How To Crate Train a Puppy in 9 Easy Steps
Before learning about how to crate train a puppy, it’s important to know that the crate must become a safe place for your puppy where he or she feels happy, comfortable, can sleep in and loves to be in. The crate must become your puppy’s happy place. You can crate train your puppy in the following 9 easy steps so your dog will always feel comfortable and secure while in a crate at home, in the car or on holiday.
While many people view a dog crate as being caged up or trapped, dogs enjoy being in small, enclosed places by nature. They feel safe and secure being in a familiar confined space. Dogs by nature also don’t like to foul their territory so not only does crate training teach your puppy he or she has a safe place of his or her own but it can help with potty training as well.
Some puppies don’t need much crate training and feel at home in their crate almost right away with little to no fuss. Other puppies may need training for several days or weeks before they have a positive association with the crate.
If you have such a pup, don’t worry you’ll get there with the following 9 steps.
- Choose the Right Crate For Your Puppy
- Introduction & Positive Association
- Start Closing the Crate Door
- Extending Time in the Crate
- Leave the Room
- Leave the House
- Add Distractions
- Take your Puppy on Car Trips
- Be Patient with your Puppy
So let’s begin. Although this blog is mainly about the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, these 9 Easy Steps for Crate Training your Puppy will work for any dog breed. I recommend you start crate training your puppy when he or she is 9 weeks or older.
Step 1. Choose the Right Crate For Your Puppy
First of all, make sure you buy the right size crate for your dog. The crate mustn’t be too big for your dog. You can buy a small crate for when your dog is a pup or buy a right sized crate for when your pup will be his or her adult size and get a divider so you can build the space and give your dog more and more space in time when your pup gets bigger. The reason for this is if the space in the crate is too big, your puppy is more likely to befoul his or her crate.
There are different types of crates to choose from:
- A Wire Dog Crate
- A Plastic Dog Crate
- A Soft Dog Crate
Wire Dog Crate – We use this type of crate for our Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Stippy. I recommend the MidWest Home for Pets Life Stages Crate which we used since he was a small puppy. It has double doors, a divider panel, bowl holders and a secure lock so your dog is safe when you’re not with him or her.
Plastic Dog Crate – Plastic dog crates are also great for crate training and give your dog more privacy if he or she likes to. Another benefit of a plastic crate is that they are easy to carry so your dog can travel in it as well. If you want to go for a plastic crate I recommend the Petmate Sky Kennel which meets most airline cargo specifications so you’ll have a great and safe travel crate which can be used for crate training as well as traveling.
Soft Dog Crate – We use the EliteField 3 Door Folding Soft Dog Crate for our Toller Retriever Stippy when we are on holiday in a cottage or staying in a hotel. It’s easy to bring along because it’s lightweight, you can fold it so it doesn’t take up much space in the car and when unfolded it’s a very cozy space for your dog to snuggle up in but with a rigid frame so very sturdy despite it’s soft. I recommend using a Soft Dog Crate when your puppy is already crate trained.
When you have chosen the right crate for your puppy, determine how your puppy will be most comfortable. Some dogs prefer to sleep on hard surfaces and don’t need a dog bed or towel, for them it’s ok to sleep on the crate mat itself.
If your puppy prefers a comfy dog bed and he or she won’t tear up or pee on his or her bed make sure you use half or two-thirds of the crate space for the dog bed and hang or put the food and water bowls in the “empty” space of the crate to prevent their dog bed from getting wet or dirty.
Extra Tip: When you meet your puppy’s mother and litter bring a cuddly toy or (my recommendation) the Snuggle Puppy with Heartbeat & Heat Packs and rub that all over your puppy’s litter brothers and sisters and your puppy’s mother so the toy has their scent. This will help your puppy feel more comfortable in his or her crate the first few nights in his or her new forever home.
In my blog How To Crate Train A Puppy At Night you can read more helpful tips about how you and your puppy go through the first nights and how to stop your puppy from crying at night.
Step 2. Introduction & Positive Association with the Crate
All dogs are social animals, they feel most happy when they near their family. The position of the crate in your home is important. Young puppies need their rest and sleep. Too many external stimuli are not good for them so for young puppies I recommend putting the crate in a quiet part of the house where they can rest. When your pup gets older or is used to the crate and knows this is his or her safe place, you can put the crate in your living room or other family room so your dog can be with you even if he or she is resting. We did the same with our Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Stippy when he was a puppy.
So now that you have a right crate in a good place for your pup it’s time to introduce your puppy to the crate. We used clicker training when we crate trained our Toller Retriever Stippy.
