Crate Training Basics

Crate training can be a great experience for you and your dog.  It can provide a sense of security and routine for your dog while you’re away, even easing separation anxiety.  Even if you don’t choose to crate your dog on a regular basis, it’s good to have your dog comfortable with it should a situation come up that requires it. 


Many, including the Humane Society of the United States, agree that crate training combines with a dog’s natural instinct to find a safe haven when things become too loud or overstimulating. It’s important to treat crate training not as a punishment, but as a way for your pup to feel comfortable and happy in their own space. 


Here are a few tips on getting your dog to love the crate!

via GIPHY

Steps for crate training 

Crate training can be used for a variety of situations.  Some keep pets safely within crates while not at home.  Others like to train their dogs to be comfortable inside their crates proactively, in order to be ready for vet visits, flights, or other situations that require using crates and kennels.

Whether for regular use or just for emergencies, here are some steps to getting your pup accustomed to the crate. 

Choose the right crate

Firstly, size matters when it comes to crates.  It’s recommended the crate is big enough for your dog to stand and turn around in, but not much bigger than that.  If the crate is too big, your dog may feel comfortable soiling one area and resting at the other.  


Some dogs like a darker space; if you’re not sure what your fur friend prefers, you can always place a towel, blanket, or even a pre-made cover over the wire crates to create a darker environment. Wire crates can be collapsable, but plastic-type crates may be better for traveling.

 

Make it comfortable

After choosing the right crate, make sure it’s cozy!  Use a towel, blanket, or bed that’s familiar already to your pup.  Slowly ease your dog into going in; leaving the crate open in a heavily-used area may get your pup curious enough to take a look and cuddle up inside.  

The goal is for your pup to feel as if the crate is their own little home.  The crate should be the perfect napping, lounging, and relaxing space.  Keep in mind noise levels, temperature, and anything else that could keep your dog from being able to relax.  

To make things more comfortable, make sure you: 

  1. Line the crate with a soft bed, towel, or blanket
  2. Create a darker environment by covering the crate if your pup prefers it
  3. Don’t use harsh cleaning products that leave a strong scent
  4. Have the right size of crate for your dog

 

via GIPHY

Use mealtimes to your advantage

Food can also be a great motivator.  Start gently luring your dog into the crate with treats, and make sure to reward good behavior with them as well. 

Try placing your pup’s food dish at the edge of the crate and slowly but surely place it further in after each meal.  Once your dog is comfortable eating inside the crate, close the door and stay close by to look for signs of anxiety.

Start small

Pick a command, like “kennel” or “bed time,” and praise your dog when they do enter the crate.  Once you’ve established your pup is comfortable going inside the crate, go ahead and start leaving your dog inside with the gate closed for short periods of time.  Start with 10-20 minutes of crate time, slowly going from sitting closeby to leaving the room while your dog is still inside.

After a few crate sessions, you should be all set to start taking short trips away from home with your dog in the crate.  Keep in mind younger pups can’t stay in crates for very long.  Dogs will instinctively not want to soil their crates, but it’s important not to push your dog to the point of discomfort!



Age

Maximum recommended time daily

8-10 weeks

30-60 minutes

11-14 weeks

1-3 hours

15-16 weeks

3-4 hours

17 weeks and above

4-5 hours 

 

 

A crate may be your dog’s den, but just as you would not spend your entire life in one room of your home, your dog should not spend most of their time in their crate.”

- Humane Society of the United States

 

 

A few more tips: 

  • Don’t change the way you say goodbye to your dog
  • Use positive vocal cues, including a happy tone, when training
  • Allow access to the crate for your dog to naturally go inside
  • Try crating your dog at night for a calm, quiet association with the crate

 

If you’re not sure if you can be back within the timeframe recommended, doggy day care or dog walker services may be a better fit for you and your pup.  

 

Keep an eye out for negative effects 

Whether your dog is younger or older, crate training can be a little stressful for them.  Following the steps above should make things easier, but every dog is different.  

Separation anxiety 

Schedule changes can highlight symptoms of separation anxiety.  If you see your dog starting to follow you around or, on the opposite side, withdraw during your morning routine, scale back the crate training process.  Excessive whining or barking can also be a sign that your dog is feeling stressed about the situation. 

“Crate training can be helpful for some dogs if they learn that the crate is their safe place to go when left alone. However, for other dogs, the crate can cause added stress and anxiety.” 

- ASPCA on Separation Anxiety

 

 

Try again

Starting over again can be discouraging, but may be a good way to go if you see your dog is reacting negatively.  If you do have to start over, make sure to go a little more slowly.  It may be that your pup developed some negative associations during the process.  

While it may be difficult for you, try not to respond to barking or whining when your pup is starting in the crate.  When walking out of the room near the beginning of training, your furry friend may start to show they’re upset about being locked in by whining.  Wait until you don’t hear any vocalization before coming back with treats and rewards.

Here’s a quick video that may be helpful for you during the crate training process from Rover.com:

 

Not for everyone

Every dog is different.  In order to avoid making your dog anxious, make sure to take things slowly. 

If you turned to crate training for help with separation anxiety and it hasn’t helped, click here to check out our recommendations. Behavioral changes, like the reference point method, can help.  In some cases, supplemental help can really turn things around for your pup. 

Of course, it is always a good idea to consult with your veterinarian or professional trainers for your individual dog. 

Find out more

Need some help with your dog’s anxiety?  We’re here for you.  Check out our story here and take a look at our posts on managing anxiety.  You can also learn about the science behind the supplements we offer

 

Resources:

https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/crate-training-101 

https://www.rover.com/blog/best-crates-for-training/ 

https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/common-dog-behavior-issues/separation-anxiety