Over the past 30 years, we’ve lived with eight dogs total and crate trained two puppies and our Husky when we adopted him at 10 months old. The goal was to train them to do their business outside and not destroy the house while we had to go out. We’ve learned a few tricks along the way.
If you’re new at crate training a puppy, the following tips will cover the how, what, where and everything in between you need to know to have a successful experience.
1. Be patient
Crate training a puppy takes time and patience and can be frustrating as well. It can take up to six months to fully train your dog to understand and like their crate.
2. Never use the crate as punishment
As mentioned before, the crate is intended to be a place where your dog feels safe. You want your dog to love the crate, which is why it never should be used as a punishment.
3. Choose the right dog crate size
You want your puppy to view the crate as his ‘den’ where he is comfortable and safe and snug.
When choosing a dog crate, remember to take into consideration how big your puppy will get. Our Husky at 10 months old was already the size he is now, so we used the very large crate we already had.
To save money and not have to buy two different crate sizes, get a large one that comes with a divider (I got mine at Walmart) that will expand the space as the puppy grows, until it’s not needed anymore.
This crate chart will help you choose the right size for your dog.
4. Decide where to put the dog crate in the house
In our house, the crates were beside the kitchen and table, where the dogs could see us and we could see them. It was also a convenient spot close to the patio door leading to the fenced backyard since I had to take the puppy out every two hours.
We didn’t want the crate in our bedroom, but when potty training our two-month-old puppies, I slept on the couch in the living room close to the crate!
5. Set a dog training schedule
It’s important to create a routine, whether for eating, walking, sleeping, pooping. It’s amazing how the dog’s body functions work. They eat, they go outside, and relieve themselves. It’s automatic. A puppy will usually need to eat at least three times a day.
A rule of thumb is to take the puppy outside at least every two hours, as well as after they wake up, eat or drink. While you’re housetraining your dog, always take him out on a leash.
Pick a spot outside where you will always take the puppy to do his business. You can use a word or phrase that you will repeat every time you take the dog to that same ‘bathroom’ spot. I think I remember we used “fais pipi”, which is French for ‘Go pee’.
Praise your puppy immediately after he’s finished, which will teach him what’s expected.
6. Length of Crate Time According to Age
Puppies need a lot of pee breaks, especially when they are very young. For the first three months, a puppy needs to be let out of the crate often. The table below will serve as a guide.
There is a rule of thumb to follow to determine how long you can leave a puppy in a crate, which is also based on how long a puppy can hold it.
From three to six months, one hour per every month of the puppy’s age, so 2 months old = 2 hours
But before that age, puppies can’t hold it. Here are common time limits for puppies of different ages:
|Age||Maximum Crate Time|
|8-10 weeks||1 hr or less|
|10-12 weeks||2 hours|
|3-6 months||1 hour per month|
|6 months +||up to six hours|
We’ve never left our dogs in the crate for more than two hours. Not only it’s not comfortable for them, but it’s also asking them to be in the same position for long periods.
Now, all our dogs have free rein of the house except for the living room, and still, we never leave them longer than five hours at the most. When we know we’ll be gone longer, we ask our dog babysitter to come after four hours to let them out in the backyard and stay with them for 30 minutes.
Since we have three dogs, it’s not possible for her to walk them. But someone who only has one dog, a dog walker is the best solution to make sure a dog is not left in a crate for very longer periods.
7. A dog shouldn’t wear anything on him while in a crate
While your dog is in a crate, you should remove his collar, especially if it has dangling tags. A dog should not be wearing a harness as well.
Anything that can get caught on the sides of the crate is dangerous as it can harm and even strangle the dog.
8. What to put in the puppy’s crate
You should add some kind of comfy bedding at the bottom of the crate. For a puppy, a waterproof and chew-resistant pad would be best.
