Barbara Fitzgerald is an AKC Breeder of Merit and author of the column "Conversations with Champions" for the BCSA magazine, Borderlines.
Making a Crate a Home
A dog that is properly introduced to his crate will view it as a safe haven and seek it out when he wants a cozy place to rest. In our practical experience, crate training, when done correctly, provides owners with peace of mind during those times when the owner cannot monitor the activities of their puppy or new dog. While many crate training articles focus on crates as a training tool for house breaking, this article is focused on how to positively introduce your dog to his crate, so that he will happily return to it whenever you ask him to kennel-up.
Proper Crate Training Utilizes Your Dog's Basic Instincts
Dogs are essentially den animals by nature, meaning they instinctively enjoy being in dark close quarters. In the wild, expectant mothers dig dens in order to whelp and raise their new puppies. In fact, I have a border collie girl that regularly digs dens or re-excavates old dens in accordance with her seasons to prepare for her coming or imaginary litters.
These dens are relatively spacious and will protect the puppies from the elements such as summer heat, winter snow and rain. Their den maintains a relatively constant temperature, as it is typically one foot underground. Here the puppies will stay until they begin to walk and venture out short distances from the den, returning to the den to sleep and nurse. With proper introduction to his new crate, your dog’s natural instincts will cause him or her to seek out his crate for nap time or safe haven.
Selecting the Proper Crate
There are 3 basic types of crates on the market:
- the soft-sided crate
- the plastic (or metal) hard-sided crate
- the wire mesh crate
Save the soft-sided crate for later, at a time when the dog is properly crate trained and has learned to seek comfort in his crate. Soft crates are easily destroyed, causing unnecessary expense to the owner and teaching the dog that if they try hard enough, they will eventually be able to set themselves free. The soft crate is only appropriate for dogs who are already crate trained and comfortable in their private den area. However, once the sanctity of the crate has been established, they are great for travel and indoor containment, as they offer den-like privacy via their mesh windows and adjustable fabric flaps.
Plastic (or Metal) Hard-Sided Crates
The plastic or sheet metal-sided crates are an excellent option for the adult dog. They offer den-like privacy and are the only crates rated for air travel. On the down side, plastic crates are not easy to disassemble and reassemble, which is not a problem with small dog crates, but becomes an issue when moving large dog crates within the home or on a trip from car to hotel room. Additionally, they cannot be safely reconfigured to adapt for growing puppies.
Wire Mesh Crates
This leaves the collapsible wire mesh crate with a movable divider as the preferred training crate for growing dogs as well as for travel with large dogs. You will want to purchase a crate that will accommodate your puppy when fully grown, and that also includes a divider which you can use to limit his sleeping area as well as easily adjust the space as he grows.
When fitting his sleeping area, the sleeping space should allow for comfortable rest so that he can stretch out but should not be so large that it provides him with enough space for him stake out two areas: one for sleeping and another one for eliminating. A puppy that gets into the habit of soiling his crate will be very difficult to house break. The privacy-den effect can be added to the wire crate by draping the crate with a sheet or towel.
For wire crates for crate training, we recommend the PetMate ProValue line of wire folding crates. This line comes with a divider that is easily shifted as your puppy grows, as well as a sturdy crate pan with smoothed, rounded edges. The last crate we bought, a MidWest iCrate, was the first to have its pan crack; replacement crate pans cost as much as the actual crate. The PetMate pans are also antimicrobial, which you will appreciate in your home.
Teaching Your Dog to Kennel-Up!
On day one, it’s a good idea to start by teaching your dog to enter his crate on command. You can begin by saying, “kennel-up”, “go to your crate,” “get in” or any phrase of your choosing, and then tossing a treat into the crate. Your dog will quickly find going into the crate is a rewarding exercise. Initially leave the crate door open to let him come and go as he pleases. Repeat the training session several times during the first few days with 4-5 “kennel-ups” or “go-in’s” per session.
If you plan on using clicker training, you will want to click the clicker when the dog enters the crate to retrieve his reward. Once he begins to enter the crate on command, switch to treating him after he has entered the crate on his own. As his understanding of the command solidifies, you can begin to reward him intermittently – sometimes he receives a treat, other times no treat and on the rare occasion he gets the “jackpot,” 4 or 5 small treats.
