Updated: Feb 8
Crate training is a much maligned practice. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard people say they don’t want to “trap” or otherwise “harm” their dog. In reality, crate training can be super helpful, especially for puppies, but even on to older ages. My oldest dog absolutely loves his crate and will sleep in it frequently because it gives him a break from the younger, more rambunctious pups. The crate should be a calm getaway for your dog. A place where they can escape and relax without worrying about being bothered by any humans or other animals.
For puppies, it also can help with potty training as a properly-sized crate will help prevent accidents while they are in their crate. (A properly sized crate is just big enough to stand, turn around, and lay down in.) You can add bedding or leave it empty. If you’re working on housetraining or with a puppy who is around 4-8 months, I would recommend leaving the crate empty so that the pup doesn’t chew up any bedding you have.
In order to teach them this, you canNOT force them into the crate or you will likely end up teaching them to dislike their crate. What you need to do is slowly introduce the crate with LOTS of rewards. Follow the below steps if you either have never introduced your pup to a crate OR if they seem to really dislike it.
Lead your pup up to the crate while rewarding them heavily (with treats or play).
You can even leave a trail of treats to slowly lead them up to the crate door.
Once they’ll comfortably approach the crate, lead them into the crate with rewards in the back of the crate. Don’t close the gate on them and let them come right back out.
Add your cue (“Crate,” “Home,” etc.) and them lead them into their crate.
Once they’re comfortably going into the crate, close the gate on them for 1 second (or less) and let them right back out.
Make sure to reward them only while they’re IN the crate, don’t reward them when they come out.
Now, you’re going to get them into the crate, close the gate, and wait 1-2 seconds. While they are in the crate, reward them. Then let them out again, using your release word (“Okay”).
Make sure to use a release word. You don’t want them learning to barrell out of their crate as soon as the door is opened.
Start increasing the duration that they’re in the crate, a little at a time to start. So, 2-5 seconds, then 5-10, then 10-30, etc.
Make sure to vary the time (2 sec, then 3 sec, then 2, 4, 5, 4, 5, 2, 4, etc.). If you only increase the time, your dog will most likely figure out the pattern and resist.
This is a good time to add a REALLY good treat/toy, like a frozen Kong stuffed with peanut butter. Make sure they only get this good toy/treat while in their crate. They’re not allowed to take it out of the crate.
Once your dog can comfortably remain in the crate for ~60 seconds, walk away from the closed crate and go out of sight for 1-2 seconds before turning back around, rewarding your dog, and then releasing them.
If your dog starts whining, scratching at the crate, barking, etc., you want to completely ignore them (turn your back to them if you’re in the room) and wait for them to stop. Once they’re calm, then you can approach and release them. This also may mean you need to go back a step or decrease the time you’re out of sight.
If your dog struggles with you going out of sight, just walk away from the crate (with your back to the crate) and then turn back around to let them out and release them.
Increase the duration that you’re out of sight before returning and releasing them. Vary the times, the same as above.
If they’re comfortable being in the crate (meaning quiet and hopefully enjoying their crate-specific toy/treat) for several minutes, then you can go to a further room or get ready to leave the house (get keys, get your jacket, etc.) and briefly go out the front door. Only wait, at most, a couple of minutes before coming back in and releasing your dog from their crate.
At this point, if your dog is comfortable, you can leave them in the crate for a much longer period of time. You should never leave your dog in a crate for more than ~6 hours at a time, even if they’re comfortable.