Crate training [Definitive explicit guide for beginners]

Crate training [Definitive explicit guide for beginners]

When it comes to crate training people are either totally for it or completely against it, the ones in favor tend to consider dogs as denning animals that need their personal space and therefore being in a crate is perfectly normal, while the opposing team vouches for the fact that dogs are not denning animals and being in a crate is as bad as imprisoning the animal.

Dogs aren’t the 100% definition of a den animal as they do not spend most of their time in a den and you can spot that by studying their cousins “the wolves” however they do need a personal space where they feel safe and can relax.

Have you ever noticed that dogs tend to find closed places around the house where they just lay down and chill for some time, usually under a table or behind a couch or just insert itself between you and your laptop while your writing on your blog :).

So we can conclude that dogs are in fact denning up anyway whether you like it or not, and if you look at the crate as a cage you’re missing the point and your dog will feel the same about it.

Now, that your conscience is relieved we can dig into the informative part of the post; If you still have doubts, relax the very fact that you are online looking for information on crate training makes you a responsible dog owner trying to do right by his dog, dogs are very sentimental animals that can pick up on your vibes so chill and grab a pen to write down what you need.

So before we get into the best way to crate train a puppy the first question that comes into your mind is why should I crate train my dog? What are the benefits for you and your beloved dog?

The benefits of crate training your puppy

For the dog

Crate training [Definitive explicit guide for beginners] 1
  • He can enjoy his personal space.
  • Have his own safe den when he’s feeling down and/or stressed.
  • He can have a happy place (if your crate training is done correctly).
  • Relax in his personal space and at the same time be around the family.
  • he can be included in trips and outdoor activities.

For the dog owner

  • You can have peace of mind when you leave your puppy unsupervised.
  • Can include your dogs in your travels and outdoor activities
  • You can enjoy having guests and kids around without worrying about your dog.
  • It makes it easier to house train your dog.
  • It helps tremendously with the potting training and building a relationship with your dog.

So now that we got to know why you should crate train your puppy how are we going to do it? Especially if you do not have previous dog/pet experience.

Crate training steps

The first thing you should know is that dogs are very smart animals and one of the easiest to train, are you familiar with the Ivan Pavlov experience? Early in the 1900s, Pavlov made an experience with dogs where he would ring a bell just before feeding the dogs for some time so the dogs paired the sound of the bell with the food reward to follow the sound. After a short period, the dogs would salivate just by hearing the sound of the bell.

Why are we talking about Pavlov? Well because it’s the same idea with crate training a puppy, you just have to associate the crate with a happy time and your lovely dog will automatically look forward to being in there.

Choosing the best crate for your puppy

The perfect size for the crate

When choosing a crate for your puppy you have to take into consideration their needs and how they feel not how you would feel, meaning if you want to be generous and kind to your dog and buy him a very large crate, please don’t.

The crate needs to be a perfect fit depending on your dog’s size, it has to be spacious enough for him to stand, lay down turn around comfortably but not too big that he makes a den within the den.

If your dog has too much space he will (especially if you didn’t pot trained him yet) use a corner as his pot area and sleep in the other corner.

What is most recommended is that you buy a large crate with a separation panel to reduce the space at first and then as your lovely puppy puts in pounds you can move the panel to fit the crate to your puppy’s needs.

The initial size of the crate will depend on how big of a dog you have and how big it will grow to be if you can change crates every now and then it would be perfect but if you don’t you can always use the large one with the separation panel.

The best crate for your dog

There are plenty of types of crates to choose from depending on the type of dog you have, his behavior, size, and the space you have to place it in and most importantly the budget you can dedicate to your dog’s crate.

We are going to assume that most of us won’t or can’t afford to change crates every month and buy extra robust heavy weigh crates just for fun or decorative purposes (which is not a bad idea if you can afford it) although some kind of chewy dogs with some behavior trouble could eventually need a robust crate.

If you are to buy two crates one when it’s a small-sized puppy and another for later on, we would recommend using at first the durable plastic crate as it gives more intimacy to your dog and lets him relax away from interaction with other animals or guests.

You can, later on, move to a regular large metal crate with a separation panel for budget purposes. We do recommend strongly the crate with two doors as it would be very helpful with the first step of the crate training program.

Most metal crates can be folded flat so they are easy to use and move around.

