One of the best things you can do for your dog is crate-train them. Not only is it probably the best way to housetrain a puppy, but having a dog that likes the crate gives you a safe place to keep them when you need to or when visitors are over. It's also useful if you ever need to travel with them and have a dog that is already comfortable staying quietly in a crate.
Crate Training a Puppy
The steps to crate train a puppy are quite simple, but the key to the steps is being consistent and remaining relaxed and calm if you have a setback. It's also very important to start with a good foundation, which includes where you put the crate, the type of crate, the crate bedding, and how it's introduced.
Step One: Decide Which Type of Crate to Use
The main types of crates are the solid plastic airline-type crates and the open-wire crates.
Choose the Type
Everyone has a personal preference, but the benefit of the open-wire crate is that the puppy can see all around them and feel less confined if they're anxious.
Covering the Crate
You can always place a blanket or towel over an open-wire crate to cover it to help them become less distracted and sleep better.
There are also fold-up crates made with heavy fabric, also known as travel crates. These may not be the best choice for a puppy, as they won't necessarily hold up to the normal amount of puppy chewing.
Step Two: Determine Crate Location
While some owners prefer to keep the crate outside of the bedroom at night, ideally, having the crate close to you will help ease the puppy at night, especially in the beginning.
By Your Bed
A puppy will spend their first few days learning who their new family is and feeling stressed at being alone, so at least try to keep the crate by your bed for the first week or two.
Placing the crate in another room where they'll be alone will probably lead to more crying and anxiety and can prolong the period before they learn to like the crate.
Reduce the Risk of Fear
It can even make them fear being in the crate at all, which will make training the puppy harder.
During the day, keep the crate in some place where the most activity in the house is.
It may be easier to have two crates, especially if you have a large dog and don't want to move the crate around too much.
Step Three: Make the Crate a Good Place to Be
Your puppy should be as comfortable as possible in the crate.
Make the Area Comfy and Cozy
Provide them with a soft crate pad or a doggie bed that fits inside the crate so they can snuggle in and get comfortable.
Add Your Scent
It also helps to put something in the crate that's soft and smells like you, like an old sweatshirt or t-shirt from your laundry hamper.
Add Scented Towels
You can sleep with some old towels in anticipation of your puppy arriving, and then place these "scented" towels in the crate.
No Take Backs
For both the shirt and towel trick, make sure these are items you don't want back, as your puppy may end up chewing them or ripping them with their nails as they're "digging in" to make a comfortable place to rest.
One potential problem with soft bedding is that some dogs will actually be attracted to peeing on it. If this happens, remove any towels or blankets.
Step Four: Never Use the Crate to Punish
You should never put the puppy in the crate when you're angry and want to discipline them. This can cause the puppy undue stress, and they'll come to see the crate as meaning something bad has happened or is about to happen. This will make crate training very difficult.
Step Five: Begin Acclimation to the Crate
You want to start out by pairing the crate with good things to reinforce to the puppy that it's an excellent place to be. It may seem like this is more work compared to just placing them in the crate, but it's worth it to spend time doing this before moving on to the next steps. A puppy that loves the crate is much easier to work with than one that's already developed a negative perception of it.
Put your puppy's food dish in the crate, with the door open, at all of their feeding times.
Allow them to eat their meals in there without closing the door for the first few times, and work on moving the bowl further and further to the back of the crate.
Lure Them In
Lure them into the crate by tossing some delicious treats in the crate, and let them eat them and come back out. Do this in several short sessions of 5 to 10 minutes maximum throughout the day.
Add a Cue
Once they're running into the crate when you toss a treat, pair it with a word, like "crate" or whatever cue you'd like to use.
Make the Process Playful
You can also mix it up and toss a toy in the crate and let them play with it for about a minute, then take it from them, lure them out of the crate and toss the toy back in and repeat.
Slowly Close the Door
After the puppy is happily going into the crate for a toy, treat, or healthy chew, slowly close the door while talking to them in a happy voice. Keep the door closed for about 30 seconds and then open it. If they get stressed before the 30 seconds, speak to them in a happy tone of voice and toss them another treat.
Gradually Increase Time
You want to repeat this step several times a day for short sessions of about 5 minutes each, and then gradually build up to 10 minutes or longer with the crate door closed for several minutes.
