The idea of crate training is frequently thrown around by dog experts, but for some puppy parents, crate training can be a nightmare. Crate training a puppy takes time and patience. It's not something that happens overnight, and you can't just lock Fido in there and expect him to learn. Fortunately, there are many tips and tricks that you can implement to make crate training a puppy an easier process for everyone!
Crate training is used as a method of potty training puppies and keeping them safe when home alone. For most dogs, crate training leads up to a dog that is well behaved when left home alone uncrated. When pet owners use dog crates effectively, this can become an invaluable tool for several reasons.
Not all dogs are capable of “free-roaming” behavior, however, so don’t be discouraged if your dog uses their crate for life. The main aim of crating is to keep your dog safe and your home unsoiled. If you can achieve this, then you’re right where you need to be.
Give your dog plenty of time to learn what behavior is acceptable when you're crate training a puppy. You can't expect him to understand how to behave when left home alone after just a few days of crate training. And, once he's completely housetrained, it's best to keep the kennel open and leave it up so Fido can have a place to relax that is all his own.
Crate Training a Puppy
a guide to easy crate training tricks
1. Make Your Puppy’s Crate Inviting and Familiar
To get your puppy to use their crate, you need to make the crate inviting to them. At first glance, the crate may appear overwhelming or scary to your puppy, but add a cozy blanket or toy and it becomes soft and inviting. You can even add a sweatshirt of yours so that they have your scent.
Some new puppy owners ask for a towel or cloth with the mother’s scent on it as well. This can be very inviting and calm for the new puppy by providing them with a familiar and comforting scent.
2. Create a Positive Association with the Crate
Anytime that you want your puppy to enter or use their crate, make sure that you are doing so in a positive mindset. Do this by using a friendly voice, offering treats, and giving praise.
You can also create a positive association when crate training a puppy by feeding him in his crate with the door open. This creates a positive association between food and crating.
3. Cover Your Puppy’s Crate
For some puppies, the crate can induce anxiety if they can see their surroundings but not interact with them. These puppies may whine, scratch at the crate, or bark. If this sounds like your puppy, try placing a blanket or sheet over the crate so that your puppy can’t see out.
Some companies sell “crate covers” that are designed for this purpose. Dog crate covers are more expensive than a sheet, but they tend to block out light sending your pup off to sleep.
4. Get the Right Sized Crate!
A dog will rarely potty in the same area that they sleep in. The exception to this rule is when they have been forced to hold it for too long or they have an upset tummy or bladder infection.
If you give your puppy a crate that is too large, they will find a place to sleep AND a place to potty. You want to get a crate that is only large enough for a place to sleep. The rule of thumb is that your puppy should be able to stand up and turn around in their kennel but have no more room than that.
If you want to avoid purchasing multiple crates, you can purchase an adult-sized crate with a divider. The divider will allow you to section off a small part when crate training a puppy.
VIDEO GUIDE: How to Choose the Right Size Dog Crate
5. Abide By Maximum Crate Time Guidelines
Creating a positive association with the crate also means not overusing the crate. Imagine if you were put in a cage for 8 hours at a time every day, you wouldn’t want to go in there either.
Always try to minimize the amount of time your puppy spends in their crate and always abide by the maximum crating time guidelines below. These guidelines are based on how long a puppy can hold their bladder.
- 8-10 weeks – 30-60 minutes
- 11-14 weeks – 1-3 hours
- 15-16 weeks – 3-4 hours
- 17+ weeks – 4-5 hours
6. Don’t Give in to Whining
Most new puppy parents are ready to throw the towel in on crate training after the first night of crying or whining. Try to stick with crate training a puppy without giving in, it will get easier.
If your puppy whines or barks in their crate, you may want to take them straight out with leash to go potty just to be sure they don’t need to go. After coming back in, however, put your puppy right back in the crate and shut the door.
7. After Potty Breaks Take Him Right Back to His Crate
As mentioned above, after coming inside in the middle of the night after a potty break, put your pup right back in their crate. You are trying to teach them a routine and set a schedule.
This means no momentary stop off on your bed for cuddles and no game of tug, it means RIGHT BACK TO BED!
8. A Tired Dog is a Good Dog
When leaving the house or at bedtime, if you find that your puppy barks excessively or gets themselves all worked up, try exercise. Before leaving your puppy in their crate, play a vigorous game of tug with them, take them on a longish walk…anything to get them nice and worn out.
