Why Crate Train Your Dog?
Used properly, a crate is an effective short-term tool for managing and training your dog. If you train your dog to be content in a crate, you’ll provide a safe, cozy place that they can call their own and sleep in at night. It also gives you a safe way to transport your dog and travel with her to motels, to friends’ homes, when on vacation, etc. Crates are especially helpful when introducing a new dog into your household. You can also use a crate to efficiently house train your dog and prevent them from being destructive.
A simple analogy that relates to the crate concept is; if you were sleeping out in the open fields in the African bush you’d not rest very well knowing the possibility of attack from a multitude of threats such as lion, rhino, hyena, elephant, etc etc etc. However, if you were sleeping in a safe, secure room with four walls and roof that provides protection from all those possible threats you’d sleep very well and then wake up refreshed and clear-headed ready for more adventure. The crate provides just that sort of comfort for your dog. It allows your dog to recharge in a short time and greatly assists with cognition.
Crates can be easily misused. They are best used as a relatively short-term management tool, not as a lifetime pattern of housing. Your goal should be to work on any behavior problems and train your dog so that it’s not necessary to crate them 8 to 10 hours every weekday throughout their life. Please see our crate guidelines below, under How Long to Crate Your Dog, to avoid
over-confinement and inadvertently causing behavior problems from a lack of exercise, training, socialization and companionship.
Some dogs are never happy in crates but can tolerate them when necessary. Others panic when closed in a crate (please see more information below under When NOT to Use a Crate). However, most dogs readily adjust to their crates, preferring to sleep or take refuge in them when they’re tired or things get too hectic.
Using a Crate to Toilet Train Your Dog
You can use the crate to safely contain your dog during the night and whenever you can’t monitor their behavior closely. Dogs don’t like to soil their sleeping areas, so your dog will naturally avoid eliminating in their crate. If used for house training purposes, the crate should be sized so that your dog can lie down comfortably, stand up without having to crouch and easily turn around in a circle. If the crate is any larger, they might learn to soil one end of it and sleep at the other. If the crate is any smaller, they might be uncomfortable and unable to rest. (When you no longer need to use the crate for house training, you can purchase a larger one for your dog if you like.)
Using a crate will help you predict when your dog needs to eliminate and control where they eliminate. If they have been crated overnight, or for a few hours during the day, the chances are extremely high that they will eliminate as soon as you release them from the crate and take them outside. So, with the crate’s help, you can prevent your dog from eliminating indoors and have a chance to reward them for going in the right place—outside! For more information about house training your dog, please speak to your certified dog trainer.
Using a Crate to Prevent Destructive Behavior
In addition to acting as a house-training tool, your dog’s crate can prevent them from being destructive. Dogs and puppies need to learn to refrain from doing a lot of things in their homes, like digging on furniture or rugs, chewing table legs, cushions or other household items, and stealing from garbage cans or counters. To teach your dog not to do things you don’t like, you must be able to observe and monitor their behavior. Confining them to a crate can prevent unwanted behavior when you can’t supervise or have to leave them home alone. If your dog has a chewing problem and you’d like more information about how to resolve it, please see our article, Destructive Chewing.
How Long to Crate Your Dog
At night when dogs sleep, their body systems and elimination slow down. This is why they can go all night without elimination once they’re old enough to have sufficient bladder and bowel control. But during the day, neither puppies nor adult dogs should be crated for more than four or five hours at a time. When crating a puppy for more than two hours, it’s best to provide water by attaching a water bottle dispenser to the crate. (Using a bowl can create a mess.) Follow these daytime duration guidelines to avoid compromising your dog’s well-being or causing behavior problems:
Rule of thumb is one hour per month of age.
For any dog you’ll need to increase the time slowly – don’t just assume that because a dog is 3 months old it can cope with 3 hours.
Age maximum time in crate
8–10 weeks | 30–60 minutes
11–14 weeks | 1–3 hours
15–16 weeks | 3–4 hours
17+ weeks | 4–5 hours
An adult dog that is conditioned to the crate would be 6 hours maximum.
