11 Common Crate Training Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
Crate training is a proven method that aids in puppy and adult dog care. When done correctly, it provides dogs with a safe, comfortable space to unwind and relax and helps with potty training and creating a sense of security. Think of it as a designated area your puppy can retreat to that’s a cozy, secure space. But as with any training method, it's essential to ensure it's done right. In this article, we cover people's most common crate training mistakes and how to avoid them and offer pro tips for a successful crate training experience for you and your puppy.
Why Crate Training?
Crate training provides numerous benefits:
- Safety for the dog: First and foremost, crates provide a safe environment for dogs when they are left unsupervised, preventing them from accessing potential household dangers or damaging belongings.
- Potty training aid: A crate also aids in potty training. Dogs typically don’t go potty where they sleep, so a crate helps puppies learn not to potty indoors while learning to control their bladder and bowel movements for extended periods. It also makes accident clean-up easier and enables you to establish a consistent routine for bathroom breaks.
- Travel companion: Travel can be stressful for you and your puppy. Crate-trained dogs are more settled in travel situations because they have a familiar and secure space you can bring with them.
- Emergency situations: In the event of an emergency, crates can provide a temporary containment solution, ensuring the safety of the dog and those around them.
- Stress reduction: Anxious or overly excited pups run and pace, which increases their anxiety level. A crate limits space and stimulation while discouraging pacing, which helps puppies self-soothe and calm down. The limited space also promotes a sense of security and enables puppies to let down their guard and relax.
Common Crate Training Mistakes
Mistake #1: Not Starting Training Early Enough
A common mistake puppy owners make is delaying crate training because they think their 8-week-old puppy is too young to train. But crate training should ideally begin as early as possible when the dog is still a puppy. During their early developmental stage, puppies are more adaptable and open to new experiences. So introducing them to crate training at this young age helps them view the crate as a safe and comfortable space rather than something unfamiliar or distressing. It also instills the habit of spending time in the crate, which can benefit potty training and prevent destructive behavior.
By starting crate training early, puppies learn to associate the crate with positive experiences, such as receiving treats and praise or having a safe and cozy space that’s all their own. Gradually increasing the duration of crate stays helps them become more accustomed to being in the crate for longer periods.
Remember, crate training is not about confining the puppy for extended periods. Instead, it is about providing them with a safe and familiar space and helping them develop confidence and independence.
By starting crate training before 8 weeks of age, pet owners give their puppies a head start in learning essential life skills and behaviors. It sets the foundation for a positive and well-behaved dog while also preventing the development of negative associations or habits. So, don't wait to start crate training – begin from day one to ensure a briefer training process and a happier, more well-adjusted puppy.
Mistake #2: Using the Crate for Punishment
It's crucial to avoid using the crate as a disciplinary tool. This can lead to anxiety and aversion to the crate. Instead, address unwanted behaviors separately and maintain the crate as a positive space. If you’re unsure of other ways to address unwanted behaviors, check out our 30 Days to Puppy Perfection program. We’ve had great success helping puppy owners prevent and manage unwanted behaviors while building a strong, lifelong bond with their furry friends.
Mistake #3: Incorrect Crate Size
When it comes to crate training, one of the most crucial factors to consider is the size of your dog and choosing an appropriate crate size – because the size of the crate plays a significant role in both the comfort and effectiveness of the training process.
If the crate is too small, your dog will feel cramped and uncomfortable, which can cause anxiety and hinder their progress. Giving them enough space to stretch their legs and move around freely is essential.
On the other hand, a crate that is too large can also pose issues. Dogs have a natural instinct to keep their sleeping area clean. But if the crate is too big, they may feel it is appropriate to potty in the extra space, resulting in accidents inside the crate, which can lead to setbacks in potty training and create negative associations with the crate.
And as mentioned before, too much room inside the crate can make a dog feel insecure and allows a puppy to pace, which increases anxiety and hinders their progress.
To ensure you get the appropriate sized crate for your puppy, measure your dog and use the rule of thumb that your dog should have enough room to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably. This will provide your pup with a snug, comfortable fit.
Mistake #4: Keeping the Dog Crated for Too Long
Continuous confinement can lead to both physical and psychological distress. Puppies especially need frequent bathroom breaks. As a general rule, puppies can hold their bladder for about an hour per month of age. Use this as a guideline and adjust as needed for your puppy. Puppies left in the crate for too long could have an accident, increased anxiety about being in the crate, and even panic – leading to a negative association with the crate.
Always make sure to have a balance between crate time and play/exercise time. Even if you work full-time, having a puppy means making arrangements to meet the dog’s needs for exercise, enrichment, time with their favorite humans, and some good healthy food before you leave. Yes, even if it means getting up early to do all those activities before you go.
Mistake #5: Skipping the Training Phase
Rushing can lead to resistance. Start with short intervals in the crate – always accompanied by lots of praise and a treat – and gradually increase the duration. There’s an entire module on crate training in our online course.
Mistake #6: Not Attending to a Panicked Dog
You’ve probably heard of the “Just let them cry it out” guidance when it comes to “fussy” puppies and human babies. While some fussing is normal when a puppy is first getting used to the crate, learning to self-soothe, or getting ready for a rest break, there’s a distinction between fussing and panic.
Signs of panic in a puppy or dog of any age include digging, drooling, screaming, soiling, or almost hurting herself. A puppy who has reached this point is no longer learning and is developing a strong negative association with the crate.
One way we help puppy owners avoid puppy panic is by teaching them lots of fun crate-training games to use as soon as they bring their puppies home.
But if your puppy has already reached the panic stage, it’s time to get involved and get your pup out of there.
