Even if you don’t plan to use a crate long term, it’s a good idea for your puppy to learn to be comfortable in one. Imagine one day if he needs to spend several days hospitalized at the vet, or be confined during travel. It will be much less stressful for your pup if the crate isn’t new and scary. Most dogs can learn to love a crate, or at least tolerate one. Some dogs panic in crates and it will be more appropriate to use an exercise pen or tall, sturdy gate to confine them into a dog safe room. Some puppies are happier sleeping in bed with you, though you may wish to add towels to the bed, just in case of an accident.
Choose a crate that allows your dog to lie down, stand up without crouching, and turn around in a circle. You can buy crates with dividers that your puppy can grow into. Be sure to move the divider as your puppy grows; sometimes a puppy stops getting into the crate because he bumps his nose on the divider. A crate can be a place to keep your puppy safe when you can’t supervise, otherwise you may have trouble with accidents and destructive behavior based in boredom or anxiety. Put a soft bed inside, and maybe one of your unwashed, old t-shirts.
At night, puppies often whine and cry. It’s a big shock to them to leave mom and littermates, so they get lonely, and sometimes they cry because they have to go potty and prefer not to soil their bedding. We can usually help them out by keeping the crate in our room and limiting activity after they go into the crate. When you do take your puppy out of the crate, expect to immediately take him outside to go potty and don’t forget to bring treats to reward him for going in the right place.
It’s important not to over-crate a dog. Imagine that you work in a small space, like a cubicle, and you can’t get out to eat, get a drink, go to the bathroom, or do anything fun for 6, 8, or 10 hours. I would hate that! It’s unfair to expect most adult dogs to be in a crate more than 4 or 5 hours. Because most of us work longer than that, we have to find neighbors, friends, pet sitters, or doggie daycares to help us out. Be sure your dog gets a good session of hard exercise before crating, so he is ready for a nap.
Check out this great training info, excerpted from an ASPCA “Weekend Crate Training” article:
Age Maximum time in crate
8–10 weeks 30–60 minutes
11–14 weeks 1–3 hours
15–16 weeks 3–4 hours
17+ weeks 4–5 hours
When NOT to Use a Crate
Thunderphobic dogs should not be crated during storms.
Dogs who suffer from isolation or separation anxiety should not be confined in a crate.
Destructiveness, vocalizing or house soiling during the first 30 minutes after you leave your dog alone in the house
Destructive behaviors that consistently occur only when she’s left by herself in the house
Destructive behavior directed at windows, doors, flooring in front of doors or items with your scent, like seat cushions or the TV remote
Damage to the crate from your dog’s attempts to escape
Damage to surrounding objects that she’s been able to reach while inside the crate
Wet chest fur or a lot of wetness in the bottom of the crate from drooling
Urination or defection in the crate
Your dog moves the crate while she’s inside
Excessive barking or howling during your absence (You can get reports from neighbors or record your dog’s behavior using a video camera.)
She’s too young to have sufficient bladder or bowel control
She has diarrhea
You must leave her alone for longer than the time indicated in the crate duration guidelines above
She hasn’t eliminated shortly before going in the crate
The temperature is uncomfortably high
She has not had sufficient exercise, companionship and socialization
Friday Night: Before You Start Training
The most important part of crate training is teaching your dog to associate her crate with things she loves. Try the ideas below to convince your dog that her new crate is the place to be:
The Treat Fairy
Leave the crate door wide open and make sure your dog has access to the room where you’ve set up the crate. Every so often, when she’s not looking, sneakily toss a few treats around and into the crate so she can discover them on her own. Use something that your dog will love, like small pieces of chicken, cheese, hot dog or freeze-dried liver. You can also leave an exciting new toy, a delicious chew bone or a stuffed KONG® toy inside the crate. Periodically leave special treats in your dog’s crate throughout the evening—and continue to do so every day or so for the next few weeks. If your dog sometimes finds surprise goodies in her crate, she’ll start to love it, and she’ll probably go into it often just to see if the “Treat Fairy” has come.