Take the door off the crate and let your puppy explore the crate. Maybe your pup will ignore it but give it time. Some dogs will go inside the crate and feel at home right away, some don’t. If your puppy needs to get used to the crate:
- Bring your puppy over to the crate and talk to him or her in a calm, happy tone of voice. Make sure the door is off the crate or open and secured so it won’t hit and frighten your puppy.
- Calmly encourage your puppy to enter the crate by laying some small yummy dog treats or stuffed Kong Toy nearby the crate, then just inside the door, and finally all the way inside the crate. Don’t force your pup inside the crate, be patient. If your puppy refuses to go near or inside the crate, that’s OK. Continue with the treats and try again later. Don’t give up and stay calm. If you apply Clicker Training, every time your pup goes inside the crate, even if it’s only one paw inside than click and give a treat
- Continue dropping dog treats inside the crate until your puppy walks into the crate to eat the treats. If your pup isn’t interested in treats you can use his or her favorite toy. Drop the toy inside the crate and make it a positive but calm experience for your pup. Using a toy can take a bit longer than using food but give it time.
Start by bringing your pup inside the crate for max. 10 minutes at a time and work your way up from there.
A quick note on using a toy: If you use a toy make sure you keep your puppy calm. The more your puppy associates the crate with the crate being his or her place to rest, be safe and comfortable the more your pup will enjoy chilling out in there.
If you put your puppy in the crate when playing or excited, then he or she will want to come back out to continue to play with you but if you bring your pup into the crate when he or she is calm, your puppy will learn the crate as a place of rest.
With these steps, you’re beginning to teach your puppy that the crate means something positive, something fun, safe and nice to be inside.
After this introduction to the crate with treats, toys and your calm but happy voice your puppy should be comfortable inside the crate. If that isn’t the case you can try feeding your pup his or her regular meal near or inside the crate for a while to create a positive association with the crate.
If your puppy is already adjusted to the crate and going in and out by him or herself but is not laying down comfortably and relaxed yet, you can place the food bowl inside the crate.
If your pup is still a bit shy or afraid to go into the crate you can start by placing the food bowl in front of the crate or a little bit inside the crate and each mealtime place the bowl a little bit further back, step by step. Continue with this until your puppy is comfortable, relaxed and happy inside the crate. If you don’t want to continue feeding your puppy inside the crate begin with reducing the meals he or she gets inside the crate. If you want to continue feeding your pup in the crate that’s ok too of course.
Step 3. Start Closing the Crate Door
Once your puppy is standing or lying comfortably inside the crate, you can give the command “down” and when your pup is down, reward him or her. Then, start closing the crate door gently for only a few seconds to start with. If you apply clicker training than click and give your pup a treat when your pup is inside the crate and is calm.
If you see that your puppy is a bit anxious by this quickly open the door and talk to him or her in a calm, positive voice or give him or her a treat. Do that every time you close the door until that doesn’t scare your pup anymore.
Extend the time of the door closed while you are next to the crate. If you feed your puppy his or her meal inside the crate, close the crate door while your pup is eating. If he or she keeps eating leave the door closed until your puppy is finished eating. As soon he or she has finished eating, open the door again.
With each successful meal inside the crate, leave the crate door closed a few seconds or, if possible, minutes longer until your pup stays in the crate, comfortable and relaxed for a few minutes after finishing his or her meal. If your puppy starts whining to be let out of the crate, you may have increased the length of time too quickly so next time shorten the period of time a bit and build it up from there slowly.
If your puppy keeps whining or crying in the crate don’t let him or her out of the crate until your puppy stops crying. Let him or her out of the crate when he or she is quiet for a few seconds at least. Otherwise, your puppy will learn (very quickly) that the way out of the crate and getting what he or she wants is to cry or whine and your puppy will keep whining which in time will be more difficult to train.
Step 4. Extending your Puppy’s Time in the Crate
When your puppy is used to the crate, is calm and relaxed inside it, also with the door closed, you can begin with extending the time your puppy spends inside the crate. Build the time up each time he or she is inside the crate.
Start teaching your pup to stay “down” when he or she is in the crate. If you apply clicker training and your pup lays down, click and treat. From this moment onwards, begin to reward your puppy with treats more irregularly. If you use clicker training, click and praise every time your puppy lays down in the crate but don’t reward with a treat every time.
The reason for this is if you keep rewarding every time, your puppy will learn to expect a treat or reward and when your pup is used to getting a reward every time, he or she will be disappointed if not rewarded which can result into performing only for the dog treat and only when he or she wants the treat.
You’ll not only have a puppy but also a little rebel on your hands! So don’t treat every time. Your puppy needs to learn that being in the crate is safe and comfortable, not a way to get a treat.
