Crate training or kennel training a puppy is a great method of reinforcing potty training. Crating is also a good way to contain your dog overnight and keep them safe when you are out of the home.
What is Crate Training?
Crate training is the use of a secure crate to contain your dog in a safe confined area.
When Should You Begin Crate Training Your Puppy?
You should begin crate training your puppy as soon as they come home. This creates a consistent pattern for your dog and provides them with a safe retreat.
There is no minimum age at which crate training should begin. Whenever possible, puppies should remain with their mother up until a minimum of 12-weeks. During this 12-weeks the puppies and mother are usually confined in a “whelping box” where the mother can feed her puppies. A mother can step out of the whelping box for a break, but the young puppies are kept contained.
At 12-weeks and beyond, puppies usually go to their owners. At this point, they can be crated. Puppies generally are not crated before this time unless they are being transported to a vet, rescued, or have been orphaned.
Why You Should Be Crate Training Your Puppy
Providing Your Puppy with a Private Retreat
A crate provides a safe place that your puppy can retreat to and know that they are going to be left alone. This is particularly useful for dogs with anxiety or dogs living with young children.
Never use your dog’s crate as a means of punishment because you need to reinforce the idea of the crate being a secure area that they can trust.
Reinforcement of Housetraining Habits
A crate will help to reinforce the idea of “holding it” when housetraining. A dog will do everything in their power not to use the potty where they sleep. This is why it’s important to make a crate just large enough to sleep in but not so large that your dog can walk around.
Just don’t ask your puppy to hold their bladder for an excessive period of time! The general rule of thumb is that your puppy can hold their bladder for the same number of hours they are months old up to 8 months old. For example, a dog that is 3 months old can hold their bladder for around 3 hours.
Safety at Night and When Home Alone
A dog’s crate is also a means of keeping them out of trouble when you are not available to monitor them. For example, when you are sleeping or when you are out of the home, a puppy with free reign could easily hurt themselves or get into something they shouldn’t. A crate ensures that your puppy is confined to a safe space instead!
Crates are also the ideal means of safe travel for dogs. Secured in their crate in the car and with the crate secured with seatbelts or safety straps, a dog is much safer than they would be sitting in the back seat!
Crating while traveling will also prevent your dog from dashing out of the car when a door is opened!
How to Crate Train Your Puppy
Step 1: The Crate
Measure your puppy for their crate using a soft tape measure. A crate should be tall enough for your dog to stand up fully and just large enough inside for your dog to turn around completely.
Many puppy owners choose to buy a crate that fits the average adult size of their puppy’s breed. A crate divider will make sure that the crate is not too large for a puppy, but allows you to avoid buying a new crate when your puppy matures.
There are a few standard sizes for crates, including 18”, 22”, 24”, 30”, 36”, 42”, and 48”. These numbers refer to the length of the crate. If your puppy is between two crate sizes, opt for the larger of the two.
Make sure to purchase a soft bed, pad, or blankets to go in the bottom of the crate to give your puppy somewhere comfortable to sleep.
Step 2: The Introduction
After purchasing your crate, decide where you want to put it in your home. Most families choose their bedroom or en-suite bathroom. Some families, however, choose a room away from the family sleeping area like the kitchen due to noises or allergy concerns.
Place the crate in the room you select and put the bedding on the base. Leave the door to the crate open and place one of your puppy’s favorite treats inside.
Do not force your puppy inside the crate, this will cause fear.
Let your puppy investigate the crate in their own time and once they climb inside, do not close the door. Give them time to get used to the crate as a safe place.
When your puppy climbs inside the crate, if they lie down, give them plenty of praise and even reach in and pet their head.
Step 3: Bedtime
Some dogs don’t want to investigate their crate right away. If bedtime comes and your puppy still hasn’t investigated their crate on their own, use a treat to lure your dog inside. Encourage your dog to lie down on their bedding, give them the treat, calmly tell them what a good dog they are, and then quietly close the crate door.
Once your puppy is inside their crate with the door secured, go about your own bedtime routine. Do not spend time doting over your puppy or talking to them. The less fuss you make about walking away, the better.
Step 4: Settling
Depending on your puppy, they may or may not settle down to sleep.
It is not unusual for a puppy to cry, whimper, whine, or bark when crate training. This is their way of getting your attention and letting you know that they are not happy with what is happening. For some dogs, this is a consequence of being away from their siblings for the first time. For other dogs, this is a way to get out of the crate to be with you where they may feel more comfortable.
Some dog owners provide a blanket or towel with the mother dog or sibling dog’s scent to help the puppy settle in their crate. Other dog owners find that comforting heartbeat toys can be useful for settling a puppy.
Try to remember that as heartbreaking as it may feel to hear your puppy cry, they will soon settle down in their crate.
Step 5: Persevere!
Although the kennel training process will tug at your heartstrings, crate training is in the best interest of your dog’s safety. The training process will go much more smoothly and progress much faster if you resist releasing your puppy from their crate. Simply persevere until your puppy settles down to sleep.
