Crate Training Puppies and Adult Dogs

Crate Training Puppies and Adult Dogs
25 Dec 2016

A crate is to a dog, what a cot is to a toddler.

Not only does a crate keep your dog safe from harm but it’s his “den” and plugs right into his natural instincts to rest in a place of safety. But some people can’t get past the impression of a crate being a cage or prison, and dislike them on principal. To avoid the dog feeling the same way it’s essential to go about crate training correctly for a fully paw-sitive experience. 

What Crate Training is Not

Crates are not a substitute for consistent dog training where you teach the dog the house rules and he knows how to behave. (See: How to Clicker Train Effectively.) For example crate training is an aid to potty training and not a means to stop him soiling the carpets because you skipped toilet-training. A crate is not the canine equivalent of the “naughty step” and should not be used as a punishment.

Indeed, crate training is not suitable for every dog, especially those that suffer from separation anxiety. Dogs that are distressed when prevented from being with their owner can do themselves serious harm when closed in a crate, so if your dog damages his claws or chews the bars in distress, seek professional advice before restricting him.

The Advantages of Crate Training

A newborn puppy spends his first weeks in the nest provided by his mother. It is a place he associates with security and comfort, and he returns there when those tentative explorations of the world get too scary.

Be they a puppy or an adult, a dog needs a place to call his own to withdraw to. We provide this in a crate. Of course, it’s a happy coincidence that crate training has advantages to us, the dog owner.

  • Safety: Your dog can’t chew electrical cables or swallow socks while you’re out
  • Potty Training: The crate helps the “penny” drop about bladder control
  • Secure Sleeping: The dog sleeps knowing he is safe
  • Security: An anxious dog with a den to hide in, is less likely to become fearful
  • Visitors: Not all your friends might like dogs, so a crate keeps everyone happy

Crate Training Puppies

Crate Training: The Rules

First, make sure the crate is the right size.  Like Goldilocks and the three bears, it shouldn’t be too big or too small – but just right. The dog should be able to lie down with his legs stretched out, and stand up with his head high.

Second, site the crate in a quiet spot but not too isolated, such as the corner of a living room.

Third: give him a comfy dog bed and some of his favorite toys, so it’s a great place to be.

With regards to the actual crate training take it slowly. Your aim is to have the dog choose to go into the crate of his own accord because it’s such an awesome place. You do this by seeding it with treats, which he “accidentally” discovers. Other tips include feeding him in the crate (but leave the door open) so it’s a place where good things happen.

Once he starts going in and snuggling down on his own initiative, praise him to the heavens and tell him what a clever dog he is.

Now try closing the door for a few seconds and opening it when the dog is calm, making a big fuss of him. Gradually leave the door shut for longer and only open it when he’s calm (so as to reward the good behavior.) If you respond when he’s crying, you’re teaching him to “call” you and the whining will get worse.

Crate Training

Crate Training a Puppy

In order to succeed it’s important to have realistic expectations of your puppy.

For a start, puppies under the age of 8 ½ weeks can’t control their bladders. Shutting a very young puppy in a crate will result in involuntary soiling and make crate training difficult when he’s old enough. Absolutely, get him used to eating and playing in the crate from a young age, but don’t shut him in until he’s around 9 weeks old.

Did the breeder raise the puppy in a “clean” environment? Puppies from a dirty kennel where they ran, played, and ate amongst their own poop, have a poor grasp of keeping their den clean. This doesn’t make crate training impossible, but you’d be wise to concentrate on potty training first, and once the pup has good bladder control, move your attention to the crate.

When potty training the puppy, take the puppy outside every 20 – 30 minutes, and 20 minutes after eating. It’s also a good idea to get the puppy used to being shut in the crate with a chew toy after vigorous play. That way he’s more likely to be distracted by the treat and then settle down for a snooze.

Crate Training an Adult Dog

If you have an adult dog just use the same crate training methods as for a puppy. However, be aware that the smaller the dog, the smaller their bladder capacity and the faster their metabolism runs. This means if you own a toy or small breed dog, don’t leave the dog inside the crate for as long as you would a larger one and give them plenty of opportunities for a comfort break.

When Crate Training Goes Wrong

The commonest problems are barking and soiling.

  • Barking: The chances are you accidentally rewarded the barking by letting him out. Be strict about only rewarding quiet behavior, and open the crate door only when he’s calm.
  • Soiling: The most likely explanations are the dog was left in the crate too long and he got caught short, or the crate is too big. Too much space means the dog can designate a “toilet” area away from his bed.

Remember, crate training is a great way to keep both you and your dog happy, provided you go about it correctly.

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Pippa Elliott

Pippa Elliott, BVMS MRCVS, is a veterinarian with 27-years' experience in companion animal practice. Pippa's first job was in a practice by the sea, where she acquired her first (of many) waif-and-stray, a Dockyard Cat Rescue kitten, called Skate. She then worked for the PDSA (People's Dispensary for Sick Animals) which is a national charity that provides veterinary care for the animals of owners with limited finance. Currently Pippa works in a Veterinary Clinic in UK.