How to crate train your dog
Dog crates can be a great way to give your pet a safe space and keep them secure in the house at night and even transport them.
You want your dog to learn to see their crate as their own personal den – they’ll sleep in there and it’ll be the place they go to feel safe or when they need to rest. Dogs should see the crate as a positive place that belongs to them – a crate should never be used as punishment.
You can crate train both adult dogs and puppies in the same way, though puppies might get the hang of things a bit faster.
Choosing a dog crate
Your dog’s crate should be big enough that they can stand up and turn around easily in it. They should be able to lie down comfortably with enough space for them and any bedding and a water bowl.
You can get plastic, metal or fabric crates from most pet shops. A lot of people tend to prefer the metal crates as they are usually collapsible, however the choice is up to you. We would recommend being cautious about using a fabric crate as there is always the risk that your dog could escape by tearing the fabric.
Once you’ve chosen your crate, we recommend putting it in a quiet area of the house, where your dog won’t be underfoot and can relax. It’ll make the ideal space for your dog to go if they are feeling worried or overwhelmed. You can put blankets over the top to make it feel cosier and make sure you put some comfy bedding inside for your dog.
Training your dog to use a crate
Our vets have put together some advice on how to crate-train your dog.
This is just one way to do it – there’s many variations that could work just as well but vary the steps a bit. As long as you are using positive, reward-based methods, you should make progress and your dog will soon be crate-trained.
If you’re having any trouble training your dog, speak to an ADPT-accredited dog trainer or your vet for help.
Step one – getting used to the crate
Once you’ve chosen and set up your dog’s crate, you may find they are naturally curious and investigate straight away. Make sure you have the door secured open so it never swings shut on them. Reward your dog if they choose to investigate – knowing your dog will help you understand what kind of reward they’ll love the most. Some do well with lots of praise, others with a food treat or two and some just want to play with you so tailor the reward to your dog but make sure they get it when they’re exploring the crate.
Not all dogs will investigate straight away and some might even be a bit wary of the crate. This is absolutely fine, it just means you’ll need to keep rewarding them positively when they choose to go near the crate. Try putting treats or their favourite toy near the crate. As they gain confidence, move the treat or toy to the door and finally inside the crate.
Once they are happy to go in and out of the crate freely, you’re ready to move to the next step.
Step two – feeding and closing the door
Once your dog is happily spending time in the crate without any worries, you can start to feed them their meals in the crate. This will help them see being in the crate as a positive experience. Use a command word when you’re about to get their food like “crate” or “bed” so that they know to go there, then place their bowl inside the crate. They may even start to automatically go into their crate at meal times which is a positive sign.
When your dog is happily eating their meals in the crate with the door open, you can start to close the door for a moment. Close the door after your dog has started eating and make sure to open it before they finish at first. This will get them used to the idea of the door being closed. If closing the door makes them anxious just start by touching or half closing it at first and wait a little longer until they are comfortable hanging out and eating in the crate before you close it fully.
Step three – increase the time the door is closed
As your dog gets used to the door being closed while they eat, you can gradually increase the amount of time the door is closed for. If they start to show any signs they are uncomfortable, you may need to go back to leaving the door open and work back up again once they are comfortable.
You should be able to build up the time the door is closed so your dog will happily lie down and settle in their crate after they’ve eaten with the door closed.
Step four – stepping away
Once they’re happy to do this for a few minutes with you there, try stepping away a few steps and before coming back over. If your dog gets stressed or excited when you move away, stay calm and only go back to them once they have calmed down and next time don’t go so far that they react. Once they’re happy for you to potter around, or pop out of the room for a moment while they’re eating, move on to the next step.
Step five – staying in the crate outside feeding time
Once your dog can happily stay in their crate with the door shut after eating and you can step away from their side, you can start to train them to be in the crate outside of feeding time as well. By now your dog knows the command word such as ‘crate’ or ‘bed’ so use this to send them in and give them a reward for doing it. Once they are comfortable going into their crate outside of feeding times, ask them to sit or lie down inside and briefly close the door. Start with short periods in the crate and stay close by, rewarding your dog for calm behaviour.
Again, gradually you can increase the time with the door shut, and once they’re okay with that start to step away.
How to use a crate
Once your dog is relaxed spending time in their crate, you can use it for longer periods such as overnight or while you are out. If you can, give them a puzzle or enrichment feeder to keep them occupied or a toy that is safe to leave them alone with. These will help your dog avoid boredom.
If you want your dog to spend the night in their crate, be as consistent as possible. If sometimes you use a crate and sometimes don’t, this can be confusing for your dog and could even make them anxious at bedtime if they can’t predict what’s going to happen. Sticking to a routine will help them keep calm as they know what to expect.
If you use a crate to travel with your dogs, make sure it will protect them in the event of an accident.
While you should never use the crate as punishment, it can be valuable to use it as a “time-out”. If your dog is getting too excited or getting anxious in a situation around the house, you can ask them to go to their crate and leave them with a toy or puzzle to play with until they have calmed down or the situation they are reacting to has ended.
Top tips for crate training
- Always be consistent and persevere.
- Make your dog’s crate as inviting as possible for them.
- Never use the crate as punishment.
- Don’t leave your dog in their crate too long. Dogs ideally shouldn’t be left alone for more than four hours.
- Make sure your dog has access to their crate most of the time so it becomes part of their environment, rather than only going in when you are out.
- If your dog starts whining, barking or getting excited while the crate door is closed, try to wait until they stop then reward them for quiet behaviour.
- If your dog seems stressed or anxious at any point in the training, go back a step.
- Let your dog out to go to the toilet before putting them in their crate for any period of time to avoid accidents.