Preparing the treats and a favorite toy

Before we start our first step of introducing our puppy to his new crate, we should prepare a toy that our puppy seems to like or a favorite toy if it’s an older dog that you had for a while, and grab a pack of treats. It is strongly recommended that you pick natural training treats something with low calories and no corn, no wheat, nor soy.

Now you may have heard some theories about treat training and how your dog will always be expecting treats, but let me bring in again the Pavlov experience, and remind you that treats are just a mean to associate the crate with good experiences, making the crate synonym to a pleasant time.

Introducing your puppy to his crate

The good first impression works even with dogs, the first step into crate training is when you introduce your puppy to his crate, so try to make it as fun and casual as possible.

Around the crate

Never force it just bring your dog around the crate and make sure you have the door open and still so it doesn’t close on him by accident and scare him.

Having a two-door crate is perfect so it creates an even better open space where he can move around enter and exit easily.

Let your dog sniff around it then when he is at ease just lure him inside by dropping a treat inside, don’t try to accelerate the process by closing the door as soon as he gets in, let him explore and get out so he knows that it’s a place where he can get in and out.

You may use the leash to move the dog around but not once he is inside the crate, as you want the dog to feel free and at ease once inside.

In the crate

give your dog a treat once he is inside the crate to encourage him, vocal praise is also great, once he is out toss in another treat inside so goes in again and reward him instantly once he is in not out.

Repeat the process, your dog is actually very smart once you’ve done this for a few minutes he will think to himself “ well wait a minute every time I get into the crate I get a treat and my human is happy it must be great being in their”.

If you are crate training a puppy or a dog with no behavioral problems you should notice quickly that your dog has figured out on his own that being in the crate is getting him treats and god boy points, he will offer to get in himself to get a treat, once he does that reward greatly with bigger amount of treats and vocal treats and rubs, but always inside the crate.

Dogs with issues may just take more time to trust the crate and lose any fear or suspicion they have so just don’t get frustrated or discouraged because dogs are very sentimental animals and will quickly pick on your vibe and associate it with the crate which is not what we want.

Patience is your solution for difficult dogs and those who have had any bad experiences with crates.

Building a happy relationship with the crate

If you’re training is going smoothly and you followed the previous step successfully, by now your dog is going into the crate with no suspicion and is enjoying his treats inside.

You don’t have to spend all day doing just that move around do something else and go back at it from time to time.

What’s also important is using a voice command that you want to associate with telling your dog into the crate, which is a great way to enhance home training your dog especially that you are in a communication building phase.

Now that your dog is getting in the crate on his own and enjoying his treats, it’s time to reward him with a toy he enjoys always inside the crate.

If the dog grabs the toy and goes out of his crate just take it and place it inside and use treats and verbal praise.

If you do it casually and repeat enough depending again on the dog after a while he will associate the favorite toy with the crate, so we do as we did with the treats and wait for him to offer to get in.

Once your dog is lying around in the crate playing with the toy you may start closing the door gradually and rewarding with treats at the same time.

If the dog wants out don’t block him, let him out give it time repeat until you can close the door and he is relaxed inside.

Feeding the dog his meals in the crate

The feeding time is an extremely happy time for the puppy; you definitely want to use that to your advantage.

Start feeding your dog inside the crate, drop his bowl in the far end of the crate and once he is standing in there you can close the door.

Once the door closed you can move around in the room and stay at his sight so he doesn’t feel trapped.

You can let him out once he finishes his meal at first and gradually increasing the time that he spends in there after the meal.

You can repeat this previous step with your moving around the room and gradually going out of the room for longer periods.

It is better that you fix the water bowl into the crate so he doesn’t make a mess until you can trust his behavior enough.

Another important step is to exercise your dog thoroughly before he goes into the crate; the crate is a place where he can relax and enjoy his time, so for both better cooperation and for your dog to be calm enough he must have been out and got that energy out of his system. Also, make sure the dog has done his little mess before going in so he can learn to control his bladder.

Crating the puppy for longer periods

If you’re following the steps correctly by now your dog is OK with being in the crate enjoying his favorite toy and meals inside, not panicking with the door shut for short periods.

Now is the time to gradually increase the time he spends in the crate with the door shut.

You can move out of the room for longer periods and reward him when passing by the crate.

If the dog is whining or asking to be let out you can do so but only after they stop crying rewards as soon as they stop open the door, and continue adjusting the time until the puppy is ok with being in there for longer periods while you are not in the room.

Always make sure to let the dog out for his walks and potting time so that if he starts whining you are positive it’s because of the crate.

