Crate Training Your Puppy 101

Why’s –

  • The crate is your puppy’s safe zone. Would you ever even contemplate allowing a human baby free access to your home at all times? Or to sleep in anything other than a playpen or crib? No, of course not – because it’s unsafe! Puppies are not born with an innate sense of what’s safe/unsafe or right/wrong, therefore, the onus is on us to protect them until they learn the rules of living in a human world.  If you cannot supervise your puppy, the safest place for him is confined in a crate where he cannot eat/chew unsafe things (garbage, electrical cords, TV remote, dish towel, the sofa… the list can go on forever)

  • Housebreaking! The crate will be a God-send when it comes to housebreaking your puppy! Your puppy is naturally a clean animal – he will not eliminate where he sleeps unless he’s forced to.

  • At some point in your puppy/dog’s life he will need to stay in a veterinary hospital (neutering, illness etc.) If your dog has never experienced a crate prior to these vents this will make an already incredibly stressful situation even more stressful. A puppy’s recovery can be delayed with the added stress. You may also want to travel with him, whether by plane or car – again, while fun for you it’s very stressful for your dog. Would you like your trip ruined by the constant howling from a dog that is beyond panicked because he’s never been accustomed to a crate?

  • We all have a place we can go to for alone time… for peace and quiet. A place to retreat to when we’re feeling a little overwhelmed or perhaps not feeling so well. It’s so important for your dog to have this space as well. Dogs need a den, it’s hard-wired into them.

Do’s –

  • Introduce your puppy to the crate slowly. Start by tossing food/treats into the crate for him to retrieve. Gradually, as he begins to show comfort while being inside the crate, close the door (start with just a few seconds and gradually build up the time) then gradually get him used to you moving further and further away from the crate while he’s in it until you are out of his range.  If, at any point, he shows distress, move back to the step before and stay there a little bit longer. Crate training can take days so you must be patient and encouraging. Leave the crate door open at all times when not in the training phase to allow him free access to come and go on his own. This will allow him to get comfortable with it more quickly.  Eventually you will find him sleeping in it willingly.

  • Praise your puppy when you catch him in his crate on his own.

  • Make sure the crate is big enough. Your puppy should be able to stand, sit, turn around and lie down comfortably in his crate.  You can purchase the crate with a moveable divider that’ll be large enough to accommodate your fully grown adult dog (very helpful when used for housebreaking)

  • Make the crate inviting and comfortable. Place a cozy blanket/bed in there. Would you want to sleep on a cold, hard floor?

  • Make the crate a happy and safe place for your puppy to be so he’ll want to be in it. Keep it fun and interesting with treats/safe toys.

  • Crate your puppy occasionally for short periods while you are home. You do not want him to associate the crate with being left alone.

Do Not’s –

  • Never, never, never punish your puppy/dog while he’s in his crate! If you take nothing else from this, take that at least! In order for the crate to be successful your puppy MUST feel 100% safe in it. Never reach in and pull him out, never scold him while he’s in it, never force him into it. If you want your puppy to hate his crate that’s the quickest way to do it.
  • Don’t rush the training phase. Do it slowly and gradually.
  • Don’t isolate your puppy. You’re aiming for confinement not isolation. Put the crate in the busiest room of your home so he can still see what’s going on and feel like part of the family. Putting him in a cold, abandoned room in the basement will only make him feel lonely (another reason to hate the crate)
  • Don’t abuse the time in the crate. Spending 8 hours/day in the crate while you are away at work is unfair. Eight hours to us is like an eternity to your puppy. Hire someone to go to your home a couple times/day to take the puppy out and play with/interact with him.  Your puppy should spend no more than 2 consecutive hours in his crate during the daytime. Longer periods in the crate is acceptable at nighttime but you will have quieter nights and more success if you move the kennel into your room with you. You will need to wake up and take puppy outside for bathroom breaks once or twice.  Your puppy should be well exercised and tired before being put in his crate especially at night. Never force your puppy to break his own rules by forcing him to eliminate in his *den* (once this happens it will become nearly impossible to housebreak him) If your puppy must be confined for long periods of time then perhaps consider confining him to a small area with the use of a baby gate to keep him safe (this will, however, stall housebreaking)
  • Don’t let your puppy out of the crate while he’s whining. This will only teach him that making noise rewards him. If you are 100% sure that he does not need to use the bathroom ignore his cries. He will eventually settle down (some can take days to catch on to this… buy ear plugs for your family and be patient) If you are unsure, go to him, take him outside and allow him the chance to go. Then return him to the crate. Never reward him by talking to him, snuggling him, petting him etc. during this process. They really are fast learners!
  • Don’t put pee-pads, newspapers in the crate. These will encourage your puppy to eliminate which is the exact opposite of what you want him to do.
  • Don’t make arrivals and departures a big deal. Crate your puppy 20 minutes before you leave the home. When you come home immediately take him outside but do not make a big deal of your arrival. Keep your arrival very low-tone. Do not offer an excited greeting.
  • Don’t force crate training if your puppy exhibits signs of separation anxiety and is at risk of injuring himself while he’s in the crate. If this happens, cease training and consult with a veterinarian or dog trainer.

For more advice on crate training your dog, please consult with our Mountain Road Animal Hospital veterinary team. We are always here to help!