Crates are an invaluable tool when it comes to properly raising a puppy. Crates are essential to faster and successful potty training, containing your puppy when unsupervised, and safely transporting your puppy in the car. So how do you train your puppy to love a crate?
Crate training a puppy is actually very easy. Just follow some simple steps and rules.
Steps on How to Crate Train Your Puppy
- Get the Right Size Crate
- Introduce the crate
- In and Out
- Make it Positive
- Crying in the Crate
- Leaving the house
- In the Car
Crates should be just large enough for the dog to stand up and turn around in and sleep comfortably. It should resemble a den, not a house. Especially with puppies, if you use a crate that is too big, the puppy will get into the habit of soiling her crate. Wire crates usually come with dividers that allow you to increase the size of the crate as your puppy grows so you do not have to buy multiple crates.
Put the crate in a quiet, low-distraction area of your home. Keeping your puppy on a long leash, bring your puppy near the crate leaving the door open. At the beginning, you can have the crate already loaded with some delicious treats to help entice your puppy inside. You will keep you puppy on the leash at this stage simply to prevent her from leaving the area where you and the crate are. Allow the puppy to wander into the crate on her own with as little interference from you as possible. As the puppy starts to eat the delicious food already in the crate, praise your puppy! Don’t praise so excitedly that the puppy leaves the crate, just enough to let your puppy know that she is doing something good. Before the pre-loaded food disappears, start giving your puppy more food rewards in the crate one piece at a time.
After a couple minutes, close the door and stand up. Wait a couple second then kneel back down and open the door again. As soon as you open the door, give your puppy a treat! Remove your hand and feed another treat 10 times in close succession before closing the door again and repeating. Repeat this until you see your puppy makes no forward motion when you open the door and is clearly anticipating a reward!
Invite your puppy back out of the crate. Make sure the leash is still on and stand on the end of the leash to prevent your puppy from running off. Stay kneeling near the crate and just look at the crate and wait. Do not say anything, just face the crate and continue looking at it until your puppy goes back into the crate. As soon as this happens, reward again! Reward another 10 times in the crate! Repeat this a few more times until your puppy is going happily into the crate and expecting a reward. Do no use food to lure the puppy into the crate. Let the puppy go into the crate and THEN reward! Once your puppy is going in and out of the crate, you can add the word “crate!” to pair the command with the behavior.
Once you have your puppy going into the crate, start leaving her inside a few minutes at a time while you are at home. You do not want your puppy to immediately associate going into the crate with everyone leaving. Put your puppy in the crate with a frozen kong and leave her in there to enjoy the treat. Come back about when your puppy is finishing the kong and let her outside to potty. Use feeding times to build more positive associations with the crate too. Each time you feed your puppy a meal, walk over to the crate and wait for the puppy to go inside. As soon as your puppy goes inside, put the food in, close the door and walk away. Come back in 10-15 minutes when the food is finished and take your puppy outside for a potty break!
Inevitably, at some point your puppy will likely bark and scream to be let out of the crate. First, be sure you have your puppy on a schedule and start to listen to the tone of your puppy’s complaints so you can tell the difference between a plea to go potty and a puppy tantrum. If your puppy has already pottied and is having a puppy tantrum, simply cover the crate with a sheet. When your puppy quiets down, wait 2-3 minutes then go and let out your puppy. Do not let your puppy out when it is barking unless you think there is a bathroom emergency. Ideally, you will set your puppy on a regular and frequent schedule for potty breaks and the need for emergency let out will be a rare occurrence.
The first time you leave your puppy alone at home, make sure that first, you have practiced leaving your puppy alone while you are at home, and second, make sure to leave her with a safe treat like a frozen kong or a benebone to chew on. You can leave on soothing music or the TV as well. Try to keep your first outings relatively short as your puppy can only last so long between potty breaks. When you return home, do NOT make a big deal about it. Refrain from overly excited greetings. Just walk in the door, and wait a couple minutes for the puppy to quiet down, the CALMLY take out your puppy for a potty.
Try to get your puppy used to riding in a crate in the car as early as you can. Once you have introduced the crate in the house and have made progress, start taking your puppy on short car rides in a crate in your car. Just like in the house, put your puppy in the crate with something enjoyable for her to chew on like a frozen kong or hide-free dog chew. (No Hide dog chew). Give your puppy high value treats for getting into the crate in the car. Lift your puppy in and out of cars and their hips and joints are still developing and they should not be jumping from high heights. Continue taking your puppy for short trips and soon you will find your puppy will love to get in the car! Of course, in warm weather, do not leave your puppy in a closed car. In cooler weather where you can leave your windows down and the interior temperature of the car will become uncomfortable, take your dog with you! Dogs absolutely love to go for rides and see the sights.
Additional Suggestions and Rules
- Do not use the crate as punishment. Never send your puppy or dog to a crate because you are upset. If your puppy has gotten into some trouble and needs to be contained for a while, control you emotions and happily take your puppy to her crate. Reward with praise and food when she goes inside.
- Do not overuse the crate. The crate is only a part of your puppy’s life. In between rest time, make sure your puppy is getting time to play and exercise. Puppies tire quickly and need their rest, so if you follow a puppy schedule where exercise, play and meals are broken out through the day, your puppy will happily rest and sleep in her crate in between.
- Keep Rewarding. Keep a bowl of treats your puppy loves on top of her crate. Every time your puppy runs into the crate, give a treat! You can continue this for the life of your dog. This will keep your dog reliably running happily to her crate on command.