Once the dog is ok with crate door shot and you out of sight for longer periods you can leave the dog in for short periods while you’re out for short periods and also letting him sleep in it at night.

Once you’ve reached this step without major incidents you know that you are doing great and can move on to the final steps, but if not don’t panic some dogs may take longer to get there, sometimes much longer if they have a separation anxiety problem.

If you feel your dog is still not calm enough with you out of sight or you can’t see progress just repeat the previous steps and take more time doing so.

Leaving the house with the puppy crated

Once your dog is ready for you leaving the house while at his crate, start slow by short periods outside and go on gradually.

Just get him in the usual way, by now you have a voice command for doing that reward and let the favorite toy in so the puppy can enjoy his time in.

Don’t make a scene while leaving just do it casually and best if you crate them just before you leave.

Before you go out to make sure the dog had his walk to eliminate and exercised enough.

Most dogs will get excited once you’re in just ignore it “I know it’s a bit hard but you have to” don’t let him out as soon as you get in, let him settle learn that he can be in his crate with you in or out of the house.

If you are( and probably it’s the case) a working person and have no one at home to help don’t just crate the dog while you are out, or the dog will associate the crate to being left alone so just keep crating them when your home also.

Make sure to respect the periods that your puppy can tolerate in the crate as it’s different from one to another and some younger puppies can’t be crated for more than an hour.

Crate training a puppy at night

When using the crate at night you should at first seriously consider reducing the amount of water at night. Stop watering your dog around 8 pm so they won’t need to go out to eliminate often at night which they need to do.

You should keep the crate close by you at first especially in the first nights, as little puppies will need to go out once to twice a night, so you want to hear your puppy whining to go out.

When crate training a puppy at night you should avoid letting anything in the crate so they don’t pee on it. Dogs are fairly clean animals so not letting anything in they can pee on will probably help your puppy control his bladder.

The number of times a puppy needs to go out at night will depend on the size and the breed, as some have more control over others.

The puppy whining in the crate at night is totally normal at first so you want to make sure they are not barking about something else.

The solution to the puppy whining in the crate is simply ignoring it while screaming in there and do not reprimand nor punish the puppy; as we said before we don’t want the dog to associate any negative feeling to the crate.

Again we can reward as soon as the puppy stops and let him out for a while.

If you are a working dog owner and can’t handle waking up once or twice a night to let the puppy out to eliminate, you have two solutions:

  1. Using the pot in the crate at night if you have to but this is not very recommended as you don’t want your puppy used to let out in there.
  2. Using a playpen at night for controlling your dog environment and placing the crate open in it for a while until your dog is used to the crate for the night.

Make sure to check our detailed article about crate training a puppy first night for some great tips to go through the night.

Crate training an older dog

Breaking the old habits

Crate training an adult dog is in a way similar to crate training a puppy with a few changes since the adult dog has grown used to certain habits that may take longer to break.

Some things may seem to be easier with an adult dog like potting breaks while in the crate.

All in all, you just want to dog to associate the crate with happy emotions and it all falls into place easily.

The crate training steps we followed with the new puppy are basically the same when training an older dog, you just have to take it slower; as a new puppy is simply picking up new habits while an older dog is breaking old ones.

Introducing the older dog to the crate is also the same, use treats for 10 to 30 minutes sessions, get the dog in there reward and praise while in the crate. Just repeat until your dog picks it up and offers to get in.

Acquiring new habits

Since we’re dealing with a much-experienced dog you probably by now have established some sort of communication so you can use the command word you often use to get him to go into places( if it’s a new adult dog then try to use a command word while introducing him to the crate to ease communication for later).

Try to secure his favorite toy in there too have him excited about first then put it in there and let him enjoy his time in the crate.

Once the dog has gotten used to being and having treats in the crate you may push forward to the next step which is feeding in the crate.

This may take a while especially if your dog has a special place and feeding routine, but all it takes is a few tries and he will get used to it. The feeding in the crate is very important; dogs love their feeding time and any place associated with it is a cool place for them.

If you don’t force the dog into the crate and go slow enough for him to get used to it you will notice that your dog will start going into the crate on his own, and why wouldn’t he it’s like “hey every time I go in the crate something awesome happens I get my favorite toy I get treats there is food.”

Crate training an adult dog at night is easier than the new puppy as older dogs can control their bladder, and usually spend the whole night in with no breaks.

