Puppy Crate Training


Why crate train? 

Crate training is one of the most efficient and effective ways to train and housebreak a dog.  Did you know that dogs instinctively seek out tight spaces? Therefore, being confined to a small, familiar space makes your dog feel comfortable and secure, and allows them to be soothed by having less area they feel they need to protect! Training your dog to use a crate properly provides them a safe haven that they can feel comfortable and secure in, and can seek out when they are tired, anxious or just want to be alone.

A crate provides your puppy a safe place and you peace of mind while you are not home.  Until your puppy is fully housetrained, do not allow the pup free run of your house, or she will develop negative habits: she may toilet all over the house, and chew and destroy anything she can get her mouth or claws around (electrical wires, shoes, table/chair legs, carpets, you name it!).  These habits are very difficult to break, and may be very costly (property damage, vet bills) and even dangerous for the puppy.

Cobberdog in Crate


Why can’t I just confine my dog in.....?

Many people confine their new dog to the yard, a bathroom, kitchen, or a laundry room when they leave home. This is really counterproductive for many reasons.  Firstly, the area is little used by the dog, with unfamiliar sights and smells, and they don’t associate you with that room. Instead they will associate the room with the fact that you are leaving, and this may lead to separation anxiety in the future. Secondly, slippery floor surfaces have no traction and make dogs nervous. Also, the space is too large to create the ‘den’ feel that dogs need to be soothed. And, these places are seldom where you are found when you’re home, therefore the dog will not willingly use that as their ‘safe place’ when they are nervous. Think about the play pen if you are away for long periods of time. Also think about puppy daycare while pup is so small, especially during these months when socialisation is so important.

Some Important Basic Rules: 

  1. Never use the crate as punishment. 
  2. A puppy should never be confined to a crate when you are not home, for longer than their age-appropriate time.  
    To calculate their age-appropriate time, count 1 hour per month of age, plus one: e.g. a 2 month old puppy maximum time is 2 months +1=3 hours, a 3 month old dog never more than 4 hours (3+1). 
  3. The crate must only be big enough for the dog to stand up, turn around and lie down – any bigger and the dog may use it for a rest room. If you buy a large crate that will fit your puppy when it is full grown, then you should section off part of the crate so your puppy doesn't have too much room.
  4. Move the crate from room to room around the house with you, and allow your new dog to sleep in the crate in your bedroom at night. This helps to make them feel secure knowing you are right there, and they will settle down much more quickly. 
  5. Never crate your puppy or dog when temperatures reach uncomfortable levels. 

Outfitting Your Puppy's Crate 

Toys and Treats: Place your puppy's favourite toys and dog treats opposite the door opening, at the far end of the crate. Appropriate toys (like ‘Kong’) and balls must be inedible and large enough to not be swallowed. Any toys with smaller pieces should be removed to prevent choking and internal obstruction. You can also place a sterilised marrowbone in the crate with dog treats inside. 

Water: A small guinea-pig-type water dispenser with ice water should be attached to the crate wall if your puppy will be confined for more than two hours in the crate. 

Bedding: Place a towel or small blanket inside the crate to make a comfortable, soft bed for your puppy. If your puppy wees on the towel, remove bedding until the pup no longer wees in the crate. If the puppy chews the towel, remove it to prevent the pup from swallowing or choking on the pieces. Most puppies prefer lying on soft bedding, but a puppy that pushes the towel to one end of the crate to avoid it may be telling you he prefers resting on a hard, flat surface. 

Where to put the crate? 

While you are home, try to place the crate near or next to you whenever possible. The feeling of security that the puppy experiences being close to you will translate somewhat to simply being inside the crate, and the pup will be able to go inside it without feeling lonely or isolated when you go out. When you are not home, place the crate in whichever room your family spends most time in, usually the living room. If you are going to be away for some time there are small puppy play pens available which give a lot more room for puppy to move about and play. These can be folded up and put away when not in use.

Introducing Your Dog to his/her Crate 

Following these guidelines will allow your puppy to associate his/her crate with being safe, secure and comfortable.  This will give you peace of mind and make life easier, at home and away, long into your future together. If you don’t take the time to train properly, the crate will be more like a dreaded and lonely prison for your puppy, and this can cause stress and separation anxiety, and behavioural, emotional and mental problems. 

