Crate Training for Puppies and Dogs

PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial
Published: April 13, 2011
Crate Training for Puppies and Dogs

What is Crate Training?

Dogs are den animals, which means they like to have their own personal space (den) to rest, take a nap, or hide from thunderstorms. Crate training is a practice that uses a dog’s natural instincts as a den animal. Even though den animals like to have an area that’s all theirs, it takes some time getting used to a crate.


Benefits of Crate Training

There are a lot of good reasons to crate train a dog, housetraining being the main reason. Crate training is an essential part of housebreaking new puppies too. Puppies will not usually soil their bed or den. Therefore, if the crate is set up as a resting space, the puppy will wait until he leaves the crate to do his business. This will put you in control of where and when your puppy relieves himself.

You’ll also find that crate training is useful for sequestering rambunctious dogs when you have company over, during car travels, and for making sure a new puppy or anxious dog is safe and happy at night – i.e. not eating everything that’s left within reach, tearing up furniture, or soiling the floors.

Another reason to crate train a dog is if there are certain areas in your home where the dog isn’t allowed. Crate training your dog will limit their access to the rest of the house while they learn the other house rules, like not chewing up furniture.


How to Crate Train a Puppy

“Step 1: Familiarize your puppy with the crate to make crate training a pleasant experience.

To avoid making crate training your puppy a traumatic experience, make sure the he feels at ease throughout the entire process. You can do this by placing an old shirt or blanket on the bottom of the crate so that he is comfortable.

A puppy must never be locked up and left alone if it is his first time inside the crate. This can be a very traumatic experience for your puppy and will only make it more difficult for you the next time you try and get him to go inside the crate and behave.

Instead, tempt the puppy to enter the crate by placing some kibble inside. Be generous with your praises, as he enters the crate to eat the kibble. If he does not make a move to enter the crate, pick him up and slowly put him inside with the door left open. Reassure your puppy by petting him if he seems agitated and frightened. Once the puppy is inside the crate for a few moments, call him to come out of the crate to join you. Praise him with simple words and pats when he comes to you.

After practicing going in and out of the crate willingly several times, once the puppy appears to be at ease inside the crate and does not show any signs of fright, then you can close the door slowly. Keep it closed for one minute, as long as he remains calm all throughout. After that, open the door and invite him out while generously praising him.


Step 2: Feed your dog inside the crate to make him more comfortable with it.

Once you have passed the initial hurdle of familiarizing your puppy with the crate, you will want to get him comfortable to going into the crate and staying there quietly. Similar to before, the best trick for getting a puppy to go inside a crate willingly is to tempt him with food. Fill a bowl with a small amount of puppy food while you let him watch. Let him sniff the food and then slowly place the bowl of food inside the crate.

Once the puppy is inside, slowly close the door (so as not to startle the puppy) and allow him to eat. He will likely finish his food inside and only begin to whine or bark after he is done with his meal. When he starts to bark and whine, tap the door of the crate and say “No” in a strong, commanding (but not loud) voice. With repetition, this will make him stop crying and eventually train him not to whine when he is placed inside his crate.

Step 3: Get your puppy used to spending longer periods of time in the crate.

Now you can gradually increase the time the puppy stays inside the crate. If he whines, wait for him to quiet down -- or five minutes, whichever is first -- before you open the door to let him out. Praise him when he comes out, and take him outside to relieve himself immediately. Repeat this a few times a day, as consistency in training is a key tool to success.

After some time, your puppy will begin to feel at ease inside his crate and may even go to his crate on his own. This is the time to lengthen his stay inside, although you must keep in mind that there is also a limit to the maximum number of hours that your puppy can spend inside his crate before becoming uncomfortable.

Step 4: Crate your puppy overnight or when leaving the house, but do not leave them in there too long.

A puppy should not be made to spend almost an entire day in his crate, nor is it right to imprison a puppy inside his crate for long periods of time. He must be given breaks to walk and play around.

The purpose of a crate is so that the puppy/dog can be tucked inside overnight when you are sleeping and cannot supervise him, when you need to travel, and when you need him to be sequestered from visitors or children. It can also be a very useful tool in housetraining. You can keep him inside his crate until the scheduled outside time -- when you can take him out to relieve himself – and in so doing, the puppy learns how to control his body functions as an internal schedule is being set, so that he becomes accustomed to the times when he will be going outdoors. This method works well because it is a dog’s natural inclination not to soil in his own bedding. He will learn not to eliminate until he is let out of his crate, and later, at the scheduled time.


How to Crate Train a Dog

Maybe your dog is a rescue or was never housetrained, perhaps you’re about to make a long move and need to put him in a crate for the trip, or maybe your dog has been acting up when you’re away from home. Whatever the reason, crate training a dog is slightly different than crate training a puppy.

Depending on the dog’s age, temperament and past experiences, the entire process can take weeks. Always remember to be patient and be positive, offering plenty of praise at every step. Crate training a dog should be done in small steps not rushed. Follow the steps below to crate train your dog the right way:

1. Prepare your dog for crate training by sapping their energy (go for a long walk, play ball, etc.) and making sure they don’t need to go to the bathroom.

2. Puppies don’t have habits that they’ve been forming their entire lives, whereas an adult dog may have spent its entire life never having to enter a crate. For this reason dogs may take a lot longer getting used to the idea of a crate. You must be patient and kind, doing your best to create positive associations between your dog and the crate. Try feeding your dog its meals near the crate.

3. Make the dog’s crate nice and comfy, with one of your old t-shirts, some of the dog’s favorite toys, and a nice soft blanket. Comfort is key to getting a dog to accept his crate, leaving the door open so he can come and go as he pleases will help.

4. Once your dog is comfortable being inside the crate with the door open, you’ll want to start keeping the door closed for small amounts of time. Wait until the dog is hanging out inside offer a toy or treat, and close the door while they’re distracted. Start leaving the door closed in five-minute intervals and stay in the same room, or at the very least within your dog’s eyesight.

5. Keep practicing with crate training your dog, gradually increasing the five-minute intervals and working up to the point where you can leave the room without your dog getting upset. Once your dog can stay peacefully in its crate for thirty minutes, you can start leaving him rated for short amounts of time while you leave the house.

With patience, practice, and consistency your dog will learn that its crate is a safe place and not a prison. The crate may even become your dog’s new favorite place to relax!

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