What is crate training?
Crate training is the process of training your dog to view a crate as their own safe place, so much so that they willingly get inside the crate on their own or on command.
Despite some common myths, crate training is not cruel — it actually keeps your dog safer when you’re not around. Crate training is often done with young puppies (simultaneously with housetraining), but it’s never too late to start with an adult dog.
Reasons to crate train your dog
- Helps with house training — The most tried-and-true methods of housebreaking include crating your dog.
- Eases anxiety — Crates 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 groomer, veterinarian or kennel visits less stressful — At some point in your dog’s life, they will likely be put in a crate at the veterinarian, groomer, or kennel. Eliminate some of the stress they may feel by teaching them that the crate is a safe place.
Precautions for crate training
Most dogs will fuss or 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, they may hurt themselves when left alone in a crate. That’s why it’s important to closely monitor and respond to their behavior. Some dogs may need help from a professional dog trainer or prescription medication from a veterinarian.
Before you get started, know that you will have to be patient and train in small steps. You’re essentially teaching your new dog a skill, so treats, praise and positive reinforcement are key. If you get frustrated, it’s important not to become negative in your approach to training. If your dog begins to see the crate as a punishment, it may be much more difficult to complete the training.
Never crate your dog for excessive extended 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 older dogs being house trained should not be crated for longer than three or four hours at a time — they need more frequent potty breaks than older dogs.
How long does crate training take?
Crate training often takes at least 6 months — this is why patience is vital. That being said, be receptive to your dog’s behavior. You can move on to the next step of training when your dog is comfortable with the step they’re currently at. Rushing your dog can stress them out, stalling and complicating the training process.
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 limited 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 with this.
There are three major types of 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 for cleaning.
Consider one of our favorites: This best-selling dog crate on Amazon from Midwest Homes for Pets has a 4.5 star rating with over 75,000 reviews. According to reviews, pet parents love this crate for its durability and easy installation.
Plastic or fabric 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.
Step-by-step: How to crate train a puppy or dog
Before you begin
Once you’ve researched and purchased a crate, you can start the training. With lots of treats and a positive mindset, you’ll have your dog crate trained in no time. That said, it’s important not to rush the training steps. If you move through the steps at a pace that makes your dog anxious, the crate will become a negative object for them, which will ultimately add a lot of time and frustration to the process. It’s best to be patient and take your time, slowly building your dog’s trust with the crate.
Secondly, remember that 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. However, that same logic works for negative behaviors, too. If you let your dog out of the crate when they begin to whine or bark, you’re teaching them that behavior, too. Throughout the process, remember to only reward the behaviors that you want to turn into habits.
👉 Make sure your dog is “naked” before going into the crate. Collars and bandanas can catch on a crate can cause strangulation, especially if your dog begins to panic.
Crate training a puppy or dog in 9 steps
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 that you spend a good bit of time, such as the family room or living room, so that your dog doesn’t feel like going to the crate means isolation. You should also place it somewhere near an outdoor exit. That way, they’ll be able to get outside to use the bathroom quickly, reducing the chances of an accident in the house.
Then, it’s time to cozy things up. Add soft blankets, favorite toys, and even a dog bed if you’d like. Remember that this is their home-within-home, so you want to make it as enticing as possible. Note that your dog may have accidents in their cage at first, so you should only use blankets that you’re comfortable not personally using in the future.
👉 Pro-tip: 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 it 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.
3. Create a positive association with the crate.
Start by placing treats in a trail leading inside the crate. Some dogs may stop at the crate entrance, too 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 door open, 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 try playing fetch, throwing a toy, such as a kong, inside the crate for your dog to retrieve.
Once your dog is comfortable enough to go inside the crate, increase the intensity by feeding them meals in the crate. Try placing their food bowl at the very back of the crate. If they aren’t quite ready for that, place 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, you should only close the door while your dog is eating or engaged in playing with a 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.
At this point, your dog may begin to whine or bark to be let out. Always wait for them to stop before you open the cage. You don’t want to train them to know that whining equals freedom from the crate.
5. Introduce verbal cues
Start saying a command, such as a simple “crate” or “kennel” when placing toys, meals, or treats into the crate. Gradually stop throwing toys or treats into the crate when saying the command. When they go in without a reward present, shower them in 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. Maybe 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. Throughout the process, sprinkle in some shorter periods of time so that they don’t think that going in the crate always means several hours inside.
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 an emotional fuss of leaving or coming home, but do make sure to love on them once you’ve let them out of the crate, letting them know that you are always coming back for snuggles when you leave.
👉 You can use a phone or camera to record your dog while you’re gone so that you know whether they were anxious or calm.
8. Put your dog in the crate at night
Next, try putting your dog in the crate after letting them use the bathroom before night time. If you have a puppy or dog that isn’t potty trained yet, 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 fuss in the middle of their first night. If they do, put your fingers in the cage and give them a little reassurance. Ask if they need to “go potty,” or whatever your potty training command is. If they continue to whine, they may need to go out. Without getting them excited, quickly and calmly take them outside and return them to the crate.
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. That said, puppies and dogs that aren’t house trained will need much more regular bathroom breaks.
Puppy crate training do’s and don’ts
- Be patient, taking each step at your dog’s comfortable pace.
- Make sure your dog has enough exercise and playtime when not in the crate.
- Give your dog a chance to use the restroom before and after being crated.
- Reinforce positive behaviors with treats, petting, and verbal praise.
- Be as business-like as possible when leaving and coming home. If you train your dog to see crating as an emotional event, they are more likely to resist training.
- Avoid getting excited during departures or arrivals. As tempting as it is to smother your dog in kisses and loving words, this can heighten their anxiety about going in the crate.
- Never use the crate as punishment. You want your dog to see the crate as their comfy, safe place, not a time-out. Framing the crate as a negative place can increase their resistance to crate training.
- Don’t leave your dog in the crate for excessive periods of time. If you aren’t able to let your dog out for exercise and quality time every six hours or so, consider hiring a dog walker or taking them to daycare.
- Never leave a puppy in the crate for longer than three or four hours. They aren’t able to control their bladders or bowels for much longer than this.