Crate Training a Puppy - Free Comprehensive Guide

Crate Training a Puppy

A dog happily lays in his kennel on a soft red pillow.

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Crate training is an important step for your new puppy. Although you may feel uncomfortable confining your dog in a kennel, the reality is that there are many benefits to crate training – benefits for both you and your dog! Taking the time to properly crate train your puppy will pay off over the rest of your dog’s lifetime.  

Why should I crate train my puppy?

1. Speeds up the housetraining process.

Most dogs avoid eliminating in the place where they sleep; therefore, a puppy typically will avoid urinating or having bowel movements in the crate. This makes kennel training a great way to potty train your puppy

A puppy that has been “holding it” in the kennel will probably have to eliminate as soon as you let him out. By taking your dog outside immediately after letting him out of the crate, you maximize the chances of your puppy eliminating outside. This gives you the opportunity to praise your puppy and reward him with a food treat, creating an association between “holding it” while inside and eliminating when walked outside.

2. Keeps your puppy safe.

As every dog owner can attest to, puppies can be destructive! An unsupervised puppy may entertain himself by chewing on your shoes, your furniture, your kids’ toys, and anything else that he can access. This is not only inconvenient and frustrating for you, but can be dangerous for your puppy. 

Each year, countless dogs require medical care for chewing on electric cords, ingesting toys or foreign objects (causing a gastrointestinal obstruction), or eating toxic substances. Crating your puppy when he is not under direct supervision helps protect both your belongings and your puppy’s health.  

Man carrys dog in kennel.

3. Makes travel easier. 

At some point during your dog’s lifetime, you will probably travel. 

If you are planning a getaway and would like to bring your puppy along, crating him can help both you and the property owner feel more comfortable that the visit will be a success. Many rentals require canine guests to be crated when unattended; having a crate trained dog will make your trip far more pleasant.

If you travel to a location that isn’t dog-friendly and your dog has to be boarded, your dog will likely be housed in a kennel. This experience is much less stressful for your dog if he is already accustomed to being crated. A dog that is not used to being crated may experience significant stress when their first experience in a crate is for a lengthy period of time. 

Crates may also be useful for travel itself. Small dogs can be crated in the car, decreasing distractions to the driver and minimizing the risk of injury in a crash. Dogs traveling by air also must typically be contained in a crate. 

How do I choose the right crate?

Crates may be made of several different materials:

Metal, collapsible crates. 

Metal crates can be folded for storage. They provide a lot of ventilation through their open sides, which may be helpful in warmer climates.

Plastic kennels. 

Although they require more storage space, some dogs prefer the enclosed, den-like feeling of these kennels. Plastic kennels are often referred to as “flight kennels,” because they are the style of crate that is typically required for air travel. 

Fabric or mesh kennels. 

While very portable, these crates are not as durable as the other options. Calm puppies may do well in a fabric crate, but high-energy puppies may chew through the fabric, zippers, and other components. 

Use this Diagram to Help Measure

Diagram displaying how to measure your dog for a crate

The most important factor when choosing a crate is size. Your puppy’s crate should be just large enough for him to stand up, turn around, and lay back down comfortably. 

If you purchase a crate that is too large, your puppy may learn that he can separate his large crate into “bedroom” and “bathroom” areas, using one area to eliminate and a separate area of the crate for sleeping. This defeats the purpose of using the crate as a housetraining tool. 

If you choose a crate that is too small, however, your puppy will not be comfortable in the crate. Selecting the appropriate crate size will allow you to maximize both comfort and housetraining benefits. 

Many pet owners want to buy a crate large enough to accommodate their puppy’s expected adult size. If you do this, you will need to use a sturdy divider to confine your dog to an appropriately-sized smaller area of the crate while he is still small. Some crates come with built-in dividers. 

In other cases, you can build a divider or use a correctly-sized plastic storage bin placed inside of the crate to block off a portion of the crate. If adding your own divider, however, be careful to ensure that your puppy cannot destroy it or injure himself!

