Crate training your dog may take some time and effort, but it can be useful in a variety of situations. If you have a new dog or puppy, you can use the crate to limit their access to the house until they learn all the house rules, like what they can and can not chew on and where they can and can not eliminate. A crate is also a safe way of transporting your dog in the car, as well as a way of taking them places where they may not be welcome to run freely. If you properly train your dog to use the crate, they will think of it as their safe place and will be happy to spend time there when needed.
Selecting a Crate
Crates may be plastic (often called “flight kennels”) or collapsible, metal or canvas. They come in different sizes and can be purchased at most pet supply stores. Your dog’s crate should be just large enough for them to stand up and turn around inside.
The Crate Training Process
Crate training can take days or weeks, depending on your dog’s age, temperament, and past experiences. It is important to keep two things in mind while crate training. The crate should always be associated with something pleasant, and training should take place in a series of small steps – go slow.
Step 1: Introducing Your Dog to the Crate
Put the crate in an area of your house where the family spends a lot of time, such as the family room. Put a soft blanket or towel in the crate. Bring your dog over to the crate and talk to them in a happy tone of voice. Make sure the crate door is securely fastened open so it won’t hit your dog and frighten them.
To encourage your dog to enter the crate, drop some small food treats near it, then just inside the door, and finally, all the way inside the crate. If they refuse to go all the way in at first, that’s okay. Do not force them to enter. Continue tossing food treats into the crate until your dog will walk calmly all the way into the crate to get the food. If they aren't interested in food, try tossing a favorite toy in the crate. This step may take a few minutes or as long as several days.
Step 2: Feeding Your Dog Meals in the Crate
After introducing your dog to the crate, begin feeding them their regular meals near the crate. This will create a pleasant association with the crate. If your dog is readily entering the crate when you begin Step 2, put the food dish all the way at the back of the crate. If your dog is still reluctant to enter the crate, put the dish only as far inside as they will readily go without becoming fearful or anxious. Each time you feed them, place the dish a little further back in the crate.
Once your dog is standing comfortably in the crate to eat their meal, you can close the door while they eat. At first, open the door as soon as they finish the meal. With each successive feeding, leave the door closed a few minutes longer until they stay in the crate for ten minutes or so after eating. If they begin to whine to be let out, you may have increased the length of time too quickly. Next time, try leaving them in the crate for a shorter time period.
Step 3: Conditioning Your Dog to the Crate for Longer Time Periods
After your dog is eating their regular meals in the crate with no sign of fear or anxiety, you can confine them there for short time periods while you’re home. Call them over to the crate and give them a treat. Give them a command to enter such as, “kennel up”. Encourage them by pointing to the inside of the crate with a treat in your hand. After your dog enters the crate, praise them, give a treat and close the door. Sit quietly near the crate for five to ten minutes and then go into another room for a few minutes. Return, sit quietly again for a short time, then let them out of the crate. Repeat this process several times a day. With each repetition, gradually increase the length of time you leave them in the crate and the length of time you’re out of their sight. Once your dog will stay quietly in the crate for about 30 minutes with you out of sight the majority of the time, you can begin leaving them crated when you’re gone for short time periods and/or letting him sleep there at night. This may take several days or several weeks.
Step 4 – Part A: Crating Your Dog
When left alone after your dog is spending about 30 minutes in the crate without becoming anxious or afraid, you can begin leaving them crated for short periods when you leave the house. Put them in the crate using your regular command and a treat. You might also want to leave them with a few safe toys in the crate (see our resource for Dog Toys
). You’ll want to vary at what point in your “getting ready to leave” routine you put your dog in the crate. Although they shouldn’t be crated for a long time before you leave, you can crate them anywhere from five to 20 minutes prior to leaving. Try not to make your departures emotional and prolonged, but matter-of-fact. Praise your dog briefly, give them a treat for entering the crate and then leave quietly. When you return home, keep arrivals low-key and immediately let them out to relieve themselves – love them up AFTER they have relieved themselves and come back inside. Continue to crate your dog for short periods from time to time when you’re home so they don’t associate crating with being left alone.
Step 4 – Part B: Crating Your Dog at Night
Put your dog in the crate using your regular command and a treat. Initially, it may be a good idea to put the crate in your bedroom, especially if you have a puppy. Puppies often need to go outside to eliminate during the night, and you’ll want to be able to hear your puppy when they whine to be let outside. Older dogs, too, should initially be kept nearby so that crating doesn’t become associated with being socially isolated. Once your dog is sleeping comfortably through the night with their crate near you, you can begin to gradually move it to the location you prefer.
Too Much Time in the Crate
A crate isn’t a magical solution. If not used correctly, a dog can feel trapped and frustrated. For example, if your dog is crated all day while you’re at work and then crated again all night, they are spending too much time in too small a space. Other arrangements should be made to accommodate their physical and emotional needs. Also remember that puppies under six months of age shouldn’t stay in a crate for more than two to four hours at a time. They can’t control their bladders and bowels for longer periods.
If your dog whines or cries while in the crate at night, it may be difficult to decide whether they are whining to be let out of the crate, or whether they need to be let outside to eliminate. If you followed the training procedures out-lined above, your dog hasn’t been rewarded for whining in the past by being released from their crate. Try to ignore the whining. If your dog is just testing you, they will probably stop whining soon. Yelling at them or pounding on the crate will only make things worse. If the whining continues after you’ve ignored them for several minutes, use the phrase they associate with going outside to eliminate. If they respond and become excited, take them outside. This should be a trip with a purpose, not play time. If you’re convinced that your dog doesn’t need to eliminate, the best response is to ignore them until they stop whining. If you are unsure about their needs – take them outside on leash, to their spot and tell them to “go”. If they go – no rewards – it’s bed time. If they just sniff around and/or play for 2-3 minute then carry them back into the house and put them directly into the crate. Don’t give in to whining now, otherwise you may teach your dog to whine loud and long to get what they want. If you’ve progressed gradually through the training steps and haven’t done too much too fast you will be less likely to encounter this problem. If the problem becomes unmanageable, you may need to start the crate training process over again.
Attempting to use the crate as a remedy for separation anxiety won’t solve the problem. A crate may prevent your dog from being destructive, but they may injure themselves in an attempt to escape from the crate. Separation anxiety problems can only be resolved with counter-conditioning and desensitization procedures. You may want to consult a professional dog trainer or animal behaviorist for help.