The Dos and Don'ts of Crate Training a Puppy
To humans, crates may look like a cage, but they can become a comfortable space for a dog of any age as long as they are introduced properly. Dogs often need to be crated at the vet office or the groomers, while at a boarding facility, or during travel. Crates are also crucial in case of natural disasters and other emergencies—evacuation shelters usually require dogs to be crated.
All of this means that crate training is important for every dog. Best of all, when done correctly, crate training a puppy allows you to create a safe and cozy home for your puppy to sleep at night, while also curbing destructive behavior.
To walk us through the benefits of crate training and how to do so properly, we teamed up with canine expert Jen Nastanski, CPDT-KA, a behavior specialist from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Animal Recovery Center & Canine Annex for Recovery and Enrichment.
What Is Crate Training?
At its core, a crate is a great short-term way to train and manage your dog, while building a safe, cozy space for your pup that makes him feel more secure. It can also be helpful in potty training and for limiting access to parts of the house as needed.
While crate training a puppy may take time and effort, it has benefits for dog owners, too. "A crate gives you a secure way to transport your dog and travel with her," Nastanski says. "You can also use a crate to efficiently house train your dog, and prevent her from being destructive when you're not around to supervise."
When Should I Start Crate Training a Puppy, and How Do I Prepare?
"If you're using the crate for house training, remember that it's a temporary tool," Nastanski says. "Your goal is to create a dog who can be trusted to have freedom in at least part of your house while you're gone." Once that's accomplished, you can keep the crate for your dog to sleep and relax in by simply removing the door or leaving it open.
While training can be easier on younger dogs, if you go about it correctly, you can train dogs at all ages to feel comfortable in their crate.
Choosing a Crate
Pet supply stores and online vendors sell a wide variety of crates in a variety of sizes and materials, including plastic, wire, and mesh. Each style has its own advantages. Wire crates are portable and collapse for storage, whereas plastic crates are great for travel, and feel especially den-like to your pup. And finally, mesh crates provide privacy and are great for travel, but some dogs will chew through them.
Once you choose a crate, it's time to make it cozy. Nastanski recommends putting it in a room where you spend a lot of time, but away from foot traffic. Set it up with a bed, a blanket, and one or two toys. "You can even add a shirt you've recently worn into the crate," Nastanski suggests, to help your dog feel comforted by your scent. Draping a blanket over a wire crate can also create a more den-like feel for your pup.
The Basics of Crate Training a Puppy, Step-by-Step
Like many training techniques, getting your dog comfortable with a crate requires finding ways to make sure your pup enjoys her space.
- Once you've chosen a crate and set it up as a cozy little den for your canine friend, it's time to introduce your dog to the space—and this should be done very gradually. "You can start getting your dog comfortable with her crate by offering her yummy treats or her meals inside the crate," Nastanski suggests. During this period, the door to the crate should always be left open.
- Over a few days, begin rewarding your pup when she goes into her crate—it helps to have treats like cut-up chicken, cheese, or dog treats, ready in advance. Nastanski also recommends stuffing two or three puzzle toys with dog-safe food, like plain yogurt or peanut butter, which are great for when you start to increase the length of time your dog spends in her crate.
- Always exercise your dog before it's time to crate—Nastanski recommends 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise—but check with your veterinarian first to make sure the exercise is safe and appropriate for your dog, and avoid boring or repetitive exercise. Instead, opt for activities that exercise both your dog's brain and body. Taking your pup out for a potty break prior to crating is also essential, as younger dogs aren't able to hold it as long as adult dogs.
- Continue to give your dog her meals while she's inside the crate, and always leave something to chew (and check with your veterinarian on what items are safe for your dog to chew when she's alone). As you reward your dog for going into her crate, she'll learn to love the space.
- Leave your dog's crate open so she can access it at all times. "Many dogs will choose to rest inside their crates even when they don't have to," Nastanski points out.
- When your dog has gone a month without accidents inside the house and only chews or destroys her own toys, it's a good time to give your dog some more freedom. "But," Nastanski notes, "the right time to give your dog more freedom will depend on her individual personality."
Dos and Don’ts of Crate Training
Because crate training comes with its benefits and challenges, these dos and don'ts can help guide you through the crate training process.
- DO attach a water bottle to your dog's crate when they need to be crated for more than 2 hours. You could also use a bowl, but that can make a mess.
- DON'T crate train a dog with separation anxiety or other fears and phobias—they might panic and harm themselves while trying to escape the crate. Nastanski strongly recommends consulting a professional to address your dog's anxiety or fears.
- DO mind the amount of time you leave your dog in her crate. Puppies and younger dogs don't have as much bladder control, so the maximum time for an 8- to 10-week old puppy is 30-60 minutes. According to Nastanski, dog's body systems and elimination slow down while they sleep, which is why adult dogs can go all night without needing to go outside. Keep your dog healthy and happy, use the info below as a guideline for maximum crate time. If you need to crate your dog while you're at work, always make sure you have a scheduled time to break up the day.
- 8–10 weeks: 30–60 minutes
- 11–14 weeks: 1–3 hours
- 15–16 weeks: 3–4 hours
- 17+ weeks: 4–5 hours
- DON'T use your dog's crate as a form of punishment. "It's fine to use the crate sparingly as a brief time-out place," Nastanski says, "but your dog should have many more pleasant experiences with her crate with treats, puzzle toys, and meals to counteract any possible unpleasant associations.
- DO let your pup out of the crate if you suspect she has to go out. This is especially true for young puppies, who can't sleep through the night without eliminating.
- DON'T forcibly put into or remove your dog from her crate. In order to protect the crate as a positive space for your dog, simply lure her in and out with treats or toys.
Crate training a puppy takes time and patience. Stay focused on the end goal—giving your pup a safe, secure location to call his own. Keep in mind that just like us humans, every dog has his own unique personality, and you'll want to work with his individual needs.
Crate training one dog might take a few days or weeks, while another may need a little longer timeline to get used to his special space. Continue to show your furry friend patience and love, and she will learn the rest on her timeline—and when the going gets tough, consult with a certified dog trainer or behavior professional for support.