Dog and Puppy Crate Training
There are many reasons why dog and puppy crate training is beneficial, but you may wonder how to best go about it!
In this post, we’re sharing the approaches that have worked for us when crate training our own dogs and puppies. This is not a post trying to convince you to use a crate. Either you use one or you don’t. Either way is fine, but these are our tips on how to make crate training easier!
We use “crate” and “kennel” interchangeable in this post to mean the same thing.
IN THIS POST:
We strongly recommend to start crate training your puppy as soon as she moves in with you. It doesn’t really matter if you prefer a plastic crate or a wire crate, but we tend to prefer the fold-up collapsible wire crates.
Crates are a wonderful means for keeping your puppy from chewing on or ingesting inappropriate items such as shoes, kids’ toys, furniture and power cords.
We consider crates life savers and an incredibly valuable training tool that makes life with a puppy so much easier and less stressful.
Crates make potty training a breeze and provide a safe and cozy area for puppy naps and tucking her in at night.
Different types of dog and puppy crates
It comes down to personal preference and lifestyle as to which you’ll want to use for your puppy. Barbara & Lindsay preferred wire crates for their puppies.
A wooden crate might work better with a particular interior design theme of your home. Soft dog crates are a wonderful option to take along on road trips and easily set up at your vacation rental and/or dog sports event once your dog is already kennel trained. It might make sense to have a wire or wooden crate set up at home and a soft dog crate to take along on car trips once your dog is kennel trained, of course.
Finally, a solid metal kennel probably isn’t necessary unless you like the look or if you have a dog that is able to break out of the other types of kennels.
How to crate train a puppy:
1. Start with a crate appropriate in size to the puppy’s size. It needs to be spacious enough for the puppy to comfortably stand and turn around in.
Alternatively, use a crate divider if you’re considering using a larger crate. The crate divider can be removed once the puppy grows larger in size. It’s a good way of avoiding having to spend money on several different sized crates.
2. Start with short crating sessions. For example, 20 to 30 seconds and slowly work your way up in time.
3. Leave the crate door open with tempting goodies inside. Place high value treats and/or toys inside of it. This will motivate the puppy to explore because puppies are curious by nature. Turn the crate into a cozy, fun den your puppy will enjoy being in.
4. Feed your puppy inside of his crate. This will make him associate good things (= food) with being crated.
5. Offer regular potty breaks. The puppy’s age in months + 1 = amount of time they can generally hold it. E.g. A 2 month old puppy can go 3 hours without having to relieve himself during the day. Although, some larger breeds can hold it through the night for 6-7 hours.
Offer potty breaks immediately after the puppy wakes up from a nap, and right before asking the puppy to go back into the crate.
6. Location. Set the crate up in a centrally located area of your home where your puppy can observe his surroundings and doesn’t feel left out.
What to put in your puppy’s crate
- Safe puppy chews like Bully Sticks
- Soft rubber puppy chew toys like the ones from KONG
- A cozy crate mat or a blanket or towel
- A small water dish or water bottle. Barbara used a hangable water bottle to avoid spills with her puppies Missy & Buzz. It easily attached to the puppies’ wire crate. This was a wonderful solution after the puppies had walked into and spilled their small water dish Barbara had initially placed inside their crate.
- A crate cover like the ones from Molly Mutt (optional). A blanket or curtain will do the trick too.
- A snuggle puppy heartbeat toy (optional idea)
What not to do when crate training puppies:
- Don’t use the crate as a form of punishment (same applies for adult dogs).
- Don’t force your puppy to stay in the crate for too long. See our section below – Crate Training Schedule.
- Don’t give in to your puppy’s initial cries of protest of being crated by allowing him to hang out with you outside of the crate. Instead, give your puppy the benefit of the doubt and take him outside to see if he does indeed have to go potty. But stay focused on the potty job. If he doesn’t go within a few minutes, go back inside and crate him again.
Check out Lindsay’s post How Long Do Puppies Cry At Night? for further reading.
The main benefit of crate training puppies compared to older dogs is how impressionable they are at their young age.
The crate will become second nature to puppies in no time, whereas it will likely take older dogs longer to get used to being crated if they never experienced it before. That’s why it’s important to be patient with your older dog and to practice crate training consistently.
It’s also important not to feel bad for your dog when you’re getting ready to crate him and/or leave the house for a little while. Dogs pick up on our energy and reflect it, so if we’re stressed out and anxious about leaving, so will they.
Set up the crate in an area of your home that’s not a crazy high traffic area, but where your dog can still observe what’s going on.