If you have a puppy and you work all day, it’s essential that you give your puppy a midday break from the crate every day for at least the first eight months. Even with a break, though, your puppy will still have to tolerate two four-hour periods of confinement. That’s a long time, so make sure they get a good play in the morning before you leave for work, during lunch and after work. If you can’t go home during your lunch break, ask a friend for help or speak to us about “Puppy Visits” . We can visit your puppy at lunch time. But keep in mind that the puppy still needs quality time with you. You and the puppy should get to enjoy some playtime in the morning and another play and training session when you come home from work.
If you’re using the crate for house training, remember that it’s a temporary tool. Your goal is to create a dog who can be trusted to have freedom in at least part of your house while you’re gone. When you’ve accomplished this, you can still keep the crate for your dog to sleep or hang out in. Just remove the door or tie it open.
An adult dog can be crated for as long as eight hours on some occasions, but daily crating of this length could compromise your dog’s mental and physical well-being. Be sure that your dog receives adequate exercise before a long stay in the crate—at least 30 to 60 minutes of mental and physical exercise. If your dog is crated overnight as well, it should receive at least 60 to 90 minutes of outdoor exercise in the morning and before being put back in the crate at night.
Rule of thumb when putting your pup to bed.
- No food three hours before bed time.
- No water one hour before bed time.
- Toilet walk just before bed time.
When NOT to Use a Crate
Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety should not be confined in a crate unless under strict guidelines and as part of owner dependency training. Speak to your dog trainer about developing a plan to help with the anxiety. If your dog shows any of the following signs of separation anxiety, cease crating and contact your trainer.
- Destructiveness, vocalizing or house soiling during the first 30 minutes after you leave your dog alone in the house
- Destructive behaviors that consistently occur only when left alone in the house
- Destructive behavior directed at windows, doors, flooring in front of doors or items with your scent, like seat cushions or the TV remote
Some dogs don’t tolerate crating well due to other types of fears or anxieties, like thunder phobia. Don’t crate your dog if you see signs of anxiety when crated, such as:
- Damage to the crate from your dog’s attempts to escape
- Damage to surrounding objects that they have been able to reach while inside the crate
- Wet chest fur or a lot of wetness in the bottom of the crate from drooling
- Urination or defecation in the crate
- Your dog moves the crate while she’s inside
- Excessive barking or howling during your absence (You can get reports from neighbors or record your dog’s behavior using a video camera)
In addition, don’t crate your dog if:
- They are too young to have sufficient bladder or bowel control
- Have diarrhea or are vomiting
- You must leave them alone for longer than the time indicated in the crate duration guidelines above
- Haven’t eliminated shortly before going in the crate
- The temperature is uncomfortably high/low
- Have not had sufficient exercise, companionship and socialization
The Weekend Plan
Most trainers and behaviorists recommend introducing your dog to a new crate very gradually, over a period of a week or more. This method works well for timid dogs who fear confinement and for dogs who have already learned to dislike crates. But many dogs can learn to use crates more easily, and many people just don’t have the time to devote an entire week or more to training before being able to use a crate.
If you need to start using a crate as soon as possible, try the following Weekend Crate Training plan. After your training sessions on Saturday and Sunday, you may be able to start confining your dog in a crate on Monday.
To successfully use the crate-training plan, you will need to follow the directions below, step by step. It’s important to avoid skipping ahead and leaving your dog alone in the crate before they’re ready. To confine your dog at night over the weekend, put them in a small, safe area instead. You can use an exercise pen or baby gate to block off part of your kitchen, a bathroom or a laundry room. Make sure that the area is dog-proofed and free of things that your dog shouldn’t chew. You can leave them with something comfy to lie on, some water, toys and some chew things to keep them occupied. It’s best not to leave your dog home alone at all during the day on Saturday or Sunday. If you must do so for some reason, you can use the same dog-proofed area so as not to deviate from your training plan.
We have a range of quality crates and puppy play pens for rental and for sale through Woofers World. Visit WoofersWorld.com.au to see the range. Many pet supply stores and online vendors such as Gumtree and Ebay sell various wire, plastic, airline crates, mesh crates and fancy furniture crates but remember that Crating is a temporary training tool. Each style of crate has its own advantages. Wire crates usually collapse for easy storage and portability, and they provide more ventilation than plastic ones. Plastic crates seem especially den-like and might make dogs feel safer and more secure when they’re inside. Mesh crates provide privacy for dogs and are the most portable, but they aren’t very durable. Some dogs chew through them and escape.
