Jacque Lynn Schultz, C.P.D.T., Companion Animal Programs Adviser. National Outreach
To you, a dog crate might look like a cage. But to a crate-trained dog, it’s their safe place where they can rest and feel secure. In fact, crate training can be helpful for both you and your dog. It can help minimize messes when housetraining and prevent potential damage when your crate training dog is home alone. It can also give your dog a quiet, cozy spot to call his own.
Buying a crate
The size of your dog’s crate is important. If it’s too small, he may be uncomfortable and dislike using it. If it’s too big, your dog may decide to divide up the space by using one side as his bedroom and one side as his bathroom. The crate should be big enough for your dog to stand up, turn around and lie down comfortably.
Setting it up
Dogs want to be near their people, so put the crate in a high-traffic area where you spend a lot of time, such as the kitchen or living room. Place a soft bed or blanket in the crate, along with a couple of favorite chew toys. Do not put food or water bowls in the crate (don’t worry, he should only be in his crate for short periods of time anyway). If a dog eats or drinks while confined in his crate, he’ll need to relieve himself shortly after, which he’d be forced to do in his crate. Plus, the bowls could get knocked over and cause a mess. Once you’re sure your dog is comfortable keeping his crate clean, you can provide water in a tip-proof bowl, or one attached to the crate wall.
When you introduce your dog to his crate, stay in the room. Place a small treat or piece of kibble in his crate, and encourage your dog to go in using a simple command, such as “crate” or “kennel”. When he goes in, praise him while he sniffs and explores. Let him come out, and then repeat the exercise. Have him go in the third time, but this time close the crate door behind him. Praise him and give him a treat through the side before opening the door. Gradually close him in the crate for longer periods of time while you’re still in the room.
The key to successful crate training is to create positive associations with the crate. It should be a happy place for him, not a “time out” place. Never punish your dog by putting him in his crate. When you’re home during the day, leave the crate door open and encourage your dog to nap in it. When you buy a new toy or treat, put it in his crate to discover.
Leaving him in the crate
Put your dog in his crate whenever he’s unsupervised, so when you’re gone or asleep. Always let him outside to relieve himself first, and remove his collar so it doesn’t accidentally get caught on the crate. Place a safe treat, such as a chew toy stuffed with treats or peanut butter, in the crate to keep him occupied. This also helps him mentally connect his crate with something he likes. After you close him in, leave without making a big deal of it. Lingering and giving affection through the bars will just increase the chances of your puppy crying in the crate and make your absence harder on them.
Don’t leave him in his crate too long. If you have a puppy, you can determine how long he can “hold it” by taking his age in months and adding one. For example, a two-month-old puppy could be left in his crate for up to three hours without any accidents. Remember, no dog should be left in a crate for more than eight hours.
If you’ve tried these tips and your dog still doesn’t like his crate, don’t give up. He may just need more time, especially if he’s an older dog that’s not accustomed to being in a crate. With consistent, positive use, your dog will grow to love his crate.
Benefits of Crate Training
A king has his castle, a child yearns for his own room, an infant is placed in a crib or playpen for safekeeping. Don’t our young canine friends deserve the very same consideration for their well-being when we are gone?
Training crates for dogs are too often deemed cruel. In fact, they are both training and safety devices and as such can benefit dog and owner alike. Crating on a humane schedule teaches puppies bladder and bowel control and limits teething to his/her own property. A dog crated in a car has a better chance of surviving an auto accident and little chance of causing one.
You will also find the welcome mat out at more inns and motels if you promise to crate the dog whenever you leave the room. Besides, the dog will feel more comfortable when left alone if he is in his own “room.”
Dog crates come in all sizes, many colors, and different styles. The most common are molded-plastic airline shipping crates and the open-wire types that usually come with a metal tray on the bottom. For owners who plan to do a lot of air travel with their dogs or for those whose dogs prefer dark, cozy places, the molded-plastic variety is best. Wire crates are preferred in most other instances.
The size of the crate is based on the size of your dog. There should be enough room for him to stand up, turn around in a small circle, and lie down comfortably. The crate serves as a place where the dog can rest and chew on safe, appropriate toys. It is not an exercise pen.
If you plan to use the crate as a housebreaking aid, size is of paramount importance. If there is room for Rex to soil and then lie high and dry away from the mess, the crate cannot serve its purpose. Those buying crates for puppies should keep the adult dog’s size in mind; but until the pup grows up, the excess room should be cordoned off in some manner. Masonite, Plexiglas, or even old wire refrigerator shelves can serve as barriers.
How long can a dog be crated in one session? The rule of thumb for crating is no longer than one hour per each month of age, up to nine to ten hours maximum (the average workday). Each session should be preceded and succeeded by an hour of aerobic exercise. If this is too long for your dog, hire a dog walker to exercise him midday.
Before you can leave your dog for the long stretch, make sure you have accustomed him to the crate. A dog who panics when left alone in a crate could do damage to the crate and, more seriously, to himself. And never, never crate your dog while he is wearing any sort of correction collar—it could easily get caught on something in the crate and choke the animal.
The Pup Runneth Over
Young puppies need lots of human stimulus and feedback, so avoid relying too heavily on the crate in the early months. Most puppies three and a half to four months old can be crated overnight for about six hours, even though they probably cannot yet display that kind of bladder control during the daytime. Younger dogs crated at bedtime will need to be brought to their papers or outdoors at least once in the middle of the night.
