Crate Training

The first time someone learns about crate training a dog, their initial response is usually negative. Who wants to keep a dog in a cage? In reality, crate training keeps young and adolescent dogs safe when no one is home to supervise them. It also gives them a “den” where they can seek refuge when the world gets overwhelming. Using a crate to housebreak a dog or puppy helps shorten the time needed to have a reliably dry house. Finally, a crate-trained dog is much less stressed when he must stay at the veterinary hospital, groomer or boarding facility.

There are three main “styles” of crates: airline crates, wire kennels and soft-sided crates. Airline crates or wire kennels are suitable for crate training, but soft-sided crates should only be used for dogs that are already reliably crate trained. This is because soft-sided crates are nothing more than fabric and screen around a rigid frame and a dog who is bent on escaping the crate can scratch or chew right through the sides.

Airline Crate
Wire Kennel
Soft Sided Crate

When choosing a crate for your adult dog, choose a crate that is tall enough (A), wide enough (B) and long enough (C) for the dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably on his side. However, avoid a crate much larger if you are using it for housebreaking. Ideally, the dog should be very comfortable in the crate, but it should not be large enough for him to eliminate in one corner and sleep away from the mess on the other side. For a puppy, either change crate sizes as the puppy grows, or choose a crate large enough for her expected size as an adult. If you choose a large crate, use a box or other square, safe item to block off the extra space in the crate so the floor space is appropriate for the puppy’s current size.

Begin crate training by setting up the crate in an area near where your family spends time – a bedroom or the family room are good locations. Leave the door open and encourage your dog to enter the crate by tossing treats inside. Spend short sessions (3-5 minutes) several times this first day just tossing treats in for the dog to go in, eat, and then exit the crate. Do not shut the door during this first step of training. Choose a command to send your dog to his crate and use this command each time you throw in a treat.

Once your dog is very comfortable entering the crate to get a treat and then leaving, toss in the treat and close the door behind your dog. Immediately open the door back up and let him out. Repeat this activity over and over again until the dog is comfortable with the door being shut. Once he reaches that point, you can leave the door shut for a few seconds at a time before releasing him. As he becomes more comfortable, gradually increase the length of time the door is closed. If he becomes distressed, move to an earlier step and re-start the training process.

When your dog is comfortable with the door being shut, feed the dog an entire meal in the crate. Ask the dog to go to the crate, then place a bowl with food in the crate and close the door. When the dog has finished eating the meal, allow him to exit the crate again. Depending on your dog’s personality, you may be able to reach this point in a few hours of training, or it may take several days. The important thing is to move at your dog’s pace so that the training stays positive.

When your dog is no longer worried about going into the crate or having the door shut behind him, you can start leaving him confined for short periods. Many dogs whine or bark when you start to leave them in the crate. This is expected because they want to follow you and be near you. However, stay positive and be consistent and your dog will soon learn that you will return to be with him again. If your dog does cry, resist the urge to comfort him or release him. When you reach this point in training, it is imperative that you only look at, talk to, or release your dog from the crate when he is being quiet. If he cries, you should ignore him and look away. When teaching your pet to be quiet in the crate, you may need to sit next to the crate but look away while he cries. Immediately upon 1-2 seconds of quiet, you should praise him and release him from the crate. If you make eye contact or talk to him when he is whining, he learns that when he cries he gets attention. Over time, you should gradually increase the amount of time he needs to be quiet before you praise him.

Puppies should never be left in a crate for longer than their age. For example, an 3 month old puppy can be expected to sleep comfortably in the crate (and hold his bladder) for approximately 3 hours, and a 6 month old puppy can be expected to be comfortable in a crate for 6 hours. Dogs should never be left in a crate for more than about 8-10 hours, even overnight, regardless of their age. Longer than this risks an accident, and dogs need to be able to stretch and exercise. Be sure that a dog that spends his day in the crate while you are at work is well exercised and stimulated during the hours you are home so that he sleeps in the crate and doesn’t become bored. Bored dogs may learn to bark all day, develop obsessive behaviors, or destroy their bedding. A tired dog is a happy dog.

The goal behind crate training is to make the crate a positive place to be. Don’t ever use it for punishment! Instead, try to make it as pleasant as possible for your pet. Most dogs learn to be comfortable in a crate in just a few days. You may even find your pet seeks out his crate to sleep in when you are home. Dogs naturally like small spaces as they help them feel secure. Rarely, a dog will not ever learn to be comfortable in a crate. If your dog panics when confined to a crate, digging constantly at the door or chewing the wires for extended periods of time, seek the advice of your veterinarian. A dog that is a danger to himself in the crate should not be confined in one without supervision, and your veterinarian will have suggestions for other ways to keep your pet safe.