You have a new puppy, and want to use a crate, but your puppy isn’t really into it. Don’t panic! You can teach your puppy to love the crate!
Here’s what you’ll need:
1. A crate that is the right size for your puppy – just big enough for the puppy to walk into, turn around, and lie down. It’s OK if they have to dip their head to enter, but not OK if they have to bend their knees. Too much room in the crate is not better; aim for a snug but comfortable fit.
TIP: Some crates come with a movable divider that can be used to block off part of the crate, so you can slowly expand how much room your puppy has as they grow up.
2. Something to line the crate with, such as a liner, towel, blanket, or dog bed – though some puppies (especially giant breed puppies) may prefer the plain surface of the crate floor.
3. Lots of tiny treats – the treats should be less than half the size of your pinky nail.
4. Food toys or a food bowl that is small enough to fit in the crate with the puppy.
Now that you have everything ready, here’s what to do:
Step 1: Make the crate interesting
A. Put a few treats in the crate (while the puppy is outside it) and lock the door.
B. Leave the crate door locked, with the treats inside it, for at least an hour, so your puppy can’t get in but can see and smell the treats. This helps your puppy get interested in the crate.
Step 2: Introducing the crate
A. Open the crate door and let your puppy in to eat the treats.
B. Once the puppy goes in, start to drop extra treats in the crate, one at a time.
C. Keep dropping treats in the crate, with the crate door wide open, until your puppy leaves the crate.
D. As soon as they do, drop more treats in the crate and shut the door (with your puppy on the outside).
E. Repeat Steps 1 and 2 until your puppy eagerly enters the crate every time the crate door opens.
A. Let your puppy into the crate at mealtimes, and then put a food bowl or food toy in the crate.
B. Leave the door open and let your puppy leave the crate if they want, but shut the door behind them as soon as they leave – with their food bowl or food toy still in the crate.
C. Wait about 30 seconds, and then open the door to let them back in if they want in.
D. Repeat this process until they finish their meal.
Step 3: Moving the door just a little
A. Start by repeating Step 2 until you have given your puppy two or three treats in the crate.
B. Then move the door an inch and drop another treat in the crate.
C. Repeat this until the puppy is relaxed about the crate door moving back and forth.
NOTE: As usual, let the puppy leave at any time, but shut the door (and drop a few treats in the crate) behind them if they do leave.
Step 4: Shutting – but not locking – the door
A. Slowly build up to shutting the door partway and then opening it back up before dropping a treat in. Watch carefully to make sure the puppy stays relaxed.
B. If they seem relaxed, you can close the door a little further the next time.
NOTE: If the puppy tries to leave, let them, but then shut the door behind them and put treats in the crate until your next training session.
Step 5: Locking the door
A. Once your puppy is comfortable with the crate door closed all the way, let the puppy enter the crate, lock the door, and then drop treats into the crate, one at a time.
B. Do this for one minute, and then open the door wide.
- If the puppy leaves the crate, close the door and add treats to the crate as usual. Then wait an hour or so before resuming training.
- If the puppy stays in the crate, relock the door and drop treats in for another minute. Then open the door again and give your puppy a chance to leave.
C. Repeat until your puppy decides to leave the crate, then close the door behind them and add treats to the crate as usual.
D. Repeat Step 5 until your puppy keeps staying in the crate even when the door is open.
Step 6: Longer-lasting things to do in the crate
A. Once your puppy is comfortable with the crate door locked, hand your puppy a food toy or chew in the crate before locking the door.
B. After locking the door, stand near the crate for a minute, and then drop a treat in the crate (as an added bonus for your puppy).
C. Then open the door and see what your puppy does.
- If they stay in the crate, close and lock the door again, and wait another minute before dropping in another treat.
- If they leave the crate, close the door and add treats to the crate as usual. Then wait an hour or so before resuming training.
D. Repeat until your puppy walks out of the crate (and then lock the crate door and drop treats into the empty crate, as usual).
Step 7: Adding time and distance
A. Start building up the time between treats, so that you can wait 90 seconds or even two or three minutes between treats while your puppy stays calm.
NOTE: Build up the time between treats gradually, and make sure your puppy seems calm the whole time.
B. Once you are up to three minutes between treats, start taking one step away from the crate and then stepping back to the crate to drop the treat.
C. Gradually work up to stepping farther away, then out of the room, and ultimately walking out of your home between treats.
D. Continue to lock the crate with treats inside between training sessions.
EXPERT TIP: Take things slowly! If you make sure your puppy is comfortable in the crate throughout this training, you’ll make much faster progress than if you push too hard and your puppy gets suspicious of the crate.
IMPORTANT: While many dogs can sleep in a crate comfortably overnight, puppies should never be crated during the daytime for longer than about an hour per month of age. Even adult dogs should never be crated for more than four hours in a row, except at night.
Teaching your puppy to be comfortable in a crate is a great foundation for many other things. You can use the crate for housetraining, naps, meals, and bedtime, in an emergency, or anytime you can’t keep an eye on the puppy for some reason. You can also show off your puppy’s crate behavior – everyone will be so impressed when you open the crate door and your pup races in! Remember to reward your puppy for entering the crate with treats, chews, or food toys on a regular basis to keep this a strong behavior for life.