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dog in a crate

at home in the crate, 📷 by Joe Futrelle

the essentials

  • Proper training takes several weeks or more. Be patient, and don’t rush the process.
  • Never use the crate for punishment. You’ll destroy everything you’ve worked for.
  • Adult dogs should never be crated more than 5 hours at a time. Crates should never be used as a hotel for your dog while you’re gone all day. Once your dog learns not to pee and poop in the house, the crate should be a place they go voluntarily.
  • Don’t stop at just one potty training method. Every dog is different. Pad and umbilical cord training are two additional methods we recommend trying.
  • It ‘s not just for puppies. Older dogs can be trained too!

Adopting a new puppy is a crazy exciting experience. At the same time, it’s also a lot. Puppies are basically really fast babies who pee and poop all over the house. That said, housebreaking your dog is an incredibly important skill to master. And one of the best methods for it is crate training.

Note: If your dog doesn’t respond well to crate training, try another method. Read our guide to housebreaking your puppy to learn more about the other two methods: pad training and umbilical cord training.

Choosing the right crate for your dog

Although dog crates all work in similar ways, they aren’t all equal. Before you purchase a crate, you need to consider factors such as portability, size, and comfort. The two most common types of crates are metal and plastic.

Comparing dog crates

metal vs plastic

Metal and wire crates These crates are usually collapsible, making them ideal for travel. They also provide high levels of visibility, which is great for anxious dogs.
Plastic crates These crates provide less visibility, making them ideal for high-energy dogs in homes with lots of stimuli.

Regardless of whether you choose a metal or plastic dog crate, you need to ensure that it’s large enough, so your dog has enough room to stand up and move around. At the same time, the crate can’t be so large that the dog can soil an area and comfortably sit in a different spot.

After you purchase a crate, you should also invest in a pillow and other accessories to make the crate a spot where your pet enjoys spending time.

The training process

Step  1: Familiarize your dog with the crate

🗓 Timeframe: 2-3 days

After you set the crate up in your home, you should let your pet explore it at their own pace. You should let them go and out at their convenience.

Once the puppy is familiar with the create, you should place a toy or treat near the entrance to encourage them closer to going inside. Then progressively move the toy or add treats further into the crate until they’re completely inside.

Step 2: Introduce the clicker technique

🗓 Timeframe: 5-10 days, or whenever your dog consistently responds to the clicker 

This is a dog clicker, and you can get one at pretty much any pet shop. At betterpet, we’re big fans of the clicker.

Clickers are used to empathize when your dog performs the right action or behavior; it’s a bridge between the event and the reward. (If you don’t have a clicker, then you can exclaim, “Yes!” or something similar.) So, when your puppy starts to focus on their crate, give a click. Once the puppy is completely inside the crate, say a keyword/phrase such as “good boy,” give a click, and then give them the treat.

dog eating clicker

sometimes they try to eat the clicker, 📷 by Brandon Woodward

Step 3: Feed them meals and increase time in the crate

🗓 Timeframe: Do this until your dog can keep quiet alone for 30 min or more (it could take a couple of weeks) 

Beginning to feed your dog in the crate will help reinforce the positive association with the crate you’ve been working to build with the clicker and treats.

Here’s how to do it: Once your dog is eating comfortably, slowly close the door to the crate. The first time you do this, open the door immediately after they finish. You’ll continue this process at every feeding, leaving the door shut a little bit longer after they finish.

Once they can sit comfortably for 10 minutes after they finish eating, you’re ready to practice with a longer crating time while you’re home. To start, sit next to your crated dog for 15 minutes after a meal. Over the next few days, begin to leave their side for five to 10 minutes at a time.

It make take a few weeks, but when you’re dog will stay quietly in the crate for about 30 minutes while you’re completely out of sight, it’s time to celebrate! Now you can leave your dog crated while you’re gone for short periods of time (3-5 hours) or while they sleep at night.

A potential problem: whining

As your puppy becomes more familiar with the crate, you’ll increase the amount of time they spend in the crate. This often leads to whining. At first, try ignoring it. Don’t penalize the puppy.

If the whining continues for several minutes or longer, then use the keyword/phrase discussed earlier. If they get excited, then take them outside for a bathroom break. If you don’t believe the dog needs a bathroom break, then ignore the whining. You can’t give in as that will encourage bad behavior.

While whining is common when you first begin crate training, things should improve over time. In fact, the crate training process often spans just a few weeks.

Frequently asked questions

Is crate training cruel?

Crate training isn’t inherently cruel. It’s all about how you use it. Sometimes locking your dog inside a crate for an extended period of time isn’t avoidable. But as long as your dog general enjoys being in there — and they have the food, water, and toys they need — it’s a perfectly healthy routine.

Just remember: Never use the crate for punishment. That’ll backfire in the long run and destroy any sense of a routine that you’ve been working toward.

What is the best time of day for puppy crate training?

The best time to train your dog for the crate is around the same time of the day that you want them to be crated. So if you usually leave for work around 8 am, start training at this time too.

What is the maximum amount of time any dog can spend in its crate?

The maximum amount of time that a puppy can stay in its crate varies based on age.

  • Less than 8 weeks: Puppies less than eight weeks old should be in their crate for at most an hour at a time.
  • 8 to 14 weeks:  From weeks 8 to 14, puppies should be crated no more than three hours at a time.
  • 14 to 16 weeks: At this point, you can crate your puppy a maximum of four hours.
  • 17 months and older:  they can stay in their crate for five hours, but the door should remain open so they can leave if they want to stretch their legs and go to the bathroom.