August 2019

Audience: Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers

Crate training can help your dog in many ways, such as providing them with a safe place to rest when unsupervised, keeps them from chewing human belongings, and aids in potty training. Start right away when you bring your dog home. Some dogs will make faster progress than others. Dogs need to be trained to be confined. Only proceed to a more difficult step if your dog is going into the crate willingly. If your dog starts to run out of the crate or is still going in reluctantly, slow down the process.

Crate Basics

  • Pick a crate large enough for your dog to stand up and turn around in. If the crate is too big, your dog may soil one area and sleep in another. If it's too small, your dog will be uncomfortable.
  • Put a soft bedding material in the crate and observe your dog to make sure they don't chew and/or consume it.
  • Pick an area that isn't too busy or noisy, but where your dog can be near family members.
  • Adult dogs shouldn't be confined for longer than 4-6 hours at a time, except at night when they're sleeping. Puppies can only be confined for 1-3 hours under 12 weeks and 2-4 hours for puppies that are 12-24 weeks, without a bathroom break.

Crate Training Process

First step: going into crate on cue and waiting for release.

  • Throw a tasty treat in back of the crate and leave the crate door open. Praise your dog when they go in for the treat. While they're inside, drop a few more treats in the middle so they're in the crate eating for a few seconds. A toy or a ball may work for some dogs too.
  • Let your dog leave the crate willingly, as they leave the crate give a release word such as "free", and then throw a treat into the crate again. Repeat this 5-10 times during a session and do 10 sessions throughout the day.
  • Once your dog goes into the crate willingly, start to teach the cue word for going in. Say, "crate," "kennel" or "bed" as your dog enters the crate after the thrown treat.
  • After a couple days of saying the word 'crate' as your dog enters, start to say the cue word for your dog to go into the crate. Wait for them to go in, and then drop several treat in the crate.

Second step: closing door and increasing duration.

  • Once your dog is willingly going in and out, try closing the door for 5 seconds while they're eating treats in there. Gradually increase their time in the crate. Before you open the door, ask your dog sit while you open the door and then give the release word "free" to release them from the crate.
  • Try to keep your dog in the crate for longer periods of time. Give them a stuffed Kong® once they enter. Close the crate door and praise them. Work up to having your dog stay in the crate for 10 minutes while you move around near the crate. Gradually increase the time in the crate.
  • Feed your dog meals and give them chew toys in the crate. Leave the crate door open the first few times, then try closing the door. Throw treats and toys randomly in the crate while your dog is not looking to encourage them to go in and explore on their own.

Leaving the House

  • Have your dog go into the crate for a yummy stuffed Kong®, close the crate door and then leave the house. Try leaving your dog home alone in the crate for 10 minutes. Slowly work your way up to an hour, and then several hours.
  • Put music or TV on to drown out noises that may wake your dog up or make them anxious.
  • Don't get over-excited to take your dog out of their crate or get nervous about putting your dog inside it. Keep your departures and arrivals low key.

Troubleshooting Tips

  • Don't let your dog out for barking and whining; ignore them. If you think your dog may need to go out, wait for a quiet moment or have them 'touch' or sit first, and then open the crate door.
  • Some dogs like their crate covered. Try a light sheet or blanket over the crate.
  • If your dog chews up their crate bed, try a material without stuffing, like a towel or blanket. If necessary, your dog can sleep on the crate floor. If your dog pulls the cover into the crate and chews that, you may need to put the crate in a closet or a darker part of the home.
  • If your dog poops or pees in their crate, re-examine how long you're leaving them inside. Shorter time frames might be needed, especially if your dog is a puppy. Try a different texture of blanket or towel too; some dogs like to poop or pee on a certain texture of bedding.
  • If your dog hasn't been crate trained or if the crate is highly stressful for them, they might get hurt trying to escape from it. Use a 'safe confinement doggie area' instead, such as a dog pen or a kitchen or hallway blocked off with a gate.
  • Crates aren't recommended for dogs with signs of separation anxiety. More information about separation anxiety
  • Don't use the crate as a punishment tool. It should be a safe, positive place for your dog.