I used to think my dogs were lost or stolen …
Some of my dogs like to hide out in little dens they’ve made under my deck. It used to give me heart attacks when I couldn’t see them in the yard. But I’ve learned dogs love to make dens and hang out in them.
When I finally get my dogs inside the house, they’re happy to curl up inside any open crate. It’s an indoor den to them.
This is why crate training any dog should be easy. Their love of small, dark spaces should make any dog love having a crate to call their own.
So you don’t really have to crate train your dog … they come pre-programmed with a love of crates.
But if you make some common mistakes, you’ll train your dog or puppy to hate her crate.
So let’s look at how to make your dog fall in love with her denning instincts.
Why Crates Are A Good Idea For Your Dog
First, let’s talk about why dogs, and especially puppies, need crates.
Crates may seem cruel to us. They’re like little prisons to us humans. But crates can actually please your dog’s need for safe, den-like enclosures.
There are other good reasons to crate train your dog or puppy.
Crates Make House Training A Snap
Dogs, by instict, don’t like to soil where they sleep, so they will let you know when they need a potty break.
Related: House Training Your Puppy In 2 Easy Steps …
Crates Can Reduce The Risk Of Separation Anxiety
Dogs naturally feel safe and cozy in small little places. So a crate provides a perfect safe place to calm your dog.
Crates Prevent Destructive Behaviors
While your puppy or rescue dog is learning your house rules … a crate will prevent her from shredding your new couch when you’re not around to supervise.
Crates Make Dogs Safer For Children
If you have children, you can teach them that dogs in crates are off limits. No touching dogs in crates! This way, your dog can escape to her den when she’s not in the mood to hang with the kids. Tired or stressed dogs can bite.
Crates Are Mobile Hotel Rooms
If you’re travelling with your dog, she’ll appreciate her cozy bedroom to feel at home wherever she is.
Crates Make Vet Visits Less Stressful
If your dog has to spend time at the vet, she will relax and heal with less stress if she is used to a crate.
So crates aren’t only important for puppies and new-to-you dogs. A crate is for life. Even if you remove the door, most dogs will love to curl up inside their crates for a sleep.
But there’s a trick to getting your new dog or puppy used to her new bedroom …
Get The Crate Ready For Your New Puppy
Ready to pick up your puppy from the breeder or bring your dog home from the shelter? Make sure you have her crate ready before you bring her home.
The crate you buy can be either a wire crate or a hard plastic kennel.
I like the plastic kennels because they’re more enclosed and your dog will appreciate that. But I use wire crates because they’re cooler than the plastic ones and easier to clean. And, you can buy wire crates with dividers in them so you can keep your puppy in one end. This will make sure she doesn’t treat half of her crate as a bedroom and the other half as a bathroom.
The downside of wire crates is your puppy won’t feel as cozy in the big space. But if you put a blanket over three ends, this will meet his need for a dark little den.
Once you’ve purchased your puppy’s crate, here’s what you’ll need to furnish it. Again, make sure you have all this ready before the puppy comes home:
Toys And Treats
Every kid wants toys and snacks in their bedroom … and your newest kid is no different. Put your puppy’s best toys at the far end of his crate. Think about toys that won’t be a choking hazard, such as hard rubber toys. Make sure they’re large enough and can’t be swallowed!
You’ll also want plenty of delicious snacks in the puppy’s crate before she comes home. That will show him his den is a seriously cool place to be.
You can pick up a small, hamster water dispenser if you’re picky about a potential pool party. Otherwise a small bowl of water or a small hanging pail will do. Large bowls invite larger messes (especially for water-loving breeds). And large hanging pails can be dangerous. Make sure the water bowl matches her size.
Make sure the puppy has fresh water any time she’s in the crate for more than an hour.
Related: Hidden Dangers In Your Dog’s Water …
You want your puppy’s new home to be cozy, so don’t skimp on the comfy decor. Buy a nice, soft bed for his crate. Ideally, you’ll want to buy two or three, so you can have one in the wash and one in the crate.
Not all dogs love soft surfaces. If it’s hot or if your dog is a hot dog in general, he might push your nice bedding to the side. Don’t take offense … it’s his space and he can decorate any way that makes him feel comfortable.
Location Of Crate
For the first few days, have the puppy’s crate wherever you are when you’re home. This will encourage her to hang out in her den without feeling lonely or isolated.
The best place is a central room like your kitchen or family room. But it’s best to keep her in the same room as you for the first bit.
