Crate Train Your Dog or Puppy
Crate training uses the dog's natural instinct to seek a safe den in which to sleep. The idea is to make the crate the dog's go-to safe place, which he associates with pleasant things. When done correctly, crate training is beneficial to the dog and helps to decrease his stress. In addition, because the dog's instinct is not to soil his own nest, the crate is a great tool for House-Train-a-Puppy. The downside of crates is that they are sometimes used incorrectly as a place to confine and punish the dog. This goes against the main principle of crate training, which is to create strong links between pleasant things and the crate.
Selecting and Preparing a Crate
- Be mindful of the proper size. The crate should allow enough room for standing, sitting, and stretching out, but you don't want the crate to be so big that your dog has enough room to make one section of the crate the bathroom and the other the sleeping area.
- Buying two crates—one size for your puppy and a bigger one for your grown-up dog—is ideal.
- You may be able to modify a large crate for a puppy by blocking off part of it to adjust it to a puppy’s size.
- Choose the type of crate you want to use. There are many different dog crates available for a range of prices. Some are even made to look like furniture and can be used as a side table as well as a crate. Be sure that you evaluate the benefits of each kind of dog crate before selecting one.
- Kennel style crates are hard plastic crates that are enclosed (except for ventilation holes) on all sides except for the front, which has a wire door. Many of these are airline compliant, so this may be a good option if you plan to travel with your pet.
- Wire mesh crates are made of hard wire, which can’t be chewed through, and enables the dog to see out on all sides. However, wire mesh crates do not provide the “den” feel that most dogs want to experience, so they may not be the best option, even though it is often the least expensive.
- A puppy pen, which has wire walls but no floor or cover is another option for very young dogs, but be aware that older dogs may be able to move the pen across the floor or even flip it over, so it should only be used under supervision.
- Crates with hard bottoms can be made more comfortable with washable cloth bedding.
- Determine the crate’s ideal location. You should put the crate in a location that will remain consistent. This may be a high-traffic area where your family spends a lot of time, but you may also want to provide the dog with some rest time removed from activity, especially at night.
- Provide entertainment in the crate. If your dog has a favorite toy or comforter, place that in the crate in order to give the dog the idea that it is a nice place. However, make sure anything that is left in with the dog is sturdy enough not to be a choking hazard, or is resistant to chewing. You don't want the dog chewing a lump off when he is left alone, swallowing a fragment and getting a bowel obstruction.
- Cover a wire mesh crate. To make your dog more comfortable, cover the top and sides of a wire mesh crate. The extra darkness, plus the freedom from scrutiny, will help make the dog feel safer. Be aware, however, that any covering such as a blanket or towel can be pulled in through the sides of the crate and chewed up by a bored or anxious dog.
- Put a piece of plywood on top of the crate that extends about one foot beyond the sides of the crate, then draping a towel or blanket down the sides. The wood will keep the blanket out of the dog’s reach.
- Place treats inside the crate. As part of crate training you will seed the crate with tasty treats, again so that the dog associates it as a great location where nice things happen. It is not necessary to leave food or water in the crate. Fit, healthy dogs do not need water overnight (the longest they will be left in the crate) unless the weather is very hot.
Training at Night
- Make the crate comfortable and quiet. Even if the dog’s crate is in a high-traffic area during the day, it should be in a safe, quiet area of your home at night. You may also want to put it in an area that is easier to clean in case of toilet accidents, such as on a tile floor instead of a carpeted area.
- Use the crate at night. There will be nights when your new dog is not fully crate trained, but you need to keep him safe overnight. Play with the dog so he is tired, then put him in the crate, give him a treat to distract him, and shut the door. Then leave the room. Ideally, only re-enter and let the dog out when he is not crying.
- Alternatively, use a cardboard box at night. You may want to place the dog, particularly a young puppy, in a large cardboard box beside your bed for the first couple of nights, while you get busy crate training him during the day. The pitfall with this is that if he becomes too used to being at your bedside he will kick up an even bigger fuss when you move him from the bedside to the crate.
- Give puppies bathroom breaks at night. The maximum time you can leave a young puppy overnight is 4 hours, so set your alarm clock (ideally for every 2 - 3 hours). When your alarm goes off, take the puppy from the crate or box and pop him outside for a toilet break. Then put him back into the box or crate. Adult dogs can wait longer, but if they are not housebroken, you may want to follow this guideline even for an older dog.