After choosing which kind of crate to use, it’s important to make the new crate comfortable. Put it in a room where you spend lots of time, but out of the way of foot traffic. Next, put a soft bed or blanket and a toy or two inside. You can even put a shirt you’ve recently worn into the crate so your dog will feel comforted by your scent. (If your dog likes to chew fabric, you can skip this part.) If you purchase a wire crate for your dog, have a blanket or towel draped over it to create a more “den-like” feel.
Friday Night: Before You Start Training
The most important part of crate training is teaching your dog to associate her crate with things they love. Try the ideas below to convince your dog that their new crate is the place to be:
Leave the crate door wide open and make sure your dog has access to the room where you’ve set up the crate. Every so often, when they’re not looking, sneakily toss a few treats around and into the crate so they can discover them on their own. Use something that your dog will love, like small pieces of chicken, cheese, hot dog or freeze-dried liver. You can also leave an exciting new toy, a delicious chew bone or a stuffed toy inside the crate. Periodically leave special treats in your dog’s crate throughout the evening—and continue to do so every day or so for the next few weeks. If your dog sometimes finds surprise goodies in her crate, they’ll start to love it, and probably go into it often just to see if the “Treat Fairy” has come.
When it’s dinnertime for your dog, place the bowl inside the crate and leave the door open. Try putting the bowl in the back of the crate so your dog has to stand inside the crate to eat. If they seem too uncomfortable to go into the crate at first, you can put the bowl just inside the door instead. That way, they only have to put their head in the crate. Over time, as your dog becomes more and more comfortable stepping inside, you can move the bowl all the way to the back of the crate and, eventually, close the crate door while they eat.
Over the next couple of days, you’ll reward your dog often for going into the crate. It’s a good idea to prepare some treats in advance. Cut some chicken, cheese, hot dogs, soft dog treats or freeze-dried liver into bite-sized pieces and set them aside for later use. You can also stuff two or three KONGs, which you’ll give your dog when you start to increase the length of time they stay in the crate.
Saturday Morning: Letthe Crate Fun Begin!
You’re ready to get started. Gather the treats you prepared and take your dog to the crate.
You can do the following exercises sitting on the floor or in a chair right next to the crate.
- Give a cue to ask your dog to go into the crate, such as “Go to bed.” (Choose whatever cue you like, just be sure you always use the same one.)
- Show your dog one of the treats and toss it in the crate. After they go inside to eat it, praise enthusiastically and feed another treat while still inside.
- Say “Okay” or “Free” to let your dog know they can come out again. You don’t need to reward when they come out of the crate. Your dog needs to learn that all good things happen inside the crate.
Repeat the steps above 10 times. Take a short break (just a few minutes), and then do another set of 10 repetitions. After your second set, end the training session.1
Later on in the morning, collect some treats and bring your dog to the crate for more training. Now that they’ve practiced following a treat into the crate, try asking to go in before rewarding them with the treat.
- To warm up, do a couple of repetitions just like you did before—throwing a treat into the crate so that your dog follows it. Then you can change the rules a little.
- Give your cue, “Go to bed,” and point to the crate instead of throwing a treat into it. (When you point, it might help to move your arm like you did when tossing a treat into the crate. The familiar motion can remind your dog what they’re supposed to do.)
- When your dog goes in, praise and immediately give a couple of treats while still in the crate.
- Say “Okay” and let your dog come out of the crate.
Do 10 repetitions and then take a short break. Repeat the exercise another 10 times—or until your dog seems to know the game and enters and exits readily when you ask them to.
If your dog seems nervous about going into the crate or confused about what they’re supposed to do when you say the cue, go back and practice Step One for a while longer. When your dog confidently rushes into the crate to get her treat, you can try Step Two again.2
Saturday Afternoon: Close the Crate Door
Now it’s time to get your dog used to being in the crate with the door closed.
- To warm up, do a couple of repetitions just like you did before. Say “Go to bed,” point to the crate, reward your dog with a treat when she goes in and then say “Okay” to let her know she can come out.
- Now you’ll try closing the crate door for just a moment. Give your cue “Go to bed” and point to the crate.
