How to Crate Train A Puppy

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Chocolate lab puppy asking to be let out of crate

How to Crate Train A Puppy

Give your Pup a Feeling of Security

Since dogs are denning animals, meaning they feel safe and comfortable in small, dark spaces, crate training your puppy should be quite easy. However, if introduced to a crate in a negative or harsh manner, your puppy may become crate resistant and fight being in a crate for the rest of its life. Because crates are a useful tool in containing and training your dog, we want to avoid crate resistance from day one.

Choosing the Type of Crate

Before your puppy comes home you will need to get a crate and set it up for your pups’ arrival. Your first decision will be between a hard plastic shell or a wire style. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Plastic crates are easy to assemble and lightweight compared to many wire crates. A hard plastic shell crate makes a cozy den, nice for winter months but often too warm and stuffy in the summer months. The privacy offered in a plastic shell crate may be welcome for some pups while others will find it isolating. Also, you cannot see your puppy easily, and having raised puppies for over 20 years, I know it is always preferable to keep an eye on what your puppy is doing. It’s amazing how creative the little ones can be and not always in a good way!

I prefer wire crates with two doors, one on the front and one on the side, offering more versatility in crate placement. Wire crates are generally heavier than their plastic counterparts and less mobile. Often new puppy parents will buy a wire crate for stationary use in the family room and a plastic crate for the bedroom and trips in the car. With a wire crate you can see your puppy and it can see you because although they do love a small private space of their own, dogs are pack animals and proximity to their family is very important to them. A wire crate will be pleasant in the summer months and a blanket can be draped over the top and sides in the winter months for added warmth. A word about fabric/mesh crates. They are fine for traveling with dogs, but most puppies seem to consider them a great big toy, one that must be chewed on until dead.

What Size Crate is Best?

Once you have decided on the type of crate or crates you want, you will need to determine the size. Most wire crates come with a wire insert to confine the puppy into one section of a large crate. This is handy because you should buy a crate based on the adult size of your puppy, use the insert to restrict the dog to the front part of the crate and remove it as it grows. When your pup’s crate area is too large, it may use the back of the crate as its potty zone and not bark to alert you that it needs to go outside. This can form a habit of defecating in the crate which you will definitely want to discourage. Confining the dog to a smaller area in the crate and making sure you take it outside for regular potty breaks should stop that problem before it begins.

Choosing a Bed for the Crate

Now you have a large wire crate set up in your family room and perhaps a plastic crate set up next to your bed and you are eager to bring home your new pup. Wait. You are not quite ready yet. Your puppy’s new room needs to be appealing to the dog, not a sterile, blank space. Dog beds are great, but for puppies I always suggest you go to a thrift store to stock up on some inexpensive towels, wash them well, and use those for puppy bedding. Puppies will be teething soon, and they seem to favor the gourmet taste of $80 cushy beds. When it shreds the $2 towels from Goodwill you won’t be as tempted to lose your temper. Save the lovely, spendy beds for adulthood.

Ensuring Enough Water

In my opinion, water should always be available for your puppy. Some people advise no water after 9pm and pick up all water bowls at that time. I cannot imagine the distress of a thirsty puppy on a long night in its crate. A puppy with a small hanging metal water dish with an inch or two of water can certainly survive just fine. Some water-loving breeds might be better off with a hamster-type water lick container to avoid messy water games. I did mention that puppies are creative, didn’t I? Oh yes!

Treats, Toys, & Environment

For the first few months, anytime the puppy goes into the crate, such as bedtime, nap times, or when you need to leave, toss in a small treat or two. And you can also keep a larger chew treat for it to gnaw on and call its own that stays in his crate. An antler, smoked trachea, large puzzle-treat, Kong™ toy with treats inside or other rawhide-free chewy treats will all work well as its own personal snack. Please remember, teething pups find relief through chewing, and the crate will help you control what the pup is wrapping its mouth around; a dehydrated lamb lung treat or your best shoes. It’s a happy world when the lamb treat is in its crate and the shoes are safely in the closet.

A toy or two might also be welcome. Just make sure there are no toys the puppy can break chunks off and swallow, another creative and potentially expensive talent some pups have. No one wants to risk the safety of their pup or pay for a $3000 blockage surgery. But, safe treats and safe toys are fun distractions, making the crate a pleasurable place where it enjoys hanging out.

Through your lifetime you will find that some puppies are easier to crate train than others; even so, creating a welcoming crate environment, being patient and being consistent will greatly aid the process. Just make sure you do not commit the following common mistakes:

  • forcing your pup into the crate,
  • leaving the dog in it for too long a time,
  • locating the crate in a cold/hot/noisy/dangerous location; or,
  • using the crate for punishment.

All of these activities will have negative consequences and may very well make your pup crate resistant.

Training & Behavior Basics

Basically, we want our puppy to be happy and feel safe in its crate, and probably the best way to ensure this is to feed the dog in it. My current 6-month-old puppy rushes to her crate at mealtimes, leaps in, sits quietly at the back waiting for her release signal and then devours her food. That level of compliance didn’t happen immediately. I broke down each phase of behavior I desired and trained in stages. The first phase was learning that good things happen in her crate. Next came “watch me” so she could recognize I am her leader and focusing on me results in interesting things happening. And finally came “sit,” and “stay.” Hurrah, she loves her crate and I have some puppy-free-sanity time when she is in it.

Crates Can Be Life Saving

If the above facts don’t convince you of the benefits of having a crate trained puppy, maybe this will: being crate trained may save its life. In emergency situations such as hurricanes, devastating fires, etc., rescue shelters often will not accept dogs that are not crate trained. Dogs involved in auto accidents that are in a crate have much higher survival rates than dogs riding loose in cars. Puppies are curious creatures and can get into deadly mischief in seconds. When your puppy is in its crate, it is not rummaging through your cupboards getting into poisonous substances or digging under your backyard fence to escape into traffic or getting bitten by a stray dog. If emergency responders need to rescue your dog when you are absent, they can more easily find and transport your dog out of dangerous situations if the pet is crated.

A Place of Their Own

There are still people who feel putting a dog in a crate is cruel. They call them cages or prisons, but these are simply semantic games that show their ignorance of the crate’s function. Call it whatever you want, a comfy crate gives your dog a quiet, private place of its own to relax in, apart from the hustle and bustle of its’ human’s lives. I wonder if Virginia Woolf was thinking of dog crates when she wrote A Room of One’s Own? Well, probably not, but it is a great way to think of your puppy’s new crate.

By Carol Kendig