Crate training can seem like a complicated and foreign task to those that haven’t brought home a new dog in some time. Some people think they are cruel and others don’t see what purpose they serve. Crate training your dog is one of the easiest ways to house train your dog, gives you the opportunity to leave your puppy unsupervised safely, and is the safest way for your dog to travel in the car. Crates should not be used as a way to punish your dog, and they are not to be used for countless hours a day. Adult dogs should never be crated longer than 8 hours, and puppies should never be crated longer than their bladders can physically hold it. This time is different for different puppies but a general rule to follow is 1 hour per month the puppy is in age. For example an 8 week old puppy would be 2 hours, a 5 month old puppy would be 5 hours. Remember this is just a general guideline and adjustments needs to be made for individual puppies.
Selecting the appropriate type of crate for you and your dog can be a daunting endeavor. There are many different options and styles to choose from, but the best option for a new dog or puppy is a plastic crate sometimes referred to as a “flight crate”. The crate needs to be large enough to allow your dog to stand up, lie down, and turn around easily, but it shouldn’t be too large or your dog can learn to potty in one half of the crate and sleep in the other half.
How you introduce your dog to their crate is one of the most important parts of the training process. You always want your dog to have positive associations with their crate. Crate training can take days or weeks depending on your dog’s age, temperament, and past experiences. Keep your early sessions short and don’t push it too fast.
Step One: Introducing the Crate
Place the crate in an area of your home where your family spends a lot of time. Depending on your dog’s age and energy level you may want to put a soft blanket or bed in their crate. Take the door off of the crate or secure it so it can’t close suddenly and frighten your puppy. Grab a bunch of your dog’s favorite treats or their food and settle in where you are comfortable and can easily toss treats into the crate. Call your dog over, show them a treat, then toss it into the door of the crate. If your puppy goes in for the treat praise them and toss them another one. If your puppy is hesitant start by just tossing them near the crate door. This process could take as little as a few minutes or as long as a few days.
Step Two: Duration Through Meals
After you have introduced the crate to your dog you will want to start feeding them their meals in their crate. This will help your dog get used to spending longer periods of time in their crate while developing positive associations with the amount of time spent in it. When your dog is comfortable eating meals in the crate you can begin to shut the door to the crate while they are eating. When you first do this open the door as soon as they are done eating. Slowly increase the amount of time you spend with the door closed to the crate.
If your dog begins to whine or paw at the crate door do not let them out until they stop. If you open the door each time they do this your dog will learn that is the way to get out. Next time you practice don’t leave the door closed as long so you can release them before they begin whining.
Repeat this process several times a day gradually increasing the amount of time they spend in their crate. Start leaving the room for short periods of time as well. This process could be as short as a few days, or it could take a month depending on your dog.
Step Three: Crating Your Dog While You Are Gone
When your dog can spend about 35 minutes in their crate without becoming anxious you can begin leaving them crated when you leave. Give your dog a command such as “kennel” and toss a treat in for them. You can also leave them a few safe toys in their crate as well to prevent boredom. When you leave do not give a long drawn-out mushy goodbye. The bigger deal you make about leaving, the more concerned your dog will become. Similarly, when you get home do not make a big deal about it. Don’t encourage over-enthusiastic behavior. Be very calm and matter-of-fact when letting them back out of their crate and immediately take them outside for a potty break.
Step Four: Crating Your Dog Overnight
For some dogs, being crated overnight is the easiest part of this training process as they appreciate a small quiet place to themselves to sleep. Some dogs have the hardest time with being crated at night. Many dogs benefit from having their crate in a bedroom with their owner while learning to settle in at night. You will toss a treat in the crate and give their command just like any other time. Make sure your dog has had a chance to potty before you bring them in for the night.
When your dog is sleeping comfortably through the night you can likely move their crate to any location you choose. While it is never a good idea to let your dog out of their crate when whining, over night is one exception when your dog may legitimately trying to let you know they need out to potty. Try to stay in-tune with your dog and their needs.