How to crate train your dog

Household 4 min read

Getting ready to welcome a dog to your family? Several methods can help you train a puppy or newly adopted dog to get them used to their new environment. One of the most popular and successful methods is using a crate. Crate training allows you to manage your dog’s behavior through their natural instincts of having a den.

Why should you crate train your dog?

Meg Marrs, professional dog trainer, animal shelter volunteer, and founder of K9 of Mine, a website with tips and resources on dog care, shares the benefits of crate training your dog and the steps to get started.

Manage your dog’s behavior

Marrs recommends using a crate when you don’t know how your dog will react. If kids are coming to your house and you’re unsure how your dog might interact with children, consider putting your pup in the crate for a little while.

A crate can also be a tool when there’s a lot of commotion and you cannot monitor your dog. Marrs says she places her dog inside a crate while cooking for a big dinner party or Thanksgiving. With all the people around, enticing countertop snacks, and other distractions, it’s best for the dog to have some quiet time.

Potty train your puppy

Marrs says crate training is a popular method to housetrain puppies as they won’t usually relieve themselves inside their crate. When a puppy views a crate as their personal space and the spot where they sleep, they’ll try to keep it clean.

You can place your puppy into the crate when you cannot monitor them to avoid unwanted accidents. When it’s time to come out of the crate, take your puppy outside, and praise them when they do their business in the correct place.

Give your dog a quiet place to relax

When you introduce a dog to a crate in a positive way, they’ll view it as a safe and relaxing place to be. It serves as a personal den when there are a lot of stimuli and the dog wants some alone time. Once your dog is potty trained, you can make the crate extra cozy by adding a dog bed and draping a blanket over the top, adding to the den feel.

Keep your dog out of trouble while home alone

Putting a dog in a crate when you are out of the house is a good way to protect the dog and your belongings. Marrs says this can prevent unwanted behaviors, such as chewing furniture. It will also ensure a curious dog doesn’t injure themselves while unattended.

Get your dog accustomed to boarding or traveling

According to Marrs, crate training can be handy for boarding or traveling with your dog. It will get your pup used to spending time in a crate, so it will be much less overwhelming and scary if they go to a boarding spot or travel inside a crate in the car or a plane.

Securing your dog with a crate, carrier, or harness when traveling in a car can help protect them in case of an accident. Learn more safety tips for traveling with a dog in a car.

How do you find the right crate for your dog?

There’s a sweet spot to aim for when buying a dog crate. You don’t want it to be too small or too big. The crate should be large enough for your dog to stand and sit up straight, lie down fully, and easily turn around.

But you also don’t want the crate to be too big, especially when you’re using it as a potty-training tool. If the crate is too large, a puppy will designate a corner for sleeping and another for relieving themselves. If you’re training a growing dog, there are expandable crates on the market that can grow with your pup.

What steps should you take when crate training your dog?

The following are some tips and tricks that Marrs says will help you and your dog get used to crate training:

1. Let your dog set the pace

The goal is to ensure your dog feels safe and comfortable in its crate. You never want the dog to feel scared or miserable. Some dogs acclimate to crates sooner than others, and you don’t want to push your dog into long crate sessions before they’re ready.

2. Start with short crate sessions

When you start crate training a dog, you’ll want to stick to super-short sessions (only about five to ten seconds). As your dog gets comfortable, you can increase the time in the crate to a few minutes and eventually to a half-hour, an hour, or slightly longer.

3. Use crate training games for positive reinforcement

When you want to train your dog to stay in a crate, give them something they enjoy. Your dog will be happy to spend a little time in the crate if it means getting a few treats or playing with their favorite chew toy while inside.

4. Don’t use the crate as punishment

Never use the crate as somewhere negative. If your dog misbehaves, there are other ways to correct their behavior, like speaking sternly.

5. Be patient

Go slowly, and don’t get frustrated if your dog doesn’t take to the crate immediately. Expect your dog to cry a little initially, and know that they aren’t trying to annoy you. Your dog is just confused or nervous about doing something new. As long as you try to create positive reinforcement, your dog will quickly learn that the crate isn’t a scary place.

How long does crate training a dog take?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to crate training. It’s up to the dog to decide when they’re comfortable. Marrs recommends dedicating several weeks to crate training. The first few weeks should consist of short crate sessions and positive reinforcement. When your dog gets comfortable with the crate, you can leave them in for slightly longer stretches and when you’re out of the house.

As your dog ages and doesn’t need the crate for potty training or behavioral purposes, you may want to keep it. You can leave the door open to allow your dog to enter the crate as they wish. You’ll still be able to lock the door in certain circumstances, such as when contractors come to your house.

Marrs also points out that crate training your dog isn’t required by any means and may not work for every dog. Some dogs don’t like spending time in a crate and can’t get used to being in one. Rescue dogs may have had bad experiences with crates. In this case, there are plenty of alternatives. X-pens are playpens that offer a larger area of containment than a crate, and you can use indoor dog gates to section off parts of the house.

Learn more tips on bringing a rescue dog home.

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