Feed His Meals in the Crate
Give the command to “kennel-up,” and place the food bowl in the crate. Once he has entered the crate, you may shut the crate door. When the dog or puppy has finished their meal say "Good kennel-up" and open the door. For young puppies, you will want to take them out for a potty break within 30-45 minutes after the puppy has finished his meal. If you have multiple dogs, crate feeding is a good way to prevent rapid eaters from muscling-out the slower eaters from their food bowls.
Train Your Dog for Bedtime
If possible, we recommend bringing the crate to your bedroom for bedtime to keep an eye on him and provide some extra comfort in his new surroundings. As the dog becomes more comfortable in his crate, you may choose to crate him in the evenings in another area of the house. You can include a chew toy in the crate to entertain him until he exhausts; we recommend selecting one without a squeaker.
Be prepared, you may have a night or two of your dog or puppy “crying” himself to sleep. Be careful not to let the dog out of his crate while he is barking or misbehaving. Only let him out when he is behaving himself, unless you suspect he is about to have a potty accident.
You can recognize a puppy or dog that is in need of a potty break, if you see him turning in circles and looking at the bottom of the crate. In that instance carry him out for a potty (literally if this is a young puppy), praise him for the potty, give him a short walk as a reward and then return him to the crate for the evening.
Remember to give him a small reward for kenneling-up at bedtime as well. In the morning, be careful to get your dog to his potty area immediately after leaving his kennel. With young puppies, carry them outside to avoid unintended accidents on the way to the door.
Avoid Using the Crate as Punishment
While you are introducing your puppy or dog to his new crate, avoid using the crate as a form of punishment. You are trying to engender positive feelings towards the crate, so if at any point during your training sessions you find yourself beginning to get frustrated, stop and switch to a new activity. Dogs will pick-up on your emotions and your frustration will likely cause your dog or puppy to mistrust or fear the crate.
Crate Duration Times for Puppies and Young Dogs
While sleeping in the evenings, the dog’s digestive system slows down considerably, allowing him to remain crated for an 8 hour stretch. During the daytime, dogs should be crated a maximum of 4 to 5 hours at a time. It is important that during their crate time they have access to water; a stainless steel pail hooked to the side of the crate or crate door works best.
Young puppies require more frequent potty breaks than adults. Puppy ages and their relative maximum crating times are:
- 8–10 weeks: 30–60 minutes
- 11–14 weeks: 1–3 hours
- 15–16 weeks: 3–4 hours
- 17+ weeks: 4–5 hours
If you are on a working schedule that prevents you from coming home to give your dog regular potty breaks, you will want to create an indoor pen area or hire a professional dog walker. When creating an indoor pen, select a site with an easy to clean floor and provide puppy potty training pads, so that he has an appropriate area to eliminate on. Most puppy training pads come with a scent to encourage elimination on them and not other areas of the pen.
Before leaving for work and penning or crating your puppy or dog, be sure to give him at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise depending on his size and age. Make sure to release him as soon as you return. Your arrival will trigger excitement and speed up his digestive system.
When you are home and enjoying time with your new puppy or dog, leave the door to the crate open, and you will soon find that he looks forward to relaxing in his own private area. If you are planning on a task that you expect your dog to find unpleasant, such as a bath, close the door to the crate before he realizes your intentions, so that he cannot hide in it. You want to avoid turning his safe haven into a battle ground with you trying to drag him out of his den.
Barbara Fitzgerald (author) from Georgia on August 25, 2020:
Hi Rubalani: That sounds like an exhausting potty training problem. Part of the problem, is your puppy is now in the habit of waking up and playing at that hour. Have you tried playing fetch or doing something with him after dinner to wear him out? Maybe even a 3/4 mile walk after dinner will help drain some of that excess energy.
14 weeks is when many puppies begin teething. You might also want to try putting a chew toy in his crate at bedtime as well. Then if he wakes up and is bored, he has something to entertain him. You can find a list of good chew toys for power chewers, like a Bernese Mountain dog, here: https://themodernbark.petgiftsonline.com/2016/01/5...
rubalani on August 25, 2020:
My 14 week old Bernese Mountain dog puppy is going to bed in her crate at 11;00pm every night and waking up at 4am wild and hyper. Barking, chewing, biting etc... I give her a late night potty break and do not speak to her at 4am and make it a quiet interaction just enough time for her to pee, but as soon as we get back in the house she goes crazy running aroiund and barking. How do I get her to go back in her crate quietly after a 4am potty break ?
