- Crate training is good for your puppy — Training your puppy to have positive associations with their crate is beneficial for both them and you. Dogs need a safe place as much as humans do, and crate training helps instill good behaviors.
- Choosing the right crate matters — Crate training can be stressful at first. Don’t further complicate things by choosing the wrong crate size or material for your puppy’s needs.
- Patience and persistence will pay off — Pet parents who recognize crate training as a process that doesn’t happen overnight will be more successful. Putting in the work early on will reap long-term rewards for you and your pup.
What is crate training?
Crate training is the process of training your dog to view a crate as its own safe place so that they willingly enter the crate on its own or on command. Despite some common myths, crate training is not cruel. When done properly, it actually keeps your dog safer when you’re not around. Be patient and recognize crate training is a process. Depending on your dog’s temperament, age, and any past experiences, complete crate training can take days, weeks, or as long as six months. Crate training is often done with young puppies (simultaneously with housetraining), but it’s never too late to start with an adult dog, especially when entering a new home or environment.
Step-by-step: The how-to on crate training a puppy
Once you’ve researched and purchased the best dog crate for your situation, you can start the training. With lots of treats and a positive mindset, you’ll have your dog crate trained for life. But it’s important not to rush the training steps. If you move through the steps at a pace that causes anxiety or stress, the crate will become a negative object for them. Be patient and take as much time as is needed, slowly building your dog’s trust with the crate. This is a learning experience for your dog. If you teach them correctly, they’ll know that going in the crate means they get food, praise, and security. The same logic works for negative behaviors, however. For the most effective training responses, only reward the behaviors that you want to turn into habits.
👉 If you’re looking for how to crate train your puppy in three days, you’ll end up stressed and disappointed. Rushing an anxious pup can be traumatizing, so be patient.
1. Set up the crate
After researching and purchasing a crate that you feel good about, it’s time to decide where to put it. You’ll want to choose somewhere in your home where you spend a good bit of time so that your dog doesn’t feel like going to the crate means isolation time.
- Place the crate somewhere near an outdoor exit so your pup can get outside quickly, reducing the chances of an accident.
- Cozy up your dog den with soft blankets, favorite plush toys, or a dog bed. This is your dog’s space, and you want it to be inviting. Note that your dog may have accidents in their cage at first, so you should only use blankets that you’re ready to throw away if need be.
- You can also try draping a blanket over the crate. This can help create a safe, cave-like ambiance for your dog.
2. Introduce the crate
Once you have everything ready, it’s time to make introductions. With the crate door open, let your dog inspect and sniff around it on their own. If there are chew toys and blankets inside, they may even be curious enough to go inside on their own. Do not place or push your dog inside the crate to avoid creating a negative association.
- Allow plenty of time for exploration. Don’t shut the door behind your puppy once they wander in. Instead, allow them to walk freely in and out to get used to it.
- Use a happy tone of voice when talking about the crate or praising your puppy for walking in, even if it’s just to take a sniff.
3. Create positive association with the crate
Start by placing small food treats in a trail leading inside the crate. Some dogs may stop at the crate entrance, hesitant to go any further. Continue the process for as many days as it takes for your dog to enter the crate on their own. Do not force them inside, no matter how long it takes.
- Leave the crate door open throughout the day, even when you aren’t actively attempting to lure your dog inside. They may become curious at any point and enter on their own.
- You can also make the process fun by playing fetch or throwing a toy, such as a Kong, inside the crate for your dog to retrieve.
- Once your dog is comfortable, the next step is to feed them regular meals in the crate. Place their food bowl at the very back of the crate. If your puppy refuses to go to their bowl, move it near the front and gradually move it toward the back at each meal.
4. Close the door for short periods of time
While your dog is eating or relaxing in the cage, you can begin shutting the door for small intervals of time. At first, only close the door while your dog is eating or engaged in playing with a safe toy. Once they finish eating or are no longer preoccupied, open the door.
- Over several days and weeks, slowly increase the amount of time that the door is shut after they’re done eating until you’ve reached several minutes.
- Your dog may begin to whine or bark. It’s important that you wait for them to stop before opening the cage, otherwise, you teach them that whining results in freedom.
5. Introduce verbal cues
Now that your puppy is familiar with the crate, you can introduce a verbal cue to teach them what you want from them. Be sure to use the same command each time, such as “crate”, “kennel”, or “go to your bed” when placing toys, meals, or treats into the crate. Repetition and consistency are important.
- Be patient. Introducing a verbal cue too early can create confusion. For example, if you tell your puppy “crate” and then praise them for walking in and out, you may be establishing an incomplete habit.
- Gradually stop throwing toys or treats into the crate when saying the command. When they go in without a reward, shower them with praise and treats.
- Repeat until treats aren’t needed to get your dog to go into the crate.
