You may already crate your puppy, or you might be absolutely sure you never will. Some people find it terrible to crate their best friend, but you don’t have to pity the puppy – you are doing her a favor. Actually, veterinarians recommend using a crate for both puppies and grown dogs.
Crate training uses a dog’s natural instincts as a den animal. A wild dog’s den is her home. It is a place to sleep, to hide from danger and to raise a family. The crate becomes an ideal spot to snooze or take refuge.
Puppies prefer their own den where they can go to relax and get away from other dogs or people. Make it a happy place, reward your dog for choosing the crate and she’ll love it.
It will also bring a solution to more than one problem almost every new puppy owner has to face. As the proud and lucky owner of a puppy, you most certainly run into one or more of these problems:
- You must leave your puppy on its own.
- It comes time to potty train your puppy.
- No matter what you say or do, your puppy is all wired up and needs to calm down.
- The children in your house don’t know when it’s time to stop playing with your puppy, and vice versa.
- You need a clever way to train your puppy to stay.
- You need a safe way to transport your puppy.
- Your puppy is misbehaving and you need to make her stop without a fight.
- Your rescue dog is feeling insecure,
Funny enough, the solution to all of these problems is one and the same: Crate your puppy.
I know it can sound contradictory that the crate can be a safe and happy place for your puppy yet at the same time, it can also be a place for fixing problems… But it is not. The crate is not to be used as a punishment. Instead, what you do is give your puppy a time-out and then, soon after, you let her out again to make a better choice.
However, you need to crate train the right way so your puppy comes to love the crate and walks in there on her own behalf. If you do it wrong, your puppy could end up hating the crate – and you’ll miss out on a useful tool.
But don’t worry – just follow this step-by-step guide and go through these simple steps to learn how to make your puppy love her crate and even seek it out whenever she can.
Why Crate Training?
Before you learn how to teach your puppy to love her crate, here’s how crate training will help you train your puppy in many ways:
- A Safe Place: First of all, you should see the crate as your puppy’s den. If the puppy was still in nature, she would have a small den where she would be when she needed to sleep, hide or just feel safe for some reason. The crate now plays this role in your puppy’s life. The opportunity to crate your puppy if you can’t keep an eye on her all the time will give you a safe feeling, too.
- Better Cooperation: Your cooperation will also improve as letting the puppy in the crate will eliminate some fights you would have to have with your puppy. And as you well know a fight will almost always have a winner and a loser. But you don’t want you or your puppy to be a loser. You can avoid this when you crate your puppy for a short while, because then she does not have an accident on the floor, knocks over your favorite lamp or accidentally chews on your best boots. Also, you can crate your puppy to let her know, in a gentle way, that she is too wild and can’t be with you if she can’t play nicely.
- Gentle Training: The crate can also be a useful tool for teaching your puppy commands like “leave it” and “stay.” When you want to teach your puppy to stay or to leave it, closing the door to remind your puppy not to go forward is helpful. So using the crate as one of the tools to teach this to your puppy, you’ll give your puppy an even better chance of succeeding. Be sure to read to the end of this article to learn more about this kind of training.
How to Crate Train Your Puppy
I hope you see the benefits of crate training your puppy, so here’s how to get started, so your puppy will love her crate and even choose to stay there on her own behalf.
For training to succeed, your puppy must view her crate as a happy place. To achieve this, you must first and foremost be patient. To make the crate a lovely place for your puppy, she must choose to go into this herself without you deciding for her.
As always, for your puppy to choose to do anything, it must be worth her while, at least until it becomes a strong habit. And even when it has become a habit, you’ll still have to reinforce it once in a while. So start by finding her favorite cookies and be ready to praise her for the right behavior.
