Top 5 Pro Tips for Puppy Crate Training Success
What’s all the buzz about puppy crate training? Seems like a lot of work, right? Is it really all it’s cracked up to be?
Maybe you’re wondering why that little creature can’t just sleep in bed with you. She can! But… not yet!
Many new puppy owners make the mistake of avoiding the use of a crate. Some find that their puppies don’t love it right away, other owners feel like it is too much like a jail. Others do not want the expense of buying a crate and then another one when the puppy outgrows the first crate.
Instead of these negatives, consider the lifelong benefits of a crate for your dog.
Why Puppy Crate Training Is Important
A crate is designed to:
- Provide a safe, secure place for your puppy when you’re unable to supervise her
- Minimize stimulation to reduce anxiety and help calm your pup, especially when you are away from home
- Prepare her for future situations where a crate is necessary (vets, groomers, travel)
- Help her develop bladder control as she learns to wait for a potty break
Is Crate Training Cruel?
It is not cruel to put a dog in a crate. Dogs naturally seek out a safe, quiet place to rest or retreat to when they feel unsafe, anxious, or overwhelmed. It’s like that special place you have in your house that makes you relax as soon as you settle into it.
Proper crate training makes your puppy’s crate that safe, quiet place they want to use without any hesitation. It’s the perfect place for your pup when you can’t supervise her, when you’ll be away from home, and for nap time when she’s getting a little extra bitey!
This is the best way we help her rest, relax, and await your return. This also keeps your house safe from a curious dog.
The crate will also be used in many situations throughout your dog’s life, including medical appointments, surgery recovery, travel, grooming, and even in the event you need to evacuate due to a natural disaster. Those situations are stressful, and if your puppy is comfortable in the crate, it will be a little less stressful for her and for you.
Some puppies adjust to their crate with ease, but others need a little help to learn to love it.
“But how do I get my puppy to like going in the crate?!”
Not all puppies love their crate at first sight! Some of them do, but you may not be so lucky. Sometimes it takes a little – or a lot – of work to help her get used to it. This is time well spent for a lifetime of a safe, cozy spot for her to hang out when you are away from home or not able to supervise.
Here are my top 5 tips for crate training success:
1. Use The Crate From Day 1
Most people want to bring their new dog home on their lap. They want to love her, hold her, and snuggle her the whole way home. I understand the temptation, but my professional advice is to place that new family member in the crate.
Yep! Start crate training right away, on the first day and the first car ride.
Here’s why it’s a good idea.
Petting, snuggling, and talking to your puppy when she is already excited or anxious can be overstimulating for her.
By placing her in her crate, the stimulation is reduced. And the hum of the engine typically lulls puppies to sleep, making their first crate experience more pleasant and relaxing.
In addition, the crate is like a car seat we use for infants and toddlers. It's designed to keep your puppy safe in the event you have to stop quickly or are in an accident.
Crates also reduce car sickness, which is very common in young puppies.
2. Get the right size crate!
Dogs have a tendency to pace when they’re anxious or distressed. More space means more pacing, which can make it hard for a dog to settle down.
Keeping your puppy in the appropriate size crate can help lower her stress when she’s away from you.
Your puppy should have enough room to stand up, turn around and lie down in her crate. This will prevent her from pacing and discourage her from going to the bathroom in her crate.
You can choose between a metal crate with a divider or a plastic crate. I have found that many puppies settle better in the plastic crate, but your puppy may be different!
Watch carefully for signs the crate is becoming too small. Puppies, just like humans, have growth spurts. One day that crate may be fine; the next day, it’s not fine!
Also, puppies often like to sprawl when sleeping. So, as your puppy grows, you want to ensure that the crate allows her to sleep in the most comfortable way possible.
If she’s doing well with potty training, giving her a little extra room is fine. If you are working on house training a puppy and following the great advice in this free resource, she is unlikely to have an accident in the crate.
3. Practice crate training outside of the time she’ll use it
I recommend you take a portion of your puppy’s meal and toss it directly on the bottom of the crate (not in a bowl). This helps to create a positive association with that space because she associates it with something good – food!
I say a “portion” because we want some of her meal to be eaten freely, without having to work for it.
You can also play fun training games in and around the crate — without closing the door — like fetch, or tug, or give her a chew toy while you engage and play with her. Be sure to keep it positive all the time during training games!
Fun games to play in and around the crate can be found in this video: Dog Training Games When Stuck At Home! Crate training games start at 2:43
When you approach crate training like this, you build up her confidence by helping her enjoy her time in the crate.
Some puppy whining and fussing is to be expected when she is in the crate for an extended period of time, like napping or sleeping at night. As long as this is not panic, this is part of her learning how to self-soothe.
If your puppy is really struggling with entering the crate, you might set up her puppy pen around the crate. This way she learns to explore the crate gradually until she becomes confident going in on her own.
Practice in short increments when it’s time for your puppy to be closed in her crate. This could be only a few seconds or just a few minutes. Then slowly increase the amount of time. Be sure to give your puppy a safe toy, such as a Kong filled with food or peanut butter, to entertain her while you are away.
We recommend continuously reinforcing the positive association with the crate. Once your dog is used to it and is comfortable, a few sessions a week of a fun game or two will probably do the trick.