Build up the time your puppy is inside the crate with a closed, secured door. You can build the time up with seconds or even minutes depending on your puppy. Also, mix up the duration of the time spent in the crate. Mix it up with both short and long times but with a gradual flow towards longer times.
Step 5. Leave the Room
This is a very important step within crate training. When your puppy can lay down in the crate with the door shut for at least one minute, it’s time to slowly move away from the crate and eventually leave the room. A step by step guide:
- Step Away From The Crate – When your pup is laying down in the crate, close and secure the crate door and take one step away from the crate. Instantly return, open the crate door and give a reward or when clicker training is applied, click and treat.
- Step Away From The Crate and Wait – When the pup is laying in the closed crate and you stepped away from it, wait a while, at least a few seconds, then return, open the door and reward (or click and treat). Increase the waiting time slowly each time until you can wait for at least one minute while your puppy stays comfortable and relaxed in his or her crate.
- Take More Steps Away From The Crate – Repeat the previous steps and step back from the crate further by taking more and more steps.
- Move Away To The Door – Build up the space between you and the crate by taking more steps away as mentioned previously until you are standing in the doorway. Almost out of the room but that your puppy can still see you or know you are there. Wait a while and go back to open the crate door and reward (or click and treat) your puppy if he or she remained still and calm inside the crate.
- Leave The Room – Repeat the previous steps but now leave the room. Again, if your puppy stays calm go back and reward him or her (or click and treat).
- Extend The Time Of Leaving The Room – Repeat the previous steps and wait longer outside the room and out of your puppy’s sight. If your puppy remains calm wait a few seconds of if possible minutes and extend that every time you train this until you can do this about 5 minutes. Then increase with at least 30 seconds or a minute until you can leave the room for 30 minutes or longer. Mix up the duration your pup spends in the crate with you out of the room with longer and shorter periods but with a gradual flow to a longer time.
Hurray and congrats! From now on you can go to the bathroom on your own without being followed by a little furball!
Step 6. Leave the House
When your puppy can remain in his or her crate calmly while you’re in another room for at least 15 to 20 minutes, you can start leaving the house while your puppy is crated. Leave the house quietly and calmly without any fuss. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Act like it’s the most normal thing in the world. Just put on your shoes and coat, walk out of the door and stay outside for a few seconds.
With our Toller Stippy, we began with waiting outside the door (listening if he wasn’t crying) for about 30 seconds before entering the house again.
Again, enter the house calmly like it’s no big deal. Walk up to the crate, reward your puppy and let him or her out of the crate.
Repeat that and build up the time you stay outside with at least 30 seconds or, if possible, a few minutes. If your pup cries or whines don’t go back into the house until he or she is quiet for at least 20 seconds, otherwise your pup will learn that if he or she cries you’ll come back and you don’t want that. That will create a dog who cries, howls and barks while you’re away from home.
We did the same with our dog Stippy. We waited outside by the door. In the beginning, he started to cry a little but we only returned back home when the crying stopped and it worked! You’ll build up your puppy’s confidence by doing this because your puppy will learn that you’ll always come home back to him or her, no matter how long you are away.
After you’ve built up leaving the house for a few minutes start by actually leaving the house for some errands or a walk around the block. When you come home, wait before you enter your house and listen if you hear your puppy crying. If not, enter your home. If your puppy cries, wait for him or her to stop crying and when your pup is silent for about 10 to 20 seconds then turn the key and enter your house.
Again in both cases act like it’s the normal thing in the world, no big deal and let your puppy see that. If this goes well and your puppy wasn’t crying when you came home you can build up your time away from home with 10 minutes at the time until you can stay away for 30 till 60 minutes, also depending on the age of your puppy of course. When your pup is really young don’t stay away for many hours yet.
How Long Can a Puppy Be Left in the Crate When Home Alone?
Begin crate training your puppy when your pup is at least 9 weeks old. No dog is the same, some puppies have a stronger bladder than other puppies their age so there are no fixed guidelines for how long a puppy or dog can be crated or home alone. The general guideline for crating your dog is the following:
8 – 11 weeks: 1-hour max. since they may not be able to hold their bladder longer during the day and they are still in potty training.
12 – 15 weeks: 2 hours max. because their bladders are still growing and most puppies are still in potty training so they need to be taken out at least every 2 hours.
4 – 12 months: 4 hours. Puppies that are 4 months or older can generally hold their bladders for up to 4 hours though this could be longer (or shorter) depending on how your puppy is developing.
18 months and older: 6 hours. The general rule is that dogs of 18 months and older can be left alone for up to 6 hours per day, of course depending on age, breed, training and other factors.
