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How to Crate Train A Dog – Step by Step Guide

brown long coated small dog on brown wooden crate

Crate training your dog can be a time-consuming process but can be helpful in various situations. When you bring home a new dog or puppy, use a crate to limit his access to the house until he learns all the house rules and can be trusted will all members of your household. Crate training takes advantage of your dog’s natural instincts to seek a comfortable, quiet, and safe place when the environment around them becomes too overwhelming or loud. The crate should represent a den-like space to your dog – the regular use of a den is a natural behavior that both wild dogs and wolves exhibit. It’s also an essential tool to prevent your dogs from chewing things they are not supposed to and is a key part of potty training. Additionally, if your dog ever has to spend the night at a vet’s office or is first going to a day care / boarding – which is already a stressful experience – your dog will feel much more comfortable being in a crate if they have already been crate-trained. 

A crate-trained dog will think of their crate as their special place where they can spend down time stress-free. A crate-trained dog will happily go in and out of its crate, be calm inside, show no signs of stress. When you put your dog into a crate without proper crate training, your dog may feel isolated and whine constantly.  

Benefits of Crate Training

  • Keeps your dog safe when you are not home
  • Useful in house training
  • Helpful in overcoming separation anxiety – especially as we return to the office post pandemic
  • Will reduce stress for your dogs in situations where they have to be crated – travel, vet’s office, boarding etc.

Crate Placement

Put the crate in a quiet area that replicates a den-like atmosphere, such as your bedroom. Put a soft cloth or blanket in the crate. For dogs that aren’t going to chew their beds, you can put a bed in the crate.

Choosing the Right Crate for your Dog

For dogs that prefer to sleep in the dark, we recommend kennels or airline crates (which are more enclosed), while wire crates may work better for some dogs. We recommend using more enclosed crates because it creates more of a den atmosphere – but there sometimes your dog might prefer something different. It’s important, that you don’t buy a crate that is too big for your dog – this can lead to a situation where your dog decides to go to the bathroom in one part of the crate and sleep in another.

Steps to crate train your dog 

Step 1: Introduce the crate to your dog 

  • Take them over to the crate and talk to them in a happy tone of voice. Ensure the crate door is open. 
  • Praise your dog for being near the crate by dropping treats nearby, then just inside the door, and finally, inside the crate. If they don’t want to go all the way in at first, that’s OK; don’t force them to enter. 
  • Continue offering treats into the crate until your dog will walk all the way comfortably into the crate to get the food. If they aren’t impressed with treats, offer them a favorite toy in the crate. This step may take few minutes or as long as several days. 

Step 2: Feed meals in the crate 

After successfully introducing your dog to the crate, begin feeding them their regular meals inside or near the crate to create a pleasant connection with the crate.  

  • If your dog is immediately entering the crate when you begin Step 2, place the food bowl at the back of the crate.  
  • If they remain unwilling to enter, put the bowl only as far inside as they will readily go without becoming fearful or anxious. Every time you feed them, place the bowl a little further back in the crate.  
  • Once your dog is standing conveniently in the crate to eat, close the door while they’re eating their meal. The first time you implement this, open the door as soon as they complete their meal. After each successive feeding, leave the door closed several minutes longer until they’re residing in the crate for 10 minutes or so after having their meal.  
  • If they start whining to be let out of the crate, you may have increased the length of time too soon. Next time, try leaving them for a shorter time. If they do whine or cry inside the crate, don’t let them out until they stop. Otherwise, they will learn that the way to get out of the crate is to whine. 

Step 3: Practice extended crating periods  

After your dog gets used to eating their regular meals in the crate with no sign of fear or anxiety, you can limit them there for short periods while you’re home.  

  • Give them a treat after calling them over to the crate.  
  • Give them a command such as “crate” to enter. Encourage your dog by speaking in a happy tone.
  • Praise your dog after it enters the crate, give them the treat and close the door.  
  • Sit calmly near the crate for about five to ten minutes and then move into another room for a few minutes. Return and sit calmly again for a short time, and then let them out.  
  • Repeat this process several times a day, and slowly increase the length of time you leave them inside the crate and the length of time you’re out of sight.  
  • Once your dog stays calmly in the crate for about 30 minutes with you mostly out of its sight, you can start leaving them inside the crate when you’re going out for short periods and/or letting them sleep at night. This may take some days or weeks to get habituated. 

Step 4: Crate your dog when leaving  

If your dog spends about 30 minutes in the crate without becoming anxious or afraid, you can begin leaving them in the crate for short periods when you’re leaving out.  

  • Put them inside the crate using your command and a treat. Leave a few safe toys in the crate before leaving as they might play with them without bothering your existence. Be mindful that these toys shouldn’t be choking hazards. 
  • Change the time during your “getting ready to leave” method. You put your dog in the crate. Although they shouldn’t be crated for an extended period before you leave, you can crate them anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes before going out.  

Step 5: Crate your dog at night  

Put your dog inside the crate using your command and a treat. Initially, it may be an excellent plan to put the crate in your bedroom or nearby in a hall. 

Once your dog is sleeping pleasantly through the night with the crate near you, you can begin to slowly move the crate to your preferred location. 

Crate training soon after bringing your dog home is critical because changing their routine after they have established one is very difficult. Contrary to popular imagination, crate training is good for your dog because it allows them to create a safe space – most dogs find the typical human household and lifestyle very stressful – and allows them to replicate what their ancestors did in the wild – spend a lot of time in a den.  

Pro Tips

Patience and consistency is key

If your dog whines inside the crate, don’t let them out until they stop. Otherwise, they will learn that the way to get out of the crate is to whine. This can take some time and can be very annoying to deal with but will be well worth it.

Arrivals and Departures – don’t make a big deal of them

Don’t make emotional and prolonged departures as they should be matter-of-fact. Praise your dog briefly, give them a treat for entering the crate and then leave calmly.  When you return home, never reward your dog for excited behavior by promptly responding to them. Keep your arrivals low-key to restrict their anxiety over when you will return home to meet them. The best practice is to continue crating your dog for short periods from time to time when you’re home, so they don’t associate crating with being left alone. 

Don’t leave your dog in the crate for longer than they can handle

Puppies for example, shouldn’t be crated for more than a few hours at a time because their bladders cannot handle it. Similarly older dogs should also not be left in the crate for longer than they can hold their bladder. You do not want to create a habit of going in the crate.

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