How to Crate Train a Puppy
Dogs and dens go together like PB&J.
Because dogs are den animals by nature, crate training a puppy caters to this instinct. Done correctly, your puppy will learn that their crate is their sanctuary, a safe place for them to rest and relax.
If you’re wondering how to crate train a puppy, this guide was designed just for you. Inside we’ll cover common puppy parent questions (When to stop crate training? Can a dog have more than one crate? What do I do about my puppy barking in the crate?), provide a helpful puppy crate training schedule, and share tips and tricks that will make the puppy crate training process as smooth as possible.
How to crate train a puppy: The basics
Crate training a puppy (or any dog, for that matter) involves teaching them to spend solo time in a confined, comfortable space. Think of your puppy’s crate as a human-approved den that supports their safety and security.
Most dogs won’t eliminate (pee or poop) where they sleep, eat, and rest, so crate training pairs well with puppy potty training. It’s also a great way to protect your pup when you’re unable to watch them. As you may have already discovered, puppies can get up to a lot of trouble in a short period of time if left to their own devices. Crate training your puppy sets them up for success by reducing opportunities for mischief and mistakes.
Last, but certainly not least, puppy crate training does wonders for soothing nerves and anxiety. Whether they’re overstimulated after a busy weekend of play dates or you’re heading to the cabin or the groomer, crate training your puppy can make these and other outings less disruptive.
Speaking from a veterinary perspective, the folks at your vet clinic really appreciate crate-trained animals. Not only do they tend to be less anxious, but nothing breaks our hearts more than the cries of a sad, stressed puppy!
Types of crates for puppy crate training
If you haven’t already invested in a crate, you may find the selection overwhelming. To help you make the best buy, here’s a look at what’s on the market:
EXPERT TIP: You’ll know a crate is just right when your pup can stand with their head up, lay on their side, and comfortably turn around. Before you buy, measure your puppy’s length and height (taking into account any pointy ears), adding 2” for smaller breeds and 4” for larger breeds. This will help you determine crate width and length.
- Plastic crates. Made up of a plastic body with windows and a door (often metal), these crates limit what your dog can see. Some puppy parents—and puppies—prefer plastic crates because the space is darker and may feel cozier. Bonus points if your plastic crate is air travel approved!
- Wire crates. Wire crate frames usually contain multiple doors and a plastic tray for the bottom. Their construction makes it easy to keep an eye on your pup, but some puppy parents may choose to put a light blanket over top at night to limit distractions and disturbances. Most wire crates are collapsible, which makes storing and transporting a breeze.
- Metal box crates. The most industrial option, these crates are made up of solid metal panels with holes for sight and ventilation. As you can imagine, they are extremely durable, but tend to price higher than other crate options and require a fair amount of storage space.
- Fabric crates. Some fabric crates will have a plastic or metal frame, but typically they’re lightweight and easy to fold. A great option for car or air travel (depending on the size of your dog).
EXPERT TIP: We don’t recommend fabric crates for puppy crate training. Why? Because if you have a little escape artist on your hands, they may manoeuvre open a zipper or, in some cases, chew right through the fabric!
The most important factor to consider when choosing a crate is size. Too small and your pup may feel anxious and uncomfortable. Too big and your pup may be inclined to pee, poop, fuss, or all of the above.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “Okay, but puppies grow!” Some crates will come with a divider to subdivide the space and accommodate a growing pup. Don’t have a divider? DIY! Corrugated cardboard or plywood should do the trick.
How to crate train a puppy: FAQs
When to start crate training?
Crate training doesn’t have to happen during a specific period of time, when it comes to puppy crate training the general rule is the sooner, the better.
Starting earlier typically makes the process smoother as it supports other ongoing training (house training, appropriate chewing, etc.) and teaches your puppy proper protocol and good manners.
When to stop crate training?
The short answer: never.
Whether you are in the thick of puppy crate training or you’ve recently adopted an adult or senior dog, dogs of all ages benefit from a safe space to call their own.
Successful crate training can help prevent stress and anxiety when you’re away, on the go, or en route to the vet clinic.
Where should I put my puppy’s crate?
Crate placement is an important consideration when crate training a puppy.
We recommend placing your puppy’s crate in a quiet, common area of your home—one where you can easily hear your puppy. Unfortunately, in the early days this may mean stretches of broken sleep, but when you’re up with your pup for a 3AM bathroom break, remember that this season of life is temporary. Better to have them do their business outside than in their crate or on your carpet, right
When is my puppy ready to sleep out of the crate?
Like puppy potty training, crate training a puppy can be difficult, but your patience and persistence will pay off.
Once your puppy gets comfortable with their crate or kennel and has learned how to effectively communicate when nature calls, crating overnight may not be necessary. However, don’t be surprised if your puppy still insists on heading to their den for bedtime; this means you’ve done a great job of teaching your puppy their crate is a safe space.
Can a dog have more than one crate?
Absolutely! We encourage dog parents to invest in more than one crate because different situations will have different crate needs. A plastic crate, for example, might be your best bet for a medium to large dog for air travel, whereas a smaller fabric crate is suitable for smaller breeds that can fly with you in the cabin.
What do I do about my puppy barking in the crate?
Some barking, whining, and scratching is to be expected as your puppy adjusts to a new environment. If the noise doesn’t let up after 30 minutes, this is likely a sign your puppy isn’t quite ready for the crate or has been pent up for too long.
