How to Crate Train Your Dog
Teaching your dog to love their crate can help with a variety of situations. Crates provide puppies with a safe place to relax when they can’t be supervised and help with house training.
Crating helps prevent unwanted behaviors while you’re away from home, like destructive chewing or barking out the window at people passing by. Having a crate-trained dog makes travel safer and if they ever need to be boarded or stay at the veterinarian, being in a crate will be less stressful. Plus, if your dog is injured or recovering from surgery, being crate trained makes their recovery easier to manage.
When introduced and used properly, dogs enjoy their crate and think of it like their very own room where they can have some privacy. Crate training can be done with all dogs, whether they’re a young puppy or older adult. Sometimes it just takes a bit longer to crate train adult dogs. Whether or not you plan on using a crate with your dog long term, or just for puppyhood, it’s very important to build a positive association with being crated — especially for dogs with separation anxiety. If your dog has separation anxiety, make sure to follow the special instructions below in the section: Crate Training Tips for Dogs with Separation Anxiety
The Right Size and Type of Crate
When choosing a crate for your dog, make sure it’s the correct size for your dog. You don’t want a crate that is too large, as this can cause potty accidents in the crate (the last thing you want a puppy to make a habit of). Choose a crate that is just large enough for your dog to stand, lay down, and turn around comfortably — about one and half times longer than their body length, not including their tail. If you have a puppy that will grow, you can purchase a larger crate that will fit their adult size and simply block off extra space with a divider.
There are two popular styles of crate: wire or plastic. Wire crates provide more airflow and your dog can see out of them easily. Plastic crates provide a bit more insulation, provide more privacy, and are frequently used for travel.
What Goes in Your Dog’s Crate (and what to avoid)
- Bedding: A crate pad or bed makes a crate more comfortable for your dog. If you have a puppy, you’ll want to find something that’s chew-proof and waterproof (in case of a potty accident). For senior dogs, consider an orthopedic pad that provides extra support for sore joints. Some dogs like to make a chew toy out of their bedding, so consider whether bedding in the crate is appropriate for your dog or use a chew-proof elevated version like one from K9 Ballistics.
- Food and Water: It’s not recommended to leave food and water in your dog’s crate, as these can spill and cause a mess – making a crate uncomfortable for your dog. Bowls also take up space in the crate, leaving less room for your dog to lay down and relax. For puppies, having free access to water while crated often makes it hard for them to not have an accident in their crate. However, if your dog needs access to water while crated, there are options for water “bowls” that attach to the side of the crate. They’re “hamster-style” dog water bottles that clip to the side of the crate – Oxyplay makes a version of them.
As you’ll see in the steps below explaining how to crate train a dog, you can still feed your dog their meals in their crate (with the door open). It helps build a positive association or you can leave a stuffed Kong or other interactive food toy with them.
- Toys: Providing your dog with something fun to do in their crate is a great idea. If you want to leave toys in your dog’s crate, make sure that they are safe and aren’t a possible choking hazard.
Stuffed toys can be comforting for puppies to cuddle up with but they’re also easy chewing targets. If your dog likes to destroy their stuffed toys, don’t leave one in a crate with them unsupervised as you don’t want them choking or ingesting the stuffing. Toys like a Kong Classic or the Toppl from West Paw are great crate toy options.
- Calming Dog Pheromones: For young puppies or dogs that might get anxious while you’re away from home, a small spritz of dog pheromones on their crate bedding or plugging in a pheromone diffuser nearby can help them stay calm.
- Take Off Your Dog’s Collar: Make sure to remove your dog’s collar or harness when they are in their crate. Collars and their tags can get caught on the sides of a crate, causing a choking hazard when a dog tries to free themselves. It’s best if your dog is “naked” in their crate or is wearing a collar without any loop or tags.
How to Crate Train Your Dog: 7 Steps
Once you’ve chosen a crate and accessories for your dog, it’s time to start building a positive routine with the crate. Here are a few tips on how to crate train your dog:
Step 1: Leave the crate door open and let your dog explore it on their own. Any time they walk close to it or start to check it out, toss a few treats inside to encourage them to go in.
