What is crate training?
The ultimate lesson of crate training is for your dog to learn it’s a safe space for them to enjoy. It takes advantage of a dog’s natural instinct to den.
Crate training seeks to create a safe space your dog enjoys spending time in, either during the day while you’re at work, or at night when you’re asleep. It is also helpful for transporting your dog in the car or in the event of an emergency. Check out this list on what to do and what not to do for a successful crate experience.
How do I crate train my dog?
Whether you brought home a puppy who doesn’t quite have control of his bladder yet, or a rescue who may suffer from separation anxiety, crating is a necessary step in your dog’s development. It may feel like you are being cruel, but if done correctly, your dog will see his kennel as a comfy haven.
Here are 6 important dos and don’ts of crate training:
1. Do NOT leave your dog in a crate for several hours the first time. DO gradually build up the amount of crate time.
If it’s possible, work on crate training gradually when you have a couple days off. Start by tossing treats in the kennel and letting your dog go in and out without closing the door. Feed your dog in his crate (also with the door open) to get him even more used to it.
Once your dog will happily go in and out of the kennel, add a verbal cue to your dog’s kennel training (such as “crate” or “kennel”) and then close the door. Work up to a few minutes with the door closed and you out of the room. Eventually, this will turn into hours. A good general rule for puppies is:
—8–10 weeks: 30–60 minutes
—11–14 weeks: 1–3 hours
—15–16 weeksL: 3–4 hours
—17+ weeks: 4–5 hours.
If your dog is afraid of the kennel, go slow and use motivating treats. Don’t push him into it, or yell at him for being scared. Sometimes it takes awhile for a dog to get used to a crate.
2. Even if your dog is older, DO NOT leave your dog in a kennel all day, every day. DO provide proper exercise and training for your dog.
The kennel isn’t a substitute for exercising or training your dog. It can be a great management tool while you work on training, but be sure to still work with your dog on the chewing or house training issues and give them plenty of exercise. A tired dog is less likely to get into trouble!
3. Do NOT use the crate as a punishment. DO create a safe haven for your dog.
Your dog should see their crate as a den-like place where they can sleep and relax. Make it comfy with a bed or blanket and leave a toy or bone for entertainment. However, be careful about what toys or bones you leave in there. If your dog gets in trouble, don’t use the crate as punishment.
4. Do NOT put your dog in a huge crate. DO put your dog in an appropriately sized crate.
It might seem counterintuitive, but the crate should only be big enough for your dog to lay down, stand up, and turn around, but that’s about it. If you are using it for potty training, a smaller crate means your pup is less likely to pee where he sleeps. You can buy a bigger kennel for a smaller dog to grow into, as long as you block off the extra space.
It can also be important to consider what type of kennel you might want. Wire? Plastic? Collapsible fabric? Fancy built-in kennel that blends into your decor? It really depends on your personal stye and how much your dog likes to chew.
5. Do NOT leave your dog in the crate if they’re uncomfortable.
If your dog starts whining when you go to let them out, wait until they stop. Once they stop (even if it’s just for a couple seconds), then you can open the door. It helps if you crate your dog at times when they naturally want to sleep or den.
This will keep the overall environment calm, and make arrivals and departures less anxiety-inducing.
6. Do NOT use a crate for separation anxiety. DO seek professional help with this issue.
Using a crate for severe separation anxiety can make it worse. Separation anxiety is a complex issue. It comes in many forms, from barking and chewing to urinating and trying to escape. If you think your dog has separation anxiety, check out this resource and seek a professional positive reinforcement-based trainer. (Also it might be helpful to also check out some calming treats or look into if CBD is right for your pup!)