How To Crate Train Your Dog

Some people view crating dogs as cruel and it can be if dogs are confined excessively. However, done correctly, crate training teaches dogs a number of important life skills and provides dog caregivers with an effective management tool. From my point of view, the benefits of crate training for both dogs and their owners far outweigh the potential risks.

Why crate train your dog?

Dog have a natural instinct to seek safety and comfort and crate training takes advantage of this behaviour. There are many benefits to having a crate trained dog. Some of these include: 

  • Assisting with toilet training – puppies and adult dogs learn to hold their bladder and bowls as they don’t like to toilet where they sleep and rest. Be sure to provide your dog with plenty of opportunities to toilet before and after crating your puppy or adult dog overnight. Young puppies may need additional opportunities to toilet outside during the night
  • Minimising destructive chewing when not actively supervised
  • Helps to avoid night time barking at possums and other things (especially when used with a crate cover)
  • Helping dogs learn to settle and relax
  • Teaching dogs to cope with separation from their owners gradually – A very important skill to help reduce/avoid the development of separation anxiety
  • Crates provide a safe place for dogs and are helpful for dogs who live with young children. Their crate is a place where they can go to rest without being bothered or where dogs can be safely separated from babies and young children
  • Crates are very useful when travelling with dogs, especially when staying in other people’s homes or dog friendly accommodation (e.g. AirBnB)
  • Crate trained puppies and dogs cope better with confinement they might experience at the vet or groomers

When is the best time to crate train your dog?

The best time to start crate training is the day you bring your puppy or adult dog home. Puppies adapt well to crate training as part of their new routine as soon as they come home. Newly acquired adult dogs can take a little longer to learn to love their crate, especially if they’re not used to being confined. 

Choosing a crate for your dog

There are a number of different types of crates to choose from including wire, plastic and fabric. Choose a style and material that suits your needs and your dog baring in mind that you get what you pay for in terms of cost. Some materials, such as plastic and fabric, can easily be chewed and may not be the best choice for puppies. Wire crates are great because they fold down for ease of transport and storage - One of the reasons I chose a good quality, sturdy wire crate for our dog Lenny. Whatever type of crate you choose, be sure to purchase a size that allows your fully grown dog to stand up, turn around, lie down and stretch out comfortably. 

Even with the door open, this dog prefers to sleep in the cate
Image source: Flickr

How to crate train your dog 

The secret to successful crate training is to do it gradually, using positive reinforcement to create a positive association with the crate and to reinforce your dog for being inside for longer and longer periods of time. Here are the steps I recommend:

Step 1 

Place the crate in a room or area of the home where you (or the family) spend lots of time. This will help your dog feel more relaxed as they’ll be able to see you when they’re inside the crate. At the beginning of the training process, place a towel or mat inside the crate to prevent your dog from slipping. These can easily be washed if necessary. 

Step 2 

To begin the crate training, start to build a positive association with entering and being inside the crate for short periods while you’re nearby. At first, leave the crate doors open so your dog can enter and exit freely. Use praise and high value treats to entice your dog to go into (and momentarily stay inside) the crate. Repeat these training sessions daily. 

Outside of the training sessions, there are other ways you can build on creating a positive association with being inside the crate. Feed your dog their meals or give them puzzle toys filled with high value treats or long lasting chew treats inside the crate. Give your dog their favourite toys inside the crate. Place your dog’s favourite bed inside while leaving the crate door open. 

Step 3 

Begin closing the crate door during training sessions but only if your dog is comfortable inside the crate and shows no signs of stress when you gently close the doors. This may take several days or weeks depending on your dog and how much training you do. 

Step 4 

Gradually increase the time your dog stays inside the crate and the time between food reinforcement. 

Step 5 

Next, start to leave the room for short periods of time (e.g. 1 or 2 minutes) while your dog is inside the crate eating a meal or treats. This step is important and teaches your dog to cope with separation from you and to be comfortable on their own. 

Step 6 

Gradually increase the time you step away but only if your dog is coping well at the previous step. Once your dog tolerates absences of 2 minutes increase it to 5 minutes, then 10 minutes, then 15, 30, 1 hour etc. Remember to only increase the time out of sight if your dog remains calm and relaxed. 

Step 7 

Next see if your dog will sleep inside their crate, on their favourite bed, overnight. Once your dog is happy sleeping inside the crate overnight you can practice leaving your dog inside the crate when you leave the house for short periods. 

Eventually, your dog will enjoy spending time in and sleeping in the crate without the need for constant reinforcement from you. However, it’s a good idea to give your dog a treat or meal inside the crate, every now and then, to maintain a positive association. 

When crate training my own dog Lenny recently, I used the Pet Tutor. With two toddlers, I’m very time poor at present! The Pet Tutor made the whole process incredibly easy and did most of the hard work for me! Watch the video below to learn more about the Pet Tutor and how I used it to crate train Lenny. (Note: If you live in Australia and wish to purchase the Pet Tutor, contact me for a promo code to claim a free small treat adaptor and bag of treats! Australians can purchase the Pet Tutor here).

For me, the whole process took about three weeks of daily training sessions for Lenny to be completely relaxed in the crate and happy to sleep inside overnight. However, it’s important to recognise that every dog is different and the process might be quicker or longer for you and your dog. 

Whether or not you decide to crate train your dog really comes down to personal preference and circumstances. However, having a dog that’s crate trained can certainly make living with your dog that little bit easier. This has certainly been the case for myself and my family. 

If you decide to give crate training a go, we'd love to hear how it goes! 

Happy training! 

Dr Kate.