How to Crate Train Your Dog

Mychelle Blake
Rottweiler puppy inside his crate

One of the best thing you can do for your dog is crate train them. Not only is it probably the best way to house train a puppy, having a dog that likes the crate gives you a safe place to keep him when you need to out or when visitors are over. It's also useful if you ever need to travel with him and have a dog that already is comfortable staying quietly in a crate.

Crate Training a Puppy

The steps to crate train a puppy are quite simple but the key to the steps are being consistent and remaining relaxed and calm if you have a setback. It's also very important to start with a good foundation which includes where you put the crate, type of crate, crate bedding and your initial introduction to it.

Step One: Determine Crate Location

While some owners prefer to keep the crate outside of the bedroom at night, ideally having the crate close to you will help ease the puppy at night, especially in the beginning.

  • A puppy will spend his first few days learning who his new family is and feeling stressed at being alone so at least try to keep the crate by your bed for the first week or two.
  • Placing the crate in another room where he'll be alone will probably lead to more crying and anxiety and can prolong the period before they learn to like the crate.
  • It can even make them fear being in the crate at all which will make training the puppy harder.
  • During the day time, keep the crate some place where the most activity in the house is. It may be easier to have two crates, especially if you have a large dog and don't want to move the crate around too much.
Australian Shepherd Puppy First Day Home

Step Two: Decide Which Type of Crate to Use

The main types of crate are the solid plastic airline-type crates and the open-wire crates.

  • Everyone has a personnel preference but the benefit of the open-wire crate is that the puppy can see all around him and feel less confined if he's anxious.
  • You can always place a blanket or towel over an open-wire crate to cover it to help him become less distracted and sleep.
  • There are also fold-up crates made with heavy fabric, also known as travel crates. These may not be the best choice for a puppy as they won't necessarily hold up to the normal amount of puppy chewing.

Step Three: Make the Crate a Good Place to Be

Your puppy should be as comfortable as possible in the crate.

  • Provide him with a soft crate pad or even a doggie bed that fits inside the crate so he can snuggle in and get comfortable.
  • It also helps to put something in the crate that's soft that smells like you, such as an old sweatshirt or t-shirt from your laundry hamper.
  • You can also sleep with some old towels in anticipation of your puppy arriving and then place these "scented" towels in the crate.
  • For both the shirt or towel trick, make sure these are items that you don't want back, as your puppy may end up chewing them or ripping them with his nails as he's "digging in" to make a comfortable place to rest.
  • One potential problem you may find with soft bedding is some dogs will actually be attracted to peeing on it. If this happens, remove any towels or blankets.

Step Four: Never Use the Crate to Punish

You should never put the puppy in the crate when you're angry and want to discipline him. This can cause the puppy undue stress and he'll come to see the crate as meaning something bad has happened or is about to happen. This will make crate training very difficult.

Step Five: Begin Acclimation to the Crate

You want to start out with pairing the crate to good things to reinforce to the puppy that it's an excellent place to be. It may seem like this is more work compared to just placing him in the crate, but it's worth it to spend time doing this before moving on to the next steps. A puppy that loves the crate is much easier to work with than one that's already developed a negative perception of it.

  1. Put your puppy's food dish in the crate, with the door open, at all of his feeding times.
  2. Let him eat his meals in there without closing the door for the first few times and work on moving the bowl further and further to the back of the crate.
  3. Lure him into the crate by tossing some delicious treats in the crate and let him eat them and come back out. Do this in several short sessions of 5 to 10 minutes maximum throughout the day.
  4. Once he's running into the crate when you toss a treat, pair it with a word, like "crate" or whatever cue you'd like to use.
  5. You can also mix it up and toss a toy in the crate and let him play with it for about a minute, then take it from him, lure him out of the crate and toss the toy back in and repeat.
  6. After the puppy is happily going into the crate for a toy, treat or a healthy chew, slowly close the door while talking to him in a happy voice. Keep the door closed for about 30 seconds and then open it. If he becomes stressed before the 30 seconds, speak to him in a happy tone of voice and toss him another treat.
  7. You want to repeat this step several times a day for short sessions of about 5 minutes each, and then gradually build up to 10 minutes or longer and with the crate door closed for several minutes.
  8. If the puppy whines and cries at any time when the door is closed, try to distract them with your voice, a toy and/or a treat. You do not want to let them out immediately as the puppy will quickly learn an association between crying and being let out.

