How to Crate Train a Puppy
While a new puppy may be one of the cutest things in the world, there will be times when you need your puppy to be on his own safely for a bit. Having your dog used to being in a crate can make it much easier to go to work or knock some things off your to-do list without worrying about your puppy. Learn how to crate train a puppy with this guide.
Crate training is good for your puppy because it gives them a safe place to hang out in when you can't keep an eye on them every minute. It also reinforces good boundaries — something dogs need to thrive — and can be a big help when it comes to potty training and sleeping through the night. Having your puppy crate trained can also make it easier to have a pet-sitter come in or board your dog if you need to go on vacation.
The first step in crate training is to get the crate ready. What kind of crate you get is largely up to your personal preference. Many people like the wire-style crates that can help your pup feel like he's still part of the family when he's in his own space while others prefer plastic crates that are more enclosed.
You'll want to make sure that the crate you get is the right size for your puppy. He needs enough room to stand comfortably and turn around, but you don't want it too big. If your puppy has too much room, he may be able to sleep on one side and use the other side as a potty place. Some larger crates come with a divider to use while your dog is a puppy so they can grow into the crate without having to buy a new one every time they grow a bit.
The inside of the crate should have veterinary bedding, which is a washable type of bedding that's both comfortable and warm for your puppy. If possible, it's a great idea to get a towel or old T-shirt that has the puppy's mother's scent on it to provide comfort and make the crate smell familiar. Keep extras like chew toys or stuffed animals out of the crate as those should be given to your pup only when you can be supervising.
Starting the crate training process as soon as possible on the very first night your puppy is home with you establishes boundaries and a routine so he knows what to expect. To help get your puppy ready for his first night in the crate, consider these tips:
- Make sure your puppy is tired. A tired dog is a good dog, and the readier your puppy is to go to sleep, the more likely he is to settle into the crate quickly. Try play sessions or a short walk before trying to get your puppy in the crate.
- Time the last meal. Dogs don't like to use the bathroom where they sleep, so if your puppy must go potty, they may end up whining and crying to get out of the crate. Make sure that you leave plenty of time between the last meal of the day and when they are going into the crate so that they have enough time to go outside to the bathroom before settling in.
- Keep it dark. If your puppy knows that the rest of the family is up and active, he's going to want to join in the fun. Putting a blanket or towel over the crate sides can make the inside darker while still letting your puppy see you through the door for comfort.
- Provide comfort but not attention. It can be hard not to swoop in and pick up your puppy when he's whining to get out of the crate, but this will just reinforce the idea that whining works. It's OK to tell your puppy, "You're OK. It's time to sleep now," but avoid eye contact or a lot of attention.
Crate training a puppy isn't just a one-night thing, and how you approach crate training can make a big difference in how your dog takes to the crate. The best thing to do is to try to make the crate a positive, safe place for them and not use it as a punishment.
When you're trying to get your dog used to the crate, put it in an area of the house where your puppy can sniff it and go in and out if he wants to. You can make it more inviting by placing a few high-value treats or a few pieces of dog food in the crate. The more familiar your puppy is with the crate before he has to go in it forcefully, the better.
When it's time to go in the crate, give your puppy the command, such as "crate" or "bed," and then put a treat in to entice him in. If he doesn't go in on his own, gently put him in the crate and shut the door, giving him lots of praise. Start with short time increments and gradually work up to longer stays.
The general formula for how long your puppy can stay in the crate is their age in months plus 1 — up to 8 hours. So, a 3-month-old puppy can stay in the crate for 4 hours, but a 7-month-old puppy can stay in the crate for 8 hours before needing time out to play and run around.
Crate training a puppy isn't something that happens overnight in most cases. It can take time and lots of repetition and praise to help your puppy feel comfortable in the crate. Most puppies get the hang of things in a few weeks, but if your puppy is still whining a lot or using the bathroom in his crate, it's a good idea to check with your vet to rule out any other issues and get some training tips.
For more information on how to help your puppy settle in to your family and become your new best friend, check out our dog resource centre.