Salvador Robert on April 16, 2020:
To be or not to be.
Dogs are essentially den animals by nature, meaning they instinctively enjoy being in dark close quarters. (article)
Dogs are not essentially den animals by nature.(Dr Mark)
dMartens47 on August 19, 2018:
We need this kind of training for the new pup Roger. We mostly travel and he will be going with us most of the time. Thinking of getting a camper or considering tonneau covers we saw at 4WheelOnline for the truck where we can put his crate. I prefer the retractable ones that can be easily adjusted. Sometimes we haul tall stuff so we can't decide for the camper. Roger is bit timid but having good improvements so far. His crate fits at the back seat and soon we will train him at the bed along with my eldest kid for short rides. Of course we will make sure the weather is fine for both of them.
Barbara Fitzgerald (author) from Georgia on October 20, 2015:
Hi Kathy: My dogs love their crates, and they especially love sneaking into each other's crates for a special nap-time.
Kathy McGraw from California on October 20, 2015:
I never used a crate with my little one, but know a few people that do. In fact reading this I was visualizing my friend that does it right, and the one that does it wrong. Loved the article....thanks.
Barbara Fitzgerald (author) from Georgia on February 10, 2013:
Hi DrMark1961 - I leave the doors to the dog crates open all day long, and my dogs go into their crates on their own to nap. When young dogs are attending AKC functions for the first time, they are very anxious to return to their crates as a safe haven. My dogs don't view their crates as prisons. They enter them on their own volition and curl up at the backs of them several times a day.
Dr Mark from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on February 10, 2013:
Dogs are not essentially den animals by nature. The minute you slam a door closed in a crate you have locked your dog in a prison. If you want to use it for potty training, fine. If you want to use it as an excuse to not train your dog, it indicates laziness and unwillingness to care.
Crate Training a Puppy Made Easy
1. An Inviting Place to Stay
You want to make the crate an inviting place to be. Do this by placing the crate in an area that is central to your home but a little out of the way. A corner of the room where your family spends most of their time works well. This is our crate which is located in our livingroom next to two walls. Try to stay away from heating or cooling vents. Then line the crate with blankets and add a few safe toys. You can cover the crate with a lightweight blanket or sheet to give it a “den” feeling. Just make sure it is well ventilated and does not get too hot.
To help make the crate a more inviting place to be, consider adding a crate pad to their crate.
We prefer to use only USA made dog beds due to concerns over toxic chemicals found in many imported pet beds.
Big Barker Crate Pad
If you feel the same way Big Barker makes an Orthopedic Dog Crate Pad. This crate pad is made in the usa with 4″ Certi-PUR US® certified foam and comes with a removable, washable, waterproof and tear resistant cover. You can find this crate pad at Amazon.com.
Another option is the MidWest Homes for Pets Deluxe Super Plush Pet Bed. This bed are not made in the USA but has very highly rating and are made to fit the Midwest crates. These beds are completely machine washable and a good option if you have a Midwest Lifestages crate. You can use a smaller sized bed in the crate while you have the divider up. Once they are grown you can get a full sized bed for your pup. You can find the Midwest Deluxe Pet Beds at Amazon.com
Tip: If you are getting your pup from a breeder ask for a blanket or toy that has your pup’s mom’s scent on it. Place it in the crate with the other blankets. The scent will only last a few days but it should help soothe the pup for the short term.
If at all possible you should have the crate setup before your puppy comes home for the first time. That way when your pup is exploring their new surroundings it will be just one of the many new things they will discover.
2. Comfortable with the crate
Allow your pup time to sniff around the crate, making sure the door is secured in the open position. If your pup walks away from the crate it’s ok. Don’t force them to enter the crate. After your pup has had some time adjusting to their new environment lure them back to the crate using a treat or toy. Make a game out of the process. Toss the toy in different directions for the pup to chase. Always have another toy to lure them back to you. After a bit of throwing and chasing, throw the toy just inside the crate. Since it is a small enclosed space they will probably be leery of going inside but may be willing to poke their head in to get the toy out.
After playing this game for a few minutes stop and do something else with your pup. Later in the day play the game again but this time using treats to lure your pup into the crate. Continue playing this game throughout the day so that your pup gets used to going in and out of the crate, each time throwing the treat a little further into the crate.
