Written by Ella White
Crate training is one of the most useful things you can teach your dog, whether they’re a young, bouncy puppy, an older dog that can be prone to misbehaving, or a rescue that’s never been trained. Crates are a great way to limit your dog’s access to rooms or places that they aren’t allowed to explore, a method to transport them safely, and eventually a place where they feel safe and comfortable to spend time alone.
An important part of your dog learning to be well behaved and how to go to the toilet in the right places comes down to crate training. And while some people view crates as a form of imprisonment, it’s actually in dogs’ nature to spend time in small, den-like spaces.
The human view of cages as a negative environment can lead to problematic training including banishing dogs to these spaces as punishment. But with the right training, crates should become a place for your dog to feel calm and free of anxiety.
Helping your dog to feel secure and like they have a safe space to spend time alone is key to their development and confidence. Building this association with the crate should be a priority. It just happens that keeping them in one place out of the rest of the house, and progressing their toilet training are happy secondary benefits.
Crates will help to keep your dog calm in new environments, and give them the option to go somewhere if they feel stressed. It’s also a safe place for them to go when they need to be left unsupervised, and since dogs don’t like to make a mess where they sleep it can help them understand where to go to the toilet – and where not to.
The most important thing to consider when choosing the right crate for your dog is whether they can stand and turn around in it comfortably. Whether you choose a plastic, collapsible, or wire cage will depend on how you intend to use it, and what breed you own.
Plastic carryable crates, also known as vari-kennels, are ideal for smaller dogs that need to be transported often. Collapsible crates are good for larger dogs, and can be closed down to take in the car. And metal crates are perfect for at home, so you might also choose a second crate that’s easier to transport if you’re taking your dog to work or on holiday.
Choosing a crate that is comfortable, durable, and works for the kind of training you’re doing is key. Wire crates let your dog see what’s happening outside and have less of an enclosed feel, so you can cover it if they want darkness to sleep and leave it open in the day. It’s also important to buy a cage that suits your dog’s adult size and set up a divider that can be adjusted as they grow.
Dog beds, blankets, and towels can all create a comfortable environment that will help your dog enjoy spending time in their crate. They can just sleep on the crate mat if they prefer hard surfaces, and if you’re still toilet training a puppy you may want to wait before filling the crate with soft furnishings that they’re likely to ruin.
But kitting your dog’s crate out with whatever they like to lie on will help make your training easier, as they’ll think of the crate as a good place to relax and sleep.
Crate training can take days, weeks, or possibly months depending on your dog’s age and experiences. So patience is key: just bear in mind that once your dog grows to love their crate, it will be better for both of you. Remember that the crate should always have positive connotations and should never be used as punishment. Take it slowly with these simple steps, and you’ll have a crate-trained dog in no time.
Start with the crate in a busy area of the house where people spend lots of time. Fill it with a blanket or towel and speak encouragingly to your dog as you bring them over to the crate. Drop treats near the door and further inside the crate to entice them in.
If they don’t enter straight away, don’t force them. Just keep adding treats, encouraging your dog to enter of their own accord. A favourite toy might work better than treats, but don’t rush the process. It could take days for your dog to enter, while others will wander in happily within minutes.
Once your dog has been introduced to the crate, start feeding them their meals near the crate. It will create a positive association, and give them a feeling that this is their space. Once they are happy to enter the crate on their own, start putting their food bowl a little further to the back of the crate each time.
When your dog is happy to eat in the crate comfortably and without fuss, close the door while they’re eating. As soon as they’ve finished, open the door again. Then, with each meal, begin to keep the door closed for longer until they’re happy to be in there for 10 minutes after they’ve finished eating.
If they whine, don’t let them out but comfort them and stay with them – but don’t let them know that whining will get them let out of the crate. Next time, shorten the time again as it may have been too much too soon.
Once your dog shows no fear or anxiety being shut in the crate to eat, try keeping them in there for short periods while you’re at home. Offer a treat to coax them into the crate, and point it into the crate to direct them where to go. Once they’re in, praise your dog, give them the treat, and close the door.
Sit near the crate for up to 10 minutes, then leave the room for a short time. Then come back and sit with them quietly for a bit before letting them out. Repeat this several times a day. Increase the time in the cage and how long you leave the room for each time.
Once your dog can be left alone in the crate for 30 minutes without crying, you can start to leave them alone while you go out for short times. They might even be ready to sleep in the crate at night. Put them in with a treat each time, and give them some toys for comfort.
While you’re getting ready to go out, vary the time at which you put your dog in their crate. Don’t leave them in there too long before you leave, and don’t make your goodbye feel emotional. Praise them with a treat for staying in the crate and leave quietly. When you return, keep your greeting calm and keep training them to stay in the crate while you’re home so they don’t associate it with being left alone.
Though dogs should be left in a crate for no more than 5 hours in the day, with the right training they can happily sleep there through the night. At bedtime, encourage them to enter with praise and a treat. You might want to place the crate near your room at first to avoid association between the crate and isolation. Eventually, you can move the crate to wherever it lives in the day.
Even when your dog is happy in their crate and all negative associations have been avoided, there are some issues you can run into. Being aware of these potential problems will help your crate training run smoothly.
Even dogs that like being in the crate can become bored and frustrated after too much time spent in there. If they spend all night in the crate, make sure they’re allowed out in the day. And if they spend all day in the crate while you’re at work make sure they have plenty of time out of the crate in the evenings. Puppies and dogs that are still toilet training shouldn’t be kept in a crate for more than three hours.
If your dog cries or whines in their crate, they might need to be let out for food to go to the toilet. If they aren’t in the habit of whining during crate training give them a short time to relax and settle. Don’t shout at them or make them feel scared. If the crying still continues, let them go outside or to their bowl but don’t play with them. It’s important not to build an association between whining and getting out of the crate.
If your dog already suffers from separation anxiety, putting them in a crate won’t help. You’ll need further measures to help solve this issue (as outlined here <link to blog>). But if your dog develops anxious tendencies as a result of being left in the crate, slow down the training. You might have left them for too long too soon.
Perseverance is the only way to complete your crate training, and it can be harder with older or rescued dogs than with puppies. Remember to be consistent in your rewards and commands, and make the space as inviting for them as it can be.
With access to their crate at all times, your dog should begin to see it as a nice place to be. You could even play games with them in or near their crate to help reinforce positive associations. Then when you’re ready, you can take your crate out and about to help your dog feel safer in new environments.
Front of the Pack’s freeze-dried treats make the perfect crate training reward. They’re made from raw protein and come in three tasty flavours that dogs can’t get enough of. With these in your pocket, your crate training is bound to go well.