Mistake #7: Allowing Items Inside the Crate
One of the most common mistakes that I saw a LOT while working in the vet’s office was putting bedding inside the crate. To this list, we add plush “cuddle” toys, blankets, towels, clothes, collars, harnesses, water, and food.
I know some readers may react strongly to this one. “Michele, you mean I can’t give my pup a comfy cozy bed to cuddle up in while in the crate??” Well, no means no, at least not yet. When our puppies first come home, we recommend putting nothing in the crate with them.
A blanket from the breeder with familiar scents or a Snuggle Puppy plush crate training toy with the smell of mama dog can be placed above the crate or near the crate to ease the transition to your home. But make sure these items are well outside of puppy’s reach because… if a pup decides to chew it… it could be hi ho hi ho it’s off to the vet you go for emergency blockage surgery.
Most pups will get past the chewing phase by a year old, and some can tolerate having a bed in the crate at that time. Your results may vary. My PIckles* couldn’t have a bed until he was about 3 years old.
When I was gone, one of my former dogs got her jaw stuck on her collar. I had to cut it off when I got home because it was on so tight! How in the world she did that, I’ll never know, but you can bet that I have never ever put a dog in a crate with a collar on since then. I could have lost her! She was freaking out when I got home, and for good reason. I felt so bad!
Puppies should be naked as a jaybird when they go in that crate. And if you’re worried about getting them out quick-as-a-bunny for those potty breaks, just have the leash attached to the collar ready near the crate, and you’ll be fine.
Water and food inside the crate just invite accidents in the crate and can lead to unsanitary conditions for your puppy.
Mistake #8: Not Setting Up a Routine or Creating a Schedule
When it comes to crate training, establishing a routine or schedule is crucial for ensuring your dog's success. Without a consistent routine, your dog may become confused and struggle to understand what is expected of them. To avoid this common mistake, follow these steps to set up a routine for crate training:
1. Potty Breaks: Determine specific times when your dog should have potty breaks throughout the day. Start with the rule of thumb: one hour for every month of age – and adjust based on your puppy’s individual needs. Take your dog outside to the designated potty spot at these times, ensuring they have the opportunity to relieve themselves.
2. Meals: Plan regular meal times for your dog. This helps regulate their digestion and makes it easier to predict when they will need to eliminate. Serve their meals at consistent times and avoid leaving food out all day.
3. Sleep: Dogs need a certain amount of rest each day, so establish a bedtime and wake-up time. Create a comfortable sleeping environment for your pup by ensuring the crate is in a low-traffic area, without a lot of stimulation, and at a comfortable temperature. A dog’s natural body temperature is a few degrees warmer than a human’s, and most puppies have a thick coat of fur, so they can tolerate temperatures that are a little cooler than we are comfortable with.
Pro tip: If your dog is feeling a little colder, they’ll likely be sleeping in a ball. If they’re feeling warmer, they might be more stretched out. That doesn’t mean you have to make any changes, but you can get some good info by watching her body language.
Recently we were chatting with a student enrolled in the pro level of my course. One of her puppies struggled with the crate even after doing many crate training games. We put on our puppy detective hats and started to look at what might be going on. We determined that the crate was by a drafty window which could be preventing the pup from sleeping well. The student moved the crate away from the window, and BINGO…. The puppy slept much better. Sometimes the best solution is the easiest one.
4. Consistency: Stick to the established routine as closely as possible – even on the weekends. Dogs thrive on consistency, so be diligent in following the schedule for potty breaks, meals, and sleep. Avoid deviating from the routine as much as possible, especially during the initial stages of crate training.
By setting up a routine or schedule for crate training, you create a predictable and structured environment that helps your dog understand and adapt to the training process more easily. Consistency is key in crate training, and by avoiding this mistake, you can increase your dog's chances of success.
Mistake #9: Neglecting Regular Clean-Up
Just like any personal space, the crate should be clean. Regularly check for dirt, and potty accidents and clean them up right away because puppies use smell as an indicator of where it’s ok to go potty in the future.
Mistake #10: Putting More Than One Dog in the Same Crate
Dogs need their own space to build confidence and independence. But more importantly, putting two dogs in a confined space like a crate could lead to competition for space, which could turn really dangerous quickly.
This happened with one of my clients. She had two dogs that were raised together and used the same crate for many years without any problems… until the day they had a fight while inside the crate. One dog was seriously injured, and the other one lost an eye. This situation was so sad and easily avoidable.
If you have more than one dog, each dog needs his own crate. And it’s best to make sure the crates aren’t too close together because a fight could still result in injuries if the dogs can reach each other. Your puppies might do better if the crates are in the same room but not touching. Or they might do better if the crates are in separate rooms. Your puppies will let you know which one works better for them.
Mistake #11: Expecting Immediate Results
Patience is vital. Every dog is unique, and while some might take to the crate quickly, others may need more time. Celebrate small milestones, be consistent with training, take it at your puppy’s pace, and remain patient. Success will come with practice over time.
Tips for Successful Crate Training
We cover lots of tips for successful crate training in our online course. Here are a few of our favorites:
- When you are in the throes of crate training, use sleepy time in your favor and get that puppy in the crate before she falls asleep outside the crate.
- Use rewards instead of luring. What’s the difference? Timing! Luring means the treat shows up before giving the cue to go into the crate. Rewarding means the cue is given before the treat so your puppy understands that going into the crate gets rewarded.
- Consistency is key. Keep routines as stable as possible while training.
- Use positive reinforcement. Praise and treats go a long way in motivating your dog.
- Adjust your techniques based on your dog’s needs. Be observant and flexible.
When done correctly, crate training can benefit both dogs and owners immensely. Avoiding these common pitfalls ensures a happier, well-adjusted pet, and a more harmonious living situation.
For those who are interested in learning more about crate training, check out these additional resources.
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.