Leave the crate door open at first and make the interior interesting to your dog by turning it into a comfy hangout spot equipped with a soft blanket or crate mat, a favorite (chew) toy and high value treats.
Praise him warmly as soon as he shows any interest in the crate, and especially when he decides to walk in there on his own.
Start with short crating sessions
Start with very short crating sessions when you’re home, i.e. 20-30 seconds and slowly work your way up to a few minutes at a time.
You can start by just turning your back to your dog while he’s crated for a few minutes, and then slowly progress from there by walking into another room, and then briefly out of the house, maybe to get the mail or just stand outside the front door for a few minutes.
It’s important not to make a big deal out of coming back inside and back into your dog’s field of vision. If you stay calm, your dog will have an easier time staying calm too.
Please remember that the crate is not meant to be used to keep your dog confined all day long. Your dog will need regular potty and walking breaks, and should only be in his crate for 4-5 hours tops at a time during the day. See our section Crate Training Schedule.
Crate training older dogs – an example
One of Barbara’s pet sitting clients is an older Beagle named Maggie.
Miss Maggie was never crate trained as a puppy or younger dog, and started being somewhat unruly inside the house of her male owner once a female owner entered the picture and Maggie was no longer allowed to sleep on the owner’s bed at night.
They finally decided to start crating Maggie at night to keep her from jumping on their bed at nighttime and to have some form of privacy. Maggie’s initial response was strong protest in the form of quite annoying Beagle howls for hours!
She ended up accepting the crate because it got turned into a cozy hangout spot. It now features a comfy blanket or soft towel, she has a dog food puzzle in there that gets filled with treats, and she eats both breakfast and dinner in her crate.
Her meals are served with the crate door open, and were the gateway to making the crate a more pleasant experience for her. Her love of food made her walk into the crate on her own once her meals were placed in there.
She just needed a little light bulb moment to help her realize that the crate wasn’t as bad of a place as she originally interpreted it to be. Her owners also sprinkle a calming herbal powder onto her meals and use an essential oil diffuser in the living/dining room area where Maggie’s crate is located.
If your dog is not food motivated
Not all dogs are food motivated, and that’s usually because they aren’t presented with food they perceive to be of high value.
If your dog doesn’t respond well to dry kibble or a dry treat, try offering him a super high value treat, ideally one that smells a little, such as fish treats or green tripe treats. We have never encountered dogs who didn’t go for those, so give them a try!
You could turn treat time into a nose game by putting the treats into a dog food puzzle, like a hollow KONG toy or Nylabone toy. It’ll engage your dog on a mental level and keep him busy figuring out how to get to the smelly goodness.
We recommend the following high-value treats:
- Vital Essentials freeze-dried Minnows (fishy treats that don’t smell terribly to our human nose, but they’re still plenty fishy for our dogs!)
- Raw Paws Pet Food freeze-dried Green Tripe treats (a little more on the smelly side to our human nose, and dogs love them!)
- Real Dog single-ingredient air-dried treats from their subscription box (not too smelly, features hearts, spleen, liver, gizzards, etc.)
Other crate motivators could be a piece of your clothing with your scent on it such as a tshirt that you can put into the crate.
Playing soothing, soft relaxing background music is another option to make the crate experience a more pleasant one, and can also be helpful when needing to tune out noisy neighbors or nearby construction work that might upset your older dog.
There are several YouTube playlists that feature awesome, calming music for dogs.
Calming music for dogs in their crate:
Taking your dog for a walk and/or having a playtime session with her before crating her will also contribute to her being more willing of being confined to a crate.
An exhausted, tired dog typically just wants to settle down for a relaxing nap, so it’s important to provide an outlet for her energy before expecting her to spend time in her crate.
Here’s a recap of what to keep in mind when crate training your older dog:
- Be patient & consistent
- Use high value treats/food as a crate motivator
- Use food puzzles to hold the treats/food and for mental stimulation
- Exercise your dog before crating him, even if it’s only a slow walk around your neighborhood with your old pal
- Equip the crate with a piece of your clothing that has your scent on it, like a tshirt
- Make the crate a cozy hangout spot by adding a soft blanket or crate mat
- Play soothing background music while your dog is crated
- Limit his crate time to 4-5 hours at a time
No, it’s not cruel.
In general, it’s completely fine if you want to leave your well-behaved adult dog in a crate when you’re not home.
But of course, it depends on the dog.
We can understand why using a crate is helpful for some adult dogs for these reasons:
1. Some dogs appreciate the crate routine when they’re home alone. It’s what they’re used to. It helps them feel calm and secure. They become anxious without the crate.
2. Some dogs will always get into things on occasion such as the trash or food on the counter or whatever it might be. Crating removes those opportunities.
