Crate training… You may be raising your eyebrow at the thought of using a crate for your puppy.
We can’t deny its close resemblance to a small prison or a bird cage – doesn’t seem ideal, does it?
But in reality, there are many good reasons why crate training a puppy is a pretty sound idea. In this article, we’ll go over some of the questions you must have (yes, we can read minds), and give you the key steps to help your puppy get well acquainted with their crate.
Let’s get to it.
Why should I crate train my puppy?
There’s a bunch of good reasons. Here’s a nice list of benefits of crate training a puppy:
- To keep your puppy safe when you can’t supervise them at home.
- To give your puppy a comfortable place to sleep.
- It helps brilliantly with toilet training.
- It makes travelling easier, whether by car or plane – even motorcycles if done properly.
- To make vet visits go smoothly.
- To get used to being separated from you – nobody wants separation anxiety.
Step-by-step: how to crate train a puppy
We’ve split our puppy crate training guide into seven easy parts so you can monitor your pup’s progress and make sure they’re on track to success.
Part 1: Crates and puppies: a match made in heaven.
In the case of crates, the way to win a puppy’s heart is through their stomach. Treats play a huge part in helping associate the crate with nice things – you know, just like eating Jaffa Cakes during break time at school made you think it wasn’t too bad after all.
The way we’ll do this is simple – letting them know that where there is a crate, there are treats.
- Step 1: Get a couple of soft treats ready to toss them inside the crate.
Assuming your aim is ace, your puppy will quickly waddle to them. Give them some praise and throw more in – target the back of the crate so that they go all the way in.
- Step 2: After doing this a couple of times, wait a second or two after your puppy has eaten their last treat before you throw the next one in. If all goes well, you should start seeing them working out that if they stay in the crate the treats will keep coming!
When they come out of the crate, just wait and see if they go back in. If they don’t, it just means they might need a few more goes to get it. Go back to Step 1 and get tossing treats inside).
- Step 3: Cues are next. When they’re still inside the crate, give your puppy a gentle verbal cue such as ‘out’, ‘free’, or ‘run while you can’ – up to you what you pick, but the shorter the better. Then, let them see you place a treat on the floor outside of the crate.
This is called a release cue and is there to let your puppy know that they’re free to leave the crate. It teaches puppies not to rush out of the crate, and helps with building self-control.
Maybe a release cue would be good to solve our fascination with sarcasm.
- Step 4: Now wait and see if your puppy goes back into the crate in hopes to find more treats without you throwing them in. If they do, fab. Offer lots of praise and start throwing treats in again like confetti. In moderation. After a few minutes of this game, see if your puppy will stay slightly longer in the crate (about two or three seconds) between your treat-throwing.
Training Tips when you start:
- Don’t hover over the crate when they’re inside. Sit at the side so they’re able to feel they can leave whenever they like and avoid developing claustrophobia.
- Staring is always rude. Try not to stare at your puppy when they’re coming in or out of the crate. Puppies can find it pretty overwhelming and confrontational. Remember how your parents glared at your questionable hair dye choices? Be the cool parent.
- We know they’re addictive, but avoid petting or stroking when giving verbal praise as it will likely be distracting.
- For now, avoid using a cue to tell your puppy to go into their crate. Our first mission is to help them work out that going in the crate earns them good treats. We’ll add cues for going in the crate later.
- Keep the crate door open for now! Let’s first build trust and get your puppy feeling good in the crate.
- Keep your training sessions short – 5 minutes tops.
Part 2: Staying inside (with the door open)
Once learning that the crate equals wonderful things, our next step in crate training a puppy is to encourage them to stay in there longer. We’ll frame it as being their choice, and that we’re not just shutting them in.
Leave the door alone for now.
- Step 1: Throw the treats inside the crate as you did in Part 1.
- Step 2: Start pausing a few seconds in between throwing the treats in. Your puppy should start looking ready, with eyes that say ‘Right, where’s the next one’.
- Step 3: Repeat this 5 times, waiting 5 seconds between each treat. After they go inside, give them their cue to come out and drop a treat outside of the crate.
- Step 4: Now, wait for your puppy to go inside and do 5 more repetitions at a longer duration; make it 7 seconds before you throw the next treat in.
- Step 5: Give your release cue, and drop the treat on the floor outside of the crate again. Soon enough, your puppy will start to respond to the cue and come running out without the need for a treat.
