You have the puppy, you have the crate, and it’s time to put them together. Sounds easy enough, but let’s look at what steps you need to take to ensure both you and your puppy remain unscathed in the end.
But Why Put My Puppy in a Cage?
The thought of putting your puppy in a crate might seem cruel, but there are distinct advantages for both of you. As long as you don’t use the crate to punish your dog, it will end up being a safe place for your dog to relax and sleep in. It will also protect your house and belongings from any destructive behaviors your dog might exhibit while you are out.
The crate can be a refuge against noise and chaos (parties and children come to mind) but also protect your dog from potentially injuring herself. You also don’t want her to eat the wrong thing while you’re out.
Plus, a recent survey from This Old House found that 70% of dog owners reduced puppy accidents with the help of a crate and sufficient crate training. If you train your pup right, she will look at her crate as a secure and calm place for her to go whenever she wants, instead of a place she’s banished to after a misstep.
Finding the Crate
Starting at the very beginning, you have the puppy and need to find the perfect crate. There are a number of options to consider.
What Size Crate is Right for My Dog?
The rule of thumb with respect to what size of crate you should purchase is that when your dog is full-grown, she should be able to stand up, turn around and lie down fully stretched out while in the crate. You can measure your dog if she’s already full grown to figure out what size of crate you need. Otherwise, you’ll need to figure out how much your puppy might weigh when she grows up to find the right size of crate.
First, there’s the wire crate. These come in a variety of sizes, and some, like this one, come with a partition or divider panel, which means you can purchase one cage and allow it to grow with your dog. Especially if you have a large breed. Follow the instructions that come with the crate (which includes safety information such as removing any collars or harnesses from your dog while in the crate, so she doesn’t get snagged).
Then there is the soft-sided crate. The advantage of these is that you can travel with them and set them up either indoors or outdoors, like this one. They don’t feel as cage-like as the wire crates, and you won’t have to worry about purchasing a crate cover if you’re trying to soundproof or make a safe space for your dog. The downside is when you’re crate training a puppy, the fabric will not be as forgiving for her accidents.
There’s also the very expensive furniture style crate. You will have a lovely piece of furniture that houses your beloved pet but can also act as an end table for your morning cup of coffee. However, this style of crate is not recommended for crate training, so perhaps consider this when you have a well-behaved dog that has already been crate trained.
Then there are the plastic kennels that come in every size, such as medium and extra-large. The advantage of this kind of crate is that they can double for traveling and provide a dark and cozy spot for your dog that is well ventilated. The disadvantage is that they should not be used for your dog as a cage when you’re away. They don’t tend to be big enough for the stand-up/turn around test that your dog should be able to do in her crate.
And then there are all of the accessories you could get for your crate, but that’s another article. Now on to the actual training.
Step 1: Puppy, Meet Crate
The first thing you need to do is introduce your puppy to her new crate. This can be accomplished by setting it up and letting her explore it on her own without any intervention from you. Let her run in an out and give her time to get used to it. You should have it set up with some soft blankets, and the door needs to be kept open while she investigates.
Step 2: Into the Crate
Next, you need to start training your puppy using command words. This can be accomplished first by praising your dog every time she goes into the crate on her own. You can also consider using the clicker or marker word methods.
You can use words such as “go in” or “crate” and throw a treat inside to start training her with the crate. Follow this with words such as “out” and toss a treat outside of the crate. Praise her when she follows the treat and leaves the crate.
Just repeat these steps until you believe your puppy understands, and then it’s time to move on to the next step.
Step 3: Dining In
Next, you want to start feeding your puppy inside her crate. If she willingly goes into the crate to eat, great. If not, you will need to place her food bowl next to the crate until she feels more comfortable and then gradually place her meal inside the crate.
The point of all of this is to create a very positive relationship (if you can have a relationship with an inanimate object) between your puppy and her crate.
Once your puppy seems comfortable eating inside her crate, start closing the door, but only while she’s eating and open the door the moment she’s finished.
Step 4: Close That Door
The next phase will allow your puppy to start adapting to being left alone for very short periods of time while in the crate and with the door closed. This stage will take some time and patience because you do not want your puppy associating her crate with negative feelings.