- When your dog goes in the crate, praise and immediately give them a treat. Then gently close the crate door. (You don’t have to latch it yet.) Feed your dog two or three treats through the closed crate door and continue to praise while they’re in the crate.
- Say “Okay” and open the crate door to let your dog come out. (If your dog seems stressed or panicked with the door briefly closed, break down this exercise into two phases: in the first phase, just close the door halfway, give a treat and release your dog; in the second phase, close the door all the way.)
Do 10 repetitions and then take a break for a minute or two. Then repeat the exercise 10 more times, slowly building up the time your dog stays in the crate with the door closed. As you increase the time, throw in some easy repetitions, too. Start with 1 second, then increase to 5. Try 8 seconds, then go back to 3. Increase to 10 seconds, then 15, then 20, then an easy 5. Continue to generously reward your dog whenever they’re in the Page 8 crate. After you finish your second set of 10 repetitions, take a half-hour break. Then repeat the exercise again. Over the afternoon, try to build up to having your dog stay in the crate for one minute.
Saturday Evening: Introduction to Alone Time
When your dog is used to hanging out in the crate with the door closed while you sit nearby, you can move on to the next step: leaving them alone for a little while. Repeat the exercise you’ve been practicing, just as it’s described above—but this time, latch the crate door and start to move away from the crate.
- To warm up, do a couple of repetitions like you did in the afternoon. Sit on the floor or in a chair next to your dog’s crate. Say “Go to bed” and point to the crate. When your dog goes in, close the crate door and reward her with a few treats while they stay in the crate. After about 30 seconds, say “Okay” and open the crate door to let your dog out.
- Now you’ll close the crate door briefly. Say your cue, “Go to bed,” and point to the crate. When your dog goes in, close and latch the crate door, and then give a treat.
- Stand up and give your dog another treat. Take a few steps away from the crate and then return to give another treat.
- Say “Okay” and open the crate door to let your dog come out.
Repeat the steps above 10 times, each time walking away in a different direction. After a short break, do 10 more repetitions, slowly building up the time your dog stays in the crate while you walk around the room. As you increase the time, throw in some easy repetitions. Start with 10 seconds, then increase to 15. Try 20 seconds, then go back to 10. Increase to 30 seconds, drop to 15, then up to 45, and then an easy 5. Continue to return to the crate and reward your dog every few seconds while they’re inside. In the beginning, be very generous. As your dog becomes more and more comfortable resting in the crate, you can gradually decrease how frequently you give treats.
After you finish your second set of 10 repetitions, take a half-hour break. Then repeat the exercise another 10 times. Start leaving the room for a few seconds at a time, always returning to reward your dog while in the crate. Try to work up to having your dog stay in the crate for one minute while you walk around the room and briefly leave the room.
Sunday Morning: TV Time
This morning, you’ll teach your dog to relax for longer periods in their crate. You’ll need some treats, a new tasty chew bone or a toy stuffed with something wonderful, like a little peanut butter or cream cheese, and something to occupy yourself. Ask your dog to go in their crate. When they do, praise them and give the chew bone, cow’s ear or stuffed KONG. Then close the crate door and settle down to watch TV or read a book in the same room. Keep your dog in their crate for about half an hour. (If they finish their chew, you can periodically give a treat or two, as long as they stay quiet.)
When the half hour is up, and your dog is relaxed, gently and calmly open the crate and say “Okay,” so that your dog can come out. Take the chew thing away, and don’t reward with treats when crate time is over. In fact, it’s best if you just ignore your dog for a few minutes. Again, you want them to learn that great things happen while they’re in the crate, not when they come out. Take a break from training for a while. An hour or two later, you can repeat the exercise.
At this point in your training, your dog might start to object to confinement in their crate. If they bark or whine, you have two options:
- Ignore them entirely. (Get yourself a pair of earplugs if you need to.) They’re trying to get your attention, so don’t reward the barking by giving it to them. Pretend they’re invisible. As soon as they stop vocalizing for a few seconds, you can give a treat. With repetition, your dog will learn that they get ignored if they make noise, but if they’re quiet, you deliver tasty treats.
