How Can I Crate Train My Dog?

Did you know canine mothers construct maternity dens, typically subterranean, for their pups to help them feel safe? So, in a way, puppies are programmed to feel comfortable in an enclosed space. This is also the reason why several adult dogs often associate dark, enclosed spaces with memories of puppyhood and this safety and security can have a soothing effect on them. Crates are designed keeping this in mind. However, crate training a pup can be a little more complicated than that. Read on to know more.

A little girl with long red hair kneels in front of a wire crate

A young girl with waist-length red hair in a red and black flannel shirt and a pair of torn jeans kneels on hardwood floor in front of a selection of wire crates.

Choosing the Right Crate

The process of successful crate training begins with choosing the right crate. Pet owners are truly spoilt for choices with the variety of crate options in the market today. There are multiple aspects to be considered before narrowing down on the ideal crate, such as:

  • Space in the house
  • Portability
  • Space requirement of the dog
  • Preference of the dog
  • Cost of the crate

Your dog should be able to easily stand up, sit, lay on his side and turn around in the crate. If these fundamental activities are difficult to perform, the crate must be immediately replaced.

Mentioned below are some of the most popular choices of dog crates. Make sure to pick a crate that serves your purpose and makes your dog feel safe.

  • Metal or wire crate – This is most popularly used in most households. These crates are well ventilated and provide excellent visibility to your dog.
  • Mesh crate – The walls of this type of crate are made out of soft mesh material, making this crate an ideal choice for dogs who prefer den-like spaces to settle down. It provides the dog with somewhat hazy visibility. They are lightweight, reasonably priced, and tend to be a comfortable option for dogs.
  • Plastic crate – These crates make excellent choices for travel. They are compact, sturdy, and will help keep your dog safe in all kinds of scenarios.
  • Play pen – This is a spacious version of the metal crate. It provides a larger area for dogs to move around and play yet confines them within that specific area. It is a suitable option for dogs that are not comfortable with the limited space that traditional crates have to offer.

Recommended Usages of the Crate

When used correctly, a crate has several benefits and can be an incredible assistant in the process of dog training. It can not only help fix multiple behavioral issues but also nip several of them in the bud. The crate is popular as a safe space for dogs in the absence of humans. However, it can also be used in the following scenarios -

Rest and Relaxation Haven

One of the most popular usages of the crate is a rest and relaxation space for the dog. It must be a space that the dog looks forward to snuggling in for a good nap. Often, when dogs are sleeping in random spots of the house, they are unable to get extended periods of sleep and rest.

Scheduled Downtimes

Puppies have a tendency to go-go-go until they’re overtired and cannot play anymore, which usually translates to overstimulation. Overstimulation generally looks like mischievous behaviors like nipping, jumping up, and running around the house like crazy, to name a few. Scheduled downtimes are essential for puppies who have difficulty figuring out when it is time for rest.

As a Potty-Training Aid

Preventing accidents in and around the house is the number one way to set a puppy up for potty training success. Unfortunately, it may not be possible to keep an eye out on the pup 24/7. The crate acts as an excellent medium of supervision in this case because the majority of dogs do not like to soil where they sleep. Crates also help in building bladder control.

A Safe Space for Anxious Dogs

The confinement of the crate acts as a familiar place to retreat for anxious dogs when faced with stressful situations. Familiarity in the smallest way can help tense their anxious state of mind. A crate can be used to help calm a fearful dog in case of stressful situations like visitors coming over, thunderstorms, fireworks, etc.

A Safe Space to Be Alone

The crate acts as a pseudo pet sitter that can keep your dog safe in your absence. During those times when you are unable to supervise your dog or take your dog along with you, leaving them in the crate is an assurance of them being out of trouble.

A white dog sits beside a plastic crate

A tall white puppy with gray patches sits beside a pink plastic carrier crate in front of a brick wall that has been whitewashed.

Picking the Best Spot for the Crate

Picking the right spot for the crate is an important aspect of achieving success in crate training. Some dogs may prefer a well-lit spot from where they will have visibility of all corners of the household whereas some dogs may prefer a darker, enclosed area. A few trial and errors may help you figure out what works best for you and your dog.

Consider making the crate even more comfortable by throwing in a cozy dog bed or a plush crate mat. If your dog is expected to spend even a few hours everyday in the crate, it is important to make it more inviting. Several pet parents also cover the crate with a dark colored blanket to provide den-like darkness to the dog sleeping inside.

