On first glance, crates seem pretty uncomfortable. They’re such small spaces—how can a dog, puppy or otherwise, ever be comfortable inside of them?
But the magic of the crate is that it taps into a deep genetic desire in your dog to want to “den” or curl up in a cozy, dark, warm space. As long as a pup is introduced to the crate properly and not forced to be inside of it for too long, it often becomes a favorite snuggle space.
Want guidance on what crate best suits your puppy? Read our puppy crate shopping guide.
Puppy crate training challenges
The challenge of the crate is getting your puppy to understand that it is a comfy-cozy napping palace, not a scary, enclosed cage. Some dogs will catch on to this quickly but others will need a bit of convincing.
If it’s yet another training task on your list of training tasks, is it necessary to use a crate at all? No, it’s not: there’s no rule that says you have to crate train a puppy. However, crate training a puppy may make your life, and your growing doggo’s life, better in the long run, especially when it comes to:
- Learning to be alone
- Security in a disaster or emergency situation
- Safe transportation via car/train/bus/plane
- Easier veterinary visits and long-term care in case of illness or injury
- Providing a comfortable and safe location in high-stress environments
Here’s how to go about it!
Steps to crate train your puppy
Form positive associations
Pairing something your puppy loves with something they are suspicious of will help them to form positive emotional associations while gradually decreasing their distrust. That means that, for some puppies, making good things happen inside of a crate is all you need in order to teach them to be comfortable there. And what does a puppy love? Food!
Introduce your puppy to the crate by feeding them their meals, snack-filled puzzle toys, pig’s ears and bully sticks inside. Begin by leaving the door open but, if your puppy is comfortable with this after a few attempts, close the crate door when your dog is munching away. Open the door again when they have completed their meal or snack.
Gradually build up how long your dog is inside the crate by leaving the door closed for longer and longer periods (adding a few minutes at a time) after they’ve completed their food.
If forming positive associations is not enough to make puppy love their crate, you’ll need to do some desensitization work. Try the following steps over several days or weeks, moving only as fast as your dog is comfortable with.
- Throw a treat into the crate and encourage your pup to follow it inside. Close the door for a second then let them back out. Repeat five times.
- Begin to slowly increase how long you leave puppy inside the crate before opening the door. Start by throwing a treat and closing the door for 5-10 seconds before letting them out. Repeat it five times. Next, try the same thing but for 10-20 seconds, and so on.
- Work your way up to several minutes and beyond. The longer your pup is able to be in the crate comfortably, the more time you can add to their training in any one step. For example, if my puppy is only comfortable inside of a crate for 10 seconds, doubling that to 20 seconds is asking a lot. But, if your pup can be inside of a crate for 10 minutes, adding one or two minutes the next time is, in relative terms, not such a big deal.
Ensuring crate training success
Follow the rules
To make sure puppy stays happy inside the crate, there are a few very important rules to adhere to:
- Always leave your puppy with something delicious to munch on when you first put them in the crate. Puzzle toys, bully sticks and pigs ears are all great options.
- Make sure puppy has recently had the chance to potty, has just had a walk or play session and is good and hungry before putting them in the crate. This will help to peak their interest in the bully stick or KONG you’ve left behind while preventing them from becoming concerned about having an accident that they will have to sit in until you let them out.
- Never leave your puppy in the crate for longer than three hours at a time. Even three hours may be too long if your puppy is very young or very tiny and has an underdeveloped bladder.
- If you are crating your puppy overnight, you will most likely have to provide them with a potty break if they are under six to eight months old simply because they will not be able to hold it overnight.
Have an older dog that may benefit from crate training? We have a guide about that too.