Step by Step Crate Training
- Step One: Before you can reward your puppy, you must get her to do what you want. So you start this training by putting down a mat of some sort. It is best if the map will not slide if your puppy comes in on it a bit quick as it is important your puppy feels safe standing on the mat. After putting down the mat, stand beside it. Keep cookies in your hand and wait for your puppy to accidentally step on the mat. Every time she does, praise her and throw a cookie away from her.This way she’ll get a reward and get off the mat, enabling her to choose to step on it again. Now, I know that it will be a coincident the first many times she steps on the mat. But just hang in there. Eventually, she’ll figure out what triggers the cookie getting thrown, I assure you.And when she does know what the game is all about, let her do a bit more to get the cookie. Instead of just accepting her when she steps on the mat with one paw, she might have to step on with all four paws to get the cookie. Or you might move a bit away from the mat, making it harder for her to choose the mat because you have changed one of the elements of the game.
- Step Two: As your puppy has figured out, being on the mat is fantastic and highly rewarding, you can now move the mat close to the crate. She’ll most likely just step on it again to get the cookie. If not, just be patient. She knows what to do. When she does, even though you have moved the mat, reward her and repeat.
- Step Three: Now move the mat halfway into the crate. She can now stand on the mat still outside the crate and you’ll reward her for this. But if she moves into the crate, you reward her even more. First, give her a favorite cookie in the crate, and then you can throw a cookie away from the mat, as you have done up till now.
- Step Four: Okay, you are almost there. To help your puppy all the way into the crate, move the mat all the way into the crate and be patient. Wait for her to go into the crate and reward her both in the crate and outside, as described above. Remember to praise her a lot. Just repeat, repeat, repeat, to make her love her crate and give her the possibility to show that she knows what to do.
- Step Five: Now remove the mat – it has fulfilled its purpose. It’s important that the mat is not visible to the puppy, as not to distract her. Stay beside the crate and wait for your puppy to enter the crate. When she does, praise her and reward her heavily. Repeat, repeat and repeat until she understands what to do. You need to do this many times a day in all sorts of situations over the course of a couple of weeks. You are growing the habit and making it stronger.Now, as your puppy grows more confident being in the crate, you can move on to closing the door behind her. You can read more about this in the section, “Building your puppy’s confidence.”
One Big Step
If you prefer, you can try using few big steps instead of the five small steps. You might ask why we need step one, two and three instead of just praising the puppy for going into the crate – either by her own account or because we lure her in, and then reward for it.
And yes, you might be able to skip the first three steps and instead just take one giant step. But be careful never to make her go into the crate if she feels uncomfortable doing so. You must never force her or make her feel trapped. So I myself find it much safer to let her figure this out herself without you luring her.
However, to avoid the first three steps, you can try this shortcut, it might work for you: Make her interested in the crate by sitting beside it and when she at one point looks inside, you praise her and treat her with her favorite cookie. Keep praising her for showing interest, but to keep getting a cookie, she must go further and further into the crate.
No matter how you train your puppy to go into the crate, be careful. You must never force your puppy to go into the crate. Remember the crate must be a happy place she chooses herself to go into on her own.
Building Your Puppy’s Confidence
No matter how you make your puppy go into the crate, remember to reward her for it. So when she is inside the crate, give her lots of treats of the best kind. Allow her to go out again, but give her lots of treats when she chooses to go back inside the crate. When she is familiar with the crate – after a couple of training sessions – start closing the door to the crate. In the beginning, do so for just a short while.
Remember, it is important a crate is a happy place, so she should have feelings of security, not of being trapped. Over time, keep the door closed for longer and longer time. In the beginning, you’ll still sit beside the crate. Your puppy should not have to worry about where you are because you are in this together.
Teach Your Puppy You’ll Always Be There for Her – Even When She Can’t See You
When your puppy is used to you closing the door, you can now try to move away. Again, you start off slowly, just leaving her in the crate for a short time. You should still be in the same room, keeping busy doing something completely different, but only for a very short while.
Next, return to the crate and open the door without making a big fuss. Stay beside the crate and if your puppy goes out and into the crate again, reward her. Do not close the door at this point. When you are at home, the crate ought to be open for the puppy to use, making the crate into her den and her safe place.