3. Some dogs bark out the windows or scratch at the doors and windows. Crating them removes those opportunities.
4. The majority of dogs sleep the whole time their owners are gone. It’s simply not a big deal to crate them.
5. If you have multiple dogs, sometimes it’s safer to crate one or both while you’re away to prevent fights or mischief.
6. Some people have enough stress in their day with work or kids or whatever. Crating the dog removes the added stress of worrying about the dog. Totally worth it.
7. Most dogs don’t really mind their crates if they’ve been crate trained. They adapt to whatever we decide for them.
The crate is a tool to help a dog earn future freedom.
I had a senior Lab mix named Ace (RIP) and now I have a young weimaraner named Remy. When I would leave them home alone together, Ace was always allowed to be loose while Remy was crated. Ace had earned his privileges. Remy had not!
I used a kennel with Ace until he was about 18 months old. The kennel helped him learn the proper routine of relaxing when home alone vs. getting into things.
Remy took a little longer, but now that he’s 3 years old, he can be trusted without a kennel too. Each dog is an individual and Remy pushed the limits more than Ace did.
There are a few reasons why a dog might be crying in his crate, and it’s important to understand them in order to prevent crying in the first place.
Reasons a dog cries in his kennel
- Separation anxiety
- Noise related anxiety or fear
- A learned behavior/habit
- Lack of training and socialization
We’ll expand on some of these ideas below.
Lots of exercise is always important
We always recommend to thoroughly exercise your dog before crating him because a well exercised dog is a calmer dog. You can easily achieve this by adding a doggie backpack to your exercise sessions along with practicing basic obedience commands.
Also see our post: Exercise ideas for dogs
You can ask your dog to sit, lie down, or stay in regular intervals while out walking him. Also change directions every so often so that he will learn to pay attention to you and look to you for guidance. This will engage him mentally and burn energy. It also has the beautiful side effect of strengthening the bond you have with your dog!
Along with a lot of exercise before crating your dog, make sure your dog has an appropriate outlet for bursts of energy while in his crate.
These outlets can be a favorite (chew) toy and/or a filled dog food puzzle. You can either fill it with high value treats or his food. We recommend freezing it overnight for longer lasting entertainment. This option serves double duty as pain relief for teething puppies.
It’s also helpful to create a soothing environment that will help your dog relax while he’s crated. This could mean covering his crate with a crate cover or similar fabric and playing soft music in the background.
Observe your dog when he starts crying in his crate and analyze the situation.
What sets him off?
Distractions outside of the crate
Distractions outside a window
Does his crate face a window that gives him visual access to construction or people and other dogs walking by?
Try positioning the crate elsewhere without a visual of the outdoors, or consider closing window treatments such as blinds or curtains. Then work with him on exposing him to a variety of situations outdoors with the goal of no longer being startled by them.
Start by walking past construction areas or other people and dogs at a safe distance and reward calm behavior with warm praise, a gentle pat on his body or high value food rewards. Slowly decrease the distance you keep between yourselves and the distractions as your dog learns to remain calm.
Does he start crying when you walk into the room and start giving him attention?
If that’s the case, completely ignore your dog while he’s acting up and only give him attention when he quiets down, even for just a few seconds. It’ll teach him that silence is golden.
Does he cry because he’s asking to go potty?
Start giving him regular potty breaks while he’s crated. If you can’t personally provide those breaks, you’ll have to implement a support system to do it for you. This could be a friend, a family member, or a professional dog walker.
If his crying for potty breaks remains consistent even when offered regular breaks, rule out a potential medical concern such as a UTI by taking him to your vet for an exam.
Or maybe he cries during a thunderstorm?
Work with him on noise related phobias by slowly exposing him to loud noises and rewarding calm behavior with warm praise and high value food rewards.
You can find a plethora of sounds on YouTube for this purpose. Start with very short sound sessions and slowly increase their length and volume. You could also try wrapping your dog in a thundershirt or simply a tshirt until he’s made progress.
Dog separation anxiety is when a dog is truly anxious or fearful of being alone or separated from her human or dog family. When a dog has separation anxiety and whines in the crate, it can seem like the dog is afraid of the crate but really the issue is being alone.
We have written several posts on separation anxiety so we won’t get into those details here. You can see the following posts for more info:
Dog separation anxiety
Tips to stop a dog’s whining
Also see our post: How to stop your dog from barking in the morning
We’d like to start this section by reminding everyone that while a crate is an extremely helpful tool in keeping our puppies and adult dogs safely confined when we can’t actively watch them, it’s not meant to be an all day prison.
