It’s important that your new dog learns to spend time on his own in the house. Failure to do so can result in separation anxiety and destructive behaviors. Crate training a dog can be a very effective method for creating security for your pet in your absence.
A crate provides him with a safe space and stimulation, and it gives you peace of mind that he isn’t chasing the cats or eating your cushions. Crate training adult dogs requires time, patience, consistency and compassion, but it's doable when you know what to do.
Many pet owners are mistaken when thinking that crate training dogs will be an easy task. But you cannot simply put your pup into his dog crate and expect the pet to adapt.
Contrary to popular belief, dogs are NOT den animals in the nature; however, they have been domesticated by people to the point where they seek out dens today. One study with beagles (source) has shown how canines in fact enjoy human designed dog crates, but they need to be introduced to staying in a pet crate very gradually.
When crate training a dog, the process can be short as long as you stick with all the steps. If you skimp through the process, it's likely that your Fido will end up afraid of his crate.
16 Tips for Crate Training a Dog
1 Choose the Right Dog Crate
Dog crates are one of the most popular and first items to purchase on majority of new pet owners' dog supplies to-buy lists. Fortunately, there are tons of options available and you can find them in several sizes, so it’s important to pick the right dimensions for your dog.
If you have a puppy, you’ll need a crate that he can grow into. As a minimum, your fully grown dog must be able to sit and stand at full height, turn around, stretch out and lie down in a natural position.
2 It's a Safe Place; Not the ‘Naughty’ Corner
Crating a dog is about your pet having a safe space in which he can relax when you’re not in the house. It should be a cozy den that he enjoys spending time in, or when he has had enough of you and would like to spend some time alone.
One mistake that owners make is to give the crate a dual purpose, using it as a ‘sin bin’ when their dog misbehaves. Crating is not the canine version of going to the “naughty corner.” If your dog associates the pet crate with being told-off, then he is likely to be stressed and anxious when you leave him in it (if you can get him in there at all).
3 Create a Cozy Nest
Making a dog crate an irresistible space for your pet isn’t difficult, but it takes a little thought and desire to do so. Here are some key things to consider:
- Bedding – Lining the crate with pet bedding will provide warmth and comfort. Dogs love to make their own nests, so adding special dog blankets works well too.
- Toys – Your dog will need something to keep him amused while you’re away. Chew toys and stuffed KONG toys are good, if not the best, options. But whatever you choose, simply make sure it is safe for unsupervised use.
- Location – Fido is part of the family, so make sure he feels as though he is. Putting the dog crate in a space where the family spends a lot of time will put him at ease. Make sure it’s out of direct sunlight and drafts.
4 Security Blanket
You can help more nervous pets to feel secure when crate training a dog by covering part of the crate with a blanket. This gives them the option of hiding away in their little den. You can also splurge on a dog crate cover if you want a more aesthetically appealing look.
Dog water bowls are easily knocked over in dog crates. Most will recommend to buy a clip-on bowl, like the one you can see to the right from Midwest Homes for Pets, to prevent spills and mess.
Research has shown that our canine friends pick up on our moods far better than we pick up on theirs. Fido will notice on any negative vibes, whether you’re anxious about leaving him or frustrated when crate training a dog. When it comes to this, approach dog crate training process with enthusiasm and patience and your dog should adjust to his new routine with confidence.
7 The Introduction
How you introduce your dog to his pet crate will shape his first impressions of this new space. It's important not to rush. I recommend you put some of his favorite dog treats and dog toys by the crate door and let him approach them in his own time. When your pet is comfortable with this, move the dog treats inside the pet crate. Let him venture inside when he’s ready, but leave the door open. Let the dog adjust.
8 Extend the Length of Time in the Crate
When Fido becomes comfortable with entering his crate, he’s ready for the next stage of crate training a dog – feeding him in his crate. This will reinforce that crate time is good time, while allowing you to extend his time in the kennel.
9 Give the Dog Crate a Name
Decide on a name for your crate so that you can link it to a command. Commands such as “In your kennel” and “In your den” are clear and easy for your dog to grasp. Use this command every time your dog approaches the crate, and reinforce his actions with rewards like dog treats and praise when he walks inside it.
RANKINGS: Top 50 Best Dog Crates of All Time
10 Go Out of Sight
Put your dog’s favorite treats or a stuffed KONG toy in the crate. Let him go and investigate. When he is relaxed and focusing on his treat you can gently shut the door. Sit quietly by the crate for a few minutes.
Check that Fido is still at ease, then leave the room calmly. Return straight away and open the door. Sit quietly by the crate. Repeat this routine several times over the next few days, extending the period of time that you’re away up to 30 minutes. It’s a good idea to vary the times of day that you perform this drill so that your dog doesn’t anticipate a set routine.
11 Ignore the Whining
Your dog may whimper, cry, howl or scratch at the crate when you leave him. These are normal reactions. You MUST ignore them. Responding will only teach Fido that he gets what he wants when he makes a fuss. He’ll soon give in when he realizes it’s not working.
12 Stepping Outside
Once Fido is comfortable with being left for 30 minutes at a time you can move on to the next phase. It’s time for you to venture outside and leave him for short periods. Gradually extend your absence, making sure that he is coping with the process every step of the way.
13 Help a Dog to Relax Before Leaving
There are a number of things you can do to make your dog comfortable before leaving the house. The following steps should become routine when getting ready to leave the house:
- Make sure he’s had his exercise
- Feed him a small meal
- Make sure he been to the toilet
14 Don’t Make a Fuss
Praise and reward your dog when he goes into his crate but don’t make a fuss when you leave or return. Crate time needs to be ‘routine’ time that grounds your dog and settles him. If you display high energy, then he’ll think that something has happened to stress you during your time away from him. And guess what, he’ll be stressed when you next leave the house.
15 Stick to the 3-hour Rule
Dogs should never be left in a crate all day. The most they can tolerate is 3 hours before boredom or panic sets in, or they need to go to the toilet. Puppies can’t hold their bladders and bowels like adult dogs can, and this needs consideration when crate training a dog.
16 Make It a 24-hour Safe Haven
No, that doesn’t mean leave Fido in his crate all day and night. It means make it accessible to him 24/7. The crate should be a safe haven that Fido can chose to enter voluntarily for peace, quiet and security. If you’re concerned that Fido isn’t happy at any stage of the training program, then pause. Go back a step and repeat it until his confidence grows. Pushing him too far too soon will only make the process longer and more stressful for both of you.
How to Crate Train a Dog
If you're interested in watching a quick video guide on the subject, we've created one that will help you learn about crate training a dog. In this guide you'll see how to properly crate train while making the environment safe and comfortable for your pet. For information on all of our other video guides, product reviews, recipes and beneficial information for dog owners, subscribe to our YouTube channel.