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How to Crate Train a Puppy

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A puppy is asleep in their crate

If you’re bringing home a new puppy, you may want to consider crate training. By crate training your puppy, you’ll be giving them a cozy place to nap and take breaks—which a growing pup needs to do. It can help you house train your puppy and teach your new friend how to behave appropriately, and during storms or times when your pup may feel stressed, their crate can become a safe space where they can retreat and feel comfortable.

However, it’s important to note that crating should never be misused. It should never be used as punishment or for very long periods of time. Your puppy should come to see their crate as a safe and happy little home.

What Are the Benefits of Crate Training?

A crate can be a big help while house training a puppy. That’s because dogs typically don’t like to relieve themselves where they sleep. This means that when they do feel the urge to go, it’s very likely they’ll vocalize to let you know a potty break is needed, rather than soiling the crate.

Crate training can also be useful for preventing unwanted behaviors. For instance, if your puppy is chewing on the furniture, crating can be used for short periods of time when they can’t be supervised. This prevents unwanted behaviors from becoming habits.

In addition, if you use a portable dog crate, it can come in handy when you need to take your puppy somewhere, like the veterinarian’s office. Your puppy will be used to the crate and should jump right in. You can also bring the crate along if you stay at a hotel or friend’s house. It gives your puppy a private “room” to sleep in where they will be comfy, safe, and prevented from getting into potentially troublesome behaviors.

How Long Can I Keep My Puppy in the Crate?

The amount of time you can safely leave your puppy in the crate depends on their age. You should ask your veterinarian for specific guidelines, but these timeframes can be used as a rule of thumb:

Age Approximate Allowable Crate Time Limit
9 to 10 weeks old 30 to 60 minutes
11 to 14 weeks old 1 to 3 hours
15 to 16 weeks old 3 to 4 hours
17 or more weeks old 4 to 6 hours

Another common recommendation is one hour of crate time for each month of age.

In any case, you should avoid crating your puppy for long periods of time. This goes for adult dogs too. If you need to use a dog crate during the 8 or more hours you’re at work, go home for a midday visit or consider hiring a dog walker.

10 Puppy Crate Training Tips

Ready to crate train your new best friend? Keep these crate training tips in mind.

  1. Choose a sturdy crate

    You can buy a wire, plastic, or mesh crate for your puppy online or at a pet supply store. They each have different pros and cons, so pick one that meets your needs.

    • WIRE CRATES:

      These are typically collapsible when not in use and are easy to store or bring along when you travel with your puppy. Their design allows for great ventilation, but they can also be covered with a blanket or towel for added privacy. There are also a variety of crate covers available that provide a nice, secure fit around the crate.

    • MESH CRATES:

      Mesh crates are lightweight and can offer a lot of privacy but are not as durable or reliable as wire versions. Puppies and dogs have been known to chew through the mesh sides.

    • PLASTIC CRATES:

      Crates made of plastic (sometimes referred to as airline crates) can feel very den-like and provide a space that feels secure to your puppy. They offer more privacy than a wire crate but don’t forget to remove your puppy’s collar before they are left alone in their crate.

    No matter which type of crate you choose, it’s essential that you get the correct size. For smaller breed dogs, such as Chihuahuas or Pugs, who don’t have such a dramatic change in size between puppyhood and adulthood, you may be able to keep the same crate the entire time. However, with larger dog breeds, such as Golden Retrievers or Saint Bernards, whose size will increase drastically, you may need to start out with a smaller puppy crate and then transition to an adult crate after a few months. Wire crate designs often include an extra divider panel that you can use to adjust the space that’s available within the crate. Then, as the puppy grows, you can move the position of this panel to create more space. With a crate like this, you’ll only need to purchase one, since you can adjust the space available as your puppy grows.

    The size of the crate should be large enough for the puppy to stand, lie down comfortably, and turn around. If the crate is too big, you may increase the chances of the puppy having an accident because they’ll be able to move away from the soiled area and rest comfortably in a clean area.