6. Increase time inside the crate
At this point, you want to continue building upon your progress so far, gradually increasing the length of time your dog spends inside the crate. The first time in the crate for a prolonged period is critical and must be a positive experience.
- While you’re home and in view of the crate, leave your dog crated for one to two hours. Get up once or twice and remove yourself from the area to see how your dog reacts.
- Gradually lengthen their crate time while you go about your day inside your home. Sprinkle in some shorter periods of time so that they don’t think that going in the crate always means several hours inside.
👉 Make sure your dog is “naked” before going into the crate. Collars and bandanas can catch on a crate and can cause strangulation, especially if your dog begins to panic.
7. Leave the house for a short time
Once they’ve mastered supervised time in the crate, test out leaving the house for 15-30 minutes. First, let them use the bathroom before you leave. It’s also a good idea to let them run around and get tired before their first crate session alone.
- After a few successful, short intervals in the crate alone, you can gradually increase the time to several hours.
- Don’t make a fuss about leaving or coming home, but do make sure to love on them once you’ve let them out of the crate! This lets your puppy know that you are always coming back for snuggles.
👉 You can use a home surveillance camera or pet camera with a speaker to record your dog while you’re gone and reassure them when needed. Many even include free apps to easily monitor how your pup performed at home alone.
8. Put your dog in the crate at night
Don’t let puppy crate training at night scare you. Let your puppy use the bathroom at bedtime, then put a treat in the open crate and give your verbal cue. If your crate training a puppy for potty training, they will likely need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. In that case, bring the crate to your room and follow the same crating routine you’ve practiced at bedtime. Otherwise, you can leave the crate in its normal area.
- It’s likely your dog will cry or whine on the first night. It’s OK to put your fingers in the crate and reassure them but don’t let them out frequently.
- If your dog is whining because they need to go out, quickly and calmly take them outside without getting them excited, then return them to the crate.
- Often a soft radio, TV playing, or a ticking clock will help calm a crated puppy, much like white noise for humans.
9. Leave the house for gradually longer periods
The last step is to slowly increase the length of time your dog spends in the crate until you’re satisfied. Most full-grown dogs can hold their bladders for about six hours before they need to use the bathroom, so that’s probably a good maximum to shoot for. Puppies and dogs that aren’t house-trained will need much more regular bathroom breaks.
- Establish a puppy crate training schedule and stick to it, never leaving your dog crated for more than six hours.
- If you need to crate-train a puppy while at work, consider hiring a dog walker or dog sitter to relieve your puppy and give them some exercise and food so training sessions aren’t too long.
The benefits of crate training a puppy
Crate training a puppy can be challenging, so it’s important to realize the benefits and draw on those during the tough moments. A trained puppy that knows its boundaries, has their own space, and grows accustomed to commands and routine will thrive. Not to mention, having a crate-trained puppy will make for happier dog ownership! Even if you don’t anticipate your puppy spending a lot of time in the crate, it’s important that they’re able to do it.
Reasons to crate train your puppy
- Helps with house training. The most tried-and-true methods of housebreaking include crating your dog.
- Eases anxiety. A puppy’s crate can serve as a comfortable, familiar space when your dog feels overwhelmed or stressed by visitors or loud noises.
- Makes traveling easier. If you’re traveling with your pup, chances are you’ll have to use a crate at some point. Being familiar with the crate can greatly reduce their resistance and stress during travel.
- Prevents injury. Left unattended in your house, there’s likely a lot your dog can get into. Putting them in the crate reduces the possibility of them ingesting toxic substances or running away.
- Protects your home. Save yourself the pain of coming home to your favorite furniture destroyed or your garbage strewn across the kitchen.
- Makes appointments less stressful. At some point in your dog’s life, it will likely be put in a crate at the veterinarian, groomer, or kennel. Reduce stress by teaching them that the crate is a safe place.
Precautions for crate training puppies
Most dogs will object to being put in a crate at first. It’s normal to experience problems for up to several months. If your dog has severe separation anxiety, it may hurt itself when left alone in a crate. It’s important to closely monitor and respond to their behavior.
🚨If you see bent crate wire or blood, remove your puppy immediately to check for injury. Anxious puppies can break nails and teeth or injure gums trying to free themselves.
Puppy parents will have to be patient and train in small steps. You’re teaching your new dog a skill, so treats, praise, and positive reinforcement are key. If you get frustrated, take a break. It’s important that you don’t become negative in your approach to training. If your dog sees the crate as a punishment, it will be more difficult to complete the training.
Never crate your dog for excessive periods. Leaving your dog in the crate all day and night is inhumane, depriving them of the exercise and social interaction they need to live healthy lives. Puppies under six months old and dogs being house-trained should not be crated for longer than three to four hours at a time as they need more frequent potty breaks.