TIP: You should only leave toys in the crate when you can keep an eye on your pup. No toy is completely indestructible or completely safe. Our little Bella has gutted every soft chew toy we have given her. Even the ones labeled “indestructible”
3. Practice Staying in the Crate
Once your pup becomes comfortable with going in and out of the crate, toss their favorite toy or treat into the back of the crate and close the door. Give your puppy a few minutes to try to get to it from the outside. Then open the door so your pup can go in to get it. This time though close the gate behind your pup. Leave it closed just long enough for him to realize the door is closed, then open it again. Play this game on and off throughout the day.
Another way to help make your pup comfortable with being in their crate is to gently place them in there for naps and quiet-time breaks. Start in increments of 10 minutes and work up to longer periods. Do not take your pup out if they are crying. Wait until the crying stops. You may only have a moment to react before they start to cry again.
4. Bathroom Breaks
Remember to take your puppy outside immediately after you take him out of the crate so he can go to the bathroom. In the beginning you may want to pick your pup up to take him outside so he does not try to go inside. He will soon associate leaving the crate with bathroom time.
5. Crate Training a Puppy at Night
Hopefully your pup has become comfortable with the crate before it is bedtime but one day may not be enough time for them to become totally comfortable with the idea.
Follow these steps to make bedtime in the crate easier for your pup and you:
- A few hours before bedtime feed your pup so they will have time to digest and eliminate before being crated.
- A couple of hours before bedtime play with your pup to get them tired. Don’t do it right before bedtime because that will rile them up.
- Right before bedtime, take your pup outside to go to the bathroom. Do not rush this. Make sure he has time to completely empty out.
- Bring the crate up to your room, preferably next to your bed.
- Say goodnight to your pup and place them in the cage. Don’t make a big fuss over saying goodnight.
- For the first few nights it would be best if you went to bed at the same time as your pup. Try to sleep close to your pup. That way your pup can see that you are near and not feel so alone. The closer you are to your pup the easier they will settle down. Once they have settled into living with you they can sleep further away. But remember dogs are social animals. They want to be close to you.
- Remain patient – Your puppy will cry. However it should stop after a while.
A Word About a Crying Puppy
It’s going to happen for the first few nights. Even if they were to sleep outside of the crate, they will still need some time to adjust to being without their littermates and mom. If you just let him outside (and you gave him time to do his business) he should not need to go to the bathroom right away. Give him some time to settle down without letting him out of the crate. If he has had enough exercise he should be tired and fall asleep after a short while.
However if your pup sleeps for a while and then wakes up crying, you will need to take them outside. Do not talk or engage with your pup while taking them out except to give the “go potty” command. If it is still night time bring him back into the house and place him back in his crate.
All dogs are different and will respond to crate training differently. The most important thing to remember is to show them love and compassion. Some dogs may take longer to adjust to sleeping in a crate.
For more tips on what to do if your puppy crys in their crate at night please read our post: Puppy Crying in the Crate at Night?
Crate Training a Puppy Do’s and Don’t’s
- You should never leave your puppy locked in a crate all day. It is not good for their mental or physical health. If you need to keep them in a safe place consider an exercise pen like the one shown below.
- Don’t leave your puppy in a crate for longer than two at a time. They will be unable to control their bladders and bowels for that long. The general guideline is 1 hour for each month old but not to go above three hours.
- Only crate your dog until you can trust them not to get into trouble. After that, it should be a place they go to voluntarily.
- Do not use your dog’s crate as a punishment. The crate should be their safe place to go when they need down time.
- Do send your pup to his “room” to calm down if they have become over stimulated and need quiet time to rest but only for short periods of time.
- Do not bang on the crate while your puppy is inside. This will only frighten them and make them scared of the crate.
- Try not to lose your patience. The learning process takes time.
For more on crate training do and don’ts check out our post: How to Crate Train a Puppy: 10 Mistakes to Avoid
Here you see the Midwest Foldable Metal Exercise pen connected to the Midwest crate. The combination creates a safe place for your puppy when you can’t watch them. The Midwest Foldable Metal Exercise pen can be found at Amazon.com
For more tips check out these posts:
Bonnie is a freelance writer and main contributor at HappyOodles.com. She has been around dogs all her life and is now teaching her children the joys of pet ownership. Join Bonnie and her family on their journey with their new four legged family member and learn what it takes to fuse a dog into our busy lives.
