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A Guide to Crate Training Your Dog

A Guide to Crate Training Your Dog

Welcome to our comprehensive guide on crate training your beloved canine companion. Crate training is a valuable tool that provides numerous benefits for both you and your dog. Far from being a confining space, a properly introduced crate becomes a secure and comforting den where your furry friend can retreat, rest, and relax. In this guide, we'll walk you through the step-by-step process of crate training, dispelling myths, offering practical tips, and providing insights into creating a positive association with the crate. By the end of this journey, you'll have the knowledge and tools to establish a lifelong positive relationship between your dog and their crate, ensuring a harmonious living environment for everyone involved.

Female Golden Retriever Sleeps on Her Stomach  in Open Crate on Gray Blanket A three year-old female golden retriever retreats to her crate near the window for a rest from family activity. dog crate stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Benefits of crate training

Dog owners crate train their dogs for a variety of reasons. One of the most important is that it’s for your dog’s own comfort. In the beginning, chances are your dog will not like their crate but with repetition and positive reinforcement, it will become their safe space. Like us humans, dogs can get over tired from the socialization and stimulation of their human family. A crate is essentially like your dog having their own room. A place where they can retreat to for some relaxation and destressing.

Crates can also be used to keep your dog safe while you’re away. Some dogs, especially puppies, will try to eat things that aren’t always food. Consuming non-food objects can result in a foreign body which could be very serious and may even require surgery to remove. If dogs are stored in their crate, it reduces the risk of them eating something that might be dangerous for them. Just make sure not to leave them in a crate for long hours.

Another reason to consider crate training is for when they make trips to the vet. At some point in their lifetime, it is likely that your dog will need an overnight vet visit. During overnight or long term vet stays, dogs are kept in a kennel. If dogs are not used to being in a crate or kennel, it can be very stressful for them. Having your dog crate trained will lessen their anxiety during a time where they need to be resting and healing.

Even if you do not plan on using a crate regularly, it is good to at least have your dog accustomed to and comfortable using a crate.

Cute dog waiting to set off for a car journey A West Highland White Terrier, family pet lying down in her open crate, preparing for travel in a car. She is happily waiting to set off, not wanting to miss out on an outing. Her pet collar has a heart shaped tag on it. The much loved dog is lying down on a grey and white fleece blanket, with one of her favourite toys beside her. The wire crate provides her with a safe space during the journey. It is covered with a red tartan blanket, so she feels secure and cosy. dog crate stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Understanding crate training

Crate training involves gradually introducing your dog to a crate or kennel as a safe and comfortable space. The crate serves as a den-like environment where your dog can rest, sleep, and feel secure. It's not meant to be a punishment, but rather a positive space that meets your dog's natural instincts for shelter and safety. When done correctly, crate training can be a valuable tool for managing various aspects of your dog's behavior and well-being.

Myths and Misconceptions about Crate Training

  • It's Cruel: One of the most common misconceptions is that crate training is cruel. In reality, dogs have a natural inclination to seek out enclosed spaces for security. When introduced properly, the crate becomes a haven, not a prison.
  • It's Confining: While the crate is indeed a confined space, dogs don't see it as a restriction when properly introduced. Instead, they view it as their personal safe space. It's important to give your dog adequate time outside the crate for exercise, play, and socialization.
  • It's Only for Puppies: Crate training is beneficial for dogs of all ages. It's not solely for puppies; adult dogs can also benefit from having a designated space that reduces anxiety and helps manage their behavior.
  • Dogs Should Stay in Crates All Day: Dogs should not be crated for excessive periods. Crate training should be balanced with ample exercise, mental stimulation, and social interaction. A general guideline is that puppies can hold their bladder for a few hours, while adult dogs can typically hold it longer.
  • Crate Training Equals Potty Training: Crate training can aid in potty training by encouraging dogs to hold their bladder and bowels, but it's not a guaranteed solution. Potty training involves a combination of crate training, consistent schedules, and positive reinforcement.

The Importance of Patience and Consistency

Patience and consistency are crucial when crate training your dog. Here's why:

  • Positive Association: Patience allows your dog to form a positive association with the crate. Rushing the process can lead to fear or aversion.
  • Gradual Adjustment: Consistency in the training process helps your dog gradually adjust to spending time in the crate. It's about small steps that build over time.
  • Trust Building: Patience and consistency build trust between you and your dog. They learn that the crate is a safe space, and you learn to understand their needs.
  • Avoiding Negative Associations: Rushing crate training or using it as punishment can lead to negative associations with the crate, making future training efforts more difficult.
  • Behavioral Benefits: Consistent use of the crate for positive purposes, such as sleeping and relaxing, can improve your dog's behavior overall.