- While doing this, do not fuss over or speak to the dog. You don't want to give him the idea that night-time is play time.
Introducing your Dog to the Crate
- Do not force a dog into a crate. Never forcibly put the dog into the crate and shut the door. Likewise, never put the dog in the crate as a punishment. Remember, the crate is not a prison where he goes when he's done something wrong, but a space where nice things happen and he goes because he feels safe there.
- Restrict the dog to one room at first. You want the dog to "find" the crate of his own accord so that he is more likely to return to the crate. Keeping him restricted to the room that contains the crate will make it more likely that he will find and explore the crate on his own terms.
- Leave the crate door open. When introducing the dog, set the crate up in the desired location and leave the door open. Ideally, put a blanket that smells of his mother and littermates into the crate, so there's a reason for him to investigate. At this stage the crate door is always open, so the dog can come and go freely. Closing the door comes later in the process, once he has accepted the crate as his den.
- Shower the dog with praise. When the dog investigates the crate, make a strong show of enthusiasm and praise. Each time he goes into the crate, drop what you are doing and give him lots of attention and encouragement. This will help him associate the crate with positive feelings.
- Seed the crate with tasty treats. You can place special treats such as cubes of cheese or pieces of chicken (depending on your dog's likes, dislikes, and allergies) inside the crate sporadically. This makes it an exciting place that is worth investigating, and the treat is its own reward.
- Feed a dog his meals in the crate. Be sure to leave the door open while you feed the dog. Again, the association with food makes it a great place, as far as the dog is concerned. If the dog only goes into the crate part way, put the food bowl as far in as he is comfortable with. As he gets used to eating in the crate you can put the bowl farther and farther back.
- Close the door to the crate once the dog is happy eating his meals there. After the dog has become accustomed to eating in the crate and goes into the crate all the way while eating, begin to close the door whilst he eats. As soon as he has finished eating, open the door. This way he gets used to being enclosed without making a big deal about it.
- Begin increasing the door-closed crate time. Once a dog has gotten used to the door being closed whilst he eats, start gradually increasing the amount of time the door stays closed. The eventual aim is to get him to accept having the door shut for 10 minutes after he's eaten.
- Do this slowly, incrementally increasing the closure time, giving him plenty of time to get used to an increased time before again increasing the time. For example, leave him in the crate for 2 minutes after eating is finished for 2-3 days before increasing the time to 5 minutes. Then remain at 5 minutes for 2-3 days before increasing the time to 7 minutes.
- If the dog starts to whine you have increased the time too quickly. Next time leave it shut a shorter time.
- Always remember only to let a dog out of his crate when he is not crying; otherwise, he will learn that crying opens the door.
- Use a crate command. At the same time as the dog gets used to the crate, it helps to give a command that the pet associates with going into the crate. In time, you will use this to encourage him to go in when you want him to.
- Choose a command such as "Crate", or "Kennel" and use a hand gesture indicating the crate.
- When the pup goes into the crate, say the command.
- At meal times, use the command and then put the food inside.
- Start saying the command on its own, and when the dog goes to the crate, drop a treat inside to reward him.
Acclimating Your Dog to Being Alone in the Crate
- Be home. It is important that the dog does not immediately associate his crate with being alone or abandoned. Therefore, you should not use the crate when you're away from the house until you have built up to a longer period of time.
- Encourage your dog to enter her crate. You may want to give her a treat when she enters. Close the door and sit with him for a few minutes. Open the door when she's not crying.
- Repeat the crating regularly. As your dog gets used to it, instead of staying with her all the time, get up and briefly leave the room. Return, sit by the crate, wait a few minutes then let her out. Again, do not let her out while she is crying.
- Increase the amount of time that you spend out of sight. Repeat the crating and leaving process several times each day, whilst building up the amount of time that you spend out of the room before returning to release him. If the dog whines, you have pushed too far too fast, and you should cut back a little next time.
- Remember, only release the dog when she is quiet, so that you reward the good behavior, rather than teaching her that whining gets her what she wants.
- Slowly and incrementally increase the time until you have built up to about 30 minutes of content crate time.
Leaving your Dog Alone
- Start leaving the house. When your dog feels comfortable being alone in the crate for 30 minutes, you can start leaving him there while you leave the house for short periods of time. As time goes on, you can leave your dog for longer and longer. While there is no set of rules about how long to leave a dog in a crate, here is a general set of guidelines:
- 9 to 10 weeks - 30 to 60 minutes
- 11 to 14 weeks - 1 to 3 hours
- 15 to 16 weeks - 3 to 4 hours
- 17+ weeks - 4 hours
- Note that with the exception of nighttime, you should never crate your dog for longer than 4 hours at a time.
