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How to Crate Train Puppies and Dogs

Updated on December 3, 2009
Puppy and dog crate training, A. Farricelli
Puppy and dog crate training, A. Farricelli

The use of crates for training purposes has been for many years a much heated debate among dog lovers, yet,  it is unfortunate that often some important aspects are left behind. By going into depth on the subject instead of resorting to quick and superficial conclusions, a much better and truthful understanding can be attained.  It all ultimately comes down to seeing a den from a dog's perspective rather than looking at it from a human one.

While many people see the act of placing a dog in a crate similar to having a dog spend some time in prison, in reality in a dog's eyes, a crate appears to be something familiar that somehow reminds them of a place they used to resort to in the wild. Indeed, while dogs have been domesticated many eons ago, they still retain some instincts that are instilled deep into their genetic makeup. One of these instincts, is the need to sleep in a den. 

In the wild, puppies are kept in dens which the mother cleans up swiftly until the puppies are mature enough to defecate away from the den. It does not take long for the pups to learn from their mom that a den must be kept clean. This is a natural process because dogs by nature do not like to soil near their sleeping areas.

In a modern setting a den can be easily replaced by a crate; a comfy area where the dog may resort to when seeking some quiet time or a nap. Crate training therefore is one of the best ways to house train puppies and dogs because it is considered in the dog's eyes as a natural process. A crate is also a great place to keep a dog when owners are unable to supervise their dog properly or when the dog must be left on its own for some time. Following are some tips on how to crate train small dogs.

How to Crate Train Puppies and Dogs

Crate training is a great and successful training method that really ultimately applies to any size of dog, from the most petite Chihuahua to the largest Saint Bernard. It is important however to recognize that crate training is a process similar to potty training in children, therefore each dog will learn at their own pace. Beagles have the notorious reputation of being hard dogs to potty train, while toy breed dogs are generally pretty good at picking up the idea, however the good news is that sooner or later every dog will ultimately get it.

~Choosing the Crate

Crates come in various shapes and sizes. In order for crate training to work well, it is important to invest in the right sized crate. As a general rule, you want a crate to be large enough for your dog to stand up and turn around and that's about it. If you get a larger than required crate because you feel your dog needs room or you are fast forwarding to when he will grow bigger, you will ultimately fail the whole purpose of the crate because the dog will be able to urinate or defecate in a corner and still have ample room to live in it undisturbed. A good crate should be snug and comfy, making it difficult for the dog to soil it without getting dirty.

~Introducing the Crate

Place the crate on the floor and leave the door open so to allow your puppy or small dog to inspect it. You may make the crate extra inviting by placing a toy or a blanket in it. If the breeder of previous owner has left you something that smells like the dog's previous home the crate is a good area to place it. Never push or force your dog inside the crate, rather try to lure him in with a treat so to keep it positive.

~Getting Started

If your dog is a puppy and this is the first night it will be spending in the crate, it is a good idea to place the crate in the bedroom. A newly adopted puppy will feel lonely without its familiar scents and will miss his litter mates and mom. Keeping the crate nearby will help the puppy feel less lonely and you can reassure it as needed. Try your best to keep the crate way from cold drafts or direct sunlight.

~Choosing the Location

After the first night, your puppy or dog should start getting accustomed to you and your home. At this point, on the next night you may want to start moving the crate a little bit at a time farther and farther than you. You may leave the crate near your door, so your puppy can still smell and see you in need it needs some comfort. After a few days, your dog's crate should be placed in its designated area.

~Understanding Potty Needs

The smaller the puppy the more often it will need to be taken outside. Generally, keep in mind that puppies usually potty after eating, after napping and while playing. A good method to determine how often your puppy must go is by abiding to the month plus 1 formula. Basically, calculate how many months your puppy is old and add one. For instance, if your puppy is three months old you will add the number one therefore, the puppy should need to go out approximately every four hours.

~Setting  a Routine

If you feed your puppy at the same time every day, you may be able to set a routine that will make your dog's potty time more predictable. Same goes for making your pup nap and play at the same time each day. Try to make a chart with feeding, napping and playing times and mark the time your puppy goes potty. Sooner than later you will see a familiar pattern that will make life much easier for the both of you.

~Signs the Puppy Must Go

Once in the crate, the dog will generally learn how to communicate its need to go potty. A dog that starts sniffing, turning in circles and whining is very likely saying it must go. Be prepared to open the crate fast and take the dog outside praising lavishly if he goes on the grass or its designated potty area.

~Accepting Ups and Downs

House training does not happen all at once. There will be mishaps but they should gradually wean away. Do not scold your puppy if you find him inside a soiled crate he will not understand and will associate the crate with a negative experience. Instead clean the mess up and try to be more vigilant next time. If you catch him in the act, try to clap your hands so to startle him, open the crate, and rush outsides. Always praise for going outdoors.

General Crate Training Rules

~Always Keep it Positive

Don't forget that a crate is a positive place your dog will resort to when he wants to feel comfortable and needs some quiet time. Never use the crate as a time out area for punishment. Always invite your dog in the crate in a positive happy tone of voice using a command like ''go to your place'' and give a ''thank you treat'' every now and then.

~Never Praise for Coming Out

Never praise your dog for coming out of the crate. If you do, your dog will start believing that the crate is an unpleasant place to be and may want to come out of it more often.

~Use When Going Out

A crate is a safe place to keep your dog when you cannot supervise him such as when you will be going out for a few hours. Most dogs will relax when in their crate and they will stay out of trouble.  

~Ignore Attention Seekers

Some puppies and dogs may start whining when placed in the crate just because they are simply seeking attention. This is mostly typical of puppies that may be testing the waters. If you run to the crate to attend to the puppy every time it whines, your puppy will have learned a valuable lesson, and will whine every time he wants to see you. Try your best to recognize when your puppy really needs something from when he is just seeking attention.

As seen, a crate is a far cry from being a hostile prison cell. With proper training, most dogs will enjoy their crates and many may even voluntarily spend time in them when they seek some quiet time in a comfy place they want to call home.


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