Crate training your dog or puppy from a young age could be an important part of their early learning and routine making. Or it might be that you have a senior dog who needs more crate rest than ever before.
Why crate train your dog?
If used correctly, dogs will treat their crate as their safe space and haven. Your dog might sleep in their crate and enjoy spending some downtime while you’re busy or out. Think of it like putting a baby in a cot – the crate should be somewhere that your dog associates with good things. So, how do you start reinforcing that positive association? Look no further than this guide and video we created in partnership with Dogs for Good.
Choosing a crate
When you choose a crate for your dog, the number one thing to consider is ‘size’ – your dog and the crate.
Ideally, your dog’s crate should increase in size as they grow (if necessary). This will be particularly relevant if you have a larger breed such as a Labrador or a German Shepherd. Small dogs, such as Dachshunds, may be able to have the same size crate for their whole life.
Your dog should be able to sit up, stand and turn around easily within their crate. However, you don’t want the crate to be too big, otherwise your dog or puppy might not associate it as being a place to relax.
Setting up your crate
Location is key. Have a look around your home and keep the following points in mind when choosing a spot for your dog’s crate:
- No draughts
- Not in direct sunlight
- A quiet place, away from the TV or kids play area
- Not near a heat source such as a radiator
- Somewhere that will allow at least 2 sides of the crate to allow fresh air in (not fully enclosed by walls or doors).
If you have a new puppy that has just arrived home, you may want to consider putting the crate next to your bed or in your bedroom at first. This may be crucial to your new puppy settling in to their new surroundings, while knowing that you are close to them if they feel scared or anxious.
Things you may need for set up
It’s not just about the crate itself, it’s also about what goes in it. You want your dog to really love spending time in their crate, so consider adding the following when setting it up:
Treats – initially some small treats will be helpful with training. Your dog can also spend some (supervised) time in their crate with a longer lasting chew or treat.
Water bowl – your dog should always have access to fresh water.
Toys – consider putting your dog’s favourite teddy or chew toy in there. This’ll help to occupy them, or just to have something familiar nearby.
Bed or mat – make the space comfortable and somewhere they’re going to enjoy going for a nap or rest.
Crate cover or blanket – this’ll go over the crate at night to make sure it’s dark and cosy for your dog to relax and sleep.
Newspaper or puppy pads – particularly for young puppies, in case they need the toilet during the night.
Introducing your dog to their crate
It’s a good idea to introduce your dog or puppy to their crate as soon as they arrive home. After all, it’s a space they will spend a lot of time in over the coming months and years.
Allow your dog to have a sniff and a look around, or inside, the crate of their own accord – familiarisation in these early days is key.
The basics of crate training
The key to starting initial crate training is to be patient take it slowly, building up as you go. A little and often approach is usually best, at different times throughout the day.
Once your dog’s crate is all set up and ready, you can start your training. Here are the steps we would advise you follow:
Keep the door open
To start with, keep the crate door open so your dog can explore in and around it, and freely go in and out. This will help them to familiarise themselves with their surroundings and become comfortable at their own pace.
As your dog is exploring, throw lots of treats in and around the crate. This will help them to realise that the crate is a positive space, and they’ll start to associate the crate positively.
If your dog steps inside the crate, give them a treat or two to reinforce the behaviour. If your dog doesn’t enter the crate on their own accord, try throwing some treats inside the crate to encourage them to go in. They may be hesitant at first, and that’s OK. Remember to build up slowly.
Build up durations
Start to build up the duration your dog spends in the crate with rewards and positive reinforcement. If they step in for a second and then step out, this deserves a treat. But if they decide to stay inside their crate and explore for a bit longer, be sure to continuously reward them.
You could start with rewarding after 5 seconds, and build up by 5 seconds each time before offering a reward. You want your dog to realise that being inside the crate is the behaviour you want, and by doing so they’re going to get lots of treats.
Closing the door
Start introducing closing the door when your dog goes into the crate, but only once they’re sat or lying down. This shows your dog is comfortable being inside the crate.
Build up the time the crate door is closed – start off with just a few seconds and build it up by adding a few more seconds each time. All the while ensure your dog is comfortable and happy.
If your dog becomes distressed or looks concerned, then take it back a step and build up again from having the door open, to starting to close it for a few seconds at a time.
Letting your dog out
Be sure to remain calm and quiet when opening the crate door and letting your dog out. You don’t want to enforce any over-stimulated or excitable behaviour here. When you open the door, allow your dog to come out of the crate on their own.
Mastered the basics?
You may have got to the stage where your dog is happy to spend a long amount of time in their crate. This is great and will prepare them for future events, such as being prescribed crate rest, or if you have an important meeting you need to head out for.
As a rule of thumb, remember not to leave your dog in their crate for more than 4 hours during the day.
Always remember that the crate is a positive space for your dog. It should never be used to punish them if they do something wrong.
What if my dog doesn't react well to their crate?
If your dog becomes distressed when crate training, go back to basics and build up from the start again. If your dog has successfully been crate trained, but their behaviour has started to change towards being in their crate, don’t be afraid to go back to basics again and re-train them. It may be that they have stopped associating their crate being a positive environment, and just need a refresher.
If your dog is fine in their crate during the day, but becomes distressed during the night, allow a few minutes to see if they settle down on their own. If they don’t or if they become really distressed, try moving their crate closer to where you sleep, or sit/lie with them where they can see you. This may help them to settle knowing you are close by.
If this doesn’t help, you can let them out as you don’t want them to have a negative relationship with their crate. Then go back to basics and build up. This may be crucial to younger puppies who haven’t been in your home for a long amount of time yet.
Top tips for success
As with all dog training, there will likely be numerous challenges along the way. But the end result will be worth the time and effort spent training, and it will also help to grow your bond with your dog. Here are our top tips for success in crate training:
- Always be consistent, patient and persevere
- Make your dog’s crate a fun, relaxing and enjoyable environment
- Never use the crate as punishment
- Don’t leave your dog in their crate for any more than 4 hours during the day
- Make sure your dog can retreat to their crate at any time during the day
- Try not to let your dog out until they’re quiet, otherwise making noise may be recognised as getting a reward
- If your dog seems distressed or anxious, go back to basics with the training and build up again
- Let your dog go to the toilet before going in their crate
- At night, put a cover or blanket over the crate to create a dark, calm and cosy environment
- Reduce drink and food before bed to prevent accidents during the night
- Give them exercise or go for a walk ahead of longer time spent in the crate
- Try to wake your puppy up in the morning, as opposed to them waking you up.
Potential problems you may encounter, and how to overcome them
Whining and making noise
Try to determine whether your dog is distressed, or just looking for a bit of attention and fuss from you. It could be that they just need you to sit with them while they drift off to sleep (particularly common in young puppies). If you think your dog is distressed, try to get them calm and quiet with your presence before letting them out.
Remember, if your dog is suddenly showing negative behaviour towards their crate, go back to basics and start training from the beginning again.
If your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, it could be down to a number of things. It might be a good idea to identify and solve the reason why they have the anxieties before starting crate training. After all, the crate is somewhere that your dog will spend a lot of alone time, and you want them to be as comfortable and happy as possible.
Protecting your dog
Pet insurance can cover your dog for the unexpected eventualities. At MORE THAN, we have different cover levels to meet your needs, so you can find the right cover for your four-legged companion.