Remember, every dog is unique, and their response to crate training may vary. Some dogs take to it quickly, while others need more time. By being patient and consistent, you're setting the foundation for a lifelong positive relationship between your dog and their crate.

Dogs in a car - Ready To Go ! English Setters dogs in a crate inside a car...ready to go for a drive, Oslo Norway dog crate stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Buying the right crate for your dog

There are many different crates on the market. It is important to choose the one that is best for your size/breed of dog. The right crate can vary greatly between dog to dog. 

Start by measuring your dog from their nose to the base of their tail while they are standing. Follow this by also measuring from their feet to the top of their head while they are sitting. It is best to add 2-4 inches to these measurements before choosing the right size crate. Pro tip: it is always better to purchase a crate that is a little bigger than the “ideal size” measurement listed on most kennel packaging. It is also important to consider growing room if you’re buying a crate for a puppy.

Types of crates:

Plastic dog crates

Pug dog in a travel crate a pug puppy leaving his crate dog crate stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Pros: Easy to move/portable, Less visibility (better for shy or stressed dogs), easy to clean

Cons: Low air flow (can cause dogs to overheat if it’s too hot in the room), does not collapse for easy storage, plastic may absorb smells

Metal dog crates

Golden Retriever Playful Golden Retrievers brothers playing with a ball in a crate. dog crate stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Pros: More visibility, more airflow, optional crate divider for growing puppies, folds flat for storage

Cons: Very determined dogs may be able to escape, can damage dog’s teeth if they chew on the crate.

Setting up the crate in a suitable location

Choosing the right location for your dog's crate is an important step in crate training. The goal is to create a comfortable and inviting space that aligns with your dog's natural instincts for safety and security. Here's how to set up the crate in a suitable location:

  • Central but Calm: Choose a central location in your home where your dog can still feel connected to the family. This helps prevent feelings of isolation. However, avoid placing the crate in the busiest areas of your home, like right by the front door or in the kitchen where there might be a lot of foot traffic.
  • Avoid Drafts and Direct Sunlight: Place the crate away from drafty windows or doors and direct sunlight. You want your dog to be comfortable, so avoid areas where temperature fluctuations could make the crate too hot or too cold.
  • Quiet Retreat: While central, the chosen spot should also be relatively quiet. This will provide your dog with a peaceful retreat where they can relax without being disturbed by loud noises or constant activity.
  • Familiar Smells: Place a blanket or bedding inside the crate that carries your scent. This can provide a sense of comfort to your dog and make the crate feel like a cozy den.
  • Gradual Introduction: During the initial stages of crate training, keep the crate open and accessible. Allow your dog to explore it at their own pace. You can place treats, toys, or even their meals inside the crate to encourage positive associations.
  • Quiet Time, Not Isolation: While crate training is a tool for alone time, it's important that your dog doesn't feel isolated. Avoid placing the crate in an area where your dog will be completely isolated from family activities.
  • Multiple Crates:If you have multiple floors or spend time in different parts of your home, consider having crates in those areas too. This way, your dog always has a safe space nearby.
Boston Terrier puppy in a cage, crate with the door open. Her bed and blanket, plus toys and bowls can be see in the cage. Boston Terrier puppy in a cage, crate with the door open. Her bed and blanket, plus toys and bowls can be see in the cage. dog crate stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Introducing the Crate Positively

Turning the crate into a welcoming haven is a key step in successful crate training. Here's how to make the crate an appealing and inviting space for your dog:

  • Cozy Bedding: Line the crate with comfortable bedding, blankets, or a soft mat. This creates a cozy environment that feels inviting to your dog.
  • Familiar Scents: Place an item with your scent in the crate, like a t-shirt you've worn. This can comfort your dog and make the crate smell familiar.
  • Enticing Toys: Add a few of your dog's favorite toys inside the crate. This encourages them to view the crate as a place of enjoyment and relaxation.
  • Open Door: Initially, keep the crate door open. This allows your dog to explore the crate freely without feeling trapped.

Using Treats, Toys, and Positive Reinforcement

Using positive reinforcement techniques can help your dog associate the crate with positive experiences:

  • Treats: Place treats or small bits of your dog's favorite food inside the crate. Gradually move the treats closer to the back of the crate to encourage them to step inside.
  • Toys: Put a few interactive toys or puzzle toys filled with treats inside the crate. This engages your dog's mind and makes the crate a fun place to be.
  • Mealtime in the Crate: Feed your dog their meals near the crate initially, then gradually move the food bowls inside the crate. This helps your dog form a positive association with the crate as a place where good things happen.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Whenever your dog voluntarily enters the crate or shows interest in it, use verbal praise and positive reinforcement. Let them know they're doing a great job!