If They Cry
If the puppy whines and cries at any time when the door is closed, try to distract them with your voice, a toy, and/or a treat. You do not want to let them out immediately, as the puppy will quickly learn an association between crying and being let out.
Step Six: Move to Longer Crate Sessions
Once your puppy is happy going in and out of the crate and having the door closed for a short time, you're ready to move on to training them to be in there for longer periods. Take the steps below to continue the process.
1. Lure with Goodies
Either lure your puppy into the crate with a treat, toy, or chew, or place them inside while talking to them happily.
2. Close the Door
Close the door and then sit quietly next to them, but otherwise ignore them. You can sit and read a book, work on a laptop, or play a game on your phone to pass the time.
3. Give Treats
If at any time while you're sitting there quietly ignoring them, the puppy turns around from you and lays down, goes to play with a toy, or does anything that shows they're not fixated on you, praise them and toss them a treat. Or click and treat if you're using a clicker.
Using a clicker can make this process go very quickly because you can stand on the other side of the room and click for quiet and toss a treat to them.
4. Add Fun Stuff
Put some fun items in the crate that are safe for the puppy, like a puppy-safe chew, toys, and a soft blanket. You can also put some noise on to distract them, like the TV, a radio, or some soft music.
5. Start Short
Try to start with sessions of ten minutes and work up to longer periods of time. You'll do this a few times a day. Eventually, work towards getting up and walking away nonchalantly from the crate after about ten minutes, with the goal of leaving to do something else while your puppy remains quiet in their crate.
If your puppy starts to bark, whine, or cry when you walk away, don't turn around and react. Remain very calm and wait for a moment of quiet to return. This can be difficult, but you need to be patient.
6. Take Them Out Before Leaving
Make sure you take them outside first to potty, then put them in the crate, and do not make a big fuss about leaving. Talk to them in a happy voice and leave. Don't be alarmed if they start barking or crying; that's normal and should dissipate within a few minutes.
7. Longer Time Periods
Once you're able to keep the puppy in the crate for about a half hour and they're generally quiet and calm, proceed with crating them and leaving the house.
8. Don't Cause a Ruckus
Do not greet your pup effusively and excitedly when you open the crate, but remain very nonchalant. While everyone who owns a dog loves a big happy doggie greeting, if you reciprocate this, it can teach the puppy that your comings and goings are a really big deal. You want him to see them as "no big deal" to reduce their stress.
9. Once You're Back
When you come back, let the puppy out and take them immediately outside so they can go potty and be praised.
Step Seven: Crate Training at Night
At night, you'll follow the same steps with some additional caveats:
As your puppy gets older, they should be able to sleep through the night, but very young puppies are not likely to be able to.
If you hear your pup whining and crying in a frantic, high-pitched way and it's been some time since they last went, this probably means he needs to go outside.
Out and In
Take them out, let them pee and poop, praise them, and then bring them back and put them back in the crate.
Make sure you take your puppy outside to eliminate before you put them in the crate and go to bed.
General Puppy Crate Training Rules
There are some guidelines to follow for both crate training and using the crate to confine your puppy.
Not Too Long
Never leave the puppy locked in his or her crate for longer than he can physically hold his bladder. In general, three to four hours is the most a puppy under six months of age can handle.
Short Time Frames
Puppies younger than six months will vary depending on their breed and size, so it's best to keep their stints in the crate short and no longer than three hours unless you notice they can't even hold it that long.
Some small-breed puppies can't hold it longer than an hour.
Always train at the speed your puppy is comfortable with, and don't push him too far to the point where they get stressed.
Get Some Exercise
It can help to exercise your puppy before putting them in the crate, as they'll be more tired and more likely to go to sleep. Taking them on a walk, having some play time in your house or yard, or even doing some short training sessions can make them curl up and nap when you're gone.
Teach Your Dog to Love the Crate
There's a lot of initial preparation work involved in training your dog to love their crate, but taking your time and working with your puppy or adult dog's comfort level really pays off in the end. Having a dog that will happily race into their crate and lay down when asked can make your life, and their life, much easier. Proper crate training can speed up your house training success as well.