Crate Training for Dogs

Crates give dogs a relaxing place they can feel safe and provides peace-of-mind for you, knowing both your dog and home are safe while you’re away. Here’s how to make crate training work for both of you.

Choosing the Right Size. 

If your dog is still growing, choose a crate that will accommodate their adult size. They should be able to stretch out fully when they lay down, stand up, turn around and sit without hitting their head on the top of the crate. With a young puppy, choose a crate with a divider to limit the space in the crate while housebreaking. If the crate is too big, they may potty in one end and sleep in the other.

Types of Crates.

Wire crates. These are lightweight, fold flat for storage and enable your pet to see what’s going on around them. Many come with a wire divider that allows you to adjust the size of the crate while the puppy is growing. This means you can buy just one cage that will work for your dog even after they’re full grown.

Plastic Kennels. Some dogs prefer a hard-sided kennel for its increased sense of security and den-like environment. Airline travel also requires this type of crate.  

A Dog’s Perspective.

Canines are den animals. Their den is a home, a place to sleep and a place to hide from danger. A crate acts as your dog’s personal den. Where they can go for comfort and solitude and where you know they are safe, secure and not destructive while you’re gone. Proper crate training can:

  • Reduce Behavioral Problems. If a dog is stressed, tired or overwhelmed by a lot of activity, a crate is a comfortable and secure place to retreat to.  
  • Decrease Housebreaking Time. Crates can cut housebreaking time in half!
  • Control Destructive Behavior. A crate protects your home from damage and your dog from harm while you’re gone. A crate prevents chewing, scratching and accidents while you’re gone or unable to supervise.
  • Provide Safe Travel. Crates reduce the risk of injury in case of a car accident and keep pets from distracting their owner while driving.

Be Fair.

For puppies and young dogs, crating all day isn’t recommended. Use an exercise pen or other small confined area with a crate within it. This provides a play area, a sleeping area and a bathroom area. Alternatively, use a dog-walking service to have someone provide a potty break mid-day or a doggy daycare facility to provide exercise and enrichment. Remember, puppies aren’t able to hold their bladder for long hours.  

Getting Started.

Choose a Location. Dogs are pack animals and their human family is their pack. A dog won’t want to go to their crate if they are alone. Place the crate in an area where the family spends a lot of time. Kitchens and family rooms are good choices. Consider crating in a bedroom at night. Barking or other separation induced behaviors are reduced if they are near you.

Proper Introduction. Leave the door open when you’re home and periodically toss a treat or toy in the crate. Your dog may go in quickly and come back out. That’s okay – it’s important not to force them. Praise often when they go in to check it out. 

Practice Brief Periods. After introduction, start making the crate a rewarding experience. Feed meals in the crate, eventually closing the door while your dog is eating. With each successive feeding, leave the door closed a few minutes longer, until your dog is staying quietly in the crate for up to ten minutes after eating. If you don’t want to use meals for training, a treat-stuffed toy works too.

Lengthen the Crating Period. When your dog is comfortable and relaxed in the crate without showing signs of stress and anxiety, increase crate time little-by-little. Continue to treat for entering the crate and leave your dog with a safe busy toy or treat puzzle, like a peanut butter stuffed Kong. This provides positive association with the crate and gives them something to do while you’re gone. 

Some mild whining or barking is normal. It’s best to ignore it. Keep in mind an otherwise quiet puppy that suddenly starts whining may need a potty break. In that case, take them out and return them to their crate without fuss. If barking goes on for extended periods, your pet may have separation anxiety. See our Destructive Chewing brochure for more advice.

Crates as a Housebreaking Tool.

A dog naturally keeps their ‘den’ clean. The crate will help with establishing an elimination schedule and teaching a puppy to hold their bladder. As a general rule, a young puppy can only ‘hold it’ their age in months, plus one. So, a two-month old puppy can hold it about three hours while resting. While up and moving, puppies need to go out more often. 

Establish a regular schedule for eating, sleeping, and going outside. By four to five months of age, most puppies can go all night while sleeping without soiling their crate. For more information on housebreaking, see our brochure Housebreaking Your Dog.  

The Anxious Dog.

Some dogs may exhibit signs of separation anxiety. A crate can be a great tool to give those dogs a safe place to retreat to and keep them safe while you’re gone. Use caution when leaving a severely anxious or nervous dog alone in a crate. If they are distressed enough, they could injure themselves trying to get out. This behavior may prompt starting crate training over from the very beginning. Refer to our brochure Housebreaking Your Dog for tips on mild separation anxiety or work with a trainer or veterinary behaviorist for appropriate solutions.