Crate training can be a long, stressful process for both the dog and the guardian. Some guardians forgo this altogether, assuming that they won’t need to place their dog in a crate any time soon. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking can lead to a catastrophe. If your puppy’s never been in a crate before, they’ll cry, scream, bark, claw at the cage and do everything they can to get out of their prison. When this happens, you’ll wish you started crate training months ago— and now it’s much harder because your dog associates the crate with fear and anxiety.
For this reason, it’s essential that you incorporate crate training into your puppy’s housebreaking regimen. It’s much harder to crate train your dog if he’s already an adult, so you’ll need to start while they’re still young. A slow, patient routine trains your puppy to accept and even like the crate. Your puppy might even start to hang out in the crate during the day, effectively training themselves. When you need to transport your dog in a crate, they won’t whine, bark, or put up a fight— they’ll just curl up in their bed and go to sleep.
Crate training is a delicate process that typically has a few setbacks. But if you keep at it, you and your dog will be much happier. Here’s what you need to know about crate training a puppy.
Crate Training a Puppy
Before you start, be prepared to work at your dog’s pace— not yours. Give yourself plenty of time so you’re not trying to cram weeks of work into a single day. Here’s a guide to crate training your puppy at home.
Expose Your Puppy to the Crate
Start by gradually exposing your puppy to the crate. Place the crate in the middle of the floor and let your puppy check it out. Don’t force them into the crate— just let them explore the crate on their own terms. At first, your puppy might glance or sniff at the crate. Give them the treat to reward them for approaching the crate. As they progress further, they might walk toward the crate, stick their paw in the crate, enter the crate, sit in the crate and lie down in the crate. Give your dog a treat for each milestone even if they seem small.
You might be tempted to throw a treat or toy in the crate to speed the process along. Never try to force your dog into the crate before they’re ready— that just backtracks their progress. You can gently lure your dog into the kennel, but don’t overwhelm them with stimuli.
Let Your Puppy Spend Time in the Crate
Once your puppy is comfortable lying down in the crate, encourage them to lie in the crate for longer periods of time. Give them a treat when they lie in the crate for a few seconds, then increase the length of time that they have to spend in the crate to get a treat. As your dog spends more time inside the crate, don’t give them a treat every time— this teaches them to act only when you give them a treat. However, you can give them a click and affection to reward them for their behavior.
Close the Door with Your Puppy Inside
Some puppies react negatively to the sensation of being locked inside the crate. When you first start closing the door, don’t lock it. Keep the door closed for one minute, then gradually increase the length of time that you keep the door closed. Give your dog a treat every time they stay inside the crate without fussing.
Lock the Door Behind Them
When your puppy can sit inside the crate with the door closed, start locking it behind them. Increase the length of time that your puppy stays in the crate, and give them treats for good behavior. This trains your dog not to panic when they hear the door lock behind them.
Start Leaving the Room
You might have to leave your puppy alone in a room when you transport them in a crate. To prepare your dog for this eventuality, start by taking a step back when you close the door. Return immediately, then open the door and give your dog a treat. Slowly increase the length of time that you stay away from the crate before you return. After a while, take multiple steps back and repeat the same process.
As the training goes on, start walking to the doorway, then leaving your dog alone in the room for a few minutes. Keep increasing the minutes until you can leave your dog alone for an hour or more. Eventually, you can start training your puppy to stay in the crate overnight without barking or crying.
Begin Overnight Training
Overnight training is a completely new challenge. Instead of staying in the crate for a few hours, your puppy has to stay in the crate all night with only a single bathroom break. Your puppy might bark and whine all night, making you feel like they’ve forgotten their training. Fortunately, any puppy can learn to stay in the crate overnight if you show enough patience.
If possible, make your puppy exercise before bed so they’ll be worn out and ready to sleep. They might not bark at all if they’re too exhausted to stay up all night. Otherwise, your puppy might cry or whimper during its overnight stay. Never react to the crying, either to yell at your dog or let them out of the crate. This teaches them that you’ll let them out if they scream enough.
You might have to take your dog out for a bathroom break during the night. Stay completely silent so your dog doesn’t get wound up. Avoid giving your dog a lot of water before bed so they don’t have to sit in the crate with a full bladder.
At first, keep your puppy’s crate in your bedroom so they don’t feel abandoned. After a few nights, move the crate further and further away from your bed, then finally place it somewhere outside your bedroom. Your dog will probably still cry, but they’ll eventually get used to sleeping on their own.