OK, you have your crate and you now have your newest family member. Here’s how to start off on the right paw …
Introduce Your Puppy To The Crate
In a nutshell, your job is to make every interaction the new puppy has with her crate a positive one. So go slow and try not to stress the puppy or yourself over the process.
Here’s how to get your puppy to love her crate …
Make The Crate Yummy
Throughout the day, drop some yummy treats in the puppy’s crate. Finding edible treasures in her new room will build a positive association.
You should also feed all your puppy’s meals in her crate for the same reason. If she’s hesitant to enter the crate, put her food and treats inside the doorway.
Gradually move them to the back of the crate.
You can also take your puppy’s favorite toy or chew and tie it to the back of the crate. This will encourage her to lay down in the crate to play with it.
If your puppy or new dog doesn’t love the crate and you believe she’s had a bad experience with it before, be patient. Never push or force your puppy into his crate.
6 Steps To Crate Train Your Puppy
1. Let The Crate Games Begin!
Once she has gone in the crate a couple of times, it’s time to make a game of it. Let her see you with yummy treats or fun toys and toss them into the crate. Praise the puppy when she runs into the crate to retrieve them.
When your puppy comes back to you, start the game again. Do this five times in a row, several times a day.
But don’t close the door yet … you’ve still got work ahead of you!
2. The “Get In Your Bed!” Cue
After a few days of tossing treats in the puppy’s crate, you can start teaching her to go into the crate herself. Before you start this step, the puppy should already run into the crate to retrieve treats when you toss them in. When she does, toss the cookie in the crate and as she’s running inside, say “Get in your bed” and praise her when she does.
Repeat this about 5 times, for 10 sessions, until she races into the crate to get her treat. Then, you’ll want to make it a bit more challenging.
Instead of throwing the cookie in first, say “Get in your bed.” And wait until your puppy goes in the crate before you give her the treat. If she doesn’t, wait … if she still doesn’t go in, end the session.
Try another session in a bit and go back to throwing the cookie in first, then you can try the cue again. When she goes into her crate on cue, give her several cookies and make a huge deal out of her. Do it a couple more times, then end the session.
Always leave your puppy wanting more.
3. Time For Lockdown
Once your puppy goes into the crate on cue, it’s time to close the door. Ask her to “Get in your bed” again, then close the door once she goes in. You still want to give her her yummies … this time, feed them through the door. Give her three or four treats, then open the door. Repeat this about 5 times.
Next, walk around the crate after you close the door. Toss treats at your puppy as you do, then let her out after a minute or two. Make this a fun game. Once you can do a few laps around the crate, it’s time for the next step.
4. Short Stays
The next step is to build up some duration. Get your puppy a special bone to chew on … place his crate beside your chair, put some toys in the crate … then queue up Netflix. Your goal is to have your puppy crated beside you for an hour or two.
Make a point of getting up and going to the kitchen for a drink or a snack, but make sure you’re back in a minute or so. You can even bring snacks back for the puppy. Her first experience in lockdown needs to be a very, very positive one!
If she starts to cry or throw a tantrum, ignore it. Never open the door if she is vocalizing … you will train her to throw tantrums to get out of the crate.
Never reward behaviors you don’t like.
After about half an hour, let the puppy out of the crate, as long as she’s quiet. Open the door and say “OK.” Don’t fuss over your puppy … you want the fun and treats to happen while she’s in the crate and behaving nicely, not outside the crate.
Once she exits the crate, give her the cue to go back in again and give her something delicious when she goes inside. This time, don’t close the door.
If the puppy doesn’t go back in the crate, try to bribe her with toys or treats … do whatever you can to get her back in the crate, but don’t lock her in it. You want her to learn that going in the crate doesn’t mean she has to be there for a long time.
The puppy can then relax outside the crate while you finish your movie.
5. Longer Stays
If movie night was a success, it’s time for longer duration lockdowns. For the next few days, lock the puppy in her crate when you’re home for longer periods. Do your housework, get caught up on your taxes, do some work or laundry … all while she is relaxing in her crate.
She may vocalize, but remember to never open the crate when she does. Rewarding any behavior will make it happen more often.
Be sure to keep checking in and giving treats. You want your puppy to learn it’s no big deal if you disappear … and that you’ll always come back. So when you start to leave the room, praise puppy when you disappear then come back and give her a treat.
To set your puppy up for success, always make sure she has a nice chew when you put her in her crate.
Continue to come and go and praise her when you’re out of her sight. Make a big deal out of how good she is and drop by her crate often to drop treats in for her.