Remove collars and harnesses

Keep your dog “naked” when in their crate. This just means take off any collars, harnesses or doggy clothes that may get caught and be a danger to your dog.

Crate Training Puppy. Sheltie sleeping on fluffy and warm bed. Winter Concept Crate Training Puppy. Sheltie sleeping on fluffy and warm bed. Winter Concept dog crate stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

The Step-by-Step Training Process

1. Getting Your Dog Used to the Crate's Presence

  • Placement: Set up the crate in the chosen location with the door open. Let your dog explore the crate at their own pace. Don't force them inside.
  • Positive Associations: Place treats, toys, and bedding inside the crate to entice your dog. Encourage them to investigate on their own.
  • Relaxed Atmosphere: Spend time near the crate, engaging in calming activities like reading or watching TV. This helps your dog associate the crate with a relaxed atmosphere.

2. Feeding Meals Near the Crate and Inside It

  • Mealtime Proximity: Begin by placing your dog's food bowl just outside the crate. As days go by, gradually move the bowl closer to the crate's entrance.
  • Inside the Crate: Eventually, place your dog's food bowl inside the crate. Keep the door open while they eat. This reinforces the positive connection between food and the crate.
  • Door Closed Briefly: Once your dog is comfortable eating inside the crate with the door open, close the door for a few seconds while they eat. Gradually extend the time the door is closed.

3. Gradually Increasing Crate Time

  • Positive Experiences: Encourage your dog to enter the crate voluntarily by placing treats or toys inside. Close the door for a short duration while they're engaged.
  • Increasing Intervals: Gradually extend the time your dog spends inside the closed crate. Start with a few seconds, then minutes, gradually building up to longer durations.
  • Presence Nearby: When your dog is comfortable spending time in the crate, stay nearby initially. This reassures them that you're still there, even when the door is closed.

4. Using Verbal Cues to Signal Crate Time

  • Consistent Cue: Use a specific verbal cue like "Crate" or "Kennel" when you're encouraging your dog to enter the crate. Always use the same word to create an association.
  • Positive Reinforcement: When your dog enters the crate on command, offer praise, treats, or a favorite toy. This reinforces the positive behavior.

5. Ignoring Whining or Barking Appropriately

  • Crate Behavior: If your dog whines or barks when inside the crate, wait for a moment of quiet before opening the door. This avoids rewarding the whining behavior.
  • Positive Association: When you open the crate door, do so calmly without acknowledging the barking. Wait for them to exit calmly before offering praise or attention.
  • Preventing Reinforcement: Avoid letting your dog out of the crate if they are barking excessively. This could reinforce the idea that barking gets them what they want.
English Bulldog puppy eats in his crate An English Bulldog puppy eats in his crate, facing away with its bum pointing at the camera. dog crate stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Extending Crate Time

Building up the Duration Your Dog Spends in the Crate

  • Incremental Increases: As your dog becomes more comfortable with short periods in the crate, gradually extend the time they spend inside. Increase the duration in small increments to avoid causing anxiety.
  • Positive Experiences: During longer crate sessions, provide your dog with a favorite toy or treat to keep them engaged and make the experience positive.
  • Distraction and Calm: Engage in calming activities while your dog is in the crate for longer periods, such as reading or listening to soft music. This can help them relax and associate the crate with tranquility.

Providing Mental Stimulation with Puzzle Toys and Treats

  • Enrichment Toys: Use puzzle toys, treat-dispensing toys, and interactive feeders to provide mental stimulation during crate time. This helps prevent boredom and encourages problem-solving.
  • Frozen Treats: Freeze treats or toys in water or low-sodium broth to create a longer-lasting and engaging activity for your dog to enjoy while in the crate.
  • Rotation of Toys: Rotate the toys you place in the crate to keep the experience fresh and exciting for your dog. This prevents them from getting bored with the same toys over time.