This means that while you are out or sleeping, your puppy will be fast asleep. This is a rule that will apply throughout your dog’s lifetime. Problem behavior can almost always be remedied with more stimulation and exercise.
9. Move Your Napping Puppy to Her Crate During the Day
To get your puppy used to their crate, try moving them into the crate when they nap during the day. For example, if your dog falls asleep in the living room, carefully pick them up and put them in their crate.
If the crate is in the same room, you can leave the door open so that they can leave once they wake up. If you do this, however, keep an eye out for them waking up because wake up time is potty time!
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10. Praise Calm, Quiet Crating
Dogs respond to positive reinforcement much better than they respond to negative reinforcement. That means that instead of chastising a barking puppy in their crate, praise a puppy after a good session in their crate. Just be sure not to praise puppy when he has first settled in his crate, because you may wake him or remind him that you are leaving.
11. Look into Heartbeat or Soothing Toys
Some puppies – particularly very young puppies – have trouble adjusting to sleeping alone after being with their mother and siblings. These puppies can benefit from soothing toys like the heartbeat bear or snuggle puppy toy. These toys replicate the rhythm and sound of a heartbeat and can lull Fido to sleep when crate training a puppy.
12. Give Your Puppy a Familiar Smell
As mentioned previously, a familiar smell can help to soothe your puppy. If your puppy has developed an attachment to you then a sweatshirt with your scent can offer comfort. If your puppy is newly home, try to have a towel or cloth with the mother or sibling’s scent on it.
Whatever you do place in with your puppy, make sure that it’s safe for them and cannot be ingested. Scent is one of the strongest methods of evoking memory, so it can be particularly helpful for dogs suffering from separation anxiety.
13. Try Warm Toys or Towels to Soothe an Anxious Puppy
Just like heartbeat toys, warm towels or warm toys can offer comfort by simulating a sibling or mother’s body heat. You can purchase microwavable insert toys for this purpose or you can simply roll up a towel after putting it in the dryer to warm it.
Again, when placing anything in with your puppy, always make sure that it is safe and cannot be ingested.
14. Talk to Your Puppy
Some new puppy owners swear by talking to their puppy while they are in their crate at bedtime. For example, if your puppy seems anxious or distressed when you put them in their crate at bedtime, get into bed, but talk to them softly. This reminds them that you are still in the room and they are not alone.
Often a puppy is only anxious because they are going from sleeping with multiple siblings to being all on their own. Simply letting them know that someone else is there with them can be enough to settle them down.
15. Place a Liner or Tray Under the Crate in Case of Accidents
Occasionally, however, you may get stuck in traffic or your puppy may have had a little too much to drink and this can result in accidents. To save leakage onto your floor, invest in a tray, liner or puppy potty pads to go under the crate.
16. Leave the Radio or TV On
Another way to let your puppy know that they are not alone when you leave the house is to leave the television or music for dogs on for him. For some dogs, this is soothing and will send them right to sleep. For other dogs, however, this noise can create suspicion or anxiety, so it’s up to you to find out how your dog feels about disembodied voices.
17. Never Use the Crate as Punishment
We have mentioned before how important it is to create a positive association with the crate. This means that you should never use your puppy’s crate as a means of punishment. EVERY time your puppy goes in their crate it should be with a positive atmosphere or else you are going to create mixed messages.
18. Give Your Puppy Safe Distractions in Their Crate
Distractions can keep your puppy entertained while they are in their crate. The most common distraction used by pet parents worldwide is a KONG dog toy filled with peanut butter. You can also give your dog an ice cube to play with or a safe interactive toy. These things will keep your puppy busy so that you can slip out of the house unnoticed.
19. Don’t Make a Song and Dance About Leaving
When you do leave the house – whether your puppy is in their crate or your adult dog has free roam – don’t make a big fuss about leaving. Sure, you can say goodbye and even give them a kiss, but don’t make a big song and dance about it or your pup is going to get anxious.
20. Keep Your Puppy’s Crate with You at Night
Although many pet parents keep their dog’s crate in the bathroom or kitchen so accidents are easier to clean up, crate training a puppy is much easier if you keep the crate with you at night. Doing this lets your puppy know that they are not alone because they can hear your breathing.