How To Crate Train Your Puppy
Here’s what an expert says
Are you getting a new puppy and wondering whether or not you should crate train him? Here’s everything you need to know.
The Dodo spoke to Shelby Semel, head trainer at Animal Haven rescue in New York City, and Gina Zwieg, professional dog trainer and owner of Positive Life Dog Training in Naples, Florida, for tips on how to crate train your puppy.
What is crate training?
Crate training is when you have a designated crate to help not only potty train your pup, but to also give him his own den to go to for sleeping or resting purposes.
It can also be used when you’re away from home for a short period of time to make sure your puppy and your home are safe from accidents or destructive behavior.
“Crate training is the process of helping our dogs to develop a positive association with their crate. To feel safe and calm while confined to the crate,” Zwieg told The Dodo. “By using positive reinforcement, our dogs can learn to love their crate and view it as their special little spot to chill.”
Crate training is an amazing tool to make sure your puppy gets the structure he needs to adjust to life in his new home.
Benefits of crate training your puppy
“I think if you are getting a young puppy, it’s a great decision to try and crate train your pup,” Semel told The Dodo. “It's great for bladder control/house training, management, safety and travel.”
According to Semel, there are many times when having a crate-adjusted pup is going to help reduce anxiety or stress for everyone in the home. Situations can include:
- Someone comes into your home who’s scared of dogs, like a maintenance person or plumber.
- Your puppy just had surgery and requires rest.
- Your puppy chews wires, and you can’t keep an eye on him while you're working from home — and he knows how to escape from a play pen.
- You have a pup with separation anxiety who may hurt himself when left alone.
“Having a crate as a safe space can provide you with many options in many circumstances,” Semel said.
How to find the best crate for puppy training
There are a number of different styles of crates, but only a few that are the best for crate training a puppy. “For puppy training, unless it’s for travel, I would not recommend a fabric crate, but prefer a wire crate or the plastic style with a wire door-front,” Zwieg said. “Fabric crates can be chewed through too easily.”
When choosing a crate, the size of the crate is also important. “If the crate is too large, your dog might eliminate on one end of the crate and go chill on the other end,” Zwieg said. “Your dog should be able to stand up and turn around in the crate, but that’s about it.”
“For a growing puppy, so you don’t have to buy several sizes of a crate, it’s helpful to have a crate that comes with a divider that can be moved and eventually removed as your dog grows,” Zweig said. “If the crate does not come with a divider, you can place something indestructible inside to take up some of the extra space.”
Best crates for puppy training
This dog crate previously won our Paw of Approval, so we know it’s amazing. The material and design keep your dog from getting caught or hurt (which is perfect for rambunctious puppies). It’s super versatile and has a garage-style door on the side that allows you to open up the crate and give your dog more space when needed. It also comes with a puppy divider.
While more basic in style, this crate is perfect for growing dogs so that you can adjust it as he gets older.
How to crate train a puppy
When you’re ready to begin crate training your puppy, these are some tips to follow to be successful:
Make sure all your puppy’s physical and mental needs are met
According to Semel, your puppy will have a hard time enjoying his crate if he really needs to go to the bathroom, if he’s full of crazy puppy energy or if he’s bored — so make sure you’ve addressed these issues prior to starting training.
Load up the crate with exciting things
Of course, most puppies prefer to be roaming around or hanging out close to their owners. However, according to Semel, this is usually not safe unless you’re literally keeping an eye on him at all times — as free-roaming young dogs tend to have house training accidents and chew things they’re not supposed to. “To ensure that your dog enjoys hanging out alone in a confined location, we need to build positive associations to their crate,” Semel advised.
To do this, Semel suggests that while your puppy is watching, place his favorite things in the crate and close the door (while your dog’s still outside it).
These things may include favorite toys but should also include high-value food rewards. “Let him explore outside around the crate and look in and see all the amazing things that are inside the crate that he currently cannot reach,” Semel said. “This helps build your puppy’s desire to go in the crate!”
Open the door and let your puppy in
When he’s really interested in the crate and trying to get inside — pawing at or scratching the door, lots of sniffing — open the door and let him go in.
Semel advises that it’s important you don’t force him in the crate — let him explore at his own pace! “Prop the door open so he isn’t shut inside,” Semel said. “If he runs out of cookies in the crate, simply toss some more in. If your pup leaves the crate, close the door behind him and reload with more treats. Wait for him to really want to go back in again, and open the door. Repeat, repeat, repeat!”
Shut the door
When your pup seems to want to spend more time in the crate than out, begin shutting (but not locking) the door.
“If your puppy wants to come out, that’s fine!” Semel said. “Just close the door behind him and reload the crate with your tasty yummies.”
According to Semel, the goal is to get your puppy to realize being inside the crate is more exciting than being outside it. “When your pup is comfortable with the door closed, begin locking it and giving him something longer-lasting to chew, such as a stuffed KONG or [something] similar. He’ll be learning that sometimes crating lasts a while,” Semel said.
Leave your puppy alone
When your puppy’s comfortable with being crated for a few minutes, you can start leaving him alone. “Just for a little bit!” Semel said. “Choose tasks that will only take you a couple minutes — bring the garbage to the chute, fix yourself a drink and return.”
“We’ll be teaching the pup that when he’s crated, sometimes you leave, but you always come back, and it is not a big deal!” Semel said.
In regards to timing, you should be able to leave your puppy in his crate for as long as he can hold his bladder, with a rule that you’ve given him plenty of exercise before going inside. You can start with keeping your puppy in his crate for two hours and gradually work up to four.
Tips for crate training for potty training
Once your pup’s fully comfortable spending time in his crate, you can begin potty training. To do this, Zwieg suggests keeping your pup in the crate when you aren’t around to watch him.
“Any time your dog is in the house and you can’t have your eyes on her, even for a second, she should be in the crate,” Zwieg said. “This will minimize opportunities for accidents in the house.”
Take your puppy out often
During training, you should take your puppy out to go potty every hour or two. “If she goes potty outside, give her a tasty treat immediately after she goes WHILE you’re still outside,” Zwieg said. “This means always accompanying your puppy outside so you can catch her doing good and reward handsomely!”
Additional times to take him out
In addition to taking your puppy out every hour or two, take him out to go potty right when he wakes up in the morning, before he sleeps at night, when he wakes up from a nap, right after eating and right after a play session.
What to do if your puppy has an accident in the house
“If you catch her in the act, clap your hands or make another (not too scary) sound just to interrupt,” Zweig said. “Don’t scold your dog or scare her in any way. Rather than teach your dog not to pee in the house, your dog would more likely just hide it from you.” Just whisk her outside to finish going outside if needed, and treat her outside if she goes.
If your puppy had an accident in the house that you discovered after the fact, don’t reprimand her. “Just clean it up thoroughly using an enzyme cleaner so your puppy won’t be tempted to return to this spot for a future accident,” Zweig said.
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Be patient. With your dog and yourself! Accidents will happen. It’s just part of bringing home a puppy.
If you need more help on crate training your puppy, reach out to your veterinarian or a dog behaviorist for more individualized tips!
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