Crate Training - Step By Step Guide

When it comes to crate training, slow but long-term consistency trumps short term intensity. Hence, do not start by locking your dog in the crate for several hours together and expect them to take to it. Here is a step-by-step tutorial to guide you along the way.

Start With an Open Door

Ease of going in and out of the crate is the first step towards building familiarity and positive association with the crate. Your dog is more likely to frequent the crate during the day on their own if they’re not pushed or shoved in there time and again. Use treats, food, toys etc as a way to lure them in and out of the crate. Playing fetch by throwing the ball in the crate for your dog to get it is another way to make the crate fun for the dog.

Consider adding a command for getting in the crate and say it every time your dog enters the crate.

Create a Disneyland In There

Let the crate become a place where your dog finds all of their favorite things like food, treats, edible chews, fun toys etc and engages in their favorite activities. Spending time in the crate shouldn’t be a matter of obligation, but something to look forward to. Pro tip – Instead of feeding your dog meals in a traditional food bowl, freeze their meals in a Classic Kong toy in several tasty layers and let them unravel it in the crate.

Ensure a Ton of Positive Reinforcement

Treats are not the only way to reward your dog. Verbal reinforcement is as powerful a tool as any if used the right way. We usually end up giving attention to our dogs when they’re engaging in some kind of undesirable behaviors like barking, whining, etc, unintentionally encouraging said behavior. Make sure to proactively engage and interact with your dog when they are being calm in the crate. Dogs are fast learners and they will repeat behaviors that get them attention and rewards.

Gradually Build Duration

Locking your dog in the crate for several hours during the early stages of crate training is a classic recipe for disaster because it will set your dog up for negative association with the crate. Start with just a few minutes of crate time multiple times a day. Gradually, over the span of several days, increase the number of minutes in the crate.

Leave the Room for Short Periods of Time

Build crate isolation gradually by leaving the room for short periods of time while the dog is inside the crate. Reappearing time and again in short periods of time will give your dog the confidence that crate does not always lead to isolation. Do not make a big deal about leaving and entering as it may add to your dog’s existing crate anxiety, if present.

Crate Your Dog When He Is Calm

The eventual aim of crate training a dog is to help them settle down and it is easiest for a dog to do so when they are tired or in a naturally calm state of mind. Post walk or play, afternoons and late evenings are usually the times when a dog is tired and/or sleepy. This is when crate training would yield faster and more successful results as the dog would barely have the energy to retaliate or be whiny.

Give Your Dog Company

If your long term usage of the crate involves leaving your dog in there for several hours while you’re away, it is highly recommended to build towards it slowly and steadily. Make sure to give your dog company while he is in the crate by being in the same room and interacting with him every now and then. Dogs mostly dislike crates because they do not let them be around their humans. But, if the humans are around regardless, the crate is not as bad a place anymore!

Let Your Dog Out Often

Dogs may be den animals, but they are also social animals. It cannot be stressed enough that when the dog crate is overused, its training ability is highly undermined. When crating your pup for several hours together, let them out a couple of times in between for pee and potty breaks and to release their pent up energies. Doing so will enhance their ability to relax in the crate for longer durations while preventing boredom-led behaviors like destructive chewing and vocalization.

Extending Alone Time

Most adult and mature dogs can stay in a crate for about 6-7 hours at a stretch if the dog gets ample exercise and walks when they are out of the crate. If you will be working longer hours, it’s recommended that you either hire a dog walker to come once or twice to give your dog a much needed break or consider doggy daycares. Extending alone time in the crate must be done tactfully so as to not overwhelm your dog.

A black puppy in a wire crate

A tiny black French bulldog puppy has its paws on the side of the wire crate that it is in.

How Long Should a Puppy Be In the Crate?

Several factors determine how long your puppy can and should be in their crate. Some of them are –

Energy Levels of the Pup

A high energy dog may take some time to get accustomed to the crate and settle down. Such dogs may do better with shorter durations in the crate, multiple times a day.

How Much Exercise the Puppy Is Getting

If the dog isn’t getting his daily quota of required physical and mental stimulation, he may get bored and destructive in the crate and may not do well with longer hours.

Bladder Control Ability

Puppies have tiny bladders that need to be relieved often during the day. A puppy in the process of being potty trained must not be kept in the crate for over 1.5-2 hours as they may either end up having an accident or may spoil their health trying to hold their pee.

Existing Emotional Response Towards the Crate

If a dog has grown up disliking the crate, it will be a while before he starts taking to it again.

