If you have recently purchased or adopted a new puppy, crate training can be an invaluable tool to have during your new dog’s adjustment period. Training a dog to enter their crate on command and remain calm while in the crate are the primary objectives when it comes to crate training.
To crate train your puppy, begin by luring them into the crate with a treat or piece of kibble. Once they enter the crate, praise them and give them the reward you used to lure them.
To have your dog to enter their crate upon command and remain comfortable while they are crated, it is important to set yourself and your dog up for success. Make sure you have a crate that is suitable to your dogs’ size and that you take adequate time getting them used to both going in the crate and staying in there without any issues.
Step One: Getting Your Dog Familiar With The Crate
With any new animal, there is a period of adjustment for both the owner and the pet. Coming into an unfamiliar environment with new people, smells, and distractions can be stressful for a new pup. And that’s where the crate comes in. By using a crate, you are able to give your dog a “spot” of their own where they can feel safe and relaxed.
To start, open the door or doors of the crate. Let your puppy (or older dog!) check out the crate. If they are disinterested, use a treat or toy that they like to get their attention. You can use this treat or item to slowly lure them into the crate by placing it in front of their nose. Once they place one paw, or all four, inside the crate, reward them by saying “Yes!” and give them the item you used for luring.
The next step is getting your pup to go farther into the crate before giving them the reward. Using the lure, try to have them place all four paws inside and wait a moment before giving them the treat or toy. Praise them with “Yes!” and allow them to leave the crate if they would like to. At this point, they are probably getting the hang of it and will begin to realize they get treats while they are in the crate!
If luring is difficult for you or your dog, another way to encourage your pup to enter the crate is to throw a treat or toy towards the back of the crate. Once the dog begins to investigate the crate and goes inside, reward them immediately. As you go, increase the amount of time the dog is in the crate before giving them a treat or a reward. The goal is for them to see this area as a safe place where they are praised for hanging out.
Step Two: Teaching A Command For The Crate
Crate training your puppy also involves assigning a verbal command to the action you are requesting. Now that your dog understands that the crate is a place to receive treats and praise, it is time to give them a cue to enter the crate. I personally use the phrase “Load Up”, but other examples I’ve heard owners use include “Crate”, “Kennel”, or “Into Bed”.
You can begin using your preferred phrase or word when luring the dog into the crate in the acclimation stage as well since the steps are quite similar. Once your dog has all four paws in the crate, say “Crate” or your phrase and give them a treat. You can also say “Yes! Good Crate” or something similar to let them know that you are happy with them being in the crate.
You will need to practice luring them into the crate while using the command by adding distance and timing to your training sessions. Start by backing up a few inches from the crate and using the command for going into the crate while gently luring with the treat. As they begin to understand what you are asking, move farther away and reduce the use of the lure to have them go into the crate.
Step Three: Handle Challenges And Reward Good Behavior
No attempt at training your dog something new is without some pitfalls or challenges along the way. At our house, we tend to divide our perception of time between “good days” and “bad days”. With crate training, there can be some resistance in the beginning as it will take your pup some time to get used to being confined but, with patience, they will begin to look forward to going into their special spot.
The question I most often receive regarding crate training issues is on how to handle or stop whining or barking in the crate. At first, this can be challenging as your new dog adapts to the routine of being in the crate, as they would rather be with you or getting into trouble!
The best solution to this is to simply ignore your dog while they are exhibiting this behavior. It’s important to understand the context behind the whining or barking as they may be trying to let you know that they are hungry, need to go potty, or simply need some exercise.
For dogs that are having accidents in their crate, try taking up any soft items such as blankets or towels. Dogs like to eliminate on soft surfaces and may see this fabric as a place to use the bathroom.
Overall, your goal is to create an environment in which your dog feels safe, secure, and comfortable. Rewarding them for good behavior, such as entering the crate on their own free will, going up when commanded, or simply relaxing in the crate when the door is shut, are all ways to let them know that this is a positive, repeatable behavior.
Recommended Crates & Kennels
Picking out a crate can be daunting at first, especially if you have a puppy that is going to grow significantly as they age. Do your best to estimate their adult size and purchase a crate that can be used with a divider.
Traditional wire crates come with a removable tray that can be easily cleaning or sanitized in the event of an accident or trip to the backyard dirt pile. I generally clean my dogs’ crate trays after I bathe them to reduce as much dirt transfer as possible. For my ever-growing puppy, I use MidWest ICrate the and have the divider placed at the halfway point until she gets a little bit bigger.
Reducing the size of the crate for growing puppies is ideal, as the more room that they have, the more likely they are to have accidents in one part of the crate. Make sure there is adequate room for your puppy to lay down and stretch out, but not much more.
For road trips or long car rides, I suggest the Portable Folding Soft Dog Travel Crate crate as it provides a secure place for your dog to rest in the car and fits in most vehicles. You can err on the side of a small size here as your dog won’t be spending as much time in it as the one they have at home. Soft-sided crates have sprung up on the market in the past couple of years and are great for dogs that are older or are less likely to chew on the fabric.
For anxious dogs or dogs who might try to chew on the wire crate, Petmate Ultra Vari Kennel is a great option as it’s both sturdy and secure. These let in less light and noise, which can provide a perfect haven for a stressed dog during a thunderstorm or nearby fireworks.
No matter which crate you end up selecting or may already have, the number one thing to remember here is to reward your dog for going into the crate and making it a safe place for them to be. Using your lure, get your pup to enter the crate on their own and mark this occurrence with a “Yes!” and your chosen command. Before you know it, your dog will love going into the crate, and you will be able to keep your eyes off of them, if even just for a moment!