How to Crate Train a Puppy: 8 Simple & Effective Steps

A small, red pit bull puppy cuddling with a white stuffed bear in the dog crate, ideal example of how to crate train a puppy

Have you just welcomed a new puppy into your home? The thrill is real, but so are the challenges that come with it!

Small bundles of energy, fur, and teeth that want to chew everything in sight…

Accidents on your favorite rug…

I could go on, but you get what I’m saying.

What if I told you that you could easily prevent these all-too-common puppy issues?

This magical concept is called crate training. Say goodbye to accidents and shredded shoes – and hello to a puppy-proofed household.

Let’s learn how to achieve this simple yet effective management method and its many benefits.

How to Crate Train a Puppy

Crate training doesn’t need to be complicated. Check out these steps to get a quick idea of what to expect!

  1. Choose the right crate
  2. Prepare the crate
  3. Build a positive relationship with the crate
  4. Short stays
  5. Crate time
  6. Cry it out
  7. Add time
  8. Be patient

Follow these instructions to help your puppy get accustomed to the crate quickly!

Step 1. Choose the Right Dog Crate

The initial step in crate training is ensuring you have the appropriate crate.

Crate Type

Dog crates are typically available in four primary designs: plastic (suitable for airlines), wire, soft fabric, and metal. Plastic and wire crates are the most suitable for puppies.

While appealing, a teething puppy can easily tear soft crates apart, something I strongly recommend avoiding until fully crate-trained.

Crate Size

It’s important to get the size right when choosing your crate. A crate that’s too small can cause discomfort, while an overly spacious one might lead to your puppy having accidents, thinking it can avoid the mess. Ideally, the crate should only offer enough space for the puppy to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably.

For those with larger-breed puppies, a practical approach is to invest in a wire crate designed for full-grown dogs. These crates often come equipped with dividers, allowing you to allocate a portion of the crate to your puppy and adjust the space as it matures.

Step 2: Prepare the Crate

The crate should be a welcoming and secure space for your puppy. Equip it with a blanket or crate pad and a durable chew toy tailored for puppies.

Pro Tip: Always have a long-lasting chewable item in the crate! This will keep your puppy occupied and keep them from potentially shredding their bedding.

Every puppy is unique and their needs may change as they age. If you notice your puppy misusing or soiling the bedding, don’t hesitate to remove it. Dogs are highly adaptable and can find comfort even on firmer surfaces.

Put the crate in your bedroom or another quiet room to help your pup settle down. Leaving your young dog in the crate in high-traffic, busy areas during the crate training process will cause them to struggle to calm down and relax.

Should You put puppy pads in a crate?

No, I don’t recommend using puppy pads inside the crate. Puppy pads are specifically designed, often with particular scents, to attract puppies to use them for their bathroom needs. Introducing these pads can lead to undesirable habits and a messy crate.

Step 3: Build a Positive Relationship with the Crate

It’s important for your puppy to develop positive feelings for the crate and view it as a safe space. You can do this by:

  • Feeding meals in the crate.
  • Sprinkling treats towards the back of the crate for your pup to find later.
  • Reserve a special chew toy just for crate time.

When not actively using the crate, ensure its door remains open, allowing your puppy to enter the crate and exit on its own.

Game Time!

Toss a treat to the back of the crate, allowing your puppy to dash in and eat it. Repeat this action, but shut the crate door (just for a second).

Once shut, sprinkle treats at the far end of the crate, away from the door. As your pup turns to eat them, reopen the door and let them out.
This exercise helps relieve any hesitation your puppy may have with the crate door and prevent poor manners at the door.

Step 4: Short Stays

Scatter a mix of kibble or treats inside the crate, then close the door and sit near the crate for several minutes. Periodically drop treats into the crate during this time (away from the door). Only release your puppy when they exhibit calm behavior (no crying or scratching at the crate door).

Step 5: Crate Time

It’s time to practice real crate time! But before you begin this session, make sure that you’ve addressed all of your puppy’s immediate needs:

  • Potty needs: did they go potty?
  • Exercise needs: have they had a play session?
  • Training needs: did you have a quick training session?

If you said yes to all of these, then your puppy is ready for crate time!

Scatter high-value treats deep inside the crate and place a filled Kong toy or a similar enticing item towards the back.

Once your puppy engages with the yummy treat, quickly and quietly exit the room. Initially, these durations should be brief – crate for about 30 minutes for the starting sessions. If, upon checking, you find your puppy peacefully asleep, let them rest until they naturally awaken.

Pro Tip: When wrapping up the session, your pup will likely be excited to come out and start pawing and whining. Quietly wait at the crate door for them to calm down before letting them out. Opening the crate while your pup is excited and rambunctious can result in poor crate manners and anxiety at the door.

