Dogs have the habit of staying in a den to guarantee safety and also to shield themselves from rough weather conditions. This is a natural instinct. This is also the philosophy on which crate training is based on. We, humans, are using their love for their caves to confine them in a crate. This can lead to a lot of benefits.
Crating is an excellent way to train your puppy into a good dog. But there are ways you can misuse it, even without knowing. So it is important to know how to crate train your puppy properly before beginning the process.
This guide is designed to teach you each and every aspect of crate training. Use the table of contents below to visit the sections of your interest. We recommend you to read the whole thing.
- Why does your puppy need crate training?
- Finding the right crate
- Crate Training a Puppy – The Process
- Crate Training Puppy at Night
- How not to Crate Train!
- When Not to Use a Crate
- Making Crate Training an Enjoyable Experience
- Problems to Expect
Why does your puppy need crate training?
Crate training for your puppy is crucial for a number of reasons.
The first and foremost reason why you should crate train your puppy is because it facilitates housebreaking. It is easier to teach your pet to eliminate outside once you give him his own little den.
The second reason is the safety of your puppy. You can’t be with him all the time. There are objects in your house that your puppy can damage (shoes, papers, furniture and other stuff). Sometimes, your little guy might also get into mischief and injure himself. Using a crate reduces the chances of these happening.
The third reason is the safety of your children and guests. If you have a baby or a toddler running around your house, then you know what we mean. Keeping your puppy in its crate can be very comforting for both the kids and also the guests.
Finding the right crate
Before we get into the process of crate training, make sure to have the proper crate for your pet. The crate can either be a heaven for your puppy or a living hell. It is up to you to select the right one.
Below are some general guidelines that can make your crate selection process easier.
1. Size. The first thing is the size of the crate. Don’t get a crate that is either too small or too big. A crate too small will not give enough freedom for the puppy to move around. A crate too big, on the other hand, can result in the puppy peeing in one end of the crate and resting on the other end, which is not what we want.
If your puppy is still growing in size, get a crate that can fit his adult self. Don’t give too much space for the reason mentioned above. Block the extra space with a blanket and give only half of the crate to the puppy.
One very important thing is to make sure there is enough room. You have to let the puppy in, give him some toys and place his food as well. If it is too restricted, he will not love his den.
2. Type. There are three kinds of crates which are recommended by trainers and pet enthusiasts.
(i) The kennel style crate is made up of plastic. It is closed on all the sides with holes in them to facilitate ventilation. There is a door in the front that acts as an entrance for your puppy to get in.
This kind of crate is perfect for carrying your pet during travels.
(ii) The wire mesh kennel is very common and is made of hard wire. These are comparatively cheaper. The puppy will be able to see everything around, so it doesn’t recreate the den feel much.
For creating the den feel, you can place any cloth on the wire mesh and cover. Now the dog won’t be able to see around and is more closed as well.
If you fear that the dog might be able to play with the cloth then place a cardboard or a plywood block below the cloth to keep it away from the puppy’s reach.
(iii) These are very similar to the second type but having no flooring. Be warned that the puppy, when big enough, can drag the crate along. This isn’t something you might want. If the puppy is very small, then you don’t have to worry about it.
You can also rent a crate from your local store and buy a permanent one once he has reached his final size.
3. Preparation. If you want your young fellow to spend a good amount of time in his crate, then make it habitable for him.
If the crate has a hard floor, put a blanket on top of it and make it softer for the puppy. Make sure he has access to some water inside but not in a bowl (it can turn messy).
Provide him some interesting toys. This will get him to play with it and spend more time in his den. The more he stays inside voluntarily, the easier it is to train him. Don’t keep anything that might be hazardous to his health.
Most of all, he should feel safe in his crate. It is going to be his second home. So don’t keep anything near that might threaten or worry him.
4. Placement. Placement of the crate is very important. Place the crate in a place where a lot of people hang out. It will comfort the puppy that it is a normal place, and there will be no worry of isolation. Do not change the crate’s position often. Be consistent till he gets used to his crate.
Crate training a puppy – The Process
Introducing the Crate
Put the crate in an area that is marked by the puppy as friendly. It can be your hall or some other room where he plays freely.
Keep the door of the crate open and make sure it is fastened. This will be an invitation to a curious puppy, and he will take a tour even without any effort from your side.
If he doesn’t get in, drop small pieces of food inside the crate near the door. This should act as bait and get him in. Remember, you are not feeding him. You are giving him a feel for the crate that is very crucial to go further in the training.
You can also try the same method with toys. Take his favorite toy and toss it inside. The puppy will go and play with it inside the crate.
If he doesn’t get into the crate for some reason, don’t force him to. He might get nervous or get a feeling of isolation. Let the puppy decide when to go and play in the crate.
The Feeding Phase
The objective of this phase is to increase the puppy’s association with the crate.
Start feeding him near the crate. This is to make him feel that the crate isn’t a bad place after all. Once he is eating near the crate without any hesitation, place his food well inside the crate. If he goes in to have his meal, great job!
If he is not willing to get that deep, place the food inside, by the door. This should get a positive reaction from the puppy. Each time, push the meal a little inside and get the puppy used to eating inside the crate.
Once he is comfortable with this, start closing the crate door. Open the door when he finishes his meal. The next time, wait for some time before you open the door. Slowly increase the time and see if he reacts positively to it.
If your puppy begins to whine, then you are progressing too fast. Reduce the closing time and proceed slowly. This should give ample time to the puppy to get used to the crate and get the feeling of home.
More Time in the Crate
In this phase, slowly increase the time your puppy spends inside the crate.
Once he is happy with having his meal inside, he is ready to spend more time in. Throw a toy inside and allow him to get it. When he fetches in, praise him and give him a treat.
