How To Crate Train Your Dog
It's not just good for your pup — it can give you peace of mind, too.
Sleep is a precious thing — that’s never more clear than when you have a puppy in the household.
Puppies require time, attention and oh so much patience while they adapt to your schedule and learn the necessary skills to help them grow into healthy and independent dogs.
During the first few weeks in their new home, one of the most challenging lessons a puppy needs to learn is how to go to the bathroom outside — rather than in your shoe. This seemingly simple skill is not actually so easy.
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Crate training your puppy is a great way to help with housetraining and teach bladder control, notes Shelby Semel, senior trainer and founder of Shelby Semel Dog Training. A puppy’s crate will (in time) become a comforting space within your home for your dog to rest and relax voluntarily, in addition to saving that proverbial shoe.
Crate training is not only beneficial for the dog, but can help with owners’ peace of mind, too. “The crate provides a safe and contained area for times when you are not home,” Semel tells The Dodo, “but also helps avoid dogs from ingesting something dangerous and destroying your household.”
With all the howling, scratching and whining that can accompany this teaching, severely sleep-deprived pet parents may be tempted to put off crate training, but the sooner you start, the faster you can eliminate any fear or discomfort your dog has about using the crate, Semel explains. “I would begin on day one or two of getting your puppy or as soon as possible,” Semel notes. “You can begin using the crate even if it’s during the time you are home or during feeding time.”
Every dog is different, so some may get the hang of using the crate faster than others. “Crate training can take days, weeks or months depending on your dog. So it’s highly recommended to begin using the crate with the dog as soon as they come home,” Semel explains.
When considering what crate to buy, go for something sturdy, rather than something pricey. “I suggest the soft mesh collapsible for travel purposes only. Otherwise, I prefer metal wire crates with a divider,” Semel says. “We recommend you purchase a metal crate large enough for your dog to comfortably stand inside. If you are buying a crate for a puppy, be sure to buy a crate large enough for when the puppy is fully grown.”
When you first introduce your pup to her crate, start with small increments of time, slowly easing her into spending longer durations inside (about 10 to 20 minutes at first). Help your puppy build positive associations with her den by giving her plenty of treats and praise when she approaches the crate. “I recommend that the owners feed all meals in the crate for the first month or so,” Semel explains. After each meal, you can slowly increase the amount of time your pup spends in the crate — but it’s important to take it slow.
Another way to help your dog get used to her crate is to associate it with her favorite toys. “Each time you leave the dog in the crate, give them a high-value toy or items like a Kong with chicken, cream cheese or peanut butter inside, then remove the item when you remove the dog from the crate,” Semel recommends. Playing with a frozen Kong will give your pup something to keep her occupied if she’s not ready to nap.
Semel warns that owners should avoid using the crate for punishment or time-out, so it will not be connected with negative actions; “Since they will have to spend a good amount of time inside the crate, we want the dog to know the crate as a positive, happy and safe place!”
Taking your pup out for a walk before and after time in her crate will allow your pup to get out excess energy, as well as help with housebreaking. Dogs will not typically go to the bathroom in the same space where they eat and sleep, so only leave your puppy in the crate for as long as she can hold her bladder. Once out of the crate, immediately take her to her special bathroom spot outside (again, give her plenty of treats and praise for doing her business).
Adult dogs can spend four to six hours in their crate, while puppies under six months should only be crated for three to four hours tops. Anything longer could lead to anxiety, discomfort and even depression. If your dog does whine to be let out of the crate, make sure you differentiate between a whine for attention and a whine to go to the bathroom, so as not to reinforce bad behavior.
As crate training progresses, your pup can spend more and more time inside her crate, but even if your puppy is comfortable, it won’t necessarily get you out of the 2:30 a.m. walk.