Step Six: Move to Longer Crate Sessions

Once your puppy is happy going in and out of the crate and having the door closed for a short time, you're ready to move on to training him to be in their for longer periods.

  1. Either lure your puppy into the crate with a treat, toy or chew, or place him inside while talking to him happily.
  2. Close the door and then sit quietly next to him but otherwise ignore him. You can sit and read a book or work on a laptop or play a game on your phone to pass the time.
  3. If at any time while you're sitting there quietly ignoring him, the puppy turns around from you and lays down, or goes to play with a toy or does anything that shows he's not fixated on you, praise him and toss him a treat. Or click and treat if you're using a clicker.
  4. Try to start with sessions of ten minutes and work up to longer periods of time. You'll do this a few times a day. Eventually work towards getting up and walking away nonchalantly from the crate after about ten minutes with the goal of leaving to do something else with your puppy remaining quiet in his crate.
  5. If your puppy starts to bark, whine or cry when you walk away, don't turn around and react. Remain very calm and wait for a moment of quiet to go back to him. This can be difficult but you need to be very patient!
  6. Using a clicker can make this process go very quickly because you can stand on the other side of the room and click for quiet and toss a treat to him.
  7. Once you're able to keep the puppy in the crate for about a half an hour and he's generally quiet and calm, proceed with crating him and leaving the house.
  8. Put some fun items in the crate that are safe for him, like a puppy-safe chew, toys, and a soft blanket. You can also put some noise on to distract him, like the TV or a radio or some soft music.
  9. Make sure you take him outside first to potty and then put him in the crate and do not make a big fuss about leaving. Talk to him in a happy voice and leave. Don't be alarmed if he starts barking or crying, that's normal and should dissipate within a few minutes.
  10. Come back to the house after a short time period. In the beginning work on 10 minutes, then 15, then 20 and so on.
  11. When you come back, let the puppy out and take him immediately outside so he can go potty and praise him.
  12. Do not greet him effusively and excitedly when you open the crate, but remain very nonchalant. While everyone who owns a dog loves a big happy doggie greeting, if you reciprocate this, it can teach the puppy that your comings and goings are a really big deal. You want him to see them as "no big deal" to reduce his stress.
Dog wearing a blue sweater

Step Seven: Crate Training at Night

At night time you'll follow the same steps with some additional caveats:

  1. As your puppy gets older, he should be able to sleep through the night, but very young puppies are not likely to be able to.
  2. Make sure you take your puppy outside to eliminate before you put him in the crate and go to bed.
  3. If you hear him whining and crying in a frantic, high-pitched way and it's been some time since he last went, this probably means he needs to go outside.
  4. Take him out, let him pee and poop, praise him and then bring him back and put him back in the crate.

General Puppy Crate Training Rules

There are some guidelines to follow both for crate training and using the crate to confine your puppy.

  • Never leave the puppy locked in his or her crate for longer than he can physically hold his bladder. In general, three to four hours is the most a puppy under six months of age can handle.
  • Puppies younger than six months will vary depending on their breed and size so it's best to keep their stints in the crate short and no more than three hours unless you notice they can't even hold it that long.
  • Always train at the speed your puppy is comfortable with and don't push him too far to the point he gets stressed.
  • It can help to exercise your puppy before putting him in the crate as he'll be more tired and more likely to go to sleep. Taking him on a walk or having some play time in your house or your yard or even doing some short training sessions can make him curl up and nap when you're gone.

Crate Training an Older Dog

When you have an older dog, perhaps one you've adopted from a rescue, the steps to crate train them are very much the same as a puppy with a few slight differences.

  • An older dog obviously will be able to hold their bladder longer than a puppy but don't let this tempt you to rush the training, especially if the dog has never used a crate before.
  • If anything, you may find it takes longer to crate train an older dog if the crate is new to him and he's nervous about being confined. This is doubly true if he's also new to your household.
  • Having crates set up around your house that remain open all the time can be a good way to acclimate him to the crate. If they have comfortable dog beds and are near where the human family is, the dog will be more interested in going into them on his own and lying down. Praise and reward him anytime you see him do this.
  • Give the dog everything that he really loves while he's in the crate and only when he's in the crate, even if it is with the door open. This means food bowls, water bowls, toys, chews, and even doing tasks like brushing and obedience training if you can manage it.

