INTRO TO Crate Training

Adapted from Wonder Puppy’s Crate Training 101

Crate training is a common form of boundary training for dogs that is meant to be used for short-term and overnight close-confinement. If you crate your puppy wisely, it can be an enjoyable place for her and a big help for you! A crate is useful for keeping your puppy safe, keeping your home intact, potty training, providing a den-like space for refuge when she gets tired or overwhelmed, teaching her to enjoy alone-time, and giving you down-time. If you don't plan to use it in the home very often, it is still recommended to crate train your pup in preparation for times when she must be crated away from the house (at the vet, groomer, boarding facility, groomer, car, hotel, friends' houses, daycare, etc).

Ideally, your breeder or rescue has already started conditioning your puppy to enjoy the crate. This makes the transition to the home crate much easier. However, even if your pup hasn’t had any experience with a crate (or has had a bad experience in one), you can still make crate training easy and fun by using the following tips and techniques.

(Tip! For best results, plan to get your puppy when you will have at least two weeks of time free to devote to helping her adjust to the crate.)

General Info and Tips 

Type: There are many acceptable types of crates. However, for growing puppies, an open-wire kennel that comes with an internal divider is most beneficial. It is size-adjustable so that as your puppy grows, you can slide the divider back to create a progressively wider amount of space.  If you know approximately how large your puppy will grow to be as an adult, you will only have to buy one kennel for all of your puppy's growth stages.  To create a cozy, closed-in, den-like space, you can also purchase a cloth crate cover, or you can simply throw a blanket over it. Note: It is not recommend to use a soft-sided crate unless you are sure that your dog will not chew through it (ie teething puppies, dogs with anxiety, heavy chewers, etc.

Size: While potty training, the crate should provide only enough space for your puppy to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably. Once your puppy is potty trained, it can be larger.


  • Bedding — If you are going to put a mat or bed in the crate, make sure it is soil, liquid, and chew resistant.

  • Self-Entertainment-System (“SES”) — When you crate your pup, it is recommended that you provide her with a high value form of self-entertainment. This is will give her something constructive to do that is not reliant upon your presence, and is vital to create a positive association with the crate. Two great options include a high value chewable food puzzle such as a Kong or edible chew stick such as a Bully Stick. (Note: If your dog is a heavy chewer, swallows things whole, or likes to ingest materials, do not leave her alone with anything that could possibly result in her choking. This includes toys, chewing items, clothing, and bedding, and blankets draped over the crate. A Kong that is larger than the size of her jaws is really the only safe thing you can leave with an ingester.)   

  • No Water — Because the crate is intended for sleeping during the night and short-term confinement purposes only, leaving water in the crate is not necessary or recommended. It usually just ends up making a mess!

Meeting Needs: Before crating your dog, make sure that all of her basic needs have been met — that she has been given water, food, exercise, attention, training, and potty opportunities.

Amount of Time: The crate is only meant for short durations and for overnights. During the daytime, dogs should be in their crate for no more than three hours at one time and six hours total per day. Overnight, dogs can stay in their crates for longer durations, usually up to eight hours at a time. (If you have a very young puppy, however, she will likely need 1-3 potty breaks during the night. Overnight, puppies can usually hold their bladder for ~2 hours plus the number of months in age [for example: 2 months = 4 hours, 3 months = 5 hours, etc]. Note that each dog is different, so this may not apply to all dogs.)

Crate "Time-Outs:” If your household is set up for success, you should not need to put your puppy in the crate very often as a result of undesirable behavior. However, if this does happen, putting your puppy in a crate time-out is perfectly okay as long as she already is conditioned to the crate and has a history of enjoying her time in the crate. In general, think of the crate as a safe place for your puppy to calm down, or a way to intercept an unwanted behavior pattern (as opposed to a punishment). When you put your puppy in her crate to calm down, be sure to remain calm yourself. Then, escort her to the crate and give her something to do (ie SES). Wait for at least five seconds of calm behavior before letting her out again and then direct her attention toward an appropriate outlet. In cases where your pup is really “wound up,” let her stay in the crate for at least twenty minutes or longer. It may be that she is over-stimulated or over-tired and she actually need a rest.

(OR: what to do until your dog is crate trained)

Alternative Confinement Options: Because crate training is so restrictive, it can be more stressful for a puppy than some other forms of confinement. Therefore, until your puppy is comfortable with a crate, it is recommended to put her in a larger contained area. Your best option is to put her in a 4x4 exercise pen atop a 5x5 linoleum square. The exercise pen is nice because it provides more freedom but is enclosed on all sides, which prevents inappropriate chewing. The linoleum on the bottom works well because it prevents potty mistakes from soaking into the floor and also provides easy cleaning of food and water spills. You will still want to get your dog comfortable with the exercise pen, but it should be a quicker transition. If you don’t use an exercise pen, you can alternately restrict her space to a small, carpet-less room with a baby-gate, tether her to you, or have her drag a training tail or leash in the room with you. (You would condition her to these boundary tools much like you would condition her to the crate.)

Close Proximity to You: When you are first starting any kind of confinement training, it is ideal to keep your puppy very close to you so that she doesn't feel alone. Dogs are social animals; if your puppy is not yet crate trained, a socially-isolating crate can be very scary, especially if she has just left her dog family! Until she gets used to the crate and confinement in general, she should be able to see, hear, and smell you. In fact, for the first week, it is not recommended to leave her side at all. If you need to be mobile, you can tether her to you or have her drag a training tail (drag line) or leash in the room with you. When you need to go to bed you can set up an exercise pen next to your bed. If you have to go places where your pup is not allowed to go, you should have another person stay with her (friend, family, or hired). Note – Dog Daycare is not an appropriate option for pups under six months of age. Most daycares are simply not set up to give enough care to a developing young puppy.

Comforting Smells: If you know that your puppy will not go potty in her crate, you can also put things in the crate that smell like her previous home (ie a toy) and you (ie an article of your clothing). Another helpful smell is the Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP Comfort Zone), a scent that mimics the calming pheromone that is found in a mother dog’s milk. You can buy DAP in most pet stores and online. (It comes in the form of a spray, diffuser, and collar.)

Soothing Sounds: You can set a ticking clock next to the crate to mimic a heart beating and/or play relaxing classical music. A great CD that helps sooth dogs is called Through a Dog’s Ear.

Classical Conditioning
creating a positive association with the crate

Your primary task here is to teach your pup that her crate is a Wonderful Place for Dogs. During the day, leave your pup crate in her small, restricted area, with the door to the crate open.  At times throughout the day, close the crate door, toss a few treats inside, and then open it for her, letting her go inside. When she is not around, leave "hidden treasure" goodies inside the crate for her to find. Feed her meals inside the crate. Throw a big party whenever your pup goes into her crate on her own. You will want to teach your pup