Should you put a blanket over your puppy’s crate?

If your puppy seems restless or uneasy within the crate, draping a blanket over it can provide that comforting, den-like atmosphere, potentially helping to relax them.

Step 6: Cry It Out

It’s common for puppies to vocalize their discomfort through whining or crying when first introduced to the crate and learn to be comfortable alone.

While our human instinct might urge us to console them, it’s important to let them self-soothe.

Comforting them instantly can hinder their ability to self-soothe, potentially leading to separation anxiety in the future – and separation anxiety is not a good time for anyone involved.

Allowing your puppy to navigate this initial distress is crucial for their development. If your puppy appears excessively agitated, consider using a crate cover or draping a blanket over the crate; this often has a calming effect.

Pro Tip: If they’re doing good in the crate and they suddenly start whining again after a quiet period, it might signal a need for a potty break.

Step 7: Add Time

With your puppy’s growth, extend their crate time by 30-minute increments. A helpful guideline is that a puppy’s maximum duration in the crate is equivalent to their age in months plus one hour without necessitating a potty break.

Let’s say you have an 8-week-old (2 months) puppy. So, 2 hours (representing the 2 months) plus an additional hour equals 3 hours. This is the maximum duration the 8-week-old puppy should be in the crate before requiring a break for potty and play.

Puppy’s AgeMaximum Time Per Crate Session
2 Months3 Hours
3 Months4 Hours
4 Months5 Hours
5 Months6 Hours
6 Months7 Hours
7 Months8 Hours

Step 8: Patience is a Virtue

Each puppy is unique in its temperament and adaptability. While some may seamlessly acclimate to the crate, others might require an extended period to become comfortable. The key to successful crate training (and all facets of dog training) is timing, consistency, and patience.

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Why You Should Crate Train Your Dog

Crate training your puppy offers numerous advantages that go beyond puppyhood and will benefit your dog throughout adulthood:

  • Instills good behavior by introducing structure and a consistent routine
  • Keeps your dog safe in the car
  • Speeds up potty training and housebreaking
  • Keeps your dog out of trouble when you can’t fully supervise them
  • Keeps your dog safe in emergencies
  • The safest way to travel with your dog

There will be instances in your dog’s life where crating becomes necessary, such as during grooming sessions, stays at daycare facilities, boarding, transportation, and visits to the veterinarian. Dogs with solid crate training tend to experience minimal stress during these standard life events.

Conversely, dogs without proper crate training can face significant stress, leading to potentially adverse outcomes and even the risk of self-injury. Should a medical situation arise where your dog needs to be confined for recovery, a well-trained dog will recuperate more efficiently and with less distress.

Is crating your dog cruel?

Absolutely not! When introduced and trained correctly, a dog perceives the crate as its sanctuary—a place of safety and relaxation.

However, it’s important to note that a dog without appropriate crate training may experience undue stress during routine events like boarding, veterinary appointments, and grooming sessions. Proper crate training ensures the dog views the crate as a positive and secure environment.

How long does it take to crate-train a puppy?

The duration required for crate training a puppy can significantly differ based on their genetic predisposition and early upbringing. If you’ve acquired your puppy from a reputable breeder who initiated crate training before the 8-week mark, the transition and continuation of the process at your home will likely be smoother.

On the other hand, the adjustment period might be more challenging and extended if the puppy needs to be familiarized with the crate before departing from its litter.

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, but with some considerations. If your puppy begins to whimper or cry at night, it often indicates they need a bathroom break. When that happens, promptly take your puppy outside to allow them the opportunity to relieve themselves.

Once they’ve done so, return them to the crate. If they continue to cry after this, it’s generally safe to let them “cry it out.”

An 8-week-old puppy should ideally be confined to the crate for a maximum duration of 3 consecutive hours. After this period, providing them with a potty break and some playtime is essential to their wellbeing.

Chew toys in the crate are beneficial, as they promote a sense of tranquility and relaxation for your puppy. These toys naturally entice the puppy to settle and engage in a calming activity.

Avoid highly stimulating toys, such as squeaky toys or balls, inside the crate. Such toys might incite playfulness, which contradicts the crate’s purpose as a relaxing space. The crate should always be associated with calm and restful moments.

Bottom Line

Crate training a puppy might seem challenging initially, but with consistency and patience, it’s entirely achievable. It’s important to start with the right crate and set it up for optimal comfort when you crate-train your puppy.

The following steps involve fostering a positive relationship between your puppy and their crate and progressively extending their time inside. While occasional whining is expected, it’s essential to remain consistent in your approach.

By following these guidelines, you’ll be well-equipped to guide your new companion towards a successful crate training experience.

Here’s to many peaceful nights and a happy pup!

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