Later on, as the puppy grows and can hold his pee longer, you might try a dog bed or a blanket, as long as there’s enough headspace to allow the dog to stand up without touching the top of the crate. Make sure your dog doesn’t chew the bed and eat the stuffing and choke.
A long time ago, we used a carpet in the old crate. When I bought a newer and larger one for Taz, our Chocolate Lab, we switched to soft blankets. He actually loves this option as he sometimes grabs the end of it and makes himself a pillow!
Do not leave food and water in your dog’s crate. It’s definitely not recommended because first, it will make a mess and second, free access to water means more bathroom breaks.
9. Use treats to crate train your dog
When you first start crate training, extend your arm inside the crate with a treat in your hand. Make sure your dog sees the treat. Entice him to get inside the crate. Once he is, express your delight and give him the treat. Don’t close the door.
Let him get out and do it again a few times that day, but no longer than 10 minutes at a time. Try a few hours later, the same process, but this time close the door and stay close by where your dog can see you. Then open the door.
In the next session, once you close the door, leave the room for 5 minutes, and come back. If your dog wants to come out, let him. Or you can also open the door and let him decide. Increase the time you are in another room or just outside, like 10 minutes.
After a few days of repeating the process, your dog will understand that he gets a treat when he goes in the crate. If you repeat the same phrase every time you want the dog in his ‘house’ and you give him a treat once he’s inside and calm, he’ll be happy to do so.
When our Chocolate Lab was younger and we had to go out, we would tell him to “Go to your house” and he would run and get inside and wait for his treat. It works!
10. Training a puppy at night
Expect to not sleep much during the first week of crate training your puppy.
You have to remember that your little fur baby was used to sleeping snuggled with his littermates. And now he’s alone with no other little warm bodies to pile on top of.
- Make sure to take away the water bowl an hour or so before bedtime.
- Before you head to bed, take the puppy outside for a quick potty break.
- Set the crate either in your bedroom or close to where you’ll be sleeping.
- Expect to take the puppy out for at least two potty breaks during the night.
- If the dog is whining and/or being restless, it’s a sign he needs to go out.
- If the puppy already had his potty break and is crying, sit on the floor near his crate and talk calmly.
- Be prepared and have the leash, the poop bags, and the flashlight by the door for a fast exit.
- No playtime or distraction is allowed, your dog should be in and out quickly.
- If your puppy has an accident and pees in the crate, don’t punish him. Remain calm and take him outside right away in case he’s not finished. Make sure you clean up the crate properly to prevent an accident in the same spot.
11. You can wake your puppy up to pee at night
Puppies aged four months and younger usually aren’t able to hold it in. Set your alarm to wake him up halfway through the night to go potty.
Eventually, as the puppy gets older, he should sleep 6-7 hours during the night without a potty break.
12. What to do if the puppy cries in the crate
There are a few reasons why your puppy would cry while in the crate.
- It’s the first time in the crate and it’s unfamiliar: when doing the training with treats, as mentioned above leave the door open for multiple sessions. Then close the door for five minutes and stay close by. Let him out. Coax him to go in again and close the door and leave the room for five minutes. Keep doing this over a few days and increasing the time. Don’t leave him longer than 30 minutes the first time.
- The puppy needs to go for a potty break: he will paces and spins in circles, which is a sign he needs to go.
- The puppy needs reassurance: leaving him in the crate, sit beside it, and speak softly reassuring him it’s ok and you’re right there. Maybe give him a toy such as a Kong, which he can’t chew or destroy.
13. Should you cover a dog crate with a blanket
Covering the crate with a blanket might be an option if your dog let’s say is afraid of thunderstorms. The crate will then feel more like a den. Make sure it doesn’t cover the crate completely, your dog needs to be able to breath properly.
On the other hand, your dog needs to be around his ‘people’ even if he’s in the crate. It’s reassuring to see and feel his family.
We never did.
14. Crate training when you leave the house
After your dog is used to be spending about 30 minutes in the crate, you can start the process of training him (and you) when you leave the house.
