Crate Training Puppies
Bear – his registered name was Ursus Americanus – was the second dog I ever owned.
An obsidian black Chow Chow without a speck of any other color anywhere. From his black fur to his black nails and every square inch of him. My little licorice jellybean was a fluffy bundle of energy and love.
Who tried to eat the house.
Yes, the house.
He’d chew on anything that he could get his mouth onto. Oh, yeah, there were the usual victims of shoes, and I can’t even begin to guess how many socks. But he would chew on the couch, the windowsill, the door frame, my desk chair, the stairs, the cabinets.
I had him for less than 2 weeks and every single room in the house bore the scars from his chewing. He could not be left alone for more than a couple minutes or something would fall prey to his little habit.
And apparently he wasn’t even teething yet.
I discovered he was also digging up the carpeting in the closets to hide treats.
Where does a 12-week old puppy learn to rip up carpeting to hide treats?
When I caught his mouth on the base of my 12″ dob telescope, I knew I had bitten off more than I could chew where this puppy was concerned.
I called the breeder for some advice, and they suggested investing in a case of bitter apple spray and a crate.
I had never used a crate before, because I thought they were cruel. How was a crate going to teach him not to chew and besides – what if there was a fire?
After about a week and a few conversations with the breeder, my vet, the local pet store, and the guy doing some of the repairs on my woodwork, I decided to try the crate training my puppy.
It took a couple weeks, but I successfully crate trained Bear. After another couple months of training – and re-training – we got his chewing habits under control with appropriate toys.
I came to the conclusion that rather than being cruel or dangerous, that the crate offered a sense of security to Bear, his own personal space, and was actually helpful for housebreaking.
Although I must say, up to that point he had been breaking the house just fine.
By the time he was 6 months, Bear was a happy, well adjusted little gentleman, and I became a believer in kennels and crates.
Why Should You Crate Train Your Puppy?
There are several good reasons why you should crate train your puppy – and none of them are harmful to the emotional or physical growth of your new best friend.
Crates and kennels are a throwback to their wolf lineage and lairs, so a personal den gives them a tie to their roots.
- Private space is as important to your canine as it is to you. A kennel or crate is a place of their own, and helps build their self-esteem, as well as trust. It’s his own space to be alone with himself away from the other animals – 4-legged or 2-legged kinds.
- Oddly enough, crates can be a source of comfort when they’ve got a tummy ache, have been a naughty boy (provided they sulk in there on their own accord), or because they have the blues from missing you.
- Crate training can keep your Fido from forming bad habits, such as chewing or other destructive behaviors. Roaming the house unsupervised can lead to exploration – and 99% of the time, that exploration is done with their teeth. Trust me on this one.
- Crates provide safety not just by keeping your little bundle of energy from getting onto trouble when you’re not home, but since crates are required when traveling in cars or airplanes, having them trained to remain calm inside one makes any travel safer.
- Overall, kennel and crate training includes open and latched doors. The door should always remain open for their access, and depending on your situation and preferences. The door can be left open or closed overnight, although for the first 6 months or so, the door is generally closed to prevent overnight accidents.
Please remember – never force a puppy into a crate if he is clearly afraid of it.
What NOT to Do When Crate Training
If you choose to crate train, it’s vital that you avoid a few pitfalls in order to keep a happy and healthy puppy and adult dog.
- Crates are not punishment. You should never put your puppy of dog in “time out” because they had an accident or chewed something while you were out of the house. Any correction needs to be at the time of the misdemeanor, not hours later.
- That being said, you can – and should – use the crate when there are guests and the puppy excitement gets out of hand. Place him in the crate until he calms down, and make sure none of the guests pay any attention to him until he has calmed down.
- Crates are not play places for kids, period. Crates will quickly become your dog’s personal sanctuary, and they will often go in and out of them according to their mood and whim. You should never allow kids in them for any reason. At all. End of story.
- Crates are not so you can have some peace and quiet. Puppies are a handful on a good day – and a test of your sanity on bad ones. But never, ever put your puppy in their crate because you need a break from their energy, or some free time.
How Long Does Crate Training Take?
There’s no easy answer to this one – no matter how disappointed you might be by it.
Like any training, there are several mountains and valleys – and plateaus – before success.
It takes commitment and endurance not to slack off when you think that there’s no hope you will ever get it done.
Or, being lulled into a false sense of security during a plateau and slacking off training prematurely.
On average, it takes up to several weeks to get your pup to get used to going in and out of his crate and having it closed for periods of time.
Some take to it immediately, some take a little longer.
A few years ago I had a puppy take to it the first day – I’d never seen anything like it. She waltzed right into the kennel the minute I put her stuff in it like she owned the space, and for the most part that was all it took.
I had another dog that was so terrified of his crate, after a few weeks of not going near it we abandoned the idea altogether. He never went into a crate – not his, not any of the others.
How to Crate/Kennel Train a Puppy
Step 1: Choose an appropriate kennel.