Crating is recommended as part of the workday routine until the dog grows out of adolescence, at approximately 18 months of age, for dogs that are heavy chewers or are otherwise destructive. This is a time of behavioral inconsistency and learning through trial and error. Proceed slowly when it’s time to wean your dog off the crate; leave him alone for just a few hours at a time. And think twice before leaving a curious adolescent at liberty in your house. Your dog may behave perfectly for a few weeks and then one day you might come home to find the place in a shambles.
A crate can provide peace of mind for both you and your dog. Think of it as a leash with walls. After all, both pieces of equipment serve to protect your dog from his own base instincts and errors in judgment. By crating your dog during the workday, you ensure him a royal welcome on your arrival home.
Quick Guide to Crate Training
Crate training a puppy or a dog at any age gives pups a sense of safety and security, as well as quiet time away from the activity of the home. Learning how to successfully crate train a puppy or dog should not only be a rewarding experience but a positive one too.
Which steps every adopter should start with for crate training a puppy or dog.
|STEP 1||STEP 2||STEP 3|
|How to pick a crate||Setting up a crate for training||How/when to use a crate|
|Choices – wired, plastic, fabric||Detach crate door/leave door open||Only use as a positive experience|
|Crate size to match grown dog size||Layer with puppy pads/small mat||As a dog-only den for the night|
|Roomy enough for a dog to stand||Add soft blanket for comfort||To give a dog space to rest/nap|
|Spacious for a dog to turn around||Include favorite toy||Can help a dog feel safe in thunder|
|Comfortable for a dog to lay down||Leave food-stuffed toy inside||Use to transport a dog safely|
|Must house him as an adult||Clip small water bowl to the wall||If a dog is left alone for a short time|
|Block off excess crate space||Position crate to face active area||Only after a dog has gone to the potty|
How to Crate Train a Puppy or Dog: 12 Easy steps
- Place crate in a kennel with the door open and facing a high traffic area. At the beginning of crate training, a dog feels more comfortable around familiarity.
- If a puppy is beginning training, layer the crate floor with puppy pads first as the pup is still learning how potty time works.
- Add a soft blanket and some toys to the crate to make the crate more appealing.
- Leave kibble or a treat near the back of the crate for the first time a dog or puppy is introduced to the kennel. Treats or kibble encourage pups to enter the crate voluntarily.
- Crate training should begin after an activity that tires the pup out a little, for example after a walk, or after playtime.
- Use a command that lets the pup know it is time to go into the crate. Words like “kennel” or “crate” work well.
- The first time a crate is introduced to a dog or puppy, stay in the kennel as he explores his new den, and then give him lots of praise for going inside.
- Once a pup has explored and sniffed the crate for the first time, call him to come out and give him praise for passing his first crate experience.
- Dog and puppies should only associate a crate with positive experiences. Repeat steps 6 to 8 two more times.
- On the third time, the pup enters the crate, close the door gently behind him, and sit quietly for a few minutes in the kennel.
- Open the door after a few minutes and give him praise as he comes out.
- Repeat steps 6 to 11, each time waiting a minute or two longer to let the dog or puppy out of the crate, until the pup is comfortably relaxing in the crate in 30 minutes sessions.
Puppy crate training schedule
Very young puppies are still learning bladder and bowel control and should not be crated for long periods of time.
- Crate time should be broken up into walks, play, or short activities, and a crate should be used for rest, chew-time, or hanging out.
- Puppies under 6 months should never be in a crate for longer than 3 consecutive hours as they have not mastered potty time at this young age.
- The rule of thumb for puppies older than 6 months is to crate in hours for the age of the puppy in months, plus one.Below is an example of a crate training schedule, and a reminder that the in-crate hours should not be consecutive for puppies but rather broken up over 24 hours to fit the puppy’s activity and feeding schedule.
|Puppy Age (months)||Plus One||Crate Time (hours/day)|
|2||+1||3 daytime hours + potty breaks|
|3||+1||4 daytime hours + potty breaks|
|4||+1||5 daytime hours + potty breaks|
|5||+1||6 daytime hours + potty breaks|
|6||+1||7 daytime hours + potty breaks|
|7||+1||8* daytime hours + potty breaks|
*Puppies and dogs should never be crated for a consecutive 8 hours in one day unless crating overnight. Very young puppies must be taken for a potty break at least every 4 hours, even during a night schedule. If potty accidents occur, increase the frequency of breaks.
8 Tips on how to encourage voluntary crate training
Crate or kennel training should always be a voluntary exercise. Here are some tips to making crate training a puppy or dog an experience with mutual benefits.
- Always praise a dog that has been crated.
- Start with short in-crate sessions by leaving new toys or treats inside.
- Feed a pup in the crate with the door open at first.
- Crate train only for the recommended amount of time the dog can comfortably hold his bladder and bowels.
- Never force a fearful or panicking pup into a crate, use rewards for motivation.
- Always supervise all crate training sessions.
- To encourage time-out in the crate voluntarily, remove the door.
- Make a crate a positive experience where a dog feels secure, include a soft blanket.
Adopting a crate-trained dog
The benefit of crate training adopted dogs or puppies is that a new pet parent is able to crate their new family member for comfort and safety, of both humans and pups. Crates in the home can be seen as a comfortable, private den for adopted pups, which helps to avoid:
- Dogs rambunctiously greeting new guests.
- Running rampant through the house when the family is out.
- Chewing up furniture or other items of value.
Learn more about the benefits of crate training a puppy or dog.