- As soon as your dog starts to bark or whine, make some sort of noise to let her know that she’s made a mistake. You can say “Oops!” or “Too bad,” and then immediately leave the room. Don’t come back until your dog has been quiet for at least 5 to 10 seconds. With repetition, your dog will learn that making noise makes you instantly leave but being quiet makes you come back.
It’s important that you respond consistently when your dog makes noise in their crate. It might be frustrating at first, but if you stick to your plan, they’ll learn that it’s in their best interest to rest quietly when crated.
Sunday Afternoon: Alone Time
Before moving on to Sunday afternoon exercises, give your dog a good workout. Take them outside on a brisk walk or jog, play fetch or tug, or give them a chance to play with a dog buddy. Crate training will be easier if they’re tired. After you’ve exercised your dog, repeat the training steps you practiced this morning, but this time, instead of settling down to relax in the same room as your dog, you’ll move around the house.
- Ask your dog to go in her crate. When she does, hand her a delicious chew bone or a stuffed KONG. Then close the crate door and walk out of the room.
- Stay out of the room for 10 minutes. After the time’s up, you can return and let your dog out of the crate. (If they haven’t finished working on their chew thing, take it away after they leave the crate. They only get special goodies during crate time.) If your dog makes noise in the crate while you’re gone, don’t return to let them out until they’ve been quiet for 5 to 10 seconds.
- After a short break, repeat the exercise.
This afternoon, continue to repeat the steps above, slowly building up the time your dog stays in the crate. Try to work up to one full hour of alone time.
Sunday Evening: Time to Leave the House
If your dog can quietly rest in their crate for an hour while you move around the house, you’re ready to leave them home alone. Ask your dog to go in their crate and give them something delicious to chew or eat, just like you did before. Then close the crate and, without saying any goodbyes, leave the house for about 10 minutes. When you return, calmly let your dog out of the crate and take away the chew. Resist the urge to celebrate. Your dog will feel most comfortable going into and out of the crate if you act like it’s no big deal. Repeat the exercise as often as possible before bedtime, with exercise and potty breaks in between training times. Try to build up to leaving your dog in the crate, home alone, for an hour or two.
Now that you‘ve completed the Weekend Crate Training plan, your dog can start to stay in their crate whenever you leave the house, overnight and when you can’t directly supervise during the day. Abide by the crate duration guidelines above, and keep the following tips in mind to make sure your dog continues to feel comfortable in the crate:
- Always try to thoroughly exercise your dog before crating them. (Aim for at least 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise.) If you crate your dog while you’re at work and overnight, they will need lots of quality playtime and exercise with you when they’re not in their crate. Please see our articles, Exercise for Dogs and Enriching Your Dog’s Life, for information about keeping your dog’s mind and body well exercised.
- Always take your dog out for a poo-wee break before crating and right after letting them out of the crate.
- Continue to feed your dog their meals inside the crate and always leave them with something to chew when they’re in the crate. (Speak with your dog trainer or veterinarian for advice about what’s safe for your dog to chew while they’re alone.) If you reserve special things, like dinner, new chew bones, stuffed KONGs and pig and cow ears for crate time, your dog will learn to love going into their crate.
- Leave your dog’s crate open so that they can access it at all times. Many dogs choose to rest inside their crates even when they don’t have to.
Crate training can be challenging for some dogs, so don’t hesitate to enlist the help of your Melbourne Dog Trainers Certified Professional Dog Trainer. A professional trainer can provide lots of help and insight with crate training and often saves you a great deal of time and saves your dog a great deal of confusion.
My Dog Makes Noise in the Crate
Although it might be difficult, resist the urge to yell at your dog if they complain in the crate. They might respond by quieting down—but the attention from you, even though it’s negative attention, might increase their barking and whining instead. Scolding might also upset your dog, and you want to make their time in the crate as stress-free as possible. It’s also crucial to avoid breaking down and releasing your dog from the crate when they’re making noise. Doing this will send a clear message: If they bark and whine long enough, you’ll eventually let them out! The key is to teach your dog that you won’t let them out of the crate if they’re making noise—but you will reward them with treats or let them out if they stop.
However, if you have a young puppy, they might not be able to sleep through the night without having to eliminate. If your puppy whines in the middle of the night and you think they might need to go out, do let them Page 12 out of the crate. Take your puppy directly to the place where you’d like them to eliminate and wait. If they don’t go within a minute or two, take them back inside and return them to their crate. Don’t let your puppy romp around during the potty break. You don’t want them to learn that if they whine in their crate, you’ll take them out for playtime!