You don’t want to go too small, or your dog will outgrow it too fast, and you may be tempted to continue to use it past the size limit – which will cramp more than just your dog’s style.
On the other hand, one that’s too large may lose the effect of a cozy den, and provide an area for your pup to conduct business rather than learning to hold it.
Your best option is a kennel that will be an adequate size for your breed when fully grown, and simply use a divider panel to make the area smaller – and move it back as he grows to enlarge the area.
Up and coming on the market are kennels that are a cross between wooden furniture and wire kennels, and can be purchased or made, if you’re very handy. These hybrids can be very stylish – and very size adaptable.
As nice as they are, I’d steer clear of the soft sided Nylon crates if your pup is as destructive as mine except as temporary traveling equipment. Nylon just screams, “chew me!”
Step 2: Buy a bed.
Never use harsh chemicals when washing; you want some of your dog’s own smell to remain so he knows it’s his. Also, consider throwing an old shirt that you’ve recently worn in there. Your fluffy baby loves your smell, and finds it comforting.
If possible, introduce the bed a day or two before the crate – placing the bed near where the kennel will be. Encourage him to sleep on the bed, and in the very least play with him on it several times a day.
This will start transferring his scent – and ownership – to the bed, and help in the next step of crate training.
Step 3: Place the crate.
Place the kennel in a well-traveled area in the home, where most of the action occurs. You can move it later, to give him privacy and quiet, but right now your little furball wants to be near you.
And the best way to have him get used to this new monstrosity is to have it in an area that you are in, and he sees you are not afraid of it.
In addition to a familiar place near his humans, be sure to have some of his toys and blanket scattered around the area.
Leave the crate open for a day or two, and simply ignore it. If your pup happens to venture into it, don’t react at all. Keep a discrete eye on him, but try not to respond to his actions.
Step 4: Introduce the puppy to his den.
This should be done slowly, and you should expect this part to take some time. Start by moving the new bed into the crate.
Puppies are naturally curious, and within a few hours he should wander into the crate, if for no other reason then to check out his bed. Toss a favorite stinky treat in there on top of the bed and walk away, staying in the room and ignoring the crate.
If, after a week, he is still too hesitant to go in, then use the treat enticements and a calm voice to talk to him as you pick him up and put him in front of the crate, petting him and talking to him.
Do not, under any circumstance, simply put him in and shut the door of the crate as his first experience – this is pretty much guaranteed to make him afraid of the crate.
Step 5: Nap time.
Once your puppy has ventured in and out of the crate a few times, start placing him in there for naps. This is most easily done by picking up the sleeping puppy and placing him on the soft bed inside the crate, and let him wake up on his own.
If you can be in the same room when he wakes, then all the better. If there’s a favorite snuggle toy he sleeps with, then it should go in the crate permanently.
If he takes it out, then return it to the crate in a matter-of-fact manner – don’t make any fuss.
Eventually, if you play with him near the crate, he will start to go in there for his naps.
If you are training your puppy to voice commands, especially a ‘lay down‘ command, this is a perfect time to incorporate this training. As he gets used to the kennel as a place to lay down and sleep, we move on to the next step.
If your puppy – or dog, for that matter – is afraid of the crate, do not jump ahead to this step and hope that waking up inside the crate will suddenly cure him. It’s just plain cruel.
Step 6: On Command.
Decide on a name and command for the crate, and start using it. Common choices are “kennel”, “crate”, and “place”. Personally, I use “lair” because it sounds cool and it’s not a word than can be confused with any other command.
Whatever you choose, when you see your puppy go into the kennel, tell him “good, kennel” – or whatever you want the command to be. Toss treats or toys into the crate, and reinforce the name each time each time he enters.
To move from passive to active in this command, kneel near the crate and show him a much favored treat, followed with the command “kennel”.
Give him a chance to respond before repeating. If he doesn’t understand, then draw him into the crate with the treat in your hand, while vocalizing the command. Like any other instruction, this will take patience and consistency.
The goal is for him to enter the crate on command.
Step 7: Shutting the door.
This step shares some similarities with placing your baby in their crib to sleep; knowing when to pick them up, and knowing when to let them cry for a couple minutes.
The first time you shut the door, do it while the pup is eating a treat or chewing on a toy. Close the door, and open it right up again. Keep repeating this until they choose to come out of the crate.
Then, do it a few more times with them outside of the crate. If your little pup has learned to lay down on command, then ask him to lay, and then close and open the door.
The key to this step is to open the door before they have a chance to get upset or cry. Do this several times a day, over several days.
As long as he does not react to the door closing in a negative manner, you can leave it closed a few moments longer each time, staying in direct sight.
Keep practicing this step until he doesn’t pay much attention to the door closing and opening.
You can make this a game by playing with his toes through the door.
One option you have at this stage is closing the door and letting your pup nuzzle it open. You can also leave the door partly closed during the day, and let your pup want to go into it, and paw it open. This teaches him not to be afraid of the door.
Step 8: Latch the door.
