How to crate train your puppy

Crate training can often divide opinion among dog owners. Some feel worried about persuading their puppy to sleep in a crate as they think of it as a ‘cage’. For others, a dog crate is a useful aid for toilet training and offers a secure retreat for their pet.

What are the benefits of using a crate?

When introduced properly, a crate can be a safe place for any puppy, particularly if they’re feeling tired or nervous. It gives them somewhere to retreat to when they’re not being supervised and can help settle a pup into a new environment. It can make travelling with a puppy a lot easier too.

In my experience, a dog crate can be a brilliant aid for toilet training puppies as it takes advantage of their den instinct. Most dogs won’t soil in their sleeping quarters, so using a crate can help form a distinction between where they should and shouldn’t go to the toilet.

But it’s important to note that crate training isn’t essential for any dog owner, it’s a choice. Decide what’s best for you, your dog and your home.

How do I choose the right crate?

I always recommend that a crate should be big enough for your puppy to comfortably sit and stand at full height, turn around, stretch out and lay in a natural position.

Depending on the breed, you may need to replace the crate with a larger size as your puppy grows.

Where should I put the crate?

Always position your puppy’s crate in a quiet part of the house well away from areas of passing people.

When should I use the crate?

The crate should only be used for short periods of time – when direct supervision isn’t possible or during the night. Make sure you let your pup out regularly if you’re using the crate at night.

As part of your puppy’s toilet training routine, whenever you let your pup out of the crate, take them to their designated toilet spot immediately to maintain consistency.

Watch this short video of Bell's crate training story to find out more about crate training your puppy:

How should I crate train my puppy?

For me, crate training a puppy should always be a gradual process. Don’t rush, never force your pup to stay in the crate and introduce it in a positive sequence of events.

Here are the steps I recommend you follow…

  • Step 1: Start by fixing the door open so it can’t swing shut and scare your pup. Place treats or toys in the crate and allow your puppy to explore at their leisure.

    Once they’re happy taking treats in the crate, throw the treats inside until your puppy is happy to walk all the way inside the crate to retrieve them. Be patient – this can take 10 minutes or several days!
  • Step 2: To help your pup get more familiar and comfortable with their crate, start increasing the amount of time they spend in the crate by feeding them in it. If they happily enter, close the door and put the latch over for a short time to familiarise your pet with the sound of the door closing. Once the door is shut, give your pup a treat before bringing them out.

    Gradually increase the amount of time they stay in the crate after they’ve finished their food. If they’re reluctant to enter, feed them near the crate and eventually put the bowl inside as they grow more confident. If your puppy shows any sign of distress – such as whining or barking – you may have increased the time in the crate too quickly and you’ll need to reduce the time your puppy spends in the crate or leave the door open.
  • Step 3: Start leaving your pup in the crate for longer periods of time – beginning with five minutes. Alternate between you being in the room and being out of sight. Repeat several times during the day while gradually increasing the time intervals. Giving them toys or treats will help to distract and calm them.
  • Step 4: Once your pup is happy to be left for half an hour, you can start to leave them for short periods of time.

If you follow these steps carefully and patiently, your pup will soon become fully crate trained.

What if my puppy gets anxious?

I sometimes see pups that struggle with feeling enclosed in the crate, so it’s important to combine the time in the crate with a positive experience.

Try filling an empty toy with food that will keep your puppy occupied for around 15 minutes. Allow them to play without interaction but stand close by. Placing food and water bowls in the crate will help your dog associate it with meal times. It’s important to never use the crate as a form of punishment – this will only reinforce it as a negative experience.

If you feel that your puppy isn’t getting on with their crate then remember that crate training is a choice not a must so it’s up to you whether you want to continue.

How can I make the crate comfortable?

Put comfortable bedding inside the crate and place it in a draught free area out of direct sunlight. You could also put a blanket over the top to make it feel cosier.

When should I stop using a crate?

This can depend on your dog, your home and your preference. Once your puppy is trained and no longer likely to make a mess when left out of their crate, you can look at phasing out its use. This would normally be expected from around the age of 9 months old. Some dogs do it sooner, but I’m not usually in a rush to stop using a crate.

For many people, the space taken up by a crate can be an issue and owners are often keen to see it go. But there’s nothing stopping you from keeping a crate in use as a bed or a secure rest space for your pet, something that can be particularly useful if you have children around the home.

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