Now it’s time to repeat, repeat, repeat. Every time you train this, let her stay for a longer time in the crate with the crate door closed. And little by little, move longer and longer away from the crate, but stay in the room.
When your puppy is used to staying in the crate with the door closed and you being away from the crate, you are ready for the next big step: You can now leave the room. Your time away from the room where the crate and your puppy are in must also be short in the beginning. Your puppy should never be too alarmed. As she learns that even though you leave the room, you come back to her, you can slowly stay away for a longer and longer time.
It’s important to realize that this, like all training, is a process, and to go all the way will take time. Do not rush it. Make sure your puppy understands everything she needs to do before moving further. You might have to stay longer at one or more steps than others. Accept this. No puppies are alike, so observe and move forward at the pace that fits your puppy.
Growing the Habit
When your puppy has learned to love her crate, you can use it for a variety of reasons. It could be when your puppy is insecure or needs to feel protected, like when she is in the car, or you have guests. Or if you need to leave her alone, it can be her safe place to stay while you’re gone. The crate is also a great way to help with potty training.
Besides the obvious reasons for using a crate, crate training can also help in training other commands and in playing games. And training this can, in return, also reinforce your puppy’s love for the crate.
Make Your Puppy Choose Her Crate at Dinnertime
For a puppy to turn a behavior into a habit, you must train the behavior in different places and with different disturbances. While it is not always easy to bring your crate everywhere, if you can, please do. One of the cool things you can train at home is crate training at dinner time. This way you can teach your puppy to choose the crate instead of begging beside the table. Most humans like well-behaved dogs who do not beg, so by training this, you can kill two birds with one stone.
In the beginning, just train this like the crate training above. But to keep the puppy in the crate without closing the door, you must make it more valuable for the puppy to stay in the crate instead of standing beside the table waiting for someone to “drop” something. So you must:
- Never reward your puppy for begging at the table. Never look at her or feed her. Make sure that your guests know the rules as well, even your father in law, so actually this exercise starts with training the family.
- Always reward your puppy for staying in the crate. This means, in the beginning, you must rise from the table, even though you are not done eating. This is necessary as your puppy has a short attention span and will move closer to you if you do not reward her for staying in the crate. But as your puppy learns the rules and gets older, you can reward her before your meal and after it.
And like all other training, you must be patient and consistent. But it is a cool way to teach your puppy not to beg at the table while showing her the crate is the best place to stay.
Crate Training to Teach Your Puppy to “Stay” and “Leave It”
When your puppy loves her crate, you can use the crate to teach her much more. A crate is a perfect tool when you want your puppy to learn the commands, “stay” or “leave it.” In my training philosophy, the puppy has to choose the right behavior on her own. So, ask for something and if the puppy does “the right thing,” reward her. If not, distract and redirect to the right behavior. These are the basics:
When you want your puppy to stay, simply ask her to “stay.” If she stays in the crate, even just for a short while, praise and reward her. This is how she finds out that her choice was the right one. However, if she tries to move out of the crate, close the door quickly, but gently, before your puppy reaches the door. You do not want to hurt your puppy. You just want to startle her enough to make the right decision without forcing her.
Now repeat. When she stays in the crate, you praise and reward. If not you close the door. Your puppy will soon get the idea and you can continue the work outside the crate.
In the same way, you can work on “leave it.” When your puppy is in the crate, toss something in front of the crate like a toy. In the beginning, throw something the puppy wants, but won’t go crazy about. At the same time you toss it, ask your puppy to leave it. If she stays and “leaves it,” praise and reward. If she doesn’t, close the door before she gets out and gets the toy.
As with the command “stay,” you need to work with the commands outside the crate, as well. But the crate will help your puppy get an idea of what the commands mean so that she can make the right decisions faster.