If you want your dog to be home alone for 8 hours I recommend hiring a professional dog walker to walk your dog in the middle of the day or take him or her to Doggy Day Care. If you don’t have the finances for that ask a neighbor or friend to walk your dog in the afternoon.
If that isn’t possible and your dog is really alone for 8 hours I recommend gradually increase from 6 hours to 8 hours and make sure your dog doesn’t have anxiety, isn’t barking or stressed while you’re away.
Always make sure your dog is tired and satisfied when you leave home for a long time so he or she will sleep while you’re away.
Step 7. Add Distractions While Your Pup is Inside the Crate
It’s important that your puppy associates the crate with his or her safe place of rest but sometimes you want to crate them because you have stuff to do like vacuuming the house or eat a meal in peace without having a puppy dance around at your feet the whole time. It’s therefore also important your puppy needs to learn to be in his or her crate while you’re busy. It’s also important that you prepare your puppy to be in his or her crate while a lot is going on around him or her, for example when going to the vet, on a road trip in the car, when boarding on a plane, etc.
The way to do this is, to begin with adding distractions while your puppy is calm in his or her crate at home. Of course, no puppy likes to be confined in a crate when stuff is going on around them. They are so curious and feel they really need to be part of things but they must learn they can’t be a part of things all the time so they need to be trained to be in the crate with lots of things going on. Here is a small guide on how to teach this:
- Start calm and slow. Build up the difficulty and distractions. When your pup is inside the crate start by walking around in the room or tidy up the room a bit. Not too long, build it up.
- Move the distractions up by for example listening to music while you clean up the room or watch TV and eat a meal while your pup is crated.
- For more distraction, you can vacuum the room or the house or do some other cleaning inside the house.
- The following and most difficult step for the puppy is when you have fun without him or her like dancing on the music you are playing or play with the kids etc.
Start with small and calm distractions and build up the noise and movements slowly.
Step 8. Take your Puppy on Car Trips (to the vet, on visits, on holiday, etc.)
Now it’s time to start crate training your puppy in different locations because your want your pup to stay calm and relaxed when going to the vet, ride along in the car, on holiday, in a hotel, in a restaurant, etc. To achieve this you’ll need to take your puppy with you in his or her crate so your furbaby can get used to different locations with different smells, noises, surroundings, and people. Here are a few steps on how to do this.
- Begin by moving the crate to different areas of your house besides the room the crate is usually in. Crate train your puppy inside these various rooms so your pup learns that there can be change around him or her but the safe environment of the crate remains the same.
- Crate train your puppy in your garden or on your balcony.
- Crate train your puppy in your car (for more useful tips you can also read my blog about How To Train Your Puppy To Ride in the Car )
- Take your puppy with you when visiting family and friends. Also, take the crate with you so when your puppy is adjusted to the environment/houses of your family or friends you can crate your puppy while you’re there and he or she will get used to that as well. The same goes for birthday parties or barbeques when there are lots of people and noises around. If allowed, bring your puppy to those parties, it’s great training as well as awesome socialization (kids, people, other dogs, cats, noises, smells, etc.).
We brought our Toller Stippy along to birthdays, dinners, parties, etc. from the start so he’s used to everything from a young age.
It’s great to have a dog which you can take anywhere and is relaxed and calm wherever you bring him or her with you without being stressed or scared. A happy dog is most important and means a happy owner as well! It will take time to train and socialize but you and your dog will benefit so much from this for the rest of your furbaby’s life.
Step 9. Be Patient with your Puppy
Patience is always very important with puppies and dogs with every kind of training or socialization and also in the case of crate training. Prepare yourself for at least a few months of training. Some dogs will learn or adjust quicker than others and that’s OK and completely normal.
Don’t get discouraged if things aren’t going fast enough or if there are a few setbacks. Just take a few steps back and start over again. There will be ups and downs but eventually, success will come! As long as you stay calm and consistent your puppy will eventually learn.
With these 9 steps as a guideline, you should be able to crate train your puppy resulting in your puppy feeling safe, comfortable and secure in his or her crate no matter where your puppy is. At home, at the vet, in the car, on holiday, visiting family, etc. The training takes time and effort but it’s worth it in the end.
Also, if you need to leave the house for a few hours you can do so without feeling stressed or guilty knowing your puppy is calm and relaxed inside his happy place, the crate.
Remain patient, calm and consistent. These 9 steps definitely worked for us with our Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Stippy. For your convenience, here is a list of a few products I recommend to get before you start crate training your puppy:
With these items, you’re all set to start crate training your puppy. Good Luck and Enjoy your puppy and all the phases they go through!