Introducing Your Dog to a Crate

Crate training can assist in changing and preventing unwanted behavior in dogs. Crates are ideally introduced to dogs when they are puppies, but even adult dogs without previous crating experience can learn to be comfortable in a crate.  Dogs often continue to enjoy having their crate as a safe place to sleep, even if they no longer need to be confined as part of a management or training program.

Common uses for the crate include:

  1. Housetraining (dogs generally do not like to pee or poop where they sleep).
  2. Safety during transportation, either in a car or an airplane.
  3. Gradual introductions of a new pet to a household.
  4. Preventing inappropriate chewing for dogs who like to chew things when alone or unsupervised.

Teach Your Dog to Love Their Crate

Start your crate training sessions with a hungry, recently exercised dog and a large supply of your dog’s favorite treats, cut into pea-sized pieces or smaller. Repeat each step listed below several times, making sure that your dog is completely comfortable at each step before progressing to the next.

  1. Toss a treat just inside the crate and wait for your dog to eat it. Repeat several times, each time tossing the treat a little further inside the crate. Let your dog run back out after eating the treat.
  2. Show the dog a treat and then pretend to toss it into the crate. When the dog runs into their crate, praise them, and then toss in a few extra treats!
  3. Introduce a cue that signals to your dog when to go inside the crate, such as “go to your bed,” “kennel up,” etc. Say the cue as your dog moves toward the crate, then give a treat when they enter the crate.
  4. Give your crate cue, and after your dog enters the crate ask them to sit or lie down before giving them the treat.
  5. Say your crate cue and after your dog enters their crate and lays down, close the door. Give them the treat through the door, and then open it.
  6. Gradually increase the time your dog is inside the crate with the door closed. Give treats every 15 seconds or so to reward your dog for staying calm inside their crate.
  7. When your dog can remain calm for 10 to 15 seconds between treats, switch to giving a super yummy chew, such as a stuffed toy or a chew bone, to enjoy for longer periods in the crate.

Frequently Asked Questions

What size crate should I buy?
  • The crate should at minimum be big enough for your dog to stand up, turn around and lie down without hitting the top or sides of the crate. This size is ideal to help house train your dog. If the crate is larger, the dog may pee or poop at one end and sleep at the other.
  • If you have a puppy, buy a crate that will fit their anticipated adult size and use the included puppy panel to adjust the available space for your puppy’s current size. For housetrained dogs, you can use as big of a crate as you want.
  • For some dogs, an exercise pen or a dog-proof room may be a less stressful way to keep them out of trouble when you’re not able to watch them. This is especially true for dogs that have had a previous bad experience in a crate.
What if my dog hates their crate or cries to get out?

If your dog has had a previous bad experience with a crate or simply doesn’t take to it well, you may have to work more slowly. It helps to do many short practice sessions and feed your dog all their meals in an open crate. Avoid letting the dog out of the crate before they start these behaviors because this can accidentally teach the dog that whining, barking, or scratching means they get let out. If your dog is already whining, barking or scratching to get out of the crate, wait for a moment of calm before opening the door. They will learn that being calm or quiet is the best way to get you to open the door. If your dog is repeatedly whining, barking or scratching to get out of their crate, they are likely distressed. If this is the case, back up a few steps and work on shorter durations in the crate where your dog is not distressed. Very slowly work up to longer times, provided your dog is completely calm.

Can a crate be misused?
  • The crate should NOT be used to confine a dog simply because the dog is frequently getting into trouble and requires attention.
  • Young puppies should not be crated for more than an hour or two at a time, except at night. They should be provided ample opportunities to eliminate in appropriate places and to exercise.
  • An adult dog should be crated for no more than four hours at a time, with enough exercise to tire them both before and after crating.
  • Crating your dog when left unsupervised or overnight should only be the norm until your dog has learned where to eliminate and what not to chew. Your goal should be to eventually leave your dog free when home alone, which most dogs can accomplish through consistent training and management.
Should crating ever be used as a means of punishing the dog?

Some trainers feel it is OK to occasionally use the crate as a time-out place, but only if the dog also has many other enjoyable experiences in the crate. If you find that you are regularly using the crate for time-outs, we recommend contacting a dog training professional for guidance.

Still have questions?

Contact our Behavior Specialists at [email protected] or (212) 876-7700 ext. 4971