How to Crate Train a Puppy

Crate training a puppy can be a daunting and confusing experience. Crate training is one of a handful of effective training tools and, contrary to what many may think, it can serve as a safe haven for your dog.

Similar to how a dog would live in the wild, a puppy starts its life in a den. Dens serve as safe and warm homes that keeps them dry and away from danger. A comfortable and properly-introduced crate can mimic the role of a den and provide a sense of wellbeing, security and primal familiarity.

"Using crates is safe, humane and effective and in many cases can be what helps a dog stay in its home," the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) told Newsweek. "Crates are valuable tools for house training, as well as managing the environment so dogs avoid developing problem behaviors such as destructive chewing and counter-surfing."

A crate is not a means for punishment and when supplemented with a host of other effective training methods will ensure your dog feels content at home, on the road or during trips away.

Corgi dogs
Three-month-old corgi triplets Penny, Tuppence and Sixpence sit together in a home made crate. Getty Images

Why crate train a puppy?

A crate can provide a safe space for your pet when it is feeling tired, stressed or fearful.

A crate can also allow you to safely transport your dog in a space they feel comfortable with and allows you to easily confine your dog when necessary without any excess stress.

It is also a useful toilet training technique as dogs will consider their crate to be their den and will tend not to urinate or defecate inside.

"For puppies, crates are a valuable tool for housetraining because dogs like to be clean and don't like to soil the place where they sleep," Animal Behavioral expert and American Kennel Club Family Dog Director, Dr. Mary Burch, told Newsweek.

Crates can provide additional safe short-term confinement options when travelling or in the car and can "help minimize stress during times of emergency, while boarding in a kennel or while spending a night at the vet clinic" the APDT added. When introduced properly, a crate becomes a safe place that many dogs will seek out themselves.

"By nature, dogs like small, enclosed spaces, especially when they are feeling a little bit unsure. By providing your dog with an area where it can 'escape' and know it won't be bothered, it can readily seek out this area when it needs a bit of a break or time-out," the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) notes.

Dog in crate
Dogs should be introduced to the crate gradually and owners should ensure it’s a pleasant experience, the APDT recommends. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

What do I need to crate train a puppy?

Crates can be made from plastic, wire or collapsible fabric. A crate should be big enough for your dog to stand up, turn around, stretch and lie down, the RSPCA advises. If you have a puppy, ensure you get a large enough crate to suit their adult size or upgrade to a larger crate when they are fully grown.

How to start crate training

Place the crate in a central part of the home, such as the living room. Make the crate inviting and comfortable for your dog by placing soft bedding inside and encourage your dog by placing treats or their favourite toy around and then inside the crate.

Usually, dogs will go over and investigate. Never force your dog into the crate; it may take several minutes to days for your dog to willingly go all the way inside.

"Introduce your puppy to the crate in a positive way," Burch suggests. "Put a treat in the crate and have the puppy go in for a short time with the door open.

"Over time, you will lengthen the time, giving a treat at the end and closing the door. When the puppy is comfortable in the crate with you present, begin walking away and eventually step out of the room."

A puppy sits in a plastic strainer in Shanghai. JOHANNES EISELE/Getty Images

You can also try giving your dog its regular meals in the crate by placing its bowl inside the crate and encouraging him or her to enter.

Introduce closing the door of the crate as your dog becomes more comfortable eating inside. Start by closing the door as your dog eats its meal but make sure you open it before the dog finishes the meal. As you progress, gradually leave the door closed for a few minutes at a time. The aim is to get your dog happily standing in the crate after a meal and gradually increase the amount of time it can stay in the crate each time.

When your dog can happily stay in its crate for about 10-15 minutes after finishing a meal, you can start to confine it to the crate for longer periods by using a command such as "crate" or "bed," Steven Lindsay suggests in the Handbook of Applied Dog Behaviour and Training.

In terms of toilet training, Burch recommends making crate training a positive experience. "When the puppy urinates or defecates outside, give them a treat," she advises.

Dog in crate
Crate training is believed to be a very effective training tool for adult dogs and puppies alike. David McNew/Getty Images

How long does it take to crate train a puppy?

The duration of crate training varies from dog to dog and can depend on a dog's age, temperament and past experiences.

"Crate training can be done quickly if the owner is systematic and consistent," Burch told Newsweek. "By systematic, it means starting with very short periods of time and gradually extending the time the puppy is in the crate."

Most puppies can be crate trained within one week to one month depending on the age of the puppy, the animal behavorial expert advised.

Start with short sessions and gradually increase the length of time that you leave the dog inside the crate.

Once your dog is happy spending time in its crate with you around, you can introduce it to crating at night.

Make sure your dog has toys or treat-dispensing toys with it to initially settle it into the routine. Keep the crate in a familiar, central area so the dog feels comfortable and settled.

The aim is to make the crate a fun and enjoyable place to be and it should be associated only with something pleasant.

Vary the length of time that your dog will spend in its crate to prevent your dog from expecting to be let out at a particular time and reduce any issues such as whining or scratching at the crate door.

Once you have trained your dog to accept the crate, you can leave the crate open in your house for your dog to use of their own accord.

English Springer Spaniel puppy
Truffle the two-month-old English Springer Spaniel puppy plays at its new home in Sydney, Australia. James D. Morgan/Getty Images

What to look out for when crate training your puppy

Do not leave a dog all day in a crate while you are at work and again when you go to bed. Using a crate as a confinement tool for extended periods is not recommended by the APDT.

Do not use the crate as punishment, and avoid crating a dog who is experiencing anxiety, separation anxiety or claustrophobia as this can exacerbate stress.

Adult dogs should not be left for more than 3-4 hours in a crate, and puppies not more than 1-2 hour, the RSPCA notes.

Burch also advises new puppy owners to remember that very young puppies won't yet have the ability to control their bladders that older puppies and older dogs have.

"The puppy should be well-exercised and given a chance to go outside for a bathroom break before being put in the crate," she suggests.

Julie Tottman, who has been rescuing and training animals for films for more than two decades, with credits including Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and 101 Dalmatians, recommends approaching all training with patience.

"Patience is the absolute key thing—you have to be patient. Don't get frustrated, be consistent. You can't do a training session and then a month later do another one and expect the animal to remember ... It's important to do it regularly. And don't expect too much," Tottman told Newsweek.

Burch agreed, maintaining that crate training scheduling is very important. "You should plan a schedule (and stick to it!)" she said.

White House puppies
In the White House, First Lady Barbara Bush and her granddaughter, Marshall Lloyd Bush, look at the Bush's pet dog Millie and her litter of puppies inside a large wooden crated area for the new family in Washington D.C., March 18, 1989. David Valdez/Getty Images