Puppy Crate Training

Help Your Puppy to Love His Crate

illustration of how to crate train a puppy

Illustration: Kelly Leigh Miller. © The Spruce, 2018 

Most puppies and adult dogs feel more secure in a small, enclosed den-like area, and young puppies are especially eager to find a safe place. A carefully-chosen crate and proper crate training can help your puppy discover that a crate is a safe, happy place to spend the night. A youngster should be introduced slowly to the crate when possible and not left unattended longer than he's able to "hold it" for potty training. But crate training, when it's done right, can give both you and your dog a feeling of order and security in a complex world.

Why Crate Train?

Crate training serves a number of purposes, all of which can make your home and your dog's life easier. So already knowing about and accepting a crate should be part of your puppy’s training.

  • A crate works well as a bed. Because it’s enclosed, the puppy crate also serves as a safe retreat to get away from other pets or pestering children. 
  • A crate also can be a safe place to confine a rambunctious puppy. That keeps him out of trouble when you aren’t able to watch him.
  • Most dogs must be confined from time to time, when they travel by car or stay at the veterinarian, for example. 
  • A crate is one of the best tools available for helping to potty train your puppy. Dogs won't willingly soil their own beds, so they are highly motivated to "hold it" while in their crate.

The Ideal Crate

The perfect crate should be just large enough for a puppy to go inside, turn around, and lie down to sleep, but not so large that your dog can soil one side of the crate and sleep on the other side.

Of course, puppies grow. So take into account your pup’s future adult size before investing in a pricey dog crate. Large crates are available with partitions for you to “shrink” to puppy size, and then enlarge the area as your puppy grows. You can also purchase an adult-size crate, and insert a barrier like a plastic storage box that shrinks the space to puppy proportions until your pet grows into its crate. 

Most crates are made of solid hard plastic or wire mesh; there are advantages to each.While soft-sided pet carriers work great for transport, they may be too small and prove too tempting for chew-aholic pups to work well for safe confinement.

Solid plastic crates are generally opaque, so your dog won't be able to see much once he's inside. This can be either a plus or a minus, depending on your dog's need for privacy and the type of household he lives in. Plastic crates are a must, however, if you plan to travel by air: airlines will not allow you to transport your dog in a metal crate.

Wire crates offer plenty of air and visibility and are easy to clean. They can also be folded down and put away when not in use, which is a terrific feature for a smaller home. 

5 Tips to Crate Train Puppies

Ideally, your puppy will welcome and even enjoy spending time in his crate. The puppy’s crate should never be a place of punishment if you want him to consider it a pleasant experience. So use these tips to help your puppy claim the space as his own home-sweet-home.

  1. Make It Familiar: While well-adjusted puppies tend to be curious, some tend toward shyness. Anything new prompts suspicion. So make the crate “part of the furniture” and set it out in the family room for your new puppy to explore. Leave the door open and let him sniff it inside and out.
  2. Make It A Happy Place: Place a snuggly blanket or dog bed inside. Or you can toss a toy inside, and encourage him to go get it. You want him to have positive experiences with the crate.
  3. Offer A Treat: Find a puzzle toy that can be stuffed with a smelly, tasty treat. This should be a treat your puppy loves, but can only enjoy when inside the crate. Show it to him, let him smell and taste the treat, and then toss it inside the crate and shut the door—with the puppy outside the crate and the treat on the inside. That shows him that an absolutely scrumptious puppy treat is inside, out of paw-reach. And after he’s begged and scratched and whined to get inside, open the door and let him get the toy. Allow him to chew and enjoy it for five minutes with the door shut.
  1. Teach Him Tolerance: Some pups settle down and enjoy their treat with no fanfare. Others throw a fit and want out. So if your puppy fusses let him out, but lock the treat back inside. You’re teaching him that wonderful things can be found inside the crate. Most pups learn to tolerate the door shut at least as long as they have something to munch.
  2. Extend Crate Time: Over a week’s period or so, increase the length of time that puppy stays inside the crate with the treat toy. In between training periods, just leave the door open. You’ll be surprised how often a worn-out puppy might seek out crate time on his own for a nap—or to get away from the cat.

Once your puppy accepts the crate as a fact of puppy life, you can move the crate to a more acceptable spot in the house. A place next to your own bed will let the puppy sleep in his own spot but near your familiar smells and presence. That also offers you a more private area to seclude him, when necessary, from activities in the living area or kitchen that might keep him overstimulated.