How Do You Make the Crate More Comfortable for Your Dog?
Your dog will be more likely to get in the crate if they associate it with positive interactions. Feed your pup in the crate so they get comfortable having four walls around them. For more reinforcement, you can start closing and locking the door behind your dog while they eat their meals in the crate. Just make sure you open the door before they’re done eating so they can leave whenever they want.
Occasionally, place a treat for your dog in the crate. Don’t use treats to force them in the crate, but gently lure them inside once in a while. Place a few dog toys in the crate so they’ll want to enter the crate for playtime or at least to grab their favorite toy. For more positive interactions, place your dog’s bed in the crate and encourage them to sleep there during the day. They might start to gravitate toward their new home when they get tired.
What if Your Puppy Begs You to Let Them Out?
You already know that you shouldn’t let your puppy out if they cry during the night. But what about regular training? Unfortunately, the answer is the same—don’t let your dog out if they cry when you close the door. Otherwise, they might cry every time you place them in the crate. You need to teach your dog that no amount of crying will get them out of the crate.
When you first start training, you can reassure your dog if they get upset. However, your dog needs to learn to stay in the crate once you start closing the door. Reinforce this behavior by approaching your puppy when they’ve been quiet for at least five seconds. If you were planning on letting them out anyway, don’t let them out when they’re still crying.
Can You Crate Train Your Puppy Over the Weekend?
In a last-minute situation, some guardians try to crate train their puppy over the weekend. This isn’t the best option because most puppies need more time to desensitize themselves. If you want to try it anyway, you’ll essentially have an accelerated program. Start with exposure on Friday, then encourage your dog to enter the crate on Saturday. Throughout the day, you’ll advance to closing the door, then leaving your dog in the crate for longer periods of time.
On Sunday, you’ll leave your dog in the crate for increasingly longer amounts of time. By the end, your puppy might be able to stay in the crate for at least an hour. You should be able to leave the room and eventually the house. Your dog might catch on quickly, but if they don’t, don’t force your dog to rush through training on a weekend. They’ll just see the crate as an object of fear and aggression.
When Should You Not Place Your Puppy in a Crate?
Crate training is a valuable tool, but it’s not right for every situation. Here are a few instances where you should never crate your dog:
- Never use the crate as a punishment. This makes them afraid of the crate, and confining your dog to a small area isn’t a healthy punishment anyway.
- Never place your dog in a crate just because they’re getting on your nerves. If you don’t want a loud, excitable animal in your house, you shouldn’t get a puppy.
- Don’t place your dog in a crate if it might worsen a health condition. Your vet might recommend against it if your dog suffers from stiffness, arthritis, or inflammation.
- Never keep your dog in a crate for more than five hours unless you’re staying somewhere overnight or have no other choice. Imagine how you would feel if someone locked you in a crate for hours.
- Don’t put your dog in a crate if they can’t control their bladder. This is especially true if your dog has an illness that causes diarrhea. You can crate train your dog once they learn to hold their bladder.
- Never keep your dog in a crate when the temperature is extremely hot or cold. This is dangerous and might lead to death.
It’s not the most enjoyable part of raising a puppy, but crate training helps your dog grow up healthy, happy, and well-adjusted. Take advantage of this precious time to crate train your puppy. If you don’t, it’s much harder to train your dog when they’re an adult.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to crate train a puppy?
Depending on well your puppy picks up new tricks, it might take only a week to crate train your dog. However, some puppies take a month or two to train. Be patient with your puppy, and don’t rush them— if you do, you might have to start all over from the beginning.
Should I put my puppy in a crate at night?
Once your puppy gets comfortable with the crate, you could start letting your puppy stay in the crate overnight. This can be challenging at first because your puppy might whine or cry throughout the night. Giving your puppy a lot of exercises before bedtime wears them out, increasing the likelihood that they’ll sleep through the night.
Is crate training good for puppies?
Crate training might seem stressful, but it actually eliminates a lot of stress and anxiety in the future. You never know when you might have to put your dog in a crate— maybe you’ll have to take them to the vet or evacuate during an emergency situation. Your puppy will be much more likely to enter the crate if they have previous experience and positive associations with the crate.
What is the fastest way to crate train a puppy?
You could try to crate train your puppy over the weekend, but this plan moves a little too quickly for some dogs. If this is the case, you could speed up the process by leaving toys in the crate and encouraging your dog to sleep in the crate during the day. Never give your dog attention or let them out of the crate when they start whining— that slows their progress and teaches them to whine to get out of the crate.