a young puppy in the crate for more than two or three hours at a time – their small bladders aren’t able to hold on and they’ll end up toileting in the crate. This can break down the positive impression they’ve built around it, and require you to restart training.
To be on the safe side – particularly while they’re being housebroken – use a puppy pad in the bottom of the crate.
As a rule of thumb, you’ll be able to leave them in the crate for one hour to every month of their age, up to a top maximum of eight hours overnight. It’s important to make sure there’s plenty of exercise and positive play before and after they’ve been in the crate.
Step 5: The Release & Self-Control
Just as you’ll choose a command to direct your puppy into the crate, you’ll also need one to invite them out; for example, ‘OK’, ‘out’, or ‘door’ work well.
Use the release word from the beginning of your training process, and keep it consistent throughout. Even if your puppy leaps out of the crate at the first opportunity once the door has opened, saying the release command on each occasion helps them to understand its place in the process.
Begin by opening the crate door. If your puppy walks straight out, don’t show a negative response. Remember, this training method is all about positive reinforcement. You’ll just try again the next time.
*Alternatively you could guide them back in and try again.
If your puppy waits…
If your puppy waits, use the release command and allow them to leave the crate. Immediately give them a reward. Repeat this every time you open the crate, and your puppy will gradually learn to wait once the door is open and exit only when you’ve given a command.
You’ll also reach a point where you’ll no longer need to provide a treat every time. Just like the entry command, you’ll be able to manage the whole process just with words.
This step helps your puppy to react calmly to the crate door opening, teaching them a valuable lesson in self-control. They will know that they can leave the crate, and that you’ll always give them a command to do so.
6 Top Tips for Puppy Crate Training
- Switch it up! Try placing the crate in different locations, so that your pup feels confident using it, wherever they are.
- Put a blanket over the back end of the crate so your puppy can still see out but it feels slightly enclosed at nighttime. This can reduce
- Crate regularly while you’re at home and close by, so that your puppy understands it’s not only used when you’re leaving. This helps to prevent separation anxiety.
- Provide water for your puppy to sip on while they’re in the crate.
- Ensure that any toys placed in the crate do not present a choking hazard.
- The most important tip – be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your puppy needs time, compassion, and encouragement to gain its crate confidence.
There may be bumps in the road. It’s totally natural! Stay calm and positive, and check out these prompts to help you through minor blips.
What do I do if my puppy cries, howls, or barks?
This can be quite tricky, but you must ignore your puppy calling out to you. Responding to them will positively reinforce the wrong behaviour, giving them the go-ahead to act out every time they want to get their own way. This will filter through to their general attitude, so it’s important to set ground rules from the start.
We know it’s hard, but your dog will eventually calm down. Even a few seconds of good behaviour gives you the opportunity to open the door and let them out. They will begin to make a connection: good behaviour gets me out of the crate, while bad behaviour keeps me in there.
A comfy blanket or soft toy can make a huge difference; helping your dog to get settled while they adjust to the new environment.
Of course, as your pup gets more familiar and comfortable with the crate, reframing it as a place of safety and desirable solitude, they won’t make a fuss when instructed to go in. Trust the process!
What do I do if my puppy goes to the toilet in the crate?
Firstly, is your puppy housebroken? If they’re not yet toilet-trained, they might become confused in the crate and think that it’s OK to urinate in there. While your puppy is still learning to go outside to do their business, keep crate visits brief, and supervise them to ensure that when they need to pee, they can get outside without delay.
The best way to do that is to keep a log of the last time they went to the toilet so you have a rough idea of how long they will go. Also, every time your pup is let out of the crate, take them to their toilet spot! This is the first step of toilet training!
Next, consider how long your puppy has been in the crate. Don’t forget, young puppies of less than three months are physically unable to hold their urine for more than three hours. Remember the rule of thumb for
Finally, if your pup’s toilet control is still a work in progress but you need to get started with crate training, use a puppy pad to line the crate tray or floor. If an accident happens, it’ll be easier to clean up.
What do I do if my puppy chews the crate?
This is a sign that your puppy is bored! Even the best-behaved dog will become destructive if they have nothing to do. A few of their favourite toys will really help in this instance – particularly chew toys!
Which kind of crate should I use?
This is a really a matter of personal preference, but each crate material comes with benefits and drawbacks:
These are great for travel. They’re light, portable, and usually fold quite small. They’re also useful if you’re visiting the vet and your dog just needs a little familiarity to calm them down. Note, however, that this is the flimsiest crate material.
A hugely popular type, wire crates are simple to use, inexpensive, relatively sturdy, and fold flat easily for storage. To help create the feeling of being in a den, I’d recommend covering the top of a crate with a blanket – at least partially – each time the puppy is in there.
Super sturdy, great for long-haul travel, and naturally good at trapping heat – which is especially helpful for skittish dogs. However, they are a little more expensive than other types of crate.
Is crate training safe?
Absolutely, as long as it’s done gradually and with positive reinforcement! Using a crate to punish your puppy is a huge no-no. It should be a place in which your dog feels comfortable and secure, with an element of privacy if they need it.
My new puppy is actually a senior dog. Can old timers benefit from crate training?
Yes! It’s said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but in this case, you definitely can. This method can also be part of the wider process of housetraining, if you’ve adopted an older dog with some toilet-related issues.
Senior pups might not always appreciate the boisterous sounds of a modern family home, so they’ll appreciate having a den to retreat to. After the initial training is complete, you may find that your dog doesn’t even wait for a prompt – they just want to be in their crate!
Will crate training make my dog a better traveller?
Probably. A crate-trained dog should have no problem being contained within a tight area of the car. However, if they have existing car trauma, or simply can’t settle while the vehicle is moving, your dog may still have issues that need to be worked through separately.
At the end of the day…
We hope this puppy crate training guide has been useful for you and your new best friend. Just remember that it is a positive, gradual process and patience will secure the best outcome!