When it’s dinnertime for your dog, place her bowl inside the crate and leave the door open. Try putting the bowl in the back of the crate so your dog has to stand inside the crate to eat. If she seems too uncomfortable to go into the crate at first, you can put the bowl just inside the door instead. That way, she only has to put her head in the crate. Over time, as your dog becomes more and more comfortable stepping inside, you can move the bowl all the way to the back of the crate and, eventually, close the crate door while she eats her meals.
Prepare Supplies for Saturday and Sunday
Over the next couple of days, you’ll reward your dog often for going into her crate. It’s a good idea to prepare some treats in advance. Cut some chicken, cheese, hot dogs, soft dog treats or freeze-dried liver into bite-sized pieces and set them aside for later use. You can also stuff two or three KONGs, which you’ll give your dog when you start to increase the length of time she stays in her crate.
Saturday Morning: Let the Crate Fun Begin!
You’re ready to get started. Gather the treats you prepared and take your dog to the crate.
Step One: Follow the Treat
You can do the following exercises sitting on the floor or in a chair right next to the crate.
Give a cue to ask your dog to go into the crate, such as “Go to bed.” (Choose whatever cue you like, just be sure you always use the same one.)
Show your dog one of the treats and toss it in the crate. After she goes inside to eat it, praise her enthusiastically and feed her another treat while she’s still inside.
Say “Okay” to let your dog know she can come out again. You don’t need to reward her when she comes out of the crate. She needs to learn that all good things happen when she’s inside the crate.
Repeat the steps above 10 times. Take a short break (just a few minutes), and then do another set of 10 repetitions. After your second set, end the training session.
Step Two: Earn the Treat
Later on in the morning, collect some treats and bring your dog to the crate for more training. Now that she’s practiced following a treat into the crate, try asking her to go in before rewarding her with the treat.
To warm up, do a couple of repetitions just like you did before—throwing the treat into the crate so that your dog follows it. Then you can change the rules a little.
Give your cue, “Go to bed,” and point to the crate instead of throwing a treat into it. (When you point, it might help to move your arm like you did when tossing a treat into the crate. The familiar motion can remind your dog what she’s supposed to do.)
When your dog goes in, praise her and immediately give her a couple of treats while she’s still in the crate.
Say “Okay” and let your dog come out of the crate.
Do 10 repetitions and then take a short break. Repeat the exercise another 10 times—or until your dog seems to know the game and enters and exits readily when you ask her to.
If your dog seems nervous about going into the crate or confused about what she’s supposed to do when you say the cue, go back and practice Step One for a while longer. When your dog confidently rushes into the crate to get her treat, you can try Step Two again.
Saturday Afternoon: Close the Crate Door
Now it’s time to get your dog used to being in the crate with the door closed.
To warm up, do a couple of repetitions just like you did before. Say “Go to bed,” point to the crate, reward your dog with a treat when she goes in and then say “Okay” to let her know she can come out.
Now you’ll try closing the crate door for just a moment. Give your cue “Go to bed” and point to the crate.
When your dog goes in the crate, praise her and immediately give her a treat. Then gently close the crate door. (You don’t have to latch it yet.) Feed your dog two or three treats through the closed crate door and continue to praise her while she’s in the crate.
Say “Okay” and open the crate door to let your dog come out. (If your dog seems stressed or panicked with the door briefly closed, break down this exercise into two phases: in the first phase, just close the door halfway, give a treat and release your dog; in the second phase, close the door all the way.)
Do 10 repetitions and then take a break for a minute or two. Then repeat the exercise 10 more times, slowly building up the time your dog stays in the crate with the door closed. As you increase the time, throw in some easy repetitions, too. Start with 1 second, then increase to 5. Try 8 seconds, then go back to 3. Increase to 10 seconds, then 15, then 20, then an easy 5. Continue to generously reward your dog whenever she’s in the crate. After you finish your second set of 10 repetitions, take a half-hour break. Then repeat the exercise again. Over the afternoon, try to build up to having your dog stay in the crate for one minute.
Saturday Evening: Introduction to Alone Time
When your dog is used to hanging out in her crate with the door closed while you sit nearby, you can move on to the next step: leaving her alone for a little while. Repeat the exercise you’ve been practicing, just as it’s described above—but this time, latch the crate door and start to move away from the crate.
