How to crate train a puppy

Team Walmart Pets

June 1, 2021

4

min read

When it comes to crate training your dog, many puppy parents have mixed feelings about locking their pups in a “cage,” thinking of the crate as oppressive and inhumane. However, this is far from the truth, crates offer pups a place to relax, and give them a sense of security. To better understand why crates are helpful, let’s look at our four-legged friends’ distant forebears: wolves.

Dens play an important role in wolves’ lives. Whether in a rocky fissure, a hollow tree or a riverbank’s overhang, a den is the wolf’s safe space during times of greatest vulnerability. The female wolf gives birth and raises her pups in her den while the male stands guard. Dens are usually situated near a water source and at an elevated height to help keep watch for predators.

Though your average Maltese, Pomeranian or Chihuahua may seem a far cry from the mighty wolf, even tiny toy breeds possess DNA and deep-rooted instincts connecting them to the lives and behaviors of their ancestors. This is why dogs of any breed, when properly trained, will see crates not as a cage, but as their own den — where they go to feel safe and secure.

In addition to serving as your dog’s comfort zone, crate training benefits the humans of the household. Like wolves, dogs feel an instinctive aversion to soiling their dens, so using a crate can be helpful in the housebreaking process. As your puppy grows older, the crate will serve as a place where they can feel calm and comfortable when you’re not home, mitigating the destructive effects of separation anxiety. 

How to choose the right dog crate

Part of ensuring crate training success is choosing the right crate. Keep these tips about crate size and material in mind when selecting your dog’s new kennel.

Size

The crate should be large enough for your pup to turn around and lie down comfortably, but that’s about it. You may think you’re doing your dog a favor by choosing bigger digs, but in truth, canines crave the feel of an enclosed space. 

If your dog is a puppy, don’t choose a crate thinking they’ll grow into it. You’ll either need to select a crate that lets you increase the interior gradually or upgrade the crate as your dog gets bigger.

Material

Crates are generally plastic, wire or soft-sided. 

Plastic crates block the light and more closely mimic a natural den. They’re also easy to clean and highly durable. 

Wire crates are more portable since they can be collapsed flat, and provide plenty of airflows (a must for hot climates). 

Soft-sided crates are also portable due to their lightweight construction, but they’re the least durable. These crates are best for small dogs who won’t chew their way out.

How to crate train a dog in 5 easy steps

  1. Introduce your dog to the crate gradually. Once the crate is set up, let your dog sniff and explore it, inside and out, making sure to praising them calmly all the while.
  2. Begin feeding meals next to the crate, letting them get comfortable.
  3. Once they’re comfortable eating outside the crate, start feeding them inside with the door shut, only opening when they’re done.
  4. Lure your dog into the crate with a food puzzle or toy and shut the door for a brief time.  
  5. With the door shut, leave the room for a few minutes. Gradually extend the time until your pup is comfortable being inside without your presence. 

How long does it take to crate train a puppy? That depends on the puppy and how quickly they develop a positive association with the crate. Don’t get frustrated if it takes a while! 

If you’ve got a picky pup, playing games is another great way to teach your dog to fall in love with their crate — and have some quality bonding time with you! For ideas, check out these crate training tips:

Teach your dog that crate means special treats


Every time they goes in, give them something that will make them want to stay: a Kong chew toy filled with treats or other delicious, long-lasting snack.

  • Praise them for eating it in the crate.
  • As soon as they come out, take the snack away. Your dog will soon learn that if they wants their wonderful snack, they need to eat it in the party room!

Teach your dog that the crate is a fun zone

  • During playtime, toss a tug toy into the crate.
  • Use TONS of verbal praise when your dog goes into the crate after it.
  • While your dog is in the crate, have an enthusiastic game of tug together. The second any of their paws step out, stop.
  • If they step back in, resume play. If not, toss the toy back in and start over. Your pup will soon learn that fun happens when they are fully in the crate.

Make the crate home base

Try and make it clear to your dog that their crate is theirs and is meant to keep them comfortable. Here are a few things that can help you:

  • Stand beside the crate, give a verbal cue like “kennel” or “crate” and toss a few small treats into the crate.
  • Allow your dog to go into the crate to get the treats, and toss more treats intermittently while they’re in the crate. 
  • Once your dog knows the command, close the door with them inside the crate, but do not latch it. Slowly open the door, closing it all the way if your dog tries to bolt. 
  • When your dog can stand inside the crate and not break for the exit, give a release command like “okay” or “release” and encourage them to come out without praising or giving them a treat.
  • Repeat, varying the distance from which you send the dog to the crate, the distractions going on outside of the crate, and the amount of time your dog remains in the crate. 

Do’s and don’ts of crate training

Don’t leave your dog in the crate for too long. Furry friends require regular exercise and human interaction. Check down the page for ASPCA recommendations on how long down you should leave your pup in the crate.

Don’t add non-edible toys that can be destroyed (which can lead to foreign body ingestions) or a water bowl that can be spilled — or lead to an over-filled bladder! Make sure your dog has access to fresh, clean water before and after going in their crate or give them an ice cube or two inside of the crate.

Don’t use the crate as punishment or your dog will come to fear it.

Don’t crate puppies for longer than three to four hours, which is how long young dogs can control their bladders and bowels.

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Do make the crate comfortable with a bed or snuggly blanket and some appropriate toys. A stuffed Kong is perfect. A warm water bottle can also help particularly young pups get comfortable.

Do create positive associations by offering treats and feeding meals in the crate regularly outside of your dog’s normal crate time.

Do teach a command to enter the crate, such as “kennel!” Be sure to use it every time your dog goes inside.

How long should you leave your dog in a crate?

You should gradually extend the time your puppy is inside the crate, but a dog’s tolerance level depends on their age. The ASPCA suggests the following guidelines.

  • 8-10 weeks: 30-60 minutes
  • 11-14 weeks: 1-3 hours
  • 15-16 weeks: 3-4 hours
  • Over 17 weeks: 4-5 hours

Crate Training

Dog Training

Dogs

Photo by Vander Films on Unsplash