Ability to Settle Down

The ability to settle down in the crate boils down to the association that the dog has formed with the crate. If the dog is habituated to resting in the crate, he is likely to be able to spend longer hours.

A white Maltese puppy in a crate

A Maltese puppy looks sad behind the bars of a white wire crate.

Things You Must Never Do While Crate Training Your Pup

Use It As a Time Out/ Punishment Zone

Using the crate as a time out zone is a classic way to make your dog resent the crate. The crate may end up becoming a thing to be afraid of, which may impede them from entering and exiting the crate willingly.

Only Use It When You Must Step Away or Out

Only using the crate when you’re unable to supervise your dog will only make your dog feel isolated in there. Dogs don’t do very well with long periods of isolation and may end up with behavioral issues stemming from boredom and frustration.

Scold/ Yell At the Dog While He Is In There

You could either choose to create positive association for your dog in the crate or scold and yell at them while they’re in there. But both cannot happen simultaneously. Irritation is natural when the dog is barking or whining excessively in the crate, but how we deal with it shapes their long term relation with the crate.

Let Him Be Bored In There

It is a well-established fact that an idle mind is a devil’s workshop. This cannot be truer in case of a dog inside a crate. If your dog is forced to spend hours together in confinement and has nothing to keep their mind engaged, it will sooner or later lead to severe behavioral issues and crate-related anxiety.

Use It For Several Hours At a Stretch

A crate is a considerably safe confined space where a dog can be left without supervision for some amount of time. However, if overused or used incorrectly, it can also backfire. Every dog crated for several hours during the day must be given a break, regardless of their size, energy levels, age, and ability to settle in the crate. Without the required number of breaks, the dog may show signs of lethargy and depression.

Make a Big Deal While Leaving or Coming Back

For a dog that is already anxious about departures or has separation anxiety, making a big deal out of going away or returning home can aggravate the anxiety. The dog may spend all their time anticipating your return and make themselves a lot more nervous. Be as nonchalant as you’d be when you see your crush and try to play it cool!

A puppy and its owner sits on a couch

A Yorkshire terrier puppy is sitting on a couch covered in throw pillows beside its owner, who has his hands together and is smiling.

Overcoming Common Problems During Crate Training

The process of crate training may sound tedious, but is actually quite simple if you just remember a handful of things and follow them consistently. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we may run into roadblocks. Let’s talk about some common problems pet parents face while crate training their dogs-

“My puppy barks and whines in the crate”

There may be several reasons why a puppy may vocalize in the crate. Need to relieve themselves, to express pain or distress, to express boredom or hunger, to seek attention, etc may be some of the many reasons why a pup may bark or whine. Their cries of distress must never be ignored, especially when they are puppies and may need to pee or poop. However, if barking for attention has become a habit, paying heed to it may only further worsen the behavior. Try crating your pup when they are absolutely tired and ready to sleep for a couple of hours. During such times, they are less likely to retaliate for long and may give up quickly and nap.

“My puppy pees/ poops in the crate”

Crating the puppy for several hours without a pee/ potty break or crating them during the wrong time may be a couple of reasons why they may continue to relieve themselves inside the crate. Make sure to give them frequent pee and potty breaks and crate them only after they have finished their business. If they do have accidents, make sure to clean the area fully with an enzymatic cleaner. Furthermore, make sure to get a crate that is fit for their size. A crate too big may encourage them to run around and use the excess space as a pee/potty area.

“My dog is highly distressed in the crate”

A dog that is suffering from isolation distress or, worse, separation anxiety may be extremely anxious in the crate, sometimes, till a point of harming or injuring themselves. In such cases, it is advisable to do one or more of the following things –

  • Seek professional help
  • Restart crate training with baby steps
  • CBD or other calming medication
  • Replace the crate with a play pen or a more spacious confined area
  • Get rid of the crate

In Conclusion

Crate training your dog may take some time and effort, but can be highly useful in a variety of situations. However, it is not a magical solution to behavioral problems. It takes patience, willingness, and consistency to set a dog up for success with crate training. When done correctly, it is a time and effort investment which is sure to reap rewards in long term.

Siddhika Bhat dog trainer

For more information on crate training and potty training your puppy, check out these articles:

Puppy Crate Training Schedule: The Ultimate Guide

Dog Trainer Siddhika: The 7 Benefits of Crate Training Your Dog

7 Mistakes to Avoid During Crate Training

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