- Vary when you put your dog in the crate. Crate him anytime between 20 and 5 minutes before you leave. Simply put him in the crate using your usual method and give him a treat. Then, leave quietly when you're ready.
- Do not make a big deal about leaving or returning. Ignore the dog in the crate at least five minutes before you are due to leave and slip away quietly. On your return, ignore him for several minutes before letting him out of the crate (when he is quiet).
- Immediately take the dog outside. This will allow your dog to relieve himself. Once he has gone to the bathroom, feel free to praise him excessively. Not only does this help mitigate accidents in your house in the moment, but it will also reinforce the idea to your dog that going to the bathroom outside results in praise.
Using Crates for Housebreaking a Puppy
- Start as soon as possible. Using a crate is very effective for teaching bowel and bladder control. However, if you're planning on crate training to housebreak, you should start this process as soon as you bring your new puppy home. This will mitigate the amount of accidents your puppy has before he is completely comfortable in his crate.
- Acclimate your puppy to her crate (see above). Although you are not training your puppy to be comfortable alone necessarily, you do want them to feel as though the crate is their home. This is the feeling that will prevent your puppy from going to the bathroom inside the crate.
- Confine the puppy to the crate when you are home. Once your puppy is extremely comfortable with the crate, you can confine her there while you are in the room. Every 20 minutes or so, take your puppy outside. Give her time to go to the bathroom.
- If she doesn't use the bathroom outside, return her to the crate. If she does, immediately reward the puppy with extreme praise, treats, love, play, and perhaps the ability to run free about your house for a little while.
- If you choose to let your puppy run around the house, take him back outside in 20 minutes to prevent accidents.
- Keep a puppy journal. While it sounds silly, keeping a journal of the time that your puppy actually goes to the bathroom will help you out. Assuming you have a regular feeding schedule for your puppy, he'll also have a regular bathroom schedule. Once you know the times at which he actually goes to the bathroom, you can begin taking her out at those times rather than every 20-30 minutes. When the timing is completely consistent, you can let your puppy run supervised around your house for most of the day.
- Continue to praise your puppy. Be sure to continue extended praise every time your puppy goes to the bathroom outside. Eventually, your puppy will understand that it is appropriate to use the bathroom outside and she will begin waiting for you to take her outside to eliminate.
- Reduce the amount of time your puppy stays in the crate. As your puppy continues to understand that she should use the bathroom outside and not inside, you can work towards eliminating the crate altogether and just take your puppy outside regularly.
- Clean up mistakes. Never punish your puppy for having an accident in the house. Clean it up using a non-ammonia based spray and try again. Supervise your puppy at all times, and give him plenty of opportunities to use the bathroom outdoors.
- If your dog whines in the crate, ignore it (unless something is physically wrong). Release him only when he is calm. Otherwise, your dog will associate whining with being let out of the crate.
- Put special toys in the crate that your puppy doesn't normally have out this will make it happier to go into the crate.
- In case of accidents: Be sure to use a stain and odor remover so that your dog does not eliminate waste in the same place. Remember - just because you cannot smell anything it does not mean that your dog can't!
- Never use ammonia-based products. To dogs, ammonia smells like urine, and thus these products can encourage increased use of a specific spot as a bathroom.
- Remember to take your dog out to potty a short time after eating. Most dogs will need to eliminate a short time after meals.
- Give him/her lots of praise and love.
- Leave soothing music or a TV on for your dog while he is in the crate during the day.
- Never forcefully make a dog enter a crate.
- When you first get the puppy don't immediately put him in the crate it will just scare him. Try playing with him and/or taking him up to the crate and let him sniff it he will eventually see that there is no reason to be scared of it.
- Use consistency. If you take your puppy to the same spot every time, it will help with potty training a lot.
- Try and make the crate as comfortable as possible. This will not only want him to go inside the crate and get cozy in there, but also make him not want to wet his home-like crate, which might get uncomfy on being wet.
- Make sure there are no sharp edges or wire ends that can hurt the dog. Some dogs with protuberant eyes, such as Pekingese, have been known to hurt their eyes on sharp crate edges.
- Don't leave your dog in the crate for more than a few hours at a time (unless overnight).
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