4. Stack the deck for success by using crate training tools
These helpful tools can encourage your puppy to love her crate even more. They are not “magic beans” that will change everything for every pup, but each of these items can be considered one more tool in your puppy training toolbelt!
Snuggle Puppy – The Snuggle Puppy, also called a heartbeat dog, is a stuffed animal that has a battery-operated heartbeat and a warming packet inside. This mimics the heartbeat and warm body of the mama dog or littermates.
Many new puppy owners consider the Snuggle Puppy a game changer for new puppies who are recently separated from their dog family. If you can get the mama dog’s scent on it, this is even better!
For the first week or two, you may experiment with the Snuggle Puppy inside the crate. As the puppy gets older, she may begin to chew it, so watch carefully. If she begins to chew it, place the Snuggle Puppy on top of the crate. Your puppy will still be able to feel and be comforted by the heartbeat!
While noise machine or puppy calming music – Sometimes all the noises from the home can be overstimulating for a puppy who needs a nap. Try using a fan pointed at the wall (not at the crate) or finding a playlist of calming doggy music. These sounds often are the extra layer needed to help lull that puppy to sleep.
Cover the crate – When your puppy is in the crate, cover it with a blanket or sheet. I recommend covering the crate on three sides, keeping the back uncovered for airflow.
Also, be sure to put a board on top of the crate, so the fabric hangs a few inches away from the crate. Curious puppies can chew and pull the blanket inside, creating a choking hazard.
That few inches between the crate and the blanket also allows for a little airflow that your puppy might appreciate.
I recommend covering the crate anytime your puppy is in there if you are not doing the training games.
Adaptil – This great product contains a pheromone that mimics the mother dog's scent.
Put it into a diffuser in the same room as the crate to help settle a nervous puppy. It may take a few days or weeks for it to take effect, but you may find it’s that something extra that helps your puppy settle in.
There are sprays for travel as well. Consider taking it when you go pick up your new family member.
Kong or chew toy in the crate (during the day) – Chewing is a natural behavior that puppies use to self-soothe, much like a baby enjoys a pacifier. Offering your puppy a Nylabone or Benebone or a filled Kong can help her learn to put herself to sleep.
I do not recommend these items at night, but they can be a nice distraction during the day.
You can find these tools on our Products page.
Remember: Keep the bedding out!
Providing anything soft in your puppy’s crate poses a few problems.
First, a blanket, towel, or bed could become a choking hazard or an intestinal blockage if your puppy manages to swallow a portion of it. Some pups (looking at you, Labs!) take years to have the impulse control to not chew bedding.
Puppies may also learn to do their business on the bedding and then push it off to the side, so they do not have to sleep in their own mess.
Your puppy will be perfectly comfortable on the floor of the crate until she is past this stage.
5. Stick to a schedule!
Knowing your puppy’s natural habits when it comes to potty breaks, nap times, and times when she is full of energy will help you help her.
If your puppy is still full of energy when you put her in the crate, she will likely protest mightily!
Puppies need physical and mental exercise each day. How much will depend on her age and breed and her individual preferences! Be sure to offer her fun things to do that are natural for dogs, such as shredding, chasing, retrieving, digging, and sniffing.
Mental “work” is also important. A few minutes of training sessions throughout the day go a long way to give your puppy’s brain a workout!
A sample schedule can be found in the New Puppy Starter Kit, which will give you some ideas on how to create one of your own!
With a little extra effort to help your puppy feel happy in her crate, you’ll have a lifetime of success.
How Long Does Crate Training A Puppy Take?
There’s really no straightforward answer to this question because the length of training depends on many factors that have to do with your dog and you.
Dog factors that influence crate training include your dog’s:
- Age – older dogs tend to take a longer period of time to learn new behaviors than younger dogs
- Temperament – nervous, skittish dogs tend to take longer to get comfortable with the crate than more relaxed, confident dogs
- Past experiences – rescue dogs and dogs that have been abused will usually require more time to make a positive association with their crate
Owner factors that influence crate training include:
- How consistent you are with crate training
- How fun and relaxing you make it for your pup to be in the crate
- Whether you consistently reward your pup for going into the crate
- Gradually increasing the times your puppy is in the crate instead of rushing your dog
You should approach crate training with the expectation that it will take at least 2 months, and realize that not all dogs learn at the same pace. If your dog adapts faster, you won’t be disappointed! But it’s important that you have the mindset that crate training is a process that requires time and effort from you and your pup.
If your dog suffers from a more serious case of confinement anxiety, you may be interested in my online course and the personalized attention that the pro level of support provides.
What is one thing you've done while crate training your puppy and make her feel more confident and happy in the crate? Let us know in the comments below!
About the trainer
After spending 20 years helping families with their dogs face to face as a professional dog trainer, Michele realized that so much of what she knows could be shared with families everywhere - in a way that actually works. People sometimes think their dog is just SUPER difficult because the advice they’ve gotten was incomplete, confusing or just wrong. So she set out to help. Michele loves training dogs because of the impact that it has on the families she gets to help. The peace and joy they get from being able to enjoy their dog LISTENING. Besides teaching classes, helping private clients and running seminars, Michele is also a foodie and fantasizes about being a food critic or secret shopper for restaurants. Talk to her about food and your instant best friends.