It’s simply cruel to force any dog to stay in their crate for the majority of the day without any potty breaks and time to stretch their legs, and will likely end up causing behavioral problems. You can expect damaged crates and chewed crate bedding as a result.
We understand that it’s realistic to assume that most dog and puppy owners don’t work from home and will be gone between 6-9 hours during the day, meaning you’ll be crating your dogs while you’re out of the house, at least until they’ve gained your trust and the run of a portion of your home.
It’s extremely helpful to build a support system you can rely on to ensure that your puppy and/or adult dog gets adequate potty and walking breaks from being in their crate. This support system could consist of family members, friends, neighbors, or a professional dog walker.
That being said, the following crate training schedule would be ideal for a 2-4 month old puppy:
Crate training schedule for 8 week old puppy
This is a sample puppy crate training schedule for a puppy 8 weeks to 4 months old:
We recommend you give your puppy her meals in her crate to help associate awesome things with the crate.
The following crate training schedule might seem like a lot of time in the crate, but we are thinking of a person who works full time and may hire a friend or dog walker to stop by mid-day. Also keep in mind young puppies need to sleep a lot more than we realize.
- 6 to 7 a.m.: Wake up, potty break, quick breakfast in the crate, go for a walk
- 7 to 9 a.m.: Crate time
- 9 to 9:30 a.m.: Potty break and walk or play
- 9:30 to 11:30 a.m.: Crate time
- 11:30 to noon: Potty break and walk
- Noon to 2 p.m.: Crate time
- 2 to 2:30 p.m.: Potty break and walk
- 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.: Crate time
- 4:30 to 5 p.m.: Potty break and walk
- 5 to 9:30 p.m.: Playtime/potty breaks/dinner in crate/socialization
- 9:30 p.m.: Back into crate for the night
- 2 am Optional potty break (set your alarm for this one if your puppy needs it)
If you work from home or are home during the day, you can probably have your puppy out of the kennel a lot more. You should still plan a few structured times a day for your puppy to stay in her kennel, even while you are home. This helps the puppy learn to be calm and not to depend on you for constant interaction.
For example, crate time could be from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.
Older puppy and adult dog crate training schedule
Puppies ages 4 to 6 months should be able to go with 1 to 2 potty breaks less and also shouldn’t need the potty break in the middle of the night. The same schedule applies to adult dogs:
- 6 to 7 a.m.: Wake up/potty break/walk/breakfast in crate
- 7 to 11 a.m.: Crate time
- 11-11:30 a.m.: Potty break/walk
- 11:30 to 3:30 p.m.: Crate time
- 3:30-4 p.m.: Potty break/walk
- 4 to 9:30 p.m.: Playtime/potty breaks/dinner in crate/socialization
- 9:30 p.m.: Back into crate for the night
You’ll have to adjust the afternoon/early evening crating and potty times according to your individual schedule.
We all know the puppy potty training basics.
If not, you can read our post on potty training a puppy here. Basically, it involves lots of supervision and prevention. Taking the puppy out often. Confining the puppy to a small area when you can’t supervise.
Most puppies do not want to soil the area where they sleep, so confining them to a kennel when you can’t supervise is a great prevention technique. But what happens if your puppy doesn’t seem to mind peeing in her kennel?
We’ll share our ideas, but of course we really want to hear your tips, especially if this is something you’ve dealt with. We don’t have an easy answer, so we’re hoping to start a discussion on this.
First, let’s rule out some potential issues.
Could it be that your puppy can’t hold it as long as you expect?
She may not want to pee in her kennel, but maybe your puppy can’t hold it as long as you thought. Depending on her age, you may need to take her out more often, like every two hours instead of every four. During the day, you may need to hire a dog walker or a neighbor to come let her out, at least for the next few weeks.
Is your puppy sick?
It’s understandable that she won’t be able to hold it if she has an upset tummy or a urinary tract infection.
Is she drinking too much water before going into her kennel?
I would cut her off a few hours before bed, and limit her water before you head to work.
Does her feeding schedule need to be changed?
Make sure you’re not “free feeding” your puppy by leaving food out all the time. While this is convenient for you and may seem kind to her, it’s too difficult to predict when she will need to go to the bathroom. Instead, feed her at the exact same times two or three times per day so you can plan her bathroom times accordingly (like, right after she eats!).
Is your puppy dealing with separation anxiety?
I’m careful to suggest this, because I think separation anxiety in dogs is an overused term, especially for puppies. It’s normal for puppies to cry a bit when left alone for the first week or so. No big deal. Usually, their crying will stop if the owners do not respond to it.
