Having a dog that is comfortably crate trained can be useful for a variety of situations and, considering you’re here, you probably already have a few uses in mind. For instance, dogs of all ages will benefit from crate training when it comes to transportation, whether by car or airplane. For new puppies, the crate helps limit their access to the rest of the house if you have to step away, while you’re cleaning (imagine accidentally breaking a glass) or while you’re sleeping at night. Plus, crates can also be useful for puppy potty training.
Training your dog to be comfortable in the crate requires a dedicated effort to make your dog feel relaxed and safe rather than fearful and confined, but with proper training, your pup will be content to spend time in his crate when the need arises.
You can find three varieties of crates:
Crates come in a range of sizes—choose one large enough in which your dog can comfortably stand up and turn around.
Some dogs will need more time than others to acclimate to the crate, so it’s important to have plenty of patience during this process and not force your dog into the crate. Be sure to make crate training a positive experience for your dog from start to finish. Take baby steps and don’t expect to leave your dog in the crate for prolonged periods of time during the first few days.
Set up the crate in an area of the home where the family spends a lot of time. Place a bed or blanket inside the crate and prop the door wide open so that it won’t accidentally close. If your dog is apprehensive about the crate, drop a few small treats near it and encourage your dog to approach the crate. Place a few treats just inside the door and at the back of the crate. This step may need to be repeated over several days before your dog is willing to go all the way inside the crate. Continue to encourage your dog with treats or a favorite toy, but never force him to enter the crate.
As you work on step 1, start feeding your dog’s regular meals near the crate to build a positive association. If your dog is willing to stick his head inside the crate, try putting the food bowl just inside the crate near the door, then gradually move it further back with each feeding. When your dog is comfortable freely entering the crate, place his food bowl all the way at the back of the crate for meal times (keeping the door open).
After several successful feedings all the way inside the crate, the next step is to close the door to the crate while your dog eats. As soon as he finishes his meal, open the door. Repeat this a few times, then start to leave the door closed for a few extra minutes after your pup has finished eating. If he whines, it’s important to ignore the whining and wait until he stops before letting him out. Opening the door to the crate in response to a whine teaches your dog that whining is the magic password to open the crate door.
After your dog has become comfortable eating in the crate with the door closed, you can practice confining him to the crate for short periods of time while you’re home. Encourage your dog to enter the crate, then offer him praise and a treat and close the door. Quietly sit near the crate for a few minutes and then leave so that you are out of sight from your dog for a few minutes. Return and quietly sit by the crate again for a few minutes and then let your dog out.
Repeat this process several times throughout the day, gradually increasing the amount of time you leave your dog in the crate. Getting your dog comfortable with being left alone in the crate, even for a few minutes at a time, may take days or weeks of practicing. For long term success with crate training, it’s important to be very patient and not to rush the process.
Once your dog is content to quietly stay in the crate for about 30 minutes (while you are out of sight most of the time), you can start leaving him in the crate when you need to leave for short periods of time. To prevent your dog from becoming anxious, keep your “getting ready” routine and departure very low-key. Have your dog enter the crate, offer a treat, then close the door and leave quietly.
When you return, don’t be enthusiastic and excited about seeing your dog, but stay pleasant and neutral. Your departures and arrivals should be boring to your dog to teach him that being left alone is no big deal. Occasionally also crate your dog for short periods of time while you’re home so he doesn’t associate the crate with being left home alone. If at any point your dog exhibits anxious behavior about being in the crate, go back a step or two and give him more time to practice and adjust.
Note: Dogs should not be left in the crate for more than 4-5 hours at a time during the day.
Crating your dog at night
When your dog is comfortable in the crate with you out of sight, he may be ready to try sleeping in the crate at night. Your dog will likely feel more comfortable with the concept of sleeping in the crate if it’s in your bedroom or nearby, especially for puppies that still need potty breaks in the middle of the night. Plus, dogs are social beings and would rather be close to their family than isolated in another room. After your dog has acclimated to sleeping near you in the crate, you can gradually move the crate to your preferred location.
If your pup whines while he is crated at night, it might be hard to tell if this is because he has to go potty or if he simply wants to get out of the crate. Assuming you haven’t been opening the crate door in response to whining (thereby rewarding the whining) as advised above, try ignoring the whining. Scolding your dog will not help. If his whining continues, mention the word or phrase your dog associates with going potty and see if he becomes excited. If so, take him out to go potty only (no playtime) and return him to the crate. However, a dog that continues to whine is not quite ready to be kept in the crate and you may need to go back a few steps in the crate training process.
Too much time in the crate
A crate can be a useful tool for potty training, traveling, or leaving your dog home alone for short periods of time. However, dogs should never be crated all day while you’re at work and then expected to sleep quietly (whether in the crate or not) all night. To meet your dog’s physical and emotional needs, consider a dog sitter, dog walker, or daycare. Also keep in mind that puppies need to eliminate more frequently and shouldn’t be kept in a crate for more than a few hours at a time.
Crate training will not cure a dog's separation anxiety; it will only confine anxious behaviors to a smaller space. While a crate may prevent your dog from scratching at the door or otherwise being destructive, he could injure himself in an anxious attempt to escape the crate. Separation anxiety is something that should be dealt with outside of crate training, and you may want to consult a certified applied animal behaviorist for help.