So, you’ve bought the crate, furnished it, and found the perfect spot, now we’re ready to discuss how to crate train a puppy… in 5 easy steps.
Crate training is not a difficult thing to do, but for it to be effective and a wonderfully positive experience for your puppy, there is an ideal order to follow, which you will find below.
Ready to begin? Here we go
Grab some high value treats. I mean the really delicious ones he’ll perform tricks to get. If your puppy is more motivated by toys, start with those. If he loves anything, pick one to start with, then switch.
With the crate door(s) open, have a seat near the crate, and put a treat just inside. You don’t want him to have to go inside to grab it. When he eats it, praise him like crazy. Gradually move the treat further back, until he has to go all the way in.
Keep your training sessions brief – maybe 5 minutes or so – you don’t want him getting bored.
If at any point your puppy seems afraid/uncomfortable, go back to the point where he was fine, and start again from there. The last thing you want to do is make him fear the crate.
How long will this take you ask? Hard to say, it’s up to your puppy really. If he’s loving it with no signs of stress, keep at it. If he’s fearful, slow it down.
Step Two – feeding him meals in the crate
Your puppy should now be comfortable going all the way into the crate to grab a treat or a favorite toy. If not, go back to step one. It’s okay – there’s no time limit.
Okay, you’re back, and it’s time to try feeding him some meals in there. Put the bowl in the back, leaving all the doors open, and let him eat!
Step Three – time to shut the door
Your puppy is now happily eating some meals in his crate, and you may have even found him relaxing or having a snooze on his comfy bed. Great, well done. It’s time to close the door – but not all the way. At least not yet.
Try it when your puppy has just been out for some exercise, or is a bit distracted by a delicious chew toy he found in his crate.
Close the door just a bit, then open it. Then a tiny bit more….. and so on.
When you can close it (no need to lock it), leave it a second, open it, close it a few seconds, open it…
As I keep mentioning, never move on unless he’s comfortable and relaxed. Any signs of stress or agitation, leave it, then start again at the last point where you know he was fine.
You’re now working towards the point where you can feed him in the crate, with the door closed, and leaving it closed for a bit even after he’s finished.
Step Four – walking away
By this stage, your puppy is happily sitting in his crate, with the door closed. Now you want to walk away, out of site, for a couple of seconds.
A little note here – you can try walking away earlier in the process, perhaps the previous step when he’s okay with the door closed. Only be out of sight for a second, then come right back. Again, gradually increase the time he can’t see you.
Don’t say anything, or make a fuss. Just go.
Be careful, you don’t want to be gone long enough for him to start whining or barking. If you respond to that, he’ll quickly learn it’s a great attention getter.
Even if you can only leave for one second, and the next time two, that’s perfectly okay.
Step Five – Leaving the house
You’ve reached the point where he can now happily stay in his crate, with the door locked, for about a half hour, without seeing you. Now you can leave him alone, but don’t get too excited, it’s only for a short time, at least for now.
Before you go, be sure to take him for a nice long walk, or play a fun game of fetch. You want him to have peed, pooped (possibly), and wouldn’t it be great if he was tired?
Teach your puppy to go into his crate on cue
I didn’t include this as a step, because although it’s an important part of teaching your puppy to love his crate, it can really go anywhere in the training process. The 5 steps, however, are in the correct order.
You never want to pick your puppy up and put him in, or gently nudge him in. You want to have a cue, so he walks in on his own.
Choose a word or phrase –“crate” “in your crate” “crate time” – whatever, then use it whenever he walks into the crate. He will soon learn the association.
How long will this whole process take?
A frequently asked question, and my frequently given answer is – it takes as long as it takes.
Each puppy is different, each learns at their own pace, and some are more comfortable with a crate than others.
The best advice I can give you is – don’t place time limits on yourself, or your puppy. Take each step slowly, and don’t move on until he’s comfortable and relaxed.
If he shows even the slightest sign of stress/fear/anxiety, immediately stop what you’re doing. When it’s time for your next lesson, go back to the point where he felt comfortable, and start from there, going slower the next time.
How to crate train a puppy – conclusion
I know how overwhelming this process can be, but it’s like that with anything new. Read over this article on how to crate train a puppy as many times as you need, to get a clearer picture, and please let me know if you have any questions.
Hindy Pearson is a dog trainer and behavior consultant. She is a long time shelter volunteer, and fosters and adopts senior and special needs dogs and cats. She has a website called Caring For a Senior Dog, and believes the best invention is the pet stroller.