When preparing for the night make sure the dog is well exercised, you don’t want him to feel trapped in the crate, also make sure he goes for his potting breaks just before he goes to sleep with less water before bedtime.

Placing the crate near you in the first few nights is recommended, although older dogs may not need to wake up for a break at night being close to you may keep them calm and safe.

As your dog gets used to his crate you can place it elsewhere, gradually further away from you.

I also have an article on crate training adult dogs you should check it out for some more in-depth details.

Crate training an older rescue dog

Once again we will not go over the basic steps to follow for crate training an older rescue dog as they are the same as crate training a puppy however we will be explaining how to deal with some behavioral issues you may encounter.

Rescue dogs usually have trust issues as they’ve been abused or abandoned before or just lived on the street.

These trust issues will have a great impact on your crate training, and that’s on the overall time you have to spend introducing the dog to the crate or making him feel safe enough to be in one.

The good news is that crate training an older rescue dog will probably be the best thing to start with, because once successful the dog will feel the safety of his new den that will help you to move faster with his home training.

You really have to be patient, these dogs have been through a lot, so you want to take it easy, and don’t get frustrated if you see little progress.

Do not yell at your dog or make him go in the crate by force, event at night make sure to just dog-proof the area where you place the crate and leave it open.

When you go and rescue a dog, you know exactly what you’re signing for, so be the hero he needs.

What you should avoid when crate training

Crate training is great for your dog when done correctly so here is what you should avoid doing to build that trust relationship toward the crate for your dog.

  • Never use the crate as a punishment or time out, this is a major set back that will demolish everything you built; the dog wants to associate only great experiences with his crate to feel safe and relax in there.
  • Do not force your dog into the crate when introducing him to it, you don’t want your dog to feel trapped in the crate, so just use the treats and follow the steps.
  • Avoid introducing your dog to his crate when it’s time to use it, you want him to explore it during the day before you crate him for the night. this is also valid for the rest of his training baths …
  • Don’t rush it, take your time every dog is different the way we are. Go easy on him it’s a new experience, so just be patient.
  • Don’t yell at your dog when he is in the crate, although it is never a solution to yell at your dog and there are other methodical ways to deal with behavioral issues, but avoid doing it while in the crate to keep the crate as a safe den.
  • Never let your dog out of the crate while whining or else he will use it again and know that the way out is whining for long periods.

If you avoid these points and follow the steps we’ve been over in this guide you will certainly make the crate a happy and safe place for your dog to enjoy.

Behavior issues you may encounter while crate training

The crate training steps we provided in this guide are very easy to follow and when done correctly you can expect great results as we did with plenty of dogs, however, there is always some potential problems to deal with.

Here is a list of the most common behavior issues you can expect and how to solve them effectively.

Whining

The whining, especially at night, is the most common issue you will have to deal with when crate training a puppy.

This is recurrent in the first few nights; you may feel bad or guilty about it but you must never let your puppy out while whining.

Before getting ready for sleep make sure the puppy has had enough exercising and went to eliminate just before going to bed so you can be sure when he is whining it’s not for his natural needs.

Just ignore the whining and it will go away and the dog will eventually calm down if you have to take him for a potty break keep it for the potting nothing else the take him back directly to the crate.

Separation anxiety

Dog with separation anxiety
Dog with separation anxiety looking at the window

Crate training a dog with separation anxiety is really challenging, and we would like to make it really clear crate training is not a treatment for separation anxiety.

If your dog is showing signs of separation anxiety you may want to consult a professional, especially that some of the signs are very commonly mistaken with normal behavior from not properly trained dogs.

Signs like destructive behavior, following you around too much and chewing on things while toys are around can be a hint but not often conclusive.

Doing plenty of exercises can help reduce the anxiety as proven in an experience published in the “PLOS ONE JOURNAL” about the Separation-Related Disorder you may want to check it out.

Also, don’t make a scene when leaving the dog alone, and try every time you are leaving to give the dog treats and something he likes a toy a meal … the goal is to change that “OMG my guardian is leaving” and associate leaving with getting something he likes.

Dog daycare may be a temporary solution also if you still dealing with your dog anxiety and fear for him while away.

Last thoughts

All in all crate training is great for you and your dog when done correctly, so make sure you follow the steps and tips we went over in this guide.

Be patient with your dog and don’t hesitate to seek advice from a professional if things don’t go as planned, not every dog is the same.

You can check out our respond posts where we answer in detail the most common questions asked about crate training.

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