Within a week your puppy should be completely crate trained. For some dogs, it may take two weeks for complete crate training, but you should notice significant progress after week one!
Step 6: Potty Breaks
Depending on your puppy’s age and size, you may need to take them out to potty in the middle of the night.
It is up to you to take your puppy out in time to prevent accidents so make sure to set an alarm to wake you up at the necessary times.
When your alarm goes off, simply take your puppy from their crate and carry them to the front or back door. Put on their leash, take them directly out to their “potty area” and encourage them to “go potty”.
When your puppy has gone, give them a treat and praise and go back inside. Take your puppy directly back to their crate, put them inside, and lock the door. Go back to bed.
Do’s and Don’ts of Crate Training a Puppy
- Do make your dog’s crate a safe space where they can be alone and relaxed.
- Use a crate cover to calm your anxious crated dog.
- Always keep your dog’s crate in a temperature controlled room of the house.
- Do make sure that your dog’s crate is comfortable for them to lie in with adequate padding in the base.
- Do make sure that there are no items in your puppy’s crate that can pose a choking hazard or be dangerous to your puppy.
- Don’t ever use a crate to punish your dog.
- Don’t allow your children or other pets to invade your dog’s crate space.
- Don’t give into your puppy’s whines and barks when crate training.
- Don’t forget to secure your dog’s crate using seat belts or straps when traveling.
- Don’t use a crate that is too large or too small for your puppy.
When Crate Training May Not Be the Right Choice…
In a handful of circumstances, crate training or kennel training your dog may not be the right choice.
Dogs That Show Extreme Fear When Confined
These dogs often attempt to escape their confinement and wind up injuring themselves. Consider working with a behavioral trainer to get through this with your pup. Until you have successfully worked through this issue, use a baby gate to contain your dog in a larger area.
Dog Owners Who Live in Small Quarters
Crating a puppy is always preferable, but occasionally the noise caused by a barking or whining puppy that is being crate trained may upset neighbors. This is particularly the case for those living in apartments. In this situation, consider crate training your puppy in a family member’s home before bringing them home to your apartment. If this isn’t possible, consider using a baby gate as a larger confinement area can reduce anxiety.
If You Simply Don’t Believe in Crating a Dog
Many people have personal reasons for not wanting to crate their puppy. If you are one of these people, however, please make sure to utilize other methods of keeping your puppy safe at all times. You may want to use baby gates for confinement, put your dog in a single room when you are gone, hire a pet sitter to watch your puppy at all times, or use doggy daycare services to monitor your puppy when you aren’t home.
The Different Types of Crates for Dogs
The traditional crate is a wire framed crate that may or may not have a removable tray in the bottom. The wire frame is sturdy and the door of the crate locks to provide secure containment.
Two Door Crate
The two-door crate is identical to the traditional crate, but it has two separate doors. Depending on your puppy size a two door crate can offer more accessibility.
Soft crates are generally reserved for older dogs that are secure with the concept of crating. Soft crates are easier for reluctant dogs to “break out of” if they become anxious.
One of the benefits of soft crates, however, is that dogs that are anxious cannot hurt themselves on metal bars if they try to break out.
Whether a soft crate will hold your dog safely should be decided on an individual basis. If you find yourself in limbo, however, opt for a traditional crate.
What is the Difference Between a Crate and an Airline Carrier?
A crate generally offers more openings through which the dog can see their surroundings. An airline carrier, however, is built for travel in a cargo hold and is a sturdier structure with less “open space” along the walls.
If large enough, an airline carrier could be used in place of a crate, but most owners prefer being able to see their dog when crating at home and use a traditional crate.
A crate divider is a metal “wall” that is sized to fit a crate and divide the crate interior into two sections. Crate dividers can be adjusted along the length of the crate to slowly enlarge a crate size until a puppy is fully grown.
A divider is sometimes used to hold two puppies in one larger crate, but this should not be the case for long-term use. Dogs require their own “personal space”.
Most often, a crate divider is used when a puppy parent wants to buy a crate that is large enough for their dog when they are adult size. This is a great way to save money, but it requires a divider because, given too much space, a crated puppy will be more prone to potty accidents.
Do I Need a Crate Cover?
A crate cover is a simple piece of material that fits over the crate to prevent a dog from seeing out of their crate.
Most puppy parents do not use a crate cover, but it can be beneficial in some instances. For example, anxious dogs may find more comfort in a darkened crate because it encourages sleep rather than a preoccupation with their surroundings. A crate cover may also be beneficial for the pet parent who works nights and needs to adjust their dog to a daytime sleep schedule.
Although it may prove to be a tedious process, when done correctly, there are plenty of benefits to crate training a puppy. The bright side is that most puppies are fully crate trained within one to two weeks of consistent training depending on their breed, age, and history. Just have patience with the process and your puppy will be at home in their crate in no time at all!