Use Your Crate for So Much More
Besides being helpful for training commands, you can use the crate for much more like giving your puppy a timeout when she plays too roughly. Remember, you shouldn’t use the crate as punishment. That means you must let your puppy out again after a short while so she can make her choice again. If she chooses to play roughly again, let her in the crate again. And repeat until she plays more nicely. Then remember to praise her for that!
It’s important to remember that you must let her out so she can choose again. Here’s how to teach your puppy more about making the right choices.
The Right Crate
Using the right size crate is also important. You want the crate to be your puppy’s den, so it must not be too big. If it’s too big, it will also be too much like a room, making it easy for the puppy to divide the crate into a space to pee and a place to sleep.
But it must also not be too small. Your puppy needs to be able to stand, lie down flat on the side with her legs stretched and turn around without problems. As your puppy grows, you will need to buy crates in different sizes. Or you can find a crate suitable for your grown dog and use a divider to make the crate the right size for all stages of your puppy’s life.
You can get many different crates. I prefer wire crates, but each style has its own advantages. Wire crates usually collapse for easy storage and portability. They also provide more ventilation than plastic ones and allows your puppy to keep track of what’s happening outside the crate.
Plastic crates seem especially den-like and might make your dog feel safer and more secure. Mesh crates provide privacy for dogs and are the most portable, but they aren’t durable. Some dogs even chew through them and escape.
How Not to Use the Crate
You now know how to use the crate to train, relax and transport your puppy and much more. However, it is equally important that you know when NOT to use the crate. Here are some guidelines to follow:
- Never leave your puppy locked up in their crate for too long – even when she is a grown dog and can be in the crate for a long time without any accidents. A crate may be your dog’s den, but just as you wouldn’t want to spend your entire life in one room, your dog shouldn’t spend most of her time in a crate.
- Your dog will lack exercise and human interaction when locked up all the time and she could even fall ill. So, If you can’t be there yourself, hire a pet sitter or take her to a daycare facility.
- Remember to crate your dog only until you can trust her. After that, it should be a place she goes voluntarily.
- Never use the crate as a punishment. It’s okay as a time-out, but make sure to let her out again to make a better choice!
- Don’t crate your puppy if she is afraid or she’ll connect the crate with her fear.
- Avoid crating your puppy if she is sick because she’ll hate the crate for making her feel so lousy.
Summing it all up
Crate training, just like all other training, takes time. But, it’s time well invested because you’ll get a dog who loves to spend time in her crate. She’ll feel confident and safe there and you’ll have a fantastic tool on your hand.
I hope you find this blog post interesting and I hope you can put my ideas of crate training to good use. If yes, please let me know and please share.
I’m sure some of you have great examples of how to use the crate and how to crate train your puppy as well. Please share this by commenting – I would love to hear from you!
Q & A
What if my puppy cries while in the crate? Building the crate training as outlined above this should not be an issue. However, if it happens, you must find out why your puppy is crying. Does she need to go out to pee, is she sick or afraid – or does she just want to get out of the crate? If you are convinced she doesn’t need to go out, try to ignore her.
At this stage it’s important to avoid rewarding her for whining, so don’t release her from her crate. Instead, try to ignore her cries. If she is just testing you, she’ll probably stop soon. Never start yelling at her or pounding on the crate – it will only make things worse.
If the whining continues after you’ve ignored your puppy for several minutes, use the phrase she associated with going outside to pee. If she responds and becomes excited, take her outside. Remember you are not going outside to play. If the problem becomes unmanageable, you may need to start the crate training process over again.
How long should I crate my puppy? Until 10 weeks of age, just 60 minutes at a time for a large breed dog. For a small breed dog, just 30 minutes at a time. Here are some age-related guidelines for daily crating:
- 10 to 13 weeks: Less than three hours for large breed and one hour for small dogs.
- 13 to 17 weeks: Four hours for large breeds and two hours for small breeds.
- Older than 18 weeks: Four to five hours.