Crate training dogs can be a useful tool, but not all dogs will fall in love with their crates. The training itself can sometimes be difficult, and crate training a puppy in particular will often present challenges for dog owners. Fortunately, there are some tricks you can implement to make the process quicker.
Crate training puppies has several purposes, but most commonly it’s for potty training and keeping dogs out of trouble. When pet owners use dog crates effectively, this can become an invaluable tool. Once trained and housebroken, it’s best to keep the kennel open and leave it be so that your puppy can have a place to relax that is all their own.
1. Make Your Puppy’s Crate Inviting and Familiar
To get your puppy to use the crate, you need to make the crate look more appealing.
At first glance, the crate may appear overwhelming or scary to your puppy, so add a cozy blanket or puppy toy so it becomes soft and inviting. You can even add a sweatshirt of yours so that they have your scent.
New puppy owners may ask for a towel or cloth with the mother’s scent on it as well, which is a good idea. This can be very inviting and calming for the puppy by providing them with a familiar and comforting scent, which studies show is very effective.
2. Create a Positive Association with the Crate
Anytime you want your puppy to enter or use their crate, make sure that you are doing so in a positive mindset. Do this by using a friendly tone of voice, offering some treats, and giving praise to the dog.
You can also create a positive association when crate training a puppy by feeding the young dog in his crate with the door open. This creates a positive association between food and the crate.
3. Cover Your Puppy’s Crate
For some puppies, the crate can induce anxiety if they can see their surroundings but not interact with them. These puppies may whine, scratch at the crate, or bark. If this sounds like your puppy, try placing a blanket or sheet over the crate so that your puppy can’t see out.
Some companies sell dog crate covers that are specially designed for this purpose. Such dog crate covers are more expensive than a normal sheet or blanket, but they tend to block out light, sending your puppy off to sleep.
4. Get the Right Sized Crate
A dog will rarely potty in the same area that they sleep in. The exception to this rule is when they have been forced to hold it for too long or they have an upset tummy or bladder infection, or when dog crate size is wrong (too large).
If you give your puppy a crate that is too big, they will find a place to sleep and a place to potty, all within the same space. Thus, you want to buy a crate that is only large enough for a place to sleep. The rule of thumb is that your puppy should be able to stand up and turn around in their kennel but have no more room than that.
If you want to avoid purchasing multiple dog crates as your puppy grows, you can purchase an adult-sized crate with a divider. The divider will allow you to section off a small part when crate training a puppy, and keep extending it every few months.
5. Abide by Maximum Crate Time Guidelines
Creating a positive association with the crate also means not overusing the puppy crate. Imagine if you were put in a cage for 8 hours at a time every day – it’s likely you wouldn’t want to go in there either. Crate training a puppy should be done responsibly.
Minimize the amount of time your puppy spends in their crate and always abide by the maximum crating time guidelines below. These guidelines are based on how long a puppy can hold their bladder.
- 8-10 weeks – 30-60 minutes
- 11-14 weeks – 1-3 hours
- 15-16 weeks – 3-4 hours
- 17+ weeks – 4-5 hours
6. Don’t Give in to Whining
Most new puppy parents are ready to throw the towel in on puppy crate training after the first night of crying or whining. It’s inevitable that this might happen since crating is a new thing for the young dog, but stick with it without giving in; it will get easier.
If your puppy whines or barks in their crate, you may want to take them straight out with leash to go potty just to be sure they don’t need to go. After coming back in, however, put your puppy right back in the crate and shut the door.
7. After Potty Breaks Take Puppy Back to the Crate
As mentioned above, after coming inside in the middle of the night after puppy’s potty break, put your dog right back into their crate. You are trying to teach the dog a routine and set a schedule to which your pup can get used to. This means no momentary stop off on your bed for cuddles and no game of tug since it would disrupt the training.
8. A Tired Dog is a Good Dog
When leaving the house or at bedtime, if you find that your puppy barks excessively or gets themselves all worked up, try exercise. Before leaving your puppy in their crate, play a more vigorous game of tug with them, take them on a long(ish) walk, or anything to get your pup worn out.
This means that while you are out or sleeping, your puppy will be fast asleep because they’re tired. This is a rule that will apply throughout your dog’s lifetime. Problem behavior can almost always be remedied with more stimulation and exercise.
