Dos and Don’ts of Crate Training

When used properly, crates are wonderful inventions for dogs and can really help with their training. I often work with owners who have recently brought home a puppy (or older dog!) to crate train their new family member as there are numerous benefits to doing so. Crate training helps with toilet training, separation anxiety and getting your pooch into a routine – as well as preventing any destruction while you’re not there to watch! However, there is a lot of misinformation out there surrounding crate training so I thought I would share my “dos and don’ts”. 


Set up a comfortable space

When using a crate, it is essential that this space is set up as a cosy space where your dog will feel safe.

The crate needs to be big enough for your dog to stand up and turn around comfortably but if it is too large, then your puppy may have accidents. If you don’t want to be buying a new crate every few weeks as they grow, then there are crates on the market which have a divider.

Make the space cosy and comfortable. Many pet stores offer crate covers, as dogs are den animals and often enjoy the safe feeling of an enclosed space. But a sheet or blanket over the top of the crate will also do the job; just make sure that your pooch isn’t one who will pull the material through to chew on. 

Some dogs enjoy a bed to sleep on, others like a blanket and some even like the cool floor of the crate itself. You don’t want to leave your pup in a crate with bedding if they are going to shred/ingest the material so listen to your dogs behaviour and fill the space accordingly.  

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Keep your pup close by

When we bring home a puppy, they have left everything that they have ever known. They have left their mother, siblings, breeder and all the sights, smells and comforts of their first home. This is stressful and scary for our dogs and so we want to make sure that we are making this transition as easy as possible for them. 

At this stage, you are their only comfort – and they don’t know you yet! Personally, I believe it is too hard on a puppy to leave them alone to sleep. They need comfort and we are the only ones who can give that to them. You can put their crate in your room or set up camp next to their crate in another room, while they’re getting used to their new home.

Make the crate a positive place

To start you off, begin by throwing some high value treats around the entrance to the crate. Allow your pup to explore at their own pace. Once they are happily taking the treats around the entrance to the crate, chuck a few pieces inside. Let them go in and get the treats in their own time, without forcing them inside. Leave the door open so that your pup can go in and out the crate as they please. Repeat this several times, several times a day. 

Take it slow

The next step is to close the door while your pup is inside the crate. As above, throw some tasty treats inside and once your pup is in, close the door for a few moments. After a few seconds, open the door again. We want your pup to learn that the door closing isn’t scary and that it means positive things are to come. Repeat several times, as before. Try to feed your pup their meals in their crate as part of this process, to really increase the positive associations. 

Next, you’re going to want to start leaving the door shut for longer periods. Instead of treats, now you want to be giving your pooch something longer lasting. Kongs, lick mats, frozen slow feeders, tasty chews – anything delicious that will take a while to deal with. Now, you can close the door on your pup while they’re busy with their treat. Once they’ve finished, be sure to let them out. 

Practise small separations

Finally, you’re going to want to start leaving your pup alone while they’re in the crate. Start small, a few seconds or so, and you need only leave the room. We want to teach your pup that you are always going to come back and that being on their own isn’t a problem. You can incorporate the separations with  your pup having their treats in the crate as well. Gradually build up the time that your pup is left alone. 


Choose a “hot spot”

Make sure you don’t choose a spot that sits in direct sunlight at any part of the day. Nor should it be placed in an area that is particularly draughty. Similarly, you don’t want to put your crate in an area of the house that is particularly busy, where your pup will be regularly disturbed. 

Remove water

There is conflicting advice here: some state that removing water close to bedtime will aid with toilet training. However, as a positive based trainer, I do not believe that we should be removing our dog’s access to something as essential as water in order to get them through the night.

Sleepless nights and disturbed sleeping schedules are part and parcel of having a puppy and it doesn’t last forever. More often than not, a pup is able to sleep through the night (8 hours or so) without a toilet break by around 16 weeks, especially if they are a larger breed. 

Push it

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Properly crate training a dog, to the point where they can be left alone whist crated for a few hours, takes time. It usually takes around 6 months to have properly cracked crate training. For some dogs, crate training won’t work at all. My own dog, Kenny, did not take to his crate. He cried and cried, even when we were sat right next to him, and was very distressed whilst in there. So we listened to him and got rid of the crate. He was happiest sleeping under the counter in the kitchen, so that’s where we moved his bed! If you really feel crate training isn’t progressing, it might just not be the right fit for your dog’s personality – and that’s okay! Just like not every dog will excel at agility, not every dog will excel in a crate. 

Let your dog ‘cry it out’

Again, there is conflicting advice on this – especially if you’re tempted to try a Google search. Some say that if you leave a pup to cry, they will eventually settle. Similarly to removing water, whilst this may work in the short run, allowing your pup to do this does not fall within the remit of positive training. In order for crate training to be a success, the crate needs to be a really positive place that your dog willingly goes into and is happy to be left in. Allowing your dog to get to the point that they are crying and distressed will only create negative associations with the crate – undoing all of the positive work that has been done so far. They may settle eventually, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they aren’t going to be skipping into the crate the next time you ask. The key is not to let your pup get to the point where they cry, if they start to become distressed, you’ve “pushed it” too far and need to go back a step. 

Leave it too long

Dogs should be crated for 4 hours as an absolute maximum during the day – it is fine to leave them in there for longer overnight. Crates are fabulous for helping keep puppies from having accidents and getting into mischief while you’re gone but they shouldn’t be left for any longer than this. It’s really important that your puppy gets access to the toilet frequently and is getting lots of mental enrichment and physical stimulation to aid growth and development. 

Use the crate as a punishment

If you want your dog to be happy about spending their time in their crate and really see it as a positive place that they love being, then it cannot be a place that they are put into as a punishment. If your dog exhibits a behaviour that you don’t like and then they are shut away after, for example, being scolded by you, then they are going to associate the crate with negative things happening. For crate training to work, our dogs need to love their crates and so we need to avoid these negative associations from forming. 


…that’s it! 

This process is a long one and at times, if can feel impossible. However, with time and patience, your pup will get there!

If you are finding it hard adjusting to the night time routine, if your pup just can’t crack toilet training or if you’re coming home to puppy destruction whenever you leave, then I am here to help! Click here to make an enquiry for a 1-2-1 session or here to find out about puppy classes.