How to Deal With Crate Training Problems

Of course, all dogs are individuals and not everything will go as smoothly as you'd like. Some dogs inadvertently develop a fear of the crate despite your best efforts or based on their previous history.

Excessive Crying

It's very normal for a puppy to whine and cry when put in the crate and with most puppies it will dissipate over time, much like a toddler crying himself to sleep. However, some puppies become deeply panicked and this needs your attention.

  • First look at the puppy's body language? Is he crying, barking and whining but seems otherwise ok? Or is his body language taut and tense, his behavior seems frantic and he's panting and drooling excessively?
  • Normal barking should end around 5 to 15 minutes. He may restart after he wakes up so be prepared for that. It's best to ignore him when he does this and praise him when he lays down and is quiet. If he does this constantly, work on giving him more exercise before he goes into his crate so he's tired. You can also tap on the side of the crate or make a sound to interrupt him and praise him when he's quiet.
  • If his barking is frantic, he may be too anxious to handle the crate. This means you may have moved too quickly with the training or he may have had previous negative experiences with the crate. For these puppies and adult dogs, you may want to try an alternate method that's less confining, such as a puppy pen. If you're using an airline type crate, you can also try switching to an open-wire crate.
  • You may need to go back to pairing the crate with wonderful things while keeping the door open and you might want to discuss with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist calming medication to help ease his stress.

Eliminating in the Crate

Sometimes puppies will pee and poop in the crate despite a dog's natural inclination not to do this in a small, confined space. This is a very common problem with puppies purchased from pet shops and puppy mills.

  1. If you come home and find the puppy has gone in the crate, do not punish him as he's only doing what "nature calls" him to do.
  2. Quietly clean the crate and his bedding and make sure you use a cleaner made specifically for removing pet urine.
  3. It's possible your crate may be too big and most crates come with dividers you can insert to make it smaller and remove as the dog grows up. When house training puppies, the crate should be big enough for him to stand up and turn around and sleep but not much bigger.
  4. It's also possible you kept him in the crate too long and he was unable to physically hold it. If you're not sure about how long he can hold his urine and feces, talk to your veterinarian. Three to four hours is the maximum for a puppy under six months but some breeds may have different needs.
  5. If your puppy has learned before he moved in with you that the crate is an acceptable place to go, you may want to stop using it for house training and try a method where you baby gate him in an area, such as a laundry room or bathroom and slowly work on retraining him to the crate. Don't keep putting him in the crate if he continues to eliminate as this will make his association between peeing and being in the crate worse.
  6. You might also want to bring him in to the veterinarian for a checkup. It's not unusual for puppies to have problems with house and crate training because they're suffering from a urinary infection, and once this clears up with some medical treatment, his crate training will go faster.

Self Destructive Behavior

Puppies and adult dogs will destroy toys and their bedding in the crate and this is an indication that the dog is bored. It also can be a sign a puppy is teething.

  • However, dogs that are anxious and stressed being in the crate can engage in more serious destructive behavior that can even be self-injurious.
  • If you notice your dog trying to break out of the crate and hurting himself, move on to a method of confinement where you use gates and a small room.
  • Speak to your veterinarian and a professional behavior consultant to discuss behavior modification for your dog going forward.

Long Work Days

One of the difficult parts of crate training is deciding what to do if you work an 8 hour day or longer. You have two options in this case.

  1. Use the confined room method and place an open crate in a small area that is puppy proofed and use a gate to keep the puppy in, such as in the doorway of a bathroom or laundry room. The puppy will use the crate to go in and out on his own but if he needs to pee or poop he can go outside and do so in the room. Realize this can make house training take longer to accomplish.
  2. Use either the first method or place the puppy in a crate when you leave and hire a dog walker to come during the day to let your puppy or adult dog out to pee. While this is an added expense, the benefit is you can house train the puppy faster as he will have far less opportunities to eliminate in the house.

Teach Your Dog to Love the Crate

There's a lot of initial preparation work involved in training your dog to love his crate, but taking your time and working with your puppy or adult dog's comfort level really pays off in the end. Having a dog that will happily race into his crate and lay down when asked can make your life, and his life, much easier. Proper crate training can speed up your house training success as well.

How to Crate Train Your Dog