This image shows an image of a man sitting on top of a dog kennel.

I’ve bought the crate… Now what?

You understand the benefits of crating your puppy. You have bought an appropriately-sized crate. Now you can just toss the puppy in the crate and leave for work, right? Wrong.

Now it’s time to train your puppy to LOVE his crate. Your puppy should not merely tolerate his crate; it should be a happy, comfortable, secure place with positive associations. 

Investing the time to train your puppy and build these positive associations will offer significant benefits over the remainder of his lifetime. 

This process may take a couple of days or a couple of weeks, depending on your puppy and his willingness to accept new situations. It is important to go slowly through each of these steps. If, at any time, your puppy fights being in the crate or seems anxious, go back to the last step on this list with which your puppy was comfortable. 

1. Choose the right location for the crate. 

Dogs are social animals; therefore, the crate should be in an area where the family spends time. This may be in your living room, or maybe a master bedroom if your dog will primarily be sleeping in the crate. 

You may want to purchase multiple crates, placing them in separate areas of the house where the family typically spends time. The crate should not be placed in the garage, the basement, or any other “out of the way” location, because this makes it less likely that the dog will enjoy his crate.

Make sure the crate is in a location that is comfortable. Avoid drafty areas near doors or windows, areas in the direct sunlight (which may become excessively hot), or areas adjacent to a radiator or heat source. 

2. Set up the crate with bedding and toys. 

Your dog’s crate should contain comfortable bedding, in order to make the crate a pleasant place to rest. Keep in mind that many puppies are destructive and may try to chew or eat their bedding. Ingested bedding can cause intestinal blockages, requiring emergency surgery. For this reason, you want to observe your puppy closely during your early days with him and not include any bedding that he is likely to chew. 

Some puppies are fine with fluffy dog beds, some dogs can have a soft blanket without chewing, and others require special, durable bedding designed to decrease chewing. There is some trial and error involved in this step, but your goal is to find a bedding material that your dog will not destroy or ingest. 

Also, include a few of your puppy’s favorite toys in the crate. Again, you want to take your puppy’s individual personality and energy level into consideration when choosing toys that he will not be able to destroy. 

For many puppies (and adult dogs), a Kong toy with a small amount of peanut butter smeared inside of it makes an excellent treat for use inside the crate. (If you do this, make sure to avoid sugar-free peanut butter. Sugar-free peanut butter may contain xylitol, which is toxic to dogs.) 

Chew toys such as Nylabones can also be useful, and they have a special line of chew toys that are developed for puppies. 

3. Allow your puppy to investigate the crate. 

Once you have set up the crate, leave the door open and continue your normal routine. Most likely, your puppy will eventually step inside the crate to investigate the bedding and toys that you have placed inside of it. 

It may be helpful to casually (without saying anything to your puppy) drop a couple of treats in the crate every time that you walk by it. Seeing and smelling these treats can encourage your puppy to step into the crate, while also creating positive associations with the crate. 

When your puppy goes into the crate, whether to explore on his own or get treats that you have placed inside, talk to him in a calm but happy voice. Your goal is to convince him that the crate is a happy, non-threatening place where treats and human attention and other good things happen. 

In this early stage, it is very important that you NOT try to shut the crate door. Closing the door to the crate too early may create a fear of the crate that can be difficult to overcome.  Focus on keeping things casual, positive, and encouraging for your puppy. 

This picture shows a black dog laying in his crate

4. Feed your puppy in his crate.

Feeding your puppy in his crate is another easy way to create positive mental associations with the crate. If your puppy is willing to go in the crate, place the food bowl at the back of the crate so that he has to step inside to eat. 

If he is hesitant, place his food bowl immediately outside the open door to the crate. Then, over the course of several days, move the bowl to just inside of the crate door and then gradually towards the rear of the crate. 

