Crate training a puppy may seem unnecessary to some people or even somewhat mean, but there are many reasons why crate training is beneficial. When a puppy comes into a new home, it may have some separation anxiety after being removed from its mother and littermates. It may also be scared, shy, or will probably be quite shy initially, especially in a noisy or boisterous environment.
A crate provides a compact space that your new puppy can retreat to in order to feel safe and secure.
Puppies instinctively gravitate to small spaces when they feel the need to protect themselves or take some time out from playing to rest and recuperate. But crates can also be an extremely useful training tool right from the beginning. In fact, most veterinarians, dog breeders, and trainers recommend crate training as a part of an effective training routine for puppies.
Puppy Crates are Useful to Take Traveling
Puppy crates are a useful tool in the home. But they are also very handy when traveling with your pooch. A soft crate is easy to pop into the car and keeps your puppy safely confined on road trips.
It can also double up as a ‘bed away from home’ when you have a night away.
Ensure Your Crate is Large Enough
One important thing to note: ensure that your crate is large enough that your puppy will have adequate room to stand and turn around easily when fully grown. It’s best that your crate is on the large side rather than too small. And remember to also consider the kind of bedding you will have in the crate as it can be surprising how much room a cozy bed and blanket can take up!
Where to Put the Crate
You also need to find a suitable place for the crate to be positioned. Ideally, you want to have the crate in the room in which you spend the most time such as the kitchen or living area. That way your puppy will still feel included as part of the family and get used to the household noises and activities.
So what is the process and how long does crate training take? These 4 simple steps will help break it down.
Crate Training a Puppy in 4 Simple Steps
1. Acquaint your new puppy with the crate.
Bring the crate indoors and place it into the most appropriate position and put some comfy bedding inside. If your crate has a detachable door you can remove this temporarily or prop the door open securely allowing your puppy the freedom to investigate the crate without becoming scared of the door flapping or hitting them unexpectedly.
If your puppy is scared to go and explore the crate on their own, you can help by maintaining a relaxed demeanor when you’re both near the crate. You can then put a small puppy treat just outside the crate door and also inside the crate and observe your puppy’s reaction.
If your puppy is curious enough to eat the treats, you can continue by tossing small treats further toward the very back of the crate. Another option is to use a toy to encourage your puppy’s curiosity and increase confidence in and around the crate.
Some puppies might be comfortable going in and out of the crate immediately and others may take a day or two before they become really confident. It’s important to never force a new puppy into a crate in case they form a negative association with the crate – if this happens your crate training can regress significantly.
2. Serve your puppy meals in the crate.
When your puppy is comfortable going in and out of the crate without fear or nervousness, you can start to feed your puppy right next to the crate. This will solidify a positive association between feeding and being close to the crate. When you feel that your puppy is completely at ease during feeding times, gradually move the food bowl from the front of the crate to the inside and then to the rear wall.
You may need to move through this process over multiple feedings and take it gradually if the puppy shows any sign of nervousness. (This step can become a little messy so you may want an extra layer underneath the food bowl).
If your puppy is at the stage where it will happily eat inside the crate (towards the back), you can attempt to close the door halfway while it is eating and gauge the reaction. Of course, if your puppy seems scared, open the door wide and reassure it that all is OK. Try again at the next feeding time until you can finally close the door fully whilst the puppy is eating, then open it immediately when the puppy has finished.
Repeat this process but increase the time the door remains closed after the puppy has finished eating to a minute or two, all the while talking reassuringly. Continue to increase the time that the door remains closed until your puppy can remain in the crate happily after a meal for around 10 minutes. The important thing is to go slowly with this process or you may have to start all over again.
3. Increase the time spent in the crate.
Now it’s time to let your puppy remain in the crate for slightly longer periods. Choose a time when you know that you are going to be inside the house and when there isn’t going to be too much happening that is outside of your usual routine.
Decide on a word that you might use to indicate to the puppy that it’s crate time. Command cues such as ‘crate’, ‘home’, or even ‘go to bed’ can be useful but realize that at this early stage, your puppy will have no association with those words and the crate.
Stand at the entrance to the crate and call your puppy to you and praise it reassuringly and/or give it a treat. Then whilst saying your chosen command, encourage it to enter the crate with a treat in your hand. When the puppy enters and turns around, give it the treat, praise him, and gently close the door.
Stay near the crate for around 5 minutes, then go and move about your house as you regularly would for a few minutes before returning to the crate for a final few minutes before letting the puppy out of the crate. Repeat this each day as often as 3 or 4 times, increasing the time that they remain in the crate, as well as the time you spend moving about.
When your puppy can calmly remain in the crate for around half an hour while you are home, you can progress to leaving them crated for short periods while you are outside of the house.
4. Leave your puppy in the crate when you leave.
Use the previous steps to encourage your puppy to enter the crate remembering to use the verbal cue you decided on. It may also be useful to place a favorite toy with the puppy.
Once they have gone into the crate, received praise and the door is closed, you can then proceed to depart. Try to change your ‘leaving routine’ so that the puppy doesn’t form any negative associations between a particular leaving behavior and being crated. It’s also very important to make this step brief and without too much fuss so that the experience doesn’t become drawn out and emotional.
Upon returning, it’s also useful to downplay letting your puppy out of the crate. Giving it too much positive reinforcement through an overexcited reunion will only cause anxiousness the next time you leave. Ensure that your return is low-key.
Continue crating your puppy at various times of the day for short periods to disassociate crating with you leaving. When you feel that your puppy is ready, you can consider moving the crate closer to where you sleep and crating for the night. Locating the crate to where you can hear the puppy, will ensure that you have an opportunity to attend to its toileting needs – puppies need to go more regularly throughout the night.
Once the puppy is sleeping throughout the night, you can move the crate gradually over several nights back to where you consider it to be the best spot for it to stay, day and night.
Final Word of Crate Training Caution
Dog crates are not a solution to adverse dog behaviors. Using a crate as a punishment will make a bad situation even worse.
Crate training should be a positive and rewarding experience for your puppy. Don’t leave a puppy in a crate for too long and leave the door open from time to time so the puppy feels like it can come and go.