Two important things to remember are not to let your puppy out of the crate in the heat of a tantrum, and never to punish a puppy for protesting. The former may teach your puppy that complaints equal freedom, and the latter can be extremely confusing for dogs.
Generally speaking, puppies will come to love their crates over time. Go slow, have patience, and praise and treat often!
My dog doesn’t do well in a crate. What are some crate alternatives?
Despite your best efforts, some dogs struggle to get on board with crates or kennels. Here are three alternatives you may want to try:
- Exercise pens. Buyer beware: because pens typically don’t have tops, a rambunctious puppy may try (and succeed) to break free.
- A room of their own. If you have the luxury of extra space, a bathroom, spare bedroom, or even the kitchen can work to contain your puppy. Make sure to clear the area of any potential dangers, and accept your baseboards may be used as a chew toy until your puppy catches on to appropriate chewing.
- An outdoor dog run. These are optimally suited for large dogs that love spending time outside, but certain runs may also work for pups.
Tips for crate training a puppy
First and foremost, crate training a puppy should be a positive and rewarding experience for both of you.
There are a few ways to help your puppy build positive associations with their crate:
- Feed your puppy in or around the crate. If your puppy is apprehensive about their crate, food may be the motivator they need to cross that threshold. Treats may also be effective for food-motivated dogs.
- Pair rewards with a cue or command. “House,” “crate,” or “kennel” are just a few options. Train your puppy on the command in three easy steps:
EXPERT TIP: Think your puppy has anxiety in its crate? Try slowing down your training, enlisting the help of a professional trainer, and chatting with your vet. Signs of anxiety include prolonged barking or whining, eliminating in the crate, trying to escape, salivation, panting, and not settling in the crate. Puppies who have developed separation anxiety can be tougher to train, and their anxiety can actually worsen if you attempt to keep them in a crate. Even more reason to have an open and honest conversation with your veterinarian when going in for those puppy exams and booster vaccinations!
- Anytime your puppy enters the crate on their own, say the command and give them a treat and/or praise.
- If they’re a bit more hesitant, say the command and toss a few treats into the crate. If your puppy chases after them, praise and double down on treats.
- Say the command, point at the crate, and see what happens. If your dog follows your finger and steps inside, plenty of praise and treats should follow!
- Build up trust and comfort over time. Once your puppy feels more comfortable being inside the crate, the next step is to teach them to remain calm, cool, and collected with the door closed. Try not to overwhelm them; start by closing the door without locking it as they eat or wrestle with a toy before locking the door for short periods of time.
- Train a release word. A release word lets your puppy know they’re allowed to stop “working” or training. For puppy crate training, this means it’s time to leave the den. Making a habit of using a release word teaches your puppy good manners and prevents them from bolting the moment the door unlocks.
Puppy crate training schedule
Puppies thrive in routine because it helps them understand what happens when (meal times, for example). A puppy crate training schedule will be specific not only to your household or work schedule, but also the unique needs and learning abilities of your puppy.
Because puppies need to do their business more often than adult and senior dogs, it’s best to follow this rule of thumb for how often to provide a bathroom break:
Your puppy’s age in months + 1 = # hours puppy can hold their bladder
Three things to keep in mind when building your puppy crate training schedule:
- Play time
- Feeding time
- Crate time
Here are our recommendations for how to get through the day without accidents or incidents:
- Take puppy out to pee first thing in the morning
- 15-20 minutes of play
- Feed the 1st of their 3-4 meals
- Immediately after, let your puppy out to do their business
- Crate time for 1-2 hours
- Potty break right after crate time
- Another 15-20 minutes of play
- Feed meal number two
- Rinse and repeat throughout the day!
If you’ve read our puppy parent guide to potty training, you’ll notice these two schedules are almost identical.
How to crate train a puppy at night
Daytime crate training is one thing, but what about at night? Should you be waking up every few hours to let your puppy stretch their legs and use the bathroom?
How you go about crate training a puppy at night depends on a few factors. First up, talk to whomever you got your puppy from. Was your puppy ever crate trained (formally or informally)? If yes, how did they do?
If your puppy is new to crate training, it’s important to go slow—especially overnight.
Remember that rule of thumb from earlier? Even if you have a rocky start with crate training at night, you’ll still need to set an alarm to regularly let your pup out after the sun sets. The fewer accidents, the better!
More puppy crate training tips
- Don’t use the crate for time-outs. Pens are for peace, not punishment.
- Don’t force your puppy into the crate. Again, this is meant to be a positive experience, not something that incites anxiety.
- Follow your pup’s lead. All puppies are different; some will take longer to crate train than others, and that’s okay!
- Do limit their time in the crate. No puppy or dog should spend most of their waking hours in a crate. For puppies, how long they can hold their bladder is a good guide on how long they can stay in a crate without a break.
- Do provide daily social, mental, and physical exercise. These three kinds of exercise support your puppy’s development (and will help keep them out of trouble).
- Choose a special crate toy or treat. An interactive toy or beloved chew makes their crate an extra special place to be.
- Add zen with Adaptil or aromatherapy. Adaptil is a calming pheromone product that can help puppies feel more comfortable and confident in their crates. Lavender, chamomile, and sandalwood may have a similar effect.
- Ask for help if you feel you need it. It takes a village, after all! Trainers and veterinarians are both excellent supports.
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