5. Try closing the door. 

Once your puppy is calmly eating his meals in the crate, you can begin closing the crate door while he is in the crate. Close the door while he is eating, then open the door as soon as he finishes eating. This will help your dog to begin to feel comfortable with the door closed, without feeling trapped in the crate.

Once your puppy is comfortable eating with the door closed, you can try gradually leaving the crate door closed for a couple of minutes after he finishes eating. Only wait a couple of minutes, then let him out of the crate.

6. Teach your dog to enter the crate at other times of day. 

Once your dog is readily eating in his crate, you can begin working towards crating him at other opportunities. Use a command, such as “kennel,” while placing a tasty treat in your dog’s crate. 

When your dog enters the crate, praise him and offer another treat, then leave him in the crate (with the door closed) for a minute or two while you remain nearby. Let him out of the crate and repeat the process, gradually lengthening the amount of time that he is in the crate to 5 minutes, and then gradually to 10 minutes. 

7. Leave the room while your dog is crated. 

Once your dog is comfortably sitting the crate for 10 minutes, you can begin to leave the room while he is crated. Again, build up the duration of your departure gradually: start by leaving the room for 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 20 minutes, then 30 minutes. 

Once your dog is comfortable in his crate for 30 minutes without you in the room, you can begin leaving him crated when you leave the home, or overnight. You may have reached this step with only a few days of training, or perhaps with several weeks of training, but your dog is now fully crate trained and you can use your crate as a training tool and a safe and secure place for your dog.

My puppy whines. What should I do?

Letting your dog out when he is whining only rewards the whining. Therefore, the most important thing is not to let your puppy out of his crate when whining. Yelling at him for whining will only make him more excitable, so the best solution for a whining puppy is to stay calm and ignore it.

Only let your puppy out of the crate when he is calm and quiet. If you are heading towards the crate to let him out and he begins whining, wait patiently until he is silent before opening the door. In time your puppy will realize that whining serves no purpose and he will stop whining when crated. 

How long can I keep my puppy crated?

In general, the number of hours that a dog can go between potty breaks is equal to their age (in months) plus one. For example, a four-month old puppy can be expected to remain crated for five hours without a potty break, while a two-month old puppy can only remain crated for three hours. 

This means that you will likely have to get up with your puppy in the middle of the night for the first few months, though some puppies sleep through the night sooner than others. Additionally, puppies that are left alone for an entire workday often require a midday dog walker in order for them to remain accident-free in their crate. 

If your dog will need to be confined for significantly longer periods of time, you may want to consider the use of a larger pen, because crate training is unlikely to be effective or pleasant in these scenarios.

In Conclusion

Although crates are an excellent tool for housebreaking, it is also important to remember that puppies be allowed to spend time outside of their crate for exercise and socialization. The crate is an important tool, but it is just one component of having a healthy, well-adjusted puppy. 


Catherine Barnette
Catherine Barnette

Catherine Barnette, DVM, is a veterinarian and freelance writer based in North Carolina.

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Discussion

  1. John

    Crate training your new pup is a very important step in making your new puppy comfortable with its new surroundings. The crate should be a place the puppy feels safe and is not afraid of casually going in and out. My Aussie will go the crate sometimes when there is stormy weather. She also goes in just to lie down because we have a good thick pad that is comfortable. Quiet often I will drop her Greenie in the crate and she will go in pick it up and usually will stay in the crate while she eats it. Now when we need to crate her she will go in with just an invitation. I always reassure her that we will be back in a little bit. I also put a clean blanket in the cage and wash it often. When I am expecting guest I usually will put her in her crate before my guest arrives. Doing that lets her get over the excitement of someone’s arrival and makes it easier for her to get acquainted with my guest and she doesn’t feel like she is getting punished because someone comes to visit.

    1. kenneltrainer

      Thats great John! It sounds like you have trained her properly. If done correctly, the kennel will be a place your dog enjoys to spend time in.

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