Now practice commands like “crate” or “kennel”. Command your puppy to go inside the crate. If he does, appreciate him with a treat and close the door.
It is now time for the real training. Sit beside the crate for a few minutes, say 5 to 7 minutes. Then get out of sight and let the puppy handle your absence. After a couple of minutes, come back and stay there for another five minutes. Then, open the door and let him out.
This might be difficult for you and the puppy initially. But repeat the same procedure every day and increase the time limit gradually. Once your puppy can stay in its kennel for about 30 minutes without seeing you, you can go to the next stage.
Crate Training Your Puppy in Your Absence
At this stage, you should be able to command your puppy to get into its crate. Command him to get into the crate. Once he gets in, give him a little treat and close the door.
Since he has already practiced staying inside for about 30 minutes, you can now leave the house. Be sure to come back on time as your puppy can’t stay confined forever. Set a reminder on your smartphone or smart watch that your puppy is in its crate.
This is the final stage of the crate training and there are a few important points to note.
Don’t making leaving your house an emotional thing. Command him to get in, treat him and then silently leave. He shouldn’t feel any loneliness or anxiety because of your departure.
After returning, open the door and let him out. If he is too excited, don’t reward him by repeating the same gesture. Stay normal and let him play. You should also crate him occasionally when you are at home. This is to make sure that he doesn’t think he is all alone when inside a crate.
Crate Training Puppy at Night
Crate training puppies at night is slightly different from what you do during day time.
Take the crate to the place where you sleep. Command him to get in and treat him for obedience. This reassures the puppy that you’ll not be leaving him alone when he is in the crate.
Also, puppies don’t have great bowel control. So they might have to go out to eliminate during night time. When they are near the place where you sleep, they can easily wake you up and get things done.
When you are sure that your puppy is comfortable sleeping in its crate during night time, you can slowly shift the crate to its regular place.
How not to Crate Train!
Crate training your puppy is important but knowing how not to crate train is crucial as well. If you make all the wrong choices, then your puppy will never get into another crate.
Never use a crate as a punishment. Did you find your puppy chewing your furniture? Don’t drag him to the crate and lock him up. Instead, use positive enforcement techniques we’ve talked about in the puppy training module and teach him not to chew valuable stuff.
Leaving your puppy in the crate for an extended duration is another big mistake. Depending on the age of the puppy, he needs to eliminate often. If you leave him too long in his crate, then he’ll start soiling his own den (which never happens naturally). This isn’t good.
Even if it is not for eliminating, every puppy needs some freedom now and then. Imagine sitting in the same place for 8 hours straight. Does it feel great? No, right? Treat the puppy like you would treat yourself, within limits.
The following table is a basic guideline of how long you can keep your puppy in his crate.
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From the table above you can see that the maximum time you can confine your puppy in a crate is 6 hours. Except for night time, when the puppy is sleep for a longer duration, you should follow these timings.
Do not allow children to play with your dog’s crate. Your puppy should think of the crate as its own, private place. When others play or meddle with it, your puppy will not consider it as its den which kind of spoils the entire process.
When Not to Use a Crate
There are times when you shouldn’t let your dog use the crate. The reasons may either be due to anxiety or genuine health problems.
Do not crate your puppy if any of the following is true.
- Your puppy is attempts to escape the crate. You puppy might either damage the crate or injure himself in the process.
- Your puppy is reaching for the objects around him and tries to damage it.
- Your puppy eliminates in the crate. This might be because of poor bowel control. You should take more care when dealing with young puppies.
- Your puppy manages to move the crate from inside.
- If he is suffering from vomiting or diarrhea.
- When the temperature is higher than usual.
- When your puppy has not been given his regular dose of physical activity.
- Your puppy barks continuously during your absence. Your neighbors can lend a helping hand here.
The anxiety issues mentioned above can be very serious. You should immediately contact for professional help if your puppy continues to show aggressive behavior inside the crate or when trying to leave him alone.
Making Crate Training an Enjoyable Experience
The crate should be like a home to your puppy. If crate training is something he is not going to like, then you’re doing something wrong.
It is in your hands to make sure that the puppy enjoys the experience of using and sleeping inside its crate. Put a nice, friendly-looking blanket in this crate and make him feel home.
Place some toys he loves and increase his happy associations with his crate. Feeding him in his crate is another way to develop a good feeling towards the crate.
We’ve told this a hundred times but let’s be very clear. Never use your crate as a punishment. Who likes to live in prison? Definitely not your puppy.
Problems to Expect
When your puppy is being trained, you can expect a couple of problems. It is normal, and you should act accordingly to make sure that he feels better the next time. Seek professional help if you can’t handle the situation.
Whining is the most common problem when crate training a puppy.
When your puppy is whining, it could be for two reasons. Either if wants to get out of his crate or he needs to pee or poo.
The ideal response to whining is to not pay attention to it. Chances are your puppy might be testing if whining can give him a free pass outside. If that is the case, then the whining will stop after a few minutes. Just remember not to give in to your puppy’s tricks.
If the whining continues, tell him the commands you would use when you take him outside. If he is excited on hearing those, then he probably wants to eliminate. Take him out, let him and finish and get him back to the crate. Do not encourage playing with him during this session, especially at night time.
Sometimes the puppy will feel anxiety or fear when kept in a crate. A lot of people have the habit of leaving the dog in the crate as a punishment for bad behavior. This will create an anxiety as a result of which you dog will not want to get in.
Even if you manage to get him in forcefully (which we don’t recommend), he’ll try his best to escape. He might even injure himself during the process which makes things even worse. The only way to treat this is to get professional help.
That brings this long post to an end. We hope you found something useful from it. Have you started crate training your puppy? How is he/she doing? Share your story with us in the comments section below!
Featured photo credit: mdorottya/depositphotos