Training Tips for this part:
Before you start this next part in crate training your puppy, you’ll need to practice the exercises in the previous section (Part 2) over a number of sessions in order to build up the time the puppy is comfortable in the crate.
We recommend doing two or three sessions a day for the first 5 days until you feel like you can move on to the next session. Remember that every puppy is unique, and might need more time to get it right – they’ll let you know!
Remember that forcing love never really turns out well…so don’t shut the door on them while they’re inside until you know they’re ready to move on to the next level.
Part 3: Teaching a ‘cue’ to go inside the crate
Now that your puppy knows the crate is a source of joy, we can start adding a cue to ask them to go inside when we need them to.
You can use any cue of your choice. “Crate”, “box”, or “in” are some of the most common cues for crate training. But there’s nothing stopping you from using anything else, like “fish”. Why not?
- Step 1: As your puppy walks into the crate, say your cue, and toss a treat in.
- Step 2: Give your ‘out’ cue and wait for your puppy to leave the crate.
Repeat this several times so your puppy starts to learn that after following your “in” cue, they get rewarded.
- Step 3: Now to the drumroll. Say your ‘in’ cue without tossing a treat in, and wait for your puppy to go in. It might take them a couple of seconds to go in, which is completely fine. You might want to use a marker word such as ‘good’ and don’t forget to throw a treat in to pay them for a job well done.
- Step 4: Use your “out” cue and wait for them to leave their crate.
- Step 5: Continue practicing teaching your puppy the difference between ‘in’ cues (go in your crate for a reward) and ‘out’ cues (come out of your crate – coming out of the crate is now a reward).
- Step 6: After your puppy has followed the cue to go in, and has gone inside the crate, start to wait a second or two before your ‘good’ marker and give them their treat.
- Step 7: Eventually, build up the pauses to at least 10 seconds before they get their marker and a treat.
Yes, we’ll explain marker words:
Markers can be pretty much anything. Common markers used in dog training are:
- Clickers: A small box or button which makes a clicking noise when pressed (It’s actually quite impressive how well these work. Hats tipped.)
- Verbal Markers: Short words such as ‘yes’ or ‘good’
- Visual Markers: A thumbs-up, sticking your tongue out (no reason why this can’t work) or a torch; you’ll often see these used with deaf dogs
- Whistle Markers: Guide dogs and assistance dogs are often trained with a whistle. It goes ‘beep’
Now onto some new tips:
- Don’t repeat cues. It’s important that your puppy learns to follow through instructions when asked for the first time. By repeating cues, you’re teaching them that they’re allowed to hear it a few times until they respond. Also, that you can make great parrot impressions.
- Phase the ‘out’ rewards. You want your puppy to learn that going into the crate is what will earn them the bigger reward. When they start getting the hang of it, you can phase out the rewards for coming out. This is because coming out will in fact be the reward.
Part 4: Moving around when your puppy is in the crate
Once your puppy is going into the crate on cue and staying for 10 seconds before you give them a reward, you can increase the difficulty by moving around.
We want them to learn that we’re not always going to be next to the crate, but also moving around. They’re also going to learn to stay until you ask them to leave.
- Step 1: With your “in” cue, ask your puppy to go into the crate.
- Step 2: Move one step away.
- Step 3: If they stay where they are, hurray. Say your marker word ‘good’ and reward them with a treat in the crate. Repeat this 5 times and then cue them to ‘out’.
- Step 4: Do the same as in Steps 1 -3, but move 2 steps away.
- Step 5: Now try moving 3 steps or walking around the crate.
- Step 6: Have you made it? Brilliant!
Bonus tip: Check on their mood. Do they look all right? It’s important that the training process is a positive experience for your puppy. If they start to seem uncomfortable or unhappy, take a step back in the training process or take a break.
You can try again later!
Part 5: Closing the door on the crate
Closing the crate door can be a huge deal breaker for some puppies. Can’t blame them, you probably wouldn’t like to be shut in a box either. Have you ever been trapped in a lift? It’s not the same, but it’s not far off.
In this step, we want to teach them that being confined is a safe, good thing – let’s go slow and steady.
- Step 1: Ask your puppy to go into the crate. When they go in, gently close the door but don’t latch it shut.