Gradually, extend your puppy’s lockdown time without you around. Here’s a good schedule for extending lockdowns:
- 1 minute
- 5 minutes
- 15 minutes
- 30 minutes
- 1 hour
- 2 hours
- 3 hours
- 4+ hours
Be sure to throw in some shorter duration stays as you increase the time. Continue asking your puppy to go in her crate for just a few seconds to a minute with lots of rewards.
6. Leaving The House
When she is happily relaxed in her crate, you can start to leave the house. Use the same schedule above and continue to mix in short stays with lots of cookies.
Once you ask her to hang out alone in her crate for an hour or more, make sure you set her up for success. The best time to ask her to stay home alone is when she’s tired. Take her out for a good romp before you leave for an hour or longer. And make sure you give her water and a good chew toy.
It’s important that you leave and return without any fanfare or fuss. You’ll want to spend lots of time snuggling your puppy, but now is not the time. Be business-like with departures and arrivals.
If you make a big deal out of leaving, she will learn to make a big deal of leaving!!
Crate Train Your Puppy For Bedtime
Despite your best efforts, the first night may be a bit stressful for your puppy.
There may be crying, there may be barking and there will be one or two potty breaks. Don’t worry, it will get better!
The key to success is to place the crate right beside your bed for the first few nights or weeks. Remember, you don’t want your dog to associate her crate with you leaving!
She should be close enough that you can stick your fingers in the crate. If she vocalizes at night, tell her she’s a good puppy and put your fingers in the crate. She’ll appreciate the company and should settle back in and go right to sleep.
If puppy doesn’t settle after a few minutes, she probably needs to go potty. Pick her up matter of factly and don’t talk with her or fuss over her. She needs to know she’s being let out for business, not for fun …
So try to interact with her as little as possible. Night time is for sleeping, not for fun!
Related: 3 Effective Ways To Stop A Puppy From Biting …
More Tips For Successful Crate Training
With a little work and planning, your puppy will quickly and happily adapt to her crate. There may be some bumps in the road, so here are some extra tips to keep you on track.
Accidents In The Crate
Always be sure your puppy has eliminated before you put her in her crate.
If your puppy messes her crate while you’re out, never punish her. Wash the crate out with a safe enzymatic cleaner. Don’t use products with ammonia … they’re not good for your puppy and they smell like urine. So she may think it’s OK to soil the crate if it smells like a potty.
Expect her to soil in her crate for the first few days or weeks … and don’t be surprised if she aims for the bedding! If this is the case, you have a few options:
- Use a smaller crate.
- Use a divider in the crate.
- Remove the bedding (although it works, this one seems a bit less kind)
How Long To Leave Your Puppy In Her Crate
Remember, young puppies can’t hold on as long as older dogs can. Here’s a guideline of how long your puppy should be in her crate without potty breaks:
- 8-10 weeks 30-60 minutes
- 11-14 weeks. 1-3 hours
- 15-16 weeks. 3-4 hours
- 17+ weeks 4 – 6 hours*
*Unless crated overnight, puppies and adult dogs should never be in their crate for more than 5 or 6 hours at a time.
Avoid The Crate As Punishment
You’ve gone to a lot of work to make your puppy love her crate and call it a home. So you’ll want to keep up the games and practice for the first couple of months.
If she gets too rambunctious or misbehaves, it might be tempting to use her crate as punishment. You can use it for time outs, but only once your puppy starts to love her crate and can tolerate it for more than an hour.
But forcing your puppy into her crate or yelling at her to get in it will make the crate a scary place. Besides, it’s always best to tell puppy what you want her to do instead of punishing her for the wrong behaviors.
There are a million ways to be wrong and only one way to be right … so training will be faster and less stressful if you reward your puppy for behaviors you like. And ignore or prevent behaviors you don’t like.
Make Crate Training A Snap
Poorly trained dogs hate their crate because it becomes a cue that they’re going to be alone for a while. Dogs are pack animals and being alone is not only unnatural for your dog … it’s stressful!
So crate training is essentially training your dog to tolerate being alone.
Trained well, the crate will help your puppy feel safe and secure while her family is out for the day. So go slow and have patience.
Trained improperly, the crate becomes a terrifying barrier between puppy and his family. Some puppies view the crate as nothing but a sign that they’re going to be left behind … and that’s why puppy will cry and howl in his crate.
So introducing your puppy to her crate the right way is critical for a lifetime of success.