To warm up, do a couple of repetitions like you did in the afternoon. Sit on the floor or in a chair next to your dog’s crate. Say “Go to bed” and point to the crate. When your dog goes in, close the crate door and reward her with a few treats while she stays in the crate. After about 30 seconds, say “Okay” and open the crate door to let your dog out.
Now you’ll close the crate door briefly. Say your cue, “Go to bed,” and point to the crate. When your dog goes in, close and latch the crate door, and then give her a treat.
Stand up and give your dog another treat. Take a few steps away from the crate and then return to give your dog a treat.
Say “Okay” and open the crate door to let your dog come out.
Repeat the steps above 10 times, each time walking away in a different direction. After a short break, do 10 more repetitions, slowly building up the time your dog stays in the crate while you walk around the room. As you increase the time, throw in some easy repetitions. Start with 10 seconds, then increase to 15. Try 20 seconds, then go back to 10. Increase to 30 seconds, drop to 15, then up to 45, and then an easy 5. Continue to return to the crate and reward your dog every few seconds while she’s inside. In the beginning, be very generous. As your dog becomes more and more comfortable resting in her crate, you can gradually decrease how frequently you treat her.
After you finish your second set of 10 repetitions, take a half-hour break. Then repeat the exercise another 10 times. Start leaving the room for a few seconds at a time, always returning to reward your dog while she’s in the crate. Try to work up to having your dog stay in the crate for one minute while you walk around the room and briefly leave the room.
Sunday Morning: TV Time
This morning, you’ll teach your dog to relax for longer periods in her crate. You’ll need some treats, a new tasty chew bone or a KONG toy stuffed with something wonderful, like a little peanut butter or cream cheese, and something to occupy yourself. Ask your dog to go in her crate. When she does, praise her and give her the chew bone or stuffed KONG. Then close the crate door and settle down to watch TV or read a book in the same room. Keep your dog in her crate for about half an hour. (If she finishes her chew, you can periodically give her a treat or two, as long as she stays quiet.)
When the half hour is up, calmly open the crate and say “Okay,” so that your dog can come out. Take her chew thing away, and don’t reward her with treats when crate time is over. In fact, it’s best if you just ignore your dog for a few minutes. Again, you want her to learn that great things happen while she’s in the crate, not when she comes out. Take a break from training for a while. An hour or two later, you can repeat the exercise.
At this point in your training, your dog might start to object to confinement in her crate. Never ignore your dog if she sounds like she is in distress. Are you sure she doesn't have to go potty? Is she stuck on anything? If not, and she barks or whines, you may be rushing your training plan. Go back to building time in the crate and make the increases gradual.
Sunday Afternoon: Alone Time
Before moving on to Sunday afternoon exercises, give your dog a good workout. Take her outside on a brisk walk or jog, play fetch or tug, or give her a chance to play with a dog buddy. Crate training will be easier if she’s tired. After you’ve exercised your dog, repeat the training steps you practiced this morning, but this time, instead of settling down to relax in the same room as your dog, you’ll move around the house.
Ask your dog to go in her crate. When she does, hand her a delicious chew bone or a stuffed KONG. Then close the crate door and walk out of the room.
The amazing treat has to come after the puppy goes inside, so the crate predicts amazing treats. If you do it the other way, treats predict crates, and your puppy may start to avoid the treats in order to avoid the crate.
Stay out of the room for 10 minutes. After the time’s up, you can return and let your dog out of the crate. (If she hasn’t finished working on her chew thing, take it away after she leaves the crate. She only gets special goodies during crate time.) If your dog makes noise in the crate while you’re gone, don’t return to let her out until she’s been quiet for 5 to 10 seconds.
After a short break, repeat the exercise.
This afternoon, continue to repeat the steps above, slowly building up the time your dog stays in her crate. Try to work up to one full hour of alone time.