This is an important step, and should not be done until your dog is comfortable being in the crate. The first time you latch the door, be sure to stay in plain sight, and latch it for only a handful of seconds.
Let him rattle the door, but do try to open it before he wines. The last thing you want is to associate the door opening as a result of his whining.
If he whines first, then wait several hours, or until the next day, to try again – and be sure to do a shorter length of time.
Repeat this pattern over the next few days and add a few seconds each time as you can. Remain right at the crate with your hand on the latch, talking to your little guy the whole time.
Step 9: Walk away.
When you have been able to extend the time the door is closed and latched to about a minute, start putting distance between yourself and the kennel.
Start by standing up – because he can still see you it will not cause separation anxiety or any fear. Simply stand up and sit back down, and open the door – even if this was a shorter period than you’ve been working on.
Slowly, add distance with the door closed. Back away a couple steps, keeping eye contact and speaking softly and cheerfully, and return. Repeat, adding a step or two, for the next handful of days until you can make it to a doorway.
Once you’ve achieved this distance with no whining, it’s time to walk away from the crate. Start this step over, but this time turning and facing away from Fluffy.
As before, incrementally increase the distance away from the crate until you can make it to the door.
Step 10: Increase crate time.
Once you can walk to the doorway and back, its time to begin increasing the time in the closed kennel while you are in the room. Start by sitting against or near the crate, with your phone.
Try and be quiet, but make sure you put a few toys in the crate first. Slowly start extending the time and distance until about 30 minutes, and you’re on the other side of the room.
Once you have a calm pup with 30 minutes in their crate – preferable calm ones! – then it’s time to start leaving the room.
Close and latch the crate, walk out of the room until you are out of sight and then return to the room, but do not open the crate immediately.
Do this several times throughout the day, varying the amount of time out of sight, but as you increase it do so by only a minute or two each time.
Increase these periods gradually, and consider starting an overnight routine.
You Did It!
At this point your little guy is crate trained; that is he goes into the crate and remains with the door closed without crying. Now, you will begin to increase the time from half an hour up to several hours.
A hotly debated topic among breeders and trainers, is feeding in the crate. It undoubtedly shortens the crate training timeframe, because you can close the door while they are distracted by the food.
On the other hand, after several weeks training you may find your pooch will not accept his food anywhere but inside the kennel, which can cause a whole heap of new problems.
And remember, above all never give in to whining at the beginning of training. Your puppy should whimper when he needs to potty during the night, but he should not be rewarded by coming out unless it’s for a bathroom break.
Crate Training Tips
A few added tips for a successful training, and a happy puppy…
- In the early stages of training, do not cover the crate with blankets; he draws his reassurance from seeing you. Once he is fully trained you can try it – but not yet.
- Plan your potty breaks when you know you will be leaving for any amount of time. Don’t let him play hard, slurp up all his water, and then put him in the crate for a few hours. It’s just like family roadtrips when you were a kid, “go to the bathroom before you leave”.
- Rule of thumb for crating puppies up to 12 months old is one hour per month, up to six hours. So, a four month old should not be in the crate more than four hours without a break, and an 11 month old no longer than six hours.
- Tired puppies are easier to crate for any length of time, because they will fall asleep. A puppy full of energy and wanting to play will be stifled and unhappy.
- Crating a puppy while you are at work isn’t the best idea; their bladders can’t take the extended time, and the boredom will cause them to act out. If you must leave your 4-legged child for more than 6 hours at a time, consider having a trusted neighbor kid come over and take the pup out into the yard for an hour every day. Heck, they’d probably do it for free! If that’s not an option, consider putting an exercise pen around the crate and leaving the door open. Or, put the crate in the kitchen or another room and allowing them full access and put up a child-gate.
- Make “good bye’s” short and sweet. Don’t let them drag on, or be emotional. Simply put Fido in the crate, give him a treat, and tell him you have to leave for a while.
- If you’re planning on keeping your puppy crated at night, remember that the best place for them to sleep is in your room, where they can see, hear, and smell you. This may involve moving the crate daily, or purchasing a separate crate.
- When letting your puppy out of the crate, do not make a big deal out of it; you’re not releasing him from prison. Be just as matter-of-fact as you were when you left.
- Once your dog is fully housebroken, and trustworthy not to eat the house – or every pair of shoes you own – you can opt leave the crate door open during the day. Crate training isn’t necessarily teaching them to be locked in a crate all day, but rather being able to be in a crate, as well as making it a part of their personal routine and space.
- Crating does not solve separation anxiety, especially if you’re still in the room.
The perfect recipe for successful crate training takes 3 ingredients; patience, consistency, and commitment. As long as you keep these at the forefront of your training motivation, you will have a crate-trained puppy in no time.
And Bear? Well, he eventually outgrew his termite phase, and appreciated his crate once he got used to it.
We were able to leave the door open while we were at work or shopping, and he found it a great escape from the hustle and bustle of family life.
He still stashes his treats – but now he hides them in his crate.