Crate training is a great way to provide your dog with a place he can feel comfortable and safe when you’re not around. Further, getting your puppy used to being in a confined space for short periods while you’re away can keep him from chewing up the sofa and strewing trash around the house. When done correctly, crate training is a process that will help you bond with your new family member. However, use caution, as going about it the wrong way can leave your dog fearful and reluctant to enter his crate when you need him there the most.

Here are a few tips on how to safely and effectively teach your new puppy that his crate is a sanctuary.

Choose the right crate.

Crates come in many sizes to accommodate dogs of different breeds. When shopping for a crate, look for one that has plenty of space for your dog to get up and move around a bit. He will need to be able to lay down and stretch out when he’s at rest. 

This can be tricky when you have a puppy. Before making a purchase, talk to your veterinarian to find out how large they expect your dog to grow — large breeds may take up to 24 months to fill out completely. You can save money by buying a crate that will accommodate his full size now, but you may need to restrict access to part of it while he’s still small by placing a plastic bin or cardboard box in the back of the crate.

Next, decide what style works best for your animal and your family. There are four different crate materials to choose from: wire, plastic, fabric, and wood. A wire crate is a good choice for a dog with long fur, and plastic is a solid option if you plan to travel with your pet. A soft-sided crate, which is made out of fabric or mesh, may work well for a small breed. If you want it to integrate with your home’s design scheme, choose a wooden model. 

Start training right away, but take it slowly.

When you first bring home a new puppy, he is understandably nervous, curious, and excited all at once. He will want to explore his surroundings, so putting him in a crate straightaway will only make him feel restricted and even more anxious. However, his new crate should be accessible. Having it available, preferably near its planned permanent spot, will show your dog that it is a normal part of his new environment.

Once your puppy has sniffed around the house, you can start to introduce him to his crate. With the door open, put a few tasty treats inside. Then, call out to your new puppy by name. Gently lead him toward the open door. If he does not enter to retrieve the prize inside, that’s OK. Let him run around for a bit longer, and then try again, adding different treats or toys as an enticement. Eventually, he will walk into the crate for his snack.

After a day or two, you might want to begin feeding him his meals inside the crate. Put the dish as far back as it will go, and let him enjoy lunch with the door still open. If he eats and then sticks around for a few minutes, you can try closing the door the next time he eats.

Phase in longer time periods. 

It can take two to three weeks or more for your puppy to feel completely comfortable in his crate. During this time, it’s best if someone is home and nearby while he is inside. Once he shows no signs of stress while eating, see if he will enter at other times, and then close the door for five to 10 minutes. It’s important to know that puppies less than 14 weeks old should never be left in a crate for more than three hours. This is considered the longest they can hold their urine. As they get older, they can tolerate more time, up to six hours for some animals.

Keep the crate close at night.

One of the most logical times to keep your dog in his crate is at night when your entire family is asleep. However, just like a baby, your puppy will likely wake up throughout the evening and in the early morning hours for unscheduled potty breaks. It’s stressful, but keep his crate next to your bed or at least close enough that you can hear him if he whines. When he needs to go, take him out on a leash, and return him directly to his crate when he’s done.

Give him access to other places.

Crates are not meant to be the only place your dog spends time. Once he is old enough to be left alone without wreaking havoc on your house, the crate should be an option, not a requirement. When your dog no longer requires your full-time attention, leave the crate door open, but allow him to retreat into other areas of your home or to hang out with the family as you go about your day.

Other tips for Puppy Crate Training

These pointers can also help your puppy adjust to using his crate:

  • If your puppy has a favorite blanket, put it in the crate. Similarly, you can place one of your shirts inside so he has an item with a familiar, comforting smell.
  • Never lock your puppy in his crate for punishment. Remember, you want him to associate his crate with positive feelings, not negative ones.
  • Crates are not a substitute for human interaction. A quick search online will find hundreds of online forums, articles, and other sources of information on the cons of crating your animal for hours on end. If you cannot be home with your dog and must leave him alone, either provide him with a safe space outdoors or hire a pet sitter to check on him at least once during the day.

Crate training a puppy is not always easy. It takes time, persistence, and patience. Ultimately, however, giving your puppy a safe place to go when he can’t be left alone is one of the most effective ways to help him acclimate to his new life with you while protecting the place you now both call home.