But, if your dog or puppy seems especially anxious about being in her crate or being alone, she may be more likely to eliminate in it, due to stress. If this is the case, we would go back to the basic kennel training techniques to help her feel more comfortable being alone and being in her kennel.
‘No, it’s none of the above. My dog just pees in her crate.’
OK, so if you’ve ruled out all of the above, it could very well be that your dog doesn’t mind peeing in her crate for whatever reason. Most likely, it became a habit at some point when she had no other choice.
Do you know your dog’s history?
Unfortunately, most pet shop puppies are kept in small cages and they often (always?) learn to pee in their confined area since many are not actually taken outside.
Shelter dogs may also learn to pee in their kennel area if they aren’t taken outside for walks often enough. Unfortunately, once a dog has had so many “accidents” it eventually becomes a habit.
The same could be true if your dog came from a foster home or previous owner where they were crated for too long during the day. Maybe the dog simply couldn’t hold it for 10 hours, so peeing in the crate became normal.
Another possibility is that your dog came from a puppy mill background. Sadly, these dogs often have no choice but to eliminate right where they live, sleep and eat.
And finally, the reality is you may not know your dog’s history, but you can still come up with a plan to help her learn not to go potty in her crate.
How to stop a dog from peeing in her crate
OK, now that we’ve ruled out a bunch of possibilities, let’s come up with a plan on what to do if the dog truly doesn’t mind peeing in her kennel.
Limit time in the kennel (prevention)
One key is prevention. The less time the dog is in the kennel, the less likely she is to go potty in her kennel.
One trick we often recommend for dogs and puppies that are still learning potty training rules is to keep them on a leash when you’re home. This prevents the pup from wandering off to pee in another room, because she is stuck with you.
If the pup is on a leash, you would be able to see when she needs to go out.
Regardless, you would still take her out as often as needed. Possibly every 45 minutes at first.
Basically, at all times the dog should either be on a leash with you indoors, outside with you so you can reward good potty habits or confined to a small area.
When you do have to put the dog in her kennel, try to limit that time to an hour or two if possible. I know this is not always realistic, which leads us to the next idea.
Use an ex-pen or gated area and potty pads
We are generally not fans of teaching a dog to go potty on fake grass or potty pads or newspapers. We normally would not recommend potty pads, but they can be a possibility for teaching a dog to pee outside of her kennel vs. in her kennel.
If you know your dog will almost always pee in her kennel after three hours (or whatever time it might be), and you know you won’t be able to let her out in that time, then the potty pads are an option.
Simply place the open kennel in a small, blocked off area such as a bathroom with a baby gate. Ideally you would choose an area with tiles or linoleum for easy cleaning.
Another option is to put an ex-pen around the kennel, which is basically like a small, indoor fence. Think, a child’s “play-pen” area. A kitchen could be a good place for this.
Then, place the potty pads on the floor outside of the kennel. It’s possible your dog will naturally want to pee on the pads (great!) due to past experience. Or, she may have no idea she is supposed to pee on them. If that is the case, keep the area as small as you can and cover the entire area with the pads.
If she seems to always go in one area, you can eventually reduce the pads to that area. With time, you can cover a smaller and smaller area with the pads. Reward her if you see her going potty on the pads.
See our post: How to train a dog to use pee pads.
Keep rewarding good behavior
The best thing you can do, obviously, is to keep taking your dog outside often and giving her a tasty treat every time she goes potty outside (like real bacon or chicken).
If she does happen to have an accident in the house or in her kennel, just clean it up with a high-quality odor remover. Keep using the potty pad technique when you can’t supervise. When you are home, take her outside as often as possible.
With time, most dogs will be successful if:
- They are taken out often, like every 45 minutes if needed
- The owners do not wait for the dogs to “tell them” they need to go; they just take them out regardless
- They are kept on a leash and near the owner while in the house
- The dog is confined to a small area when the owner can’t supervise
- The dog is given a highly valued treat every time she goes potty outside
What did you do to train your dog not to go potty in her crate?
If you’ve dealt with this issue, let us know in the comments. This seems to be a fairly common problem with dogs. We don’t have all the answers, and it’s nice to hear some different opinions/experiences.
We’d like to hear from you!
Is your dog or puppy crate trained? How did you get your dog or puppy used to the crate?
If you have any questions, let us know in the comments!
Dog kennel training
Where should my puppy sleep?
Barbara Rivers writes regularly for That Mutt. She is a blogger, raw feeder and dog walker and maintains the blog K9s Over Coffee.
Lindsay Stordahl is the founder of That Mutt. She writes about dog training and behavior, healthy raw food for pets and running with dogs.