9. Move Your Napping Puppy to the Crate During the Day
To get your puppy used to their crate, move them into the crate when they nap during the day. For example, if your dog falls asleep in the living room, carefully pick them up and put them in their crate.
If the crate is in the same room, you can leave the door open so that they can leave once they wake up. If you do this, however, keep an eye out for them waking up because wake up time is often potty time.
10. Praise Calm and Quiet Puppy Crating
Studies have proven that dogs respond to positive reinforcement much better than they respond to negative reinforcement. To make puppy crate training more effective, instead of chastising a barking puppy in their crate, praise a puppy after a good session in their crate. Be sure not to praise the dog when he has first settled in his crate, because you may wake him or remind him that you are leaving.
11. Look into Heartbeat or Soothing Toys
Some puppies, particularly very young ones, have trouble adjusting to sleeping alone after being with their mother and siblings before. These pups can benefit from soothing puppy toys like the heartbeat bear or snuggle dog toy. Such toys replicate the rhythm and sound of a heartbeat and can lull the dog to sleep when in a crate.
12. Give Your Puppy a Familiar Smell
Studies show that dogs have a favorite scent – it’s their owner. So a familiar smell can help to soothe your dog. If the puppy has developed an attachment to you, then a sweatshirt with your scent can offer comfort. If the puppy is newly home, try to have a towel or cloth with the mother or sibling’s scent on it.
Scent is one of the strongest methods of evoking memory, so it can be particularly helpful for dogs suffering from separation anxiety. However, make sure that the item is safe for them and cannot be ingested.
13. Try Warm Toys or Towels to Soothe an Anxious Puppy
Just like heartbeat toys, warm towels or warm toys can offer comfort by simulating a sibling or mother’s body heat. You can purchase microwavable insert toys for this purpose or you can simply roll up a towel after putting it in the dryer to warm it up. And again, anything you place in a puppy crate, make sure it’s safe and cannot be ingested.
14. Talk to the Dog When Crate Training
Some new puppy owners swear by talking to their puppies while they are in their crate at bedtime. For example, if your puppy seems anxious or distressed when you put them in the dog crate at bedtime, get into bed, but talk to them softly. This reminds them that you are still in the room and they are not alone.
Often a puppy is only anxious because they are going from sleeping with multiple siblings to being all on their own. Simply letting them know that someone else is there with them can be enough to settle the dog down.
15. Place a Liner or Tray Under the Crate
If you adhere to maximum crating time guidelines when crate training a puppy, you should not experience any potty accidents. Occasionally, however, you may get stuck in traffic or your puppy may have had a little too much to drink and this can result in the dog peeing in the crate. To save leakage onto your floor, buy some puppy potty pads or some liner, tray to go under the crate
16. Use Radio or TV for Crate Training a Puppy
Another way to let your puppy know that they are not alone when you leave the house is to leave the television or play some calming music on for him. For some dogs, this is soothing and will send them right to sleep. For other dogs, however, this noise can create suspicion or anxiety, so it’s up to you to find out how your dog feels about disembodied voices. An alternative to music would be a white noise machine which helps with anxiety.
17. Never Use the Crate as Punishment
As mentioned before, it’s important that your dog has positive associate with the create. This means that you should never use your puppy’s crate as a means of punishment, i.e. do not lock up the dog in a crate after he misbehaves. Every time the puppy goes into their crate, it should be with a positive attitude or else you are going to create mixed messages.
18. Give Your Puppy Safe Distractions in the Dog Crate
Distractions can keep your puppy entertained while they are in a dog crate. The most common distraction used by pet owners worldwide is a KONG toy filled with peanut butter. You can also give your dog an ice cube to play with or a safe interactive toy. These things will keep the dog busy so that you can slip out of the house unnoticed.
19. Don’t Make a Song and Dance About Leaving
When you do leave the house, whether your puppy is in their crate or your adult dog has free roam, don’t make a big fuss about leaving. This is likely to increase the dog’s separation anxiety, so don’t make a big song and dance about it or your pup is going to get anxious – simply sneak out quietly as if it’s business as usual.
20. Keep Your Puppy’s Crate with You at Night
Although many pet parents keep puppy crates in the bathroom or kitchen so potty accidents are easier to clean up, crate training a puppy is much easier if you keep the kennel close to you at night, at least in the beginning. Doing this lets your puppy know that they are not alone because they can hear your breathing and can smell you.