Is your puppy overly anxious? Some dogs may need help from a professional dog trainer or prescription medication from a veterinarian.
Bruce Armstrong, DVM
Intense screaming, non-stop barking, stress panting, scratching at the kennel door, attempting to chew their way out, or other forms of crate destruction are all signs of anxiety in a puppy. Chewing at themselves constantly, hair loss at lick sites, or developing sores are other indicators. Slow crate training and positive reinforcement are always best.
Choosing the right crate
Choosing your dog’s crate is just as important as the training itself. In general, larger crates cost more, so the price you should expect to pay depends on your dog’s full-grown size. You can expect to pay anywhere from $50 for a small crate to $150 for a very large crate.
Your dog should be able to stand up and turn around inside their crate, but not much more. If they have room to use the bathroom in one area and rest in another, that’s what they’ll likely do, and you don’t want that. You want them to practice holding their potty instincts until you let them outside, which they’re more likely to do if they have a small space in the crate.
If you’re buying a crate for a new puppy, get one that will be large enough for their adult size and block off the extra space until they’ve grown into it. Many crates will come with a detachable divider to help create different sizes.
There are three main types of dog crates: metal, fabric, and plastic crates. All three crates are viable options. It just depends on you and your dog’s preference.
- Collapsible metal or wire crates are nice for in-home use as they allow you and your dog to see each other, perhaps giving less of a “trapped” feeling. Plus, the plastic bottom and wire sides may be easiest to clean.
- Plastic crates can be nice for travel because they usually have fewer areas your dog can see out of, which can help keep them from getting overstimulated in foreign environments. Plus, these types of crates usually have handles that make carrying easier. Check out our comprehensive list of our favorite dog crates for travel.
- Fabric crates are the lightest weight of the three options and generally fold more easily. The main benefit is portability, and they’re usually the most budget-friendly of the three.
Best for affordability
MidWest Homes for Pets Life Stages Dog Crate
Approved for flying in cargo
Petmate Sky Kennel Pet Carrier
Puppy crate training do’s and don’ts
|✓ Be patient. Take each step at a comfortable pace for your dog.||✗ Get overemotional. Avoid overdoing the love and excitement when you come and go, as it may increase anxiety for your puppy.|
|✓ Exercise often. Make sure your puppy has enough playtime and exercise when not in the crate.||✗ Use the crate as a time-out. The crate is your puppy’s space, not a time-out zone. Always use positive associations with the crate.|
|✓ Take potty breaks. Give your puppy a chance to go potty before and after being crated.||✗ Leave dogs unattended for too long. Never leave your puppy in the crate for a long time. Consider hiring a dog walker for frequent breaks during those daytime hours.|
|✓ Reinforce good behavior. Treats, petting, and praise will help reinforce positive behavior around crate training.||✗ Have unrealistic expectations. A puppy can’t control their bladder for longer than three to four hours. Potty breaks are a necessity.|
|✓ Keep it low-key. Be as business-like as you can when coming and going. You don’t want your puppy to associate the crate with an emotional event.|
What to do if you need backup
Crate training puppies can be frustrating and emotional. Puppy crate training at night, especially crate training a puppy on the first night, can make you want to grab your fluff ball and snuggle them in your bed. Keep in mind that training is temporarily tough but offers long-term benefits for both of you. With crate training, a series of small steps will go a long way toward a dog owner’s happiness.
There are times when heightened anxiety, downright defiance, or another problem may call for professional help. If you’re not up for the task, don’t hesitate to contact a dog trainer or talk to your veterinarian for advice.
👉 New puppy at home? Don’t forget to get your free FidoAlert to safeguard your four-legged friend from getting lost.
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Frequently asked questions
How long does crate training a puppy take?
Crate training often takes six months — this is why patience is vital. Be receptive to your dog’s behavior. You can move on to the next step of training when your dog is comfortable. Rushing your dog can stress them out, stalling and complicating the training process.
How long can I leave my eight-week-old puppy in a crate?
Young dogs have little bladder control, so eight to ten-week-old puppies can be left in the crate for a much shorter time period, typically 30-60 minutes.
Should I put my eight-week-old puppy in a crate at night?
Yes. Nighttime crate training will keep your puppy safe. Start by putting the crate beside your bed so your puppy will not feel so alone and can wake you for frequent potty breaks.
How do you stop a puppy from crying during crate training?
Some crying is inevitable. Use positive associations with the crate, stay consistent, and be patient when your puppy cries. Never rush a puppy through crate training, or you will cause more anxiety and ultimately lengthen the process.
Is crate training cruel?
No. Dogs have a natural instinct to “den” or curl up in their own safe area. Crate training will give your puppy a sense of having their own home within your home, among other good things.