- Step 2: Say your marker word, and throw a treat in.
- Step 3: Open the door and then gently close it again.
- Step 4: Repeat your marker word, and gently close it again.
Step 5: Repeat steps 2 – 4 for about 5 times before giving your ‘out’ cue and allowing your puppy to come out of the crate. Remember to shower them with rewards! Closing the door is a big accomplishment.
Part 6: Building duration with a closed door
Now that the door doesn’t look so threatening (especially because of the treats they get), we want to keep the door closed for a few seconds more.
- Step 1: Close the door, and see if you can count to 5 seconds with the door closed.
- Step 2: Mark it with ‘good’ and drop a treat through the crate.
Repeat this 5 times before you let them out. If your puppy is feeling stressed, let them out and take a break, make it easier the next time.
Part 7: Putting it All Together
When you practice this time, move around the room with the door of their crate closed.
Come back to reward them with lots of enthusiasm! They’ve done brilliantly. Give yourself a pat on the back too.
PRO TIP: Go Slowly – Don’t rush this part! Take as many breaks as you need so that your puppy stays happy while training. As my mother would say – thinking positively is key to success.
If your puppy is whining, scratching at the crate door, you’ve gone too fast.
Crate training a puppy at night
The first night you bring your puppy home you should have them sleep in their crate next to your bed.
This way, you’ll make sure everyone gets enough sleep and that you can hear them when they wake up to go to the toilet – it’s likely that they will!
When they do, take your puppy to their toilet area and reward them. Remember to keep calm and relaxed – we don’t want them to think it’s the morning!
If they wake up again but have just been to the loo, they are likely just a bit distressed at being on their own. This is where you’ll need to resist the puppy eyes. Gently talk to them and let them sniff your hand through the crate but avoid the temptation of putting your puppy in your bed!
Of course, if you want them on your bed, you can take them out. Unless you want the crate on your bed…?
Once your puppy is sleeping comfortably through the night, you can start to move the crate outside of your bedroom to wherever you’d prefer it to be.
7 top tips for crate training a puppy
- Never use crates as a punishment!
Sorry if we’re repeating ourselves, but it’s truly important. While popping a rambunctious puppy in their crate with a chew toy for some downtime is great, don’t use it as a punishment. Not only will it undo all the good work you’ve done so far, but it will leave them feeling rather stressed and anxious. Oh, and just refrain from punishment all together.
- Take breaks
Long training sessions aren’t code for successful training. Minutes are a long time for puppies, so training for too long can make your puppy feel tired or bored. Sessions lasting about 5 minutes are much better.
- Feed their meals inside
To get them seeing eye to eye with the crate, start feeding them their meals inside the crate. When they are eating, shut the door for a few minutes to show them it won’t swallow them whole.
- Be spontaneous
Unleash your inner fairy godmother and leave treats or new toys inside the crate for your puppy to find on their own. Stuffed puzzle toys with some peanut butter are fantastic – wait till you see the full body tail wag.
- Make it dark and cosy
Most puppies enjoy having their crate covered; it makes it dark and cosy. Try covering all sides except one (with a blanket, perhaps) so that your puppy can see out, but they aren’t affected by what goes on outside.
- Sleepy? Off to the crate
Whenever your pup is sleepy, put them in the crate. This will get them to associate naps with their crate – and since you’ve done a marvellous job at making it comfortable, they’ll end up going there by themselves eventually.
- Let sleeping dogs lie
It’s a good time to take this literally. Make it a hard and fast rule that no one disturbs the puppy when they’re sleeping in their crate. It needs to become their sanctuary, just like you in your candle-lit bubble baths on Friday nights.
PRO TIP: If you’re reading this before you bring your puppy home – well done! Nice to know you’re preparing for your pup. While you’re at it, it’s not a bad idea to ask your breeder whether they’ve crate trained their puppies, it can make crate training at home much easier for you!
Crate training a puppy FAQs
What do I do if my puppy uses the crate as a toilet?
If your puppy is using the crate as a toilet, you’ll need to:
- Take a deep breath. It’s all right, accidents happen.
- Remove all smelly bedding from the crate and wash thoroughly with a biological or enzymatic cleaner (remember to get rid of the ammonia smell – having it linger can cause them to feel like going there again).