My Dog Is Afraid to Go Into the Crate
Dogs who seem very nervous about going into crates might need preliminary training with crate-like objects. If your dog seems reluctant to step into a crate, you can try teaching them to walk under a suspended tarp or blanket, step between two upright boards or lie down in the bottom half of an airline crate (with the top removed) before trying to coax them into an enclosed crate. When you start training with an airline or wire crate, it might make your dog more comfortable to remove the door or simply leave it ajar. If you have a mesh crate, flip the door up over the roof to keep it open. It can also help to teach your dog Sit, Down, Stay, Step Forward and Step Back. These skills will give you more control when you’re asking your dog to do specific behaviors in and around the crate.
After some preliminary training with less scary crate-like objects, you can try Weekend Crate Training, but instead of spending a day on each step, try going through the plan more slowly. Only progress to the next step when your dog seems completely comfortable.
My Dog Panics in the Crate
If your dog experiences extreme anxiety when you try to confine them in a crate, let them out immediately and seek the help of a certified dog trainer or behaviourist. If you are dealing with behavioural issues such as anxiety or chronic stress be sure to determine the qualifications of the trainer and ensure they have professional training and experience in successfully working with anxiety, since this work is beyond most dog trainers scope of schooling.
My Dog Guards Things or Behaves Aggressively in Her Crate
Dogs who guard their belongings sometimes also guard the area around their crates. If your dog has guarded objects, food or places in the past, always be cautious when walking by the open crate or when removing your dog from the crate. Avoid reaching into the crate to pull your dog out. Instead, you can entice them out or, if they are small, lift the crate up from the back to gently “spill” them out.
Some dogs seem to feel vulnerable and trapped (no longer able to react to their “flight” instinct) when they’re in crates or other small spaces. These dogs might react with aggression (“fight”) when approached by unfamiliar people or dogs while inside their crates. If this sounds like your dog, cease your crate training and discuss your options with your qualified dog trainer.
Decreasing Confinement, Increasing Freedom
You can begin to give your dog more freedom in your house while you’re gone once they are thoroughly house trained, have eliminated consistently outside with no accidents for at least one month, and chews or destroys only her own toys—not your house or household items. The right time to give your dog more freedom will depend on their individual personality. Some dogs can be destructive when alone until they are about two years old, while others can be trusted at one year or less.
Here are some suggested steps toward increasing your dog’s freedom outside the crate:
- Start with brief absences with your dog free in your house. Be sure to dog-proof your home before you go. Put your garbage away and pick up items you don’t want your dog to chew. Leave out several toys that they can chew. You want to set them up to succeed!
- Don’t give your dog freedom in the whole house at first. Use baby gates or close doors to prevent them from getting into rooms you don’t want them in yet. Or try confining your dog to just one room, like the kitchen or laundry room.
- Walk out the door and run a short five-minute errand. If you come home to a mess, try a shorter absence.
- If, after a couple more attempts at short absences, your dog is still making messes, they might not be mature enough to be left alone in the house yet. Alternatively, continued destructiveness might mean your dog has separation anxiety. If you think your dog might have separation anxiety, cease crate training until you’ve discussed it with your dog trainer.
- If you return and there are no messes, gradually lengthen your absences. For example, start with five minutes. Then try a half-hour, then an hour, then two hours and, finally, four or five hours (the maximum recommended length of time).
What NOT to Do
- Do not use a crate to contain your dog simply because they are a nuisance and require attention. A Crate is not a punishment, it’s a happy safe place for your dog. Read your dog’s needs and provide stimulation they require.
- A puppy or young dog can sometimes be annoying and exhausting, but it’s unfair and negligent to lock them up rather than provide the training they need.
- Do not put your dog in a crate to punish them. If you do, they’ll come to dislike the crate. It’s fine to use the crate sparingly as a time-out place, but ideally you have a designated “time-out” place for your dog. Your dog should have many more pleasant experiences with the crate to counteract any possible unpleasant associations.
Any issues or questions please contact us on 8609 9700, or bookings @melbournedogtrainers.com.au