Introduction to Crate Training Your Dog

crate training - dog sitting in wooden crateFor many dog owners, crate training puppies just feels cruel. Their sad little puppy eyes begging for freedom is too much to bear! They only want to play, right?

Well, puppies want to play alright – but while you’re asleep or out on errands, they’ll “play” with your shoes. Puppies see curtains blowing in the wind, and suddenly they look a lot more like billowing playmates.

You can put your mind at ease because training puppies using crates is perfectly humane. In addition, crate training not only saves your shoes and curtains, but it also teaches puppies two crucially important lessons in patience and boundaries. Here’s an introduction to crate training your dog:

Should You Crate Train Your Puppy?

Absolutely. In fact, The Association of Professional Dog Trainers recommends crate training to introduce safe socialization practices. On the surface, crates seem like small spaces for dogs, but they are cozy spaces for them that also protect your house. Sometimes, they even protect your guests from exuberant puppy play. However, they also provide a safe space for pups to retreat to when they feel overwhelmed.

Crate training is similar to a time-out for puppies. When a pup becomes rambunctious, pup parents use the crate not for punishment, but for calming down. Being removed from a situation for a small amount of time is monumentally important to teach pups when they are getting too rowdy. When they come back out, they are often more relaxed and ready for socializing at a more appropriate energy level.

Most of the time, puppies don’t realize they’re being too disruptive and crate time lets them know the behavior was not acceptable. When crate training is successful, puppies will retreat there on their own. Especially during times of duress, like thunderstorms or too many people, puppies feel familiar – and safe – in their crates.

3 Simple Tips for Crate Training

Crates can be immensely useful methods for training. For teaching sleep schedules, using time-outs, preventing dog marking, and especially timely housebreaking, crate training is indispensable.

When puppies are resistant to the crate, or when you have a tough time with those puppy eyes, there are tips to ease the process. Here are a few ways to make crate training easier, and more successful, for you and your pup:

1. Never Keep the Dog Crated for Too Long

A general rule of thumb for crating dogs is to keep them crated for less than four to five hours. For puppies, however, this time should be reduced to suit their tiny puppy bladders – to about an hour at a time. As long as every release from the crate is paired with going outside for a potty break, the puppy will be housebroken very quickly. Giving treats at successful potty breaks is crucial to solidify the training.

Remember, the crate is primarily reserved for times you can’t watch your pup with undivided attention. If these times are frequent, you can always use the “umbilical cord” method by having them leashed to you for small periods. For example, if you need to do the dishes and have your back turned you can leash your pup to you for the duration. While leashed, you will be alerted if they attempt to go to the bathroom inside or chew on household objects.

If your pup begins showing anxiety about going into the crate, try shorter increments and gradually lengthen them. As they remain calmer for longer and longer, give them treats to reinforce being calm while in the crate. Their anxiety will decrease, allowing them to spend longer amounts of time in the crate.

2. Make the Crate Cozy

When you first introduce your dog to their crate, they will likely be curious and maybe a little wary. Making the crate as comfortable as possible will greatly reduce their wariness. Put in a few toys to keep their attention and positively reinforce their time in there.

Toys that slowly release treats are ideal, and also a chew toy for their growing puppy teeth. This is a great tip to help your puppy get used to the crate and enjoy it, and to help your puppy sleep through the night. Too many toys may overwhelm your pup, but two or three can go a long way toward making the crate alluring.

As soon as your pup is housebroken, put in some blankets to make the crate that much more cozy. Specifically include blankets that have your scent so your pup will feel less lonely. Over time, they will recognize the crate as their safe space and will lay in their crate even when it’s open.

Dogs tend to prefer dens, and if you make their crate a den, they will fall in love with it. Creating a space like this where your dog can feel safe, secure, and comfortable can also help calm a reactive dog.

3. Use Food to Promote Using the Crate

At first, whenever your pup goes inside the crate, give them a treat. Once they are comfortable going inside their crate, you can start cutting back on treat dispersal as being in the crate will become its own reward. Doing so will lengthen the amount of time they will tolerate in the crate and further make it an enticing place to be.

Planning meal times around crate times will help them associate it with a positive reaction as well. Food is an extremely strong motivator for dogs. As long as you use healthy food developed for dogs or some of the best fruits and veggies for dogs as treats and taper back over time, it’s a fantastic training tool.

The Bottom Line

If a pup is anxious about going into the crate, crate training will not be as successful. If they consider the crate a punishment, then they won’t use it as the sanctuary it was meant to be. There’s a fine line between hideout and punishment during this method, so make sure you’re keeping your puppy’s crate in a calming place. You can use some pet nook ideas to create a dedicated and comfortable space for your dog where they know they can retreat for some calm and quiet.

If your dog responds well to crate training, you can likely also use one to keep them safe and calm in the car. Some type of secure restraint is one of the car safety tips for dogs. Whether that’s a crate for the car or a seatbelt harness depends on what your dog does the best with.