You can start by closing the door while your puppy is inside the crate with a favorite toy and with you still sitting next to the crate. You will want to time these moments as the point is increasing the amount of time your puppy spends in the crate with the door closed. You can start with 15 – 20 seconds and slowly build to about 15 minutes. All while you’re sitting next to the crate.
You want your puppy to be relaxed and playing with her toys while this occurs. You can make this easier for your dog if she seems to be struggling with this part of crate training.
- Put your hand inside the crate with the door partially open. Play with her, praise her and continue until you can withdraw your hand and close the door.
- Use extra treats or a food puzzle toy like a Kong to help keep your puppy distracted and happy throughout this process.
- Make the time periods shorter if she’s struggling with this part of the training.
Stay next to your puppy throughout until she is happily playing with her toys for 15 minutes with the door closed. Now we can move to the next step.
Step 5: Remove Yourself
Next, you need to work on leaving the room while your puppy is in the crate.
You can use the same techniques and timing found in Step 4 but with you stepping out of the room. You should start with very short periods of time (5-minute increments) but build slowly until your puppy doesn’t cry with you out of the room for 2 hours.
A critical aspect of this entire process is to have your puppy associate the crate as a happy place for her to be. Part of this can be accomplished by removing the toys and treats from the crate when your puppy is not in it. This way, she’ll identify her special treats with the crate.
- If your puppy is struggling with this step, try just walking partway across the room for short periods of time and just stepping out of your puppy’s sight for 10 – 30 seconds.
- Working slowly at all of these steps will make the adjustment easier for your puppy. Every time she becomes stressed and upset, shorten the duration of your leaving the room and try different toys and treats.
- Toys like this one might help your puppy as it has a pouch for a warming pack as well as an optional simulated heartbeat designed to calm your puppy.
Another consideration is how long your puppy can hold her bladder before having accidents.
You can use this chart as a guideline, but not all puppies will fit neatly into these timings. You must use your own discretion and will learn through your puppy how long she can handle being left inside the crate.
|Puppy Age||Maximum Time|
|8 – 10 weeks||30 minutes – 1 hour|
|11 – 14 weeks||1 – 3 hours|
|15 – 16 weeks||2 – 4 hours|
|17 or more weeks||4 – 6 hours|
The Crate Schedule
Once you’re ready to start leaving your puppy inside the crate, you can follow a crate training schedule.
The following chart is just an outline that you can follow to the letter or use as a kind of inspiration. Not everyone goes to bed at 11:00 pm or wakes up at 7:00 am, so feel free to adjust the following times in order to fit your own schedule.
|7:00 – 7:30 am||Wake up and take puppy outside, playtime|
|7:30 – 8:00 am||Food and water|
|8:00 – 9:00 am||Take puppy outside and playtime|
|9:00 – 11:00 am||Crate time|
|11:00 – 11:15 am||Take puppy outside|
|11:15 – 12:00 pm||Food and water and playtime|
|12:00 – 1:00 pm||Playtime and take puppy outside|
|1:00 – 3:00 pm||Crate time|
|3:00 – 3:30 pm||Take puppy outside and playtime|
|3:30 – 4:00 pm||Food and water|
|4:00 – 4:30 pm||Playtime and take puppy outside|
|5:00 – 7:00 pm||Crate time|
|7:00 – 7:15 pm||Take puppy outside|
|7:15 – 7:30 pm||Food and water|
|7:30 – 9:30 pm||Crate time|
|9:30 – 10:00 pm||Take puppy outside and playtime|
|10:00 – 10:15 pm||Food but limited water|
|10:15 – 11:00 pm||Playtime and take puppy outside|
|11:00 pm||Crate for the night|
Remember, this chart is just meant to be a guideline. Use your own instincts. If your puppy wants to go outside during a time not outlined in your schedule, take her out. If you think she should spend a little less time in her crate during the day, then by all means, play with her for a little longer.
The key to crate training your puppy is lots of love and patience. Every puppy will take to crate training differently than others; some will be easy to train, and some will be more of a challenge. Lots of treats and praise will help you on this journey, and in the long run, you’ll end up with a happy and well-adjusted adult dog who loves spending time in her cozy crate.
Featured Image Credit: Sergey Lavrentev, shutterstock