Some people use dog beds or towels to create a comfy environment, but that may not always be the best option. Once again, it’s trial and error. “Depending on the dog you have, they may tear a dog bed apart or they may use it to pee on,” she warns. “It’s not a bad thing for them to just sleep on the crate mat itself. Dogs actually do prefer hard surfaces.”
Once again, positive association rules. One of Flayton’s favorite tricks is giving the dog a KONG toy filled with peanut butter that she’s put in the freezer. “When they’re hanging out in the crate, they have something that stimulates them, but they have to work down the frozen peanut butter,” she says. It gets the dog used to being in the crate for a longer period of time, while also associating it with an enjoyable activity.
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Puppy crate training is a great way to manage the safety and well-being of Bulldog puppies. It is a great tool for creating good habits in puppies and for preventing problem behaviors.
We crate train Bulldog puppies for their benefit, and that’s the main reason to do it. As well, it also helps protect the personal items in our homes. In time, the crate will become your Bulldog's own private area that they will consider its den. Here are a few benefits the crate offers:
•One of the first and most important uses of the crate is in the puppy housebreaking process. Crate training is the best way to quickly teach your Bulldog to eliminate outside.
•Crating a Bulldog puppy teaches it to chew on the toys we give them and lets them know what we don’t want them chewing on. This is the key to establishing good habits and preventing destructive habits which can be hard to break.
•Your Bulldog puppy is safe in its crate from a number of potentially dangerous household items. Many puppies are injured or killed every year as a result of chewing wires, ingesting poisons or eating foreign objects.
•Separation anxiety is a big problem for puppies. Proper use of the crate can help reduce the chance of your Bulldog developing separation anxiety. It becomes a place where your dog feels calm, out of trouble and accustomed to being alone.
•If you have friends or visitors coming and going from your home, the crate is the perfect place to keep your Bulldog puppy safely confined.
•Most crates are lightweight and portable, so you can move the crate and puppy from room to room, keeping it close to you all day.
•Most crates fit into a car, so your puppy's traveling experience safer and often less stressful.
•When your Bulldog puppy grows to love its crate, it makes trips and stays at places like the vet and groomers a much more bearable experience.
•When puppy crate training is done properly, your Bulldog puppy can’t get into any mischief, which reduces any need to discipline it. This is a much better environment in which to live (both for you and the dog).
•If you want to get into activities like competitive obedience training, fly-ball or agility training, the crate is a great place to confine your dog in between training sessions and competition.
Apart from your Bulldog puppy, what else should you put in the crate? Here is a list of the basics:
Bedding : choose a comfortable dog bed that can't be chewed up and swallowed by your pup. Be sure to choose bedding suited to your living climate.
Chew toys: Buy a few good chew toys that you can stuff and even freeze. This keeps your Bulldog puppy busy and teaches it what is appropriate to chew on.
Water: Keep a supply of clean, fresh water handy. Heavy wide based bowls that won't be tipped over are best or you can buy one that clips securely onto the crate wall.
Make Crate Training A Snap
Poorly trained dogs hate their crate because it becomes a cue that they’re going to be alone for a while. Dogs are pack animals and being alone is not only unnatural for your dog … it’s stressful!
So crate training is essentially training your dog to tolerate being alone.
Trained well, the crate will help your puppy feel safe and secure while her family is out for the day. So go slow and have patience.
Trained improperly, the crate becomes a terrifying barrier between puppy and his family. Some puppies view the crate as nothing but a sign that they’re going to be left behind … and that’s why puppy will cry and howl in his crate.
So introducing your puppy to her crate the right way is critical for a lifetime of success.
Consider the Goals of Crate Training
Crate training serves a number of purposes, all of which can make your home and your dog's life easier. So already knowing about and accepting a crate should be part of your puppy’s training.
- A crate works well as a bed. Because it’s enclosed, the puppy crate also serves as a safe retreat to get away from other pets or children.
- A crate also can be a safe place to confine a rambunctious puppy. That keeps the pup out of trouble when you aren’t able to watch it.
- Most dogs must be confined from time to time, when they travel by car or stay at the veterinarian, for example.
- A crate is one of the best tools available for helping to potty train your puppy. Dogs won't willingly soil their own beds, so they are highly motivated to "hold it" while in their crate.