- Check the size of your crate: if it’s too big, they probably thought using one end as a toilet wasn’t such a bad idea. Sort of like a studio apartment.
- Make sure you weren’t leaving them inside for too long
- Take a few steps back to early toilet training
Is crate training cruel?
No, not at all – unless you use the crate as a tiny jail. However, introduced in the right way, puppies genuinely see their crate as a cosy cave.
To do this, the key is pretty straightforward – don’t use the crate as a form of punishment. Then they’ll surely see it as a rather unpleasant place to be.
How big should my puppy’s crate be?
Your puppy’s crate should be big enough for them to lie down stretched out, turn around, and stand up.
Any bigger than that, is literally an accident waiting to happen. They risk using one end as a toilet and the other as a bedroom.
We know money doesn’t grow on trees, so to avoid frantic crate-buying activity as your puppy grows (it goes quickly), you may want to look into using dividers. Get a crate large enough to fit them in as adults, and use dividers to cut the size down or move them up as they grow.
What should my puppy’s crate be made out of?
Those that do look like small prisons are preferable – the metal wired or solid plastic solid ones (sometimes called an airline or sky kennel crate). How ironic.
Keep away from fabric crates – they’re a nightmare to clean if they’re accidentally used as a loo, and won’t last your puppy for long since they’re also quite nice to chew on.
Check out our guide to the best puppy crates for your dog depending on their specific situation.
Don’t buy a fabric crate, because yes… they will chew on it.
When should I start crate training?
As soon as you bring them home, after they’ve gone for a wee in their toilet area.
PRO TIP: Ask your breeder for a piece of blanket, and place it inside the crate with your puppy. They’ll probably be tired from the trip home, so leave the door open and allow them to sleep.
Where should I put my puppy’s crate?
Pick a comfortable, quiet spot away from things that can wake them up like traffic or the loud neighbours you wouldn’t dream of talking to.
Somewhere in the main living space is a good place so that your puppy is close to you.
What do I need for successful crate training?
- Your puppy’s crate
- A blanket or piece of vet bed to go inside the crate
- Small yummy training treats that you know your puppy likes. Pieces of cooked chicken or cold meats also work well.
How long can I leave my puppy in a crate for?
It depends on how old they are:
- Under three months – One hour
- Between three and six months – Two hours
- Over 6 months – Four hours max.
As they grow older, they’ll start to manage to hold their bladder for longer. Remember that dogs are social beings with way too much love to give – keeping them inside a crate for more than 4 hours can make them feel quite sad and down. Not nice.
Should I leave my puppy to ‘cry it out’ in their crate?
Nope. Can’t think of a time this has ever been a win-win strategy.
Leaving them to cry or bark will only cause them distress and sad times. Better ignore that website you read on “The Google” that says otherwise.
If your puppy is crying in their crate, it’s usually for a reason that you can come to the rescue for such as:
- They need the toilet
- They’re feeling lonely or stressed to be alone
- They’re scared at having the door shut
Will a crate fix my puppy’s separation anxiety?
What’s separation anxiety, you ask? Thank you for asking – it’s a panic disorder.
In puppies, what we call Separation Anxiety (otherwise known as Separation Related Problems’ (SRPs)) is where your puppy feels distressed that they’re on their own, but being with a human will do. When using a crate, you may also see a ‘barrier frustration’ or ‘containment phobia’ which we want to avoid.
Clinical separation anxiety is where the puppy has to be with one particular person, and only that person will make them feel at ease.
However, by building up the time you can leave your puppy (like you’ve done so brilliantly by following this guide) they’ll start feeling more and more comfortable with being alone in their crate they now know as a safe space.
Pleeease don’t close the door of the crate for longer than they can cope with. Besides it being quite a bad time for the little pup, it will make the crate feel unsafe for them and make them not want to go inside.
Plus, we’re rather certain you wouldn’t want to re-do all the amazing progress you’ve made so far.
If your puppy is struggling at being left alone, it’s no problem. All that needs to be done is simply more home alone training!
You’ve made it to the end of the guide to crate training a puppy!
So glad to see you’re still here.
As you may have now realised, crates are far beyond evil boxes! As long as you don’t turn them into ones (sorry, wish we could stop repeating ourselves). They’re also a valuable tool to use in your puppy’s training.
Make sure to take it slow, take it easy, and enjoy the ride. You’re almost there.