Before you start crate training your puppy, it’s important to understand the philosophy behind this method. If you properly crate train your dog, they will view the crate as a private room, as a haven, and a quiet place to relax. Unlike what some may think, they won’t view it as a rigid structure of punishment and confinement. Some benefits of crate training include house training as the puppy won’t like to soil his sleep area. They will also have limited access to the rest of the house so they can learn the house rules.
An average puppy without any negative experience with crates can be successfully crate trained in 3 to 7 days. If your puppy has been forced into a crate with no necessary training, they may exhibit anxiety and fear and this process may take 2 to 3 weeks or longer – depending on the intensity of the anxiety and fear.
Things You Need in Your Training Toolbox
Figure out which treats are the most and least encouraging for your dog or puppy. Reserve dog treats for very important behaviors such as recall and Classical Conditioning (teaching your dog to be calm around people, dogs and noises). Using the highest value reinforcement for such what you find most important will yield faster results and save time.
Go for a dog crate with a door that can swing open and close. Try as much as you can to avoid those crates with sliding doors.
A Treat Pouch
Good treat pouches help to improve your timing as it allows for easy access to food. Try to avoid plastic bags because their crinkly sound can distract your puppy and weaken your results with the training.
How to Crate Train Your Puppy
Step One: Step Right in
Teach your puppy that the crate offers an abundance of good things by scattering high-value food on the blanket inside the crate. In the beginning, you might see they are wary of walking inside. Be patient, give them time to think and give them the opportunity to look around for more tidbits that they might have missed.
Step Two: The Turn-Around
In the beginning, your puppy will start with two paws in and two paws out or they might walk in with all four paws and reverse out. Let your puppy progress at their own pace. Avoid the temptation to force your puppy into the crate. This will only prolong the process. Capture the moment your puppy turns in your direction by immediately delivering food. Be generous and provide as many rewards as possible before they ever even think to walk back out.
Once you are able to get your puppy to wait in the crate anxious to receive another treat, move to the next step. Don’t move forward if you see any apprehension in facial expressions or body movement (uneasiness about walking inside, scrambling to get out of the crate).
Step Three: The Texas 2 Step
Move to the next step once your puppy is comfortable walking in and turning around in their crate. Offer them high-value treat once they step in and turn around and withhold treat once they step out. Empowering them to choose between being inside or walking out will help reduce anxiety and form a relaxed, positive association with the crate training process. Don’t move forward if your puppy is exhibiting any apprehension about staying inside or walking inside the crate. If necessary go back to previous steps.
Step Four: Sit in Crate
Once your puppy manifests a clear preference for staying inside the crate, lure them into a sit to raise the criteria. Again, give them a high-value treat for the time your puppy remains inside the crate in a sit position. Then drum on the floor to ask them to step out. Repeat this exercise for some time until your puppy can walk into the crate, turn around, and settle into a sit.
Step Five: Closing the Gate
If your puppy is confident and comfortable with all the training exercises up until now, you can further raise the criteria by closing the crate door. Once the gate is closed, give your puppy up to 3 more rewards if they do not attempt to “bust out” as soon as you open the crate door. Repeat this process for a few more times to ensure your dog is relaxed with the gate is closed.
Frustrated barking, stress, whining, biting or pawing at the gate and loss of appetite are all signs you should drop your criteria and go back to a more basic crate training exercise. You will only prolong the entire process by pushing your puppy past their comfort zone.
Step Six: Walking Away
Next, close the gate and momentarily walk away. The goal throughout this training process is to keep your puppy way below their stress threshold. You will get better results if you are more gradual in your building criteria. Walk away about ten feet and walk back immediately to reinforce the puppy. Repeat this process a few times before opening the gate again.
Step Seven: The Finishing Touches
To close the gap between the practical and formal crate training sessions, start by having your puppy in the crate while you go check your mail, take a snack from your refrigerator, or grab a glass of water – reinforce your puppy intermittently for calm behavior.
It is also very helpful to have the puppy sleep near your bed in a closed-door crate at night. This lets them associate the crate with a place of safety, relaxation, and rest.
Note: don’t leave your puppy in the crate for more than four hours during the day, and at night for more than 8 hours. The duration for young puppies will vary because they will have to go potty more often. The general rule here is that a puppy can only “hold it” for the same number of hours as their age in months. So a 2-month puppy can hold it for up to 2 hours. However, young puppies can hold it for longer at night when their metabolism slows down. This varies from one puppy to another. Consider hiring a pet sitter or dog walker to come visit during the day while you are at work.