The Importance of Regular Potty Breaks and Exercise

  • Scheduled Breaks: Avoid keeping your dog in the crate for extended periods without breaks. Dogs need to relieve themselves and stretch their legs. Aim for a maximum of 4 hours for adult dogs and adjust based on your dog's needs.
  • Potty Break Routine: Before crating your dog, take them outside for a potty break. When you let them out of the crate, immediately take them outside again for another potty opportunity.
  • Exercise and Play: Provide ample exercise and playtime before crating your dog. A tired dog is more likely to rest comfortably in the crate.
  • Midday Walks: If you're away during the day, consider arranging for a midday walk or potty break to ensure your dog's comfort and well-being.
Alabai in cage isolated background Happy alabai shepherd puppy in an iron box isolated white background dog crate stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Troubleshooting Common Challenges

Remember that every dog is unique, and crate training might present different challenges for each individual. Be patient and open to adjusting your approach based on your dog's responses. If you encounter persistent difficulties, seeking expert guidance can make a significant difference in both your dog's well-being and your overall crate training success.

  • Dealing with Resistance or Fear of the Crate: If your dog is resistant or fearful, take a step back and proceed at a slower pace. Allow them to explore the crate voluntarily without pressure. Use treats, toys, and praise to create positive associations with the crate. Gradually build up positive experiences to counteract any negative associations.Keep the crate door open initially, and allow your dog to come and go freely. This can help them feel more in control and less trapped.
  • Addressing Excessive Barking, Whining, or Crying: If your dog whines or barks in the crate, wait for a moment of quiet before opening the door. Reward their silence with treats and praise. Provide toys or puzzles that keep your dog engaged and distracted, reducing the focus on whining or barking. When opening the crate, do so calmly and without excitement. Wait for your dog to settle before offering attention or release.
  • Handling Accidents and Potty Training within the Crate: Ensure the crate is appropriately sized—big enough for your dog to stand, turn around, and lie down, but not so large that they can potty in one corner and avoid it in another. Stick to a consistent schedule for potty breaks. Avoid leaving your dog in the crate for extended periods without opportunities to relieve themselves. If accidents happen, clean the crate thoroughly to remove odors that might encourage future accidents.

Seeking Professional Help When Needed

If your dog continues to struggle with crate training or displays severe anxiety or behavioral issues, consult a professional dog trainer or behaviorist. A professional can assess your dog's specific needs and provide tailored strategies to address challenges. In cases of severe anxiety or behavioral problems, a professional can guide you through behavior modification techniques to help your dog overcome their challenge.

Tired Beagle mix  lying in bed. A tired beagle mix hound dog is comfortably lying in a crate on leapord print pillows. dog crate stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

Take home message

To conclude, crate training is not an easy task to undertake but it is an important one. There are many benefits to crate training and it’s important to remember that when you’re getting your dog adjusted to their crate that patience and positive reinforcement is key!

Celebrate your dog’s progress and achievements. Take a moment to acknowledge how far your dog has come in their crate training journey. Recognize the milestones they've achieved.Continue to reward and praise your dog for their successes. This reinforces their positive behavior and helps solidify their crate training. As your dog becomes more comfortable and confident, adapt your training methods and routines to align with their progress.

Crate training establishes a foundation of trust between you and your dog. Through patience and positive interactions, your dog learns that the crate is a safe space. Crate training contributes to a well-disciplined dog by teaching them self-control, patience, and appropriate behavior in various situations. The time spent together during crate training strengthens your bond. Your dog learns to rely on you for guidance, comfort, and security. The skills learned during crate training extend beyond the crate itself. They contribute to a well-behaved and adaptable dog in various contexts and is a lifelong skill that will continue to benefit them long term.

As you conclude this crate training journey, take pride in the effort you've invested and the positive changes you've brought about in your dog's life. Crate training isn't just about using a physical space; it's about fostering a deeper connection, mutual respect, and a harmonious living environment for both you and your furry friend.

Doodle puppy playing in their bed in a metal crate
Doodle puppy playing in their bed in a metal crate

View Sources

Wlodarczyk, Justyna. "Be more dog: The human–Canine relationship in contemporary dog-training methodologies." Performance Research 22, no. 2 (2017): 40-47.

Miller, Pat. "Hates crates? Five things to do when your dog refuses to get in or stay in a crate." Whole Dog Journal 14, no. 11 (2011): 3-4.

Samms, Susan. German Shepherd Dog: A Comprehensive Guide to Owning and Caring for Your Dog. Fox Chapel Publishing, 2011.

Lindsay, Steve. Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Etiology and Assessment of Behavior Problems. Vol. 2. John Wiley & Sons, 2013.

Cler, Kelsey. "Crate Training-Benefits to Crate Training Housetraining: Chew training: Settling." (2019).

Chandler, Donna. Good Dog!: Simple Training for Successful Behavior. Emmis Books, 2004.

Miller, Pat. "Don't let the bed dogs bite; Decide where your dog gets to sleep, and support good bed manners." Whole Dog Journal 13, no. 3 (2010): 10-14.

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