  2. Place it in a central room

    In many cases, it’s a good idea to set the crate up in an area where you and your family tend to spend time, like the kitchen or a family room, so being crated doesn’t feel like an isolating experience for your puppy. Occasionally, however, a more private location will be best, especially if there’s a lot of family activity that makes it hard for the puppy to nap peacefully.

  3. Make it cozy

    Put a warm blanket, small pillow, and maybe a favorite dog toy or chew inside the crate. You can also add a shirt you’ve worn so your puppy can curl up with something that has your scent. Keep in mind, however, if you will be leaving your puppy alone in their crate, particularly if you won’t be home, it’s best not to leave anything in the crate that they could accidentally ingest. For instance, if your puppy is a tough chewer, stuffed toys may not be the best idea, since they could rip up the toy and eat the stuffing.

  4. Coax your puppy in

    Scatter bits of food or small treats around the front of the crate as well as inside it. Encourage your puppy to go in and get the goodies. It’s OK if they won’t go inside at first. Be patient and keep at it. Never force your puppy to go into their crate as this could cause them to dislike it.

  5. Use the crate for mealtimes

    If your puppy is having trouble getting used to the crate, you can try serving meals in it. Begin by placing the food bowl just outside the crate and gradually move it in, finally placing it all the way at the back of the crate. Keep the crate door open at first. Once your puppy is relaxed about going all the way in and eating the meal, you can begin closing the door. You can also hide a few treats in the crate as a surprise and let your puppy discover them as they’re exploring.

  6. Use a cue word

    Once your puppy is readily walking into the crate, you can introduce a cue (command), like "Kennel up" or "Go to bed," saying it just before they step inside. Once inside the crate, toss in a treat to reward this behavior. If you live in a multi-person household and other people are helping to train the puppy, be sure they are also using the same cue words.

  7. Stay with your puppy

    When you first start crate training, stay in the room so your puppy won’t associate the crate with you going away. Once your puppy is comfortable with the crate, you can begin leaving them alone for short periods of time.

  8. Extend crate time gradually

    Only leave your puppy in the crate for a few minutes at first, and then slowly increase the time. If your puppy whines, you may have increased the time too quickly. Be sure to wait until they stop whining before opening the door, so they won’t learn that whining gets you to let them out.

    When it is time to let your puppy out of their crate, you may notice that they are incredibly excited, perhaps leading them to jump or nibble on you. It can be helpful to work on your puppy’s patience by teaching them “wait” or “stay.” Before you open their crate door, use your cue word to encourage them to stay put, even when the door is opened. You can then use another cue word such as “OK,” “free,” or “break,” to signal that they’re allowed to exit their crate. Teaching them to not bolt out the second a door is open can be incredibly helpful, especially since this method can also be used to teach them not to run out the front door of your house or jump out a car door.

  9. Avoid scolding

    If your puppy whines or barks in the crate, avoid scolding, as this will only add to his stress. Instead, do your best to make him feel comfortable in the crate. For instance, you can place him in it when he’s already tired; give him a yummy chew or food puzzle to keep him content; or stay close to the crate for a little while, until you see the puppy relax. Whining in the middle of the night might mean your puppy needs to pee. You can take them out to go to the bathroom, but remain low-key and avoid play so that it’s easier for them to settle back into the crate afterwards.

  10. Get plenty of exercise

    The more energy your puppy has stored up, the more frustrating the crate training process can be. If you tucker your pal out by taking them for a walk or playing a game of fetch, your puppy may not mind being left alone in the crate for a few hours to sleep.

In most cases, puppies adjust to crate training fairly easily. If you can’t seem to get your puppy comfortable in the crate, a professional trainer can provide helpful tips. If you suspect there are medical concerns that are making the process of crate training more difficult, consult with your veterinarian.

If you adopt an adult dog from a shelter, there’s a possibility they may have never been crate trained before. If this is the case, these same puppy tips could help you to crate train a full-grown dog as well.

If you need additional assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional trainer. You can reference the Behavioral Help for Your Pet webpage from our partners at the ASPCA® to determine what type of trainer may be best for you and your pet.

Reminder: Treats should not make up more than 10% of a pet’s caloric intake. Also, stomach upset may occur in pets who do not tolerate dietary changes well.

An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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