Sunday Evening: Time to Leave the House
If your dog can quietly rest in her crate for an hour while you move around the house, you’re ready to leave her home alone. Ask your dog to go in her crate and give her something delicious to chew or eat, just like you did before. Then close the crate and, without saying any goodbyes, leave the house for about 10 minutes. When you return, calmly let your dog out of her crate and take away her chew.
Resist the urge to celebrate. Your dog will feel most comfortable going into and out of her crate if you act like it’s no big deal.
Repeat the exercise as often as possible before bedtime, with exercise and potty breaks in between training times. Try to build up to leaving your dog in her crate, home alone, for an hour or two.
The Weekend’s Over… What Next?
Now that you‘ve completed the Weekend Crate Training plan, your dog can start to stay in her crate whenever you leave the house, overnight and when you can’t directly supervise her during the day. Abide by the crate duration guidelines above, and keep the following tips in mind to make sure your dog continues to feel comfortable in the crate:
Always try to thoroughly exercise your dog before crating her. (Aim for at least 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise.) If you crate your dog while you’re at work and overnight, she’ll need lots of quality play time and exercise with you when she’s not in her crate.
Always take your dog out for a potty break before crating her and right after letting her out of the crate.
Continue to feed your dog her meals inside the crate and always leave her with something to chew when she’s in her crate. (Speak with your veterinarian for advice about what’s safe for your dog to chew while she’s alone.) If you reserve special things, like dinner, new chew bones, stuffed KONGs and pig ears for crate time, your dog will learn to love going into her crate.
Leave your dog’s crate open so that she can access it at all times. Many dogs choose to rest inside their crates even when they don’t have to.
Although it might be difficult, resist the urge to yell at your dog if she complains in her crate. She might respond by quieting down—but the attention from you, even though it’s negative attention, might increase her barking and whining instead. Scolding might also upset your dog, and you want to make her time in the crate as stress-free as possible. Go back to building a longer duration of time in the crate.
If you have a young puppy, she might not be able to sleep through the night without having to eliminate. If your puppy whines in the middle of the night and you think she might need to go out, do let her out of the crate. Then you can take her directly to the place where you’d like her to eliminate and wait. If she doesn’t go within a minute or two, take her back inside and return her to her crate. Don’t let her romp around during the potty break. You don’t want her to learn that if she whines in her crate, you’ll take her out for playtime!
My Dog Is Afraid to Go Into the Crate
If your dog is afraid of the crate, call a trainer for help.
Decreasing Confinement, Increasing Freedom
You can begin to give your dog more freedom in your house while you’re gone once she’s thoroughly house trained, has eliminated consistently outside with no accidents for at least one month, and chews or destroys only her own toys—not your house or household items. The right time to give your dog more freedom will depend on her individual personality. Some dogs can be destructive when alone until they are about two years old, while others can be trusted at one year or less.
Here are some suggested steps toward increasing your dog’s freedom outside the crate:
Start with brief absences with your dog free in your house. Be sure to dog-proof your home before you go. Put your garbage away and pick up items you don’t want your dog to chew. Leave out several toys that she can chew. You want to set her up to succeed!
Don’t give her freedom in the whole house at first. Use baby gates or close doors to prevent her from getting into rooms you don’t want her in yet. Or try confining her to just one room, like the kitchen or laundry room.
Walk out the door and run a short five-minute errand. If you come home to a mess, try a shorter absence.
If, after a couple more attempts at short absences, your dog is still making messes, she might not be mature enough to be left alone in the house yet. Alternatively, her continued destructiveness might mean she has separation anxiety. Set up a tablet or phone to video for 20 minutes. Ask a trainer for help.
If you return and there are no messes, gradually lengthen your absences. For example, start with five minutes. Then try a half-hour, then an hour, then two hours and, finally, four or five hours (the maximum recommended length of time).
What NOT to Do
Do not use a crate to contain your dog simply because she’s a nuisance and requires attention. A puppy or young dog can sometimes be annoying and exhausting, but it’s unfair and negligent to lock her up rather than provide the training she needs.
Do not put your dog in her crate to punish her. If you do, she’ll probably come to dislike the crate. It’s fine to use the crate sparingly as a time-out place, but your dog should have many more pleasant experiences with her crate to counteract any possible unpleasant associations.