  1. Introduce the puppy to the crate GRADUALLY! If you have to, start training on a Friday night and finish by Monday morning before you leave for work. 
  2. Feed your puppy in the crate to stimulate positive associations with the crate. If the puppy hesitates to go inside to eat, feed him in front of the crate at first, then just inside the doorway, and finally in the back of the crate.  Also, intermittently through the day, drop small pieces of dog treats in the crate: while your puppy investigates his new crate, he will find these yummy rewards and this will create further positive associations with the crate. 
  3. In the beginning, praise and pet your pup when he enters the crate. Do not try to push, pull or force the puppy into the crate. At this early stage of introduction only inducive methods are suggested. Use as treat to lure him into the crate, give him another treat once he is in the crate. Do not close the door. Do this several times throughout the day. If you try to do it only when you’re going to lock the door, the puppy will get wise and not enter at all. Overnight exception: You may need to place your pup in his crate and shut the door upon retiring. (In most cases, the crate should be placed next to your bed overnight.) 
  4. You may also play this enjoyable and educational game with your pup or dog: without alerting your puppy, drop a small dog biscuit into the crate. Then call your puppy and say to him, "Where's the biscuit? It's in your room." Using only a friendly, encouraging voice, direct your pup toward his crate. When the puppy discovers the treat, give enthusiastic praise. The biscuit will automatically serve as a primary reward. Your pup should be free to leave its crate at all times during this game. Later on, your puppy's toy or ball can be substituted for the treat. 
  5. It is advisable first to crate your pup for short periods of time while you are home with him. In fact, crate training is best accomplished while you are in the room with your dog. Getting him used to your absence from the room in which he is crated is a good first step. This prevents an association being made with the crate and you’re leaving him/her alone. 

Important Things to Remember 

It is rare for a pup or dog toilet in their crate if it is properly sized and the dog is an appropriate age to be crated for the amount of time.  If your pup/dog continues to eliminate in their crate, there may be a reason: 

  • The puppy is too young to have proper control yet. 
  • The puppy’s diet may be poor or rich, or the meals too large. 
  • The pup was not toileted prior to being crated. 
  • The pup has worms. 
  • The pup has a tummy upset - gaseous or loose stools. 
  • The pup drank a large volume of water before being crated. 
  • The pup was forced to eliminate in small confined areas prior to crate training (pet shop). 
  • The pup/dog is suffering from a condition  such as  prostate problem, bladder infection, etc. 
  • The puppy or dog may be experiencing stress and severe separation anxiety when left alone. 

NOTE: Puppies purchased in pet stores, or puppies which were kept solely in small cages or other similar enclosures at a young age (between approximately 7 and 16 weeks of age), may be considerably harder to housebreak using the crate training method due to their having no choice but to eliminate in their sleeping area during this formative stage of development. This is the time when most puppies are learning to eliminate outside their sleeping area. Confining them with their waste products retards the housebreaking process, and this problem can continue throughout a dog's adult life. 

Accidents In The Crate 

If your puppy toilets in his crate while you are out, do not punish him upon your return. Wash out the crate using a pet odour neutralizer (such as Nature's Miracle). Do not use ammonia-based products, as their odour resembles urine and may draw your dog back to urinate in the same spot again. 

Crating Duration Guidelines 

*NOTE: Except for overnight, neither puppies nor dogs should be crated for more than 8 hours at a time. (8 hours maximum!) 

The Crate As Punishment 

NEVER use the crate as a form of punishment or reprimand for your puppy or dog. This simply causes the dog to fear and resent the crate. If correctly introduced to his crate, your puppy should be happy to go into his crate at any time. You may however use the crate as a brief time-out for your puppy as a way of discouraging nipping or excessive rowdiness. 

NOTE: Sufficient daily exercise is important for healthy puppies and dogs. Regular daily walks should be offered as soon as a puppy is fully immunized. Backyard exercise is not enough!

Children And The Crate 

Do not allow children to handle your dog while he/she is in the crate. The crate is your dog's private sanctuary. His/her rights to privacy should always be respected. 

Barking In The Crate 

In most cases a pup that cries incessantly in his crate has either been crated too soon (without taking the proper steps as outlined above) or is suffering from separation anxiety and is anxious about being left alone. Some pups may simply need more exercise. Others may not have enough attention paid them. Some breeds of dog may be particularly vocal (e.g., Miniature Pinchers, Mini Schnauzers, and other frisky terrier types). You may need to increase the amount of exercise and play your dog receives daily. 

When NOT To Use A Crate 

Do not crate your puppy or dog if: 

  • your puppy is too young to have sufficient bladder or sphincter control. 
  • your puppy has diarrhea. Diarrhea can be caused by: worms, illness, intestinal upsets such as colitis, too much and/or the wrong kinds of food, quick changes in the dogs diet, or stress, fear or anxiety. 
  • your pup is vomiting. 
  • you must leave your pup crated for more than the Crating Duration Guidelines suggest.
  • your puppy has not eliminated shortly before being placed inside the crate. (See Housetraining Guidelines for exceptions.) 
  • the temperature is excessively high.
    your puppy has not had sufficient exercise, companionship and socialization. 

The Cost of A Crate 

Crates can cost between $35 and $150 depending on the size and the type of crate and the source.