It’s important to follow a routine so the puppy understand what’s expected and what will happen.
This is the method we used and it worked well.
- Put the puppy in the crate using the treats method mentioned above, but do it just before you leave.
- Get your stuff ready, like gather your coat, purse, keys, etc.
- Don’t make a big deal out of leaving. Just praise your puppy and give him a treat then leave.
- When you come back home, don’t get excited. Keep it low-key.
- You should do this process for a few days, increasing the time you are out.
- Follow the crate time rule above appropriate for the puppy’s age.
I remember the first time I did this. I went through the motion of getting ready. I did put the dog in the crate and I did leave the house. Except I just stayed outside for five minutes, walked around to the patio door without being seen to hear if the puppy was crying!
15. Crate training a rescue dog
The usual crate training tips might not apply when it comes to a rescue dog. Maybe he’s had a bad experience in his past life. Maybe he was confined or chained, or abused.
We were told our Beagle spent the first year of his life in a crate. For that reason, the people who adopted him when he was a year old did not use a crate and to this day, he’s 8 years old now, he’s never been in a crate ever. He asks for the door nicely 🙂
A long time ago, as a favor, we fostered a one-year-old Husky mix. We weren’t prepared for this, so I asked a friend to lend me a crate. It was the plastic kind, more like a carrier.
The first night, we were going to the movies and I tried to coax him to go in the crate but he didn’t want to. I pushed him in and closed the door. Oh, the mistakes we made along the way. The poor dog got so scared, he scratched the inside of the crate trying to get out. We never crate him again.
It didn’t take long to fall in love with him and we adopted him. He never did any damage or peed or pooped in the house. He lived till he was 11 years old.
You can try the usual crate training method, but if you see the dog is terrified, you’ll need to find some other ways.
16. Crate training an older dog
The difference between crate training a puppy and an adult dog is mostly that it will take longer. The puppy has no habits, but an older dog will have had more time to develop some.
Be patient and let the dog get used to a crate slowly with no pressure from you. The end result is for the dog to eventually enjoy the crate. Don’t force him to go in.
Throw some treats inside the crate and let the dog smell and find them. Leave the door open and let him get comfortable around it. Do this for a couple of days. Ignore the crate. Don’t make a fuss about it. It’s just another piece of furniture.
You want the dog to associate the crate with the good stuff he’s finding inside of it. You might want to try a Kong stuffed with peanut butter.
Be patient. It might take weeks before your dog is comfortable enough to stay inside the crate. Once he is, you can start following the same crate training tips used for a puppy.
17. When to stop crate training
Eventually, as your pet ages, you’ll want to stop leaving him in a crate.
Our current Chocolate Lab, as well as our other dogs (who have passed away), were about four years old when we started the process. Our rescued Husky was about 2 years old. It all depends on the dog.
The whole process needs to be done slowly.
Start leaving your dog out of the crate while you are there to supervise. Increase the time between each ‘outing’ and always make sure you took the puppy out for a pee break before you do this. Also do not attempt these tests after a meal or after he drank a lot of water.
Eventually, start leaving your dog out of the crate at night. You might consider if possible, using a baby gate to confine your dog in a smaller area of your household, which could be extended over time.
When you’re ready to test your dog’s free rein of the house when you leave, again do it in small chunks of time. Make sure the dog has gone out to pee and poop, get your keys, purse, and coat and go out the door.
Stay out not far for maybe 10 minutes at first. Come back in and see how it went. Later or the next day, do the same again and stay out for 20 minutes. The next day, increase again and so on until you feel confident you can leave your dog alone for longer periods of time.
18. Don’t get rid of the crate
It’s a good idea to keep the crate available even after you’re done with the training. Your dog will still use it to nap or chew on a Kong whenever he wants. It will remain his place to chill.
Currently, we have three dogs and one crate with the door always open. Only our 13-year-old Chocolate Lab uses it as his ‘house’. 🙂