Step 2: Spend a few minutes at a time doing training sessions to teach your dog to go into their crate on cue. Using the shaping technique of training, your dog can learn quickly that it’s really rewarding to go into their crate. As they step in, say “yes!” (or click if you’re using a clicker) and give them a treat. Work up to fully entering the crate before you say yes and give the treat, and then add in a down cue while they’re in the crate. Once they’re happily walking in all the way, start to add the verbal cue “Crate Up” (or whatever you’d like to call it) as they enter their crate, mark the behavior with your “yes” and give the treat. Watch this crate training video for a great example of shaping this behavior.
Step 3: Feed your dog their regular meals in their crate. Start with leaving the door open while they eat, and then close the door for mealtimes.
Step 4: As your dog is getting more comfortable walking into their crate, laying down inside, and eating their meals there, start to add in closing the door with them inside. Keep these closed-door moments short at first as you work on building duration. Provide a stuffed Kong for them to work on in their crate. Not only does this keep them entertained, but this yummy treat is building a positive association with being in a closed crate. When you first start, open the door before they’re done with their Kong and put it away until the next crate time.
Step 5: At this point your dog should see their crate as a great place to be, so start adding in some distance to the program. This means that you won’t be visible to them while they’re crated, which is an important step in crate training. Begin with just leaving the room for a few minutes while your dog enjoys their stuffed Kong or is eating their meal. Slowly add extending the amount of time you’re in another room and add in going outside for a minute before coming back in and letting your dog out of their crate. You can practice this when you need to take the garbage out or pick up your mail from the mailbox.
Step 6: Keep your energy calm and low-key whenever you’re asking your dog to go into their crate and when you let them out. If your dog is barking or whining to be let out, simply wait until they are quiet for two to three seconds before you open the door.
Step 7: If you’re noticing that your dog is whimpering or showing stress in their crate, go back a few steps in their training. It’s important to go at your dog’s pace to keep the crate a positive place for them. A certified dog trainer or behavior consultant can help you troubleshoot any crate training issues you might be having.
Tip: 1 Don’t use your dog’s crate as part of punishment. If your dog needs a time out after misbehaving, use a different area (like a small room that’s gated off) where they can calm down for a couple of minutes.
Tip 2: Make sure you give your dog a potty break outside right before you leave them in their crate and take them out for a potty break when they come out.
Tip 3: Adult dogs shouldn’t be crated for longer than 4 to 6 hours at a time during the day (longer for overnight crating is okay). Puppies cannot physically “hold it” as long. Puppies under 16 weeks old should be crated for very short periods of time.
Crate Training Tips for Dogs with Separation Anxiety
Crate training can be very beneficial for dogs that suffer from separation anxiety. Having a place where they feel safe and can settle down while alone is not only helpful while they undergo treatment for separation anxiety but also prevents them from engaging in destructive behavior around the home. There are a few things to keep in mind if you want to introduce a crate to your dog with separation anxiety:
- The crate training process might take longer than with other dogs. If your dog has separation anxiety, you don’t want to rush the introduction to their crate. Patience is essential in creating a positive association with being crated.
- Practice leaving them in their crate when you are staying home, not only when you’re leaving. If your dog with separation anxiety learns that they only go in their crate when you’re leaving, the crate will become just one more trigger for their anxiety. Have them spend some time in their crate (with a yummy stuffed Kong or puzzle toy) while you eat your dinner, when you’re relaxing in the same room, or getting some work done in your office down the hall.
- If your dog shows stress while in their crate, you can expand their crate area into a long-term confinement area. This area is larger than a crate and gives your dog a bit more room to move around, but still keeps them more confined to prevent destructive chewing or scratching. You can use exercise pen panels to create this area or use a smaller room with gates in the doorway. If you go this route, make sure that the pen’s panels or doorway gates are tall enough to prevent your dog from jumping over them. Securely fasten them to anchor points to keep them from getting knocked over or falling over and scaring your dog.
A long-term confinement area should include: a comfortable sleeping area (or their open crate), water, and a few safe interactive puzzle toys.
- Dogs with separation anxiety can also benefit from calming dog pheromones either lightly spritzed on their crate bedding or in a diffuser plugged in nearby.
- Some dogs with separation anxiety benefit from calming music or white noise, especially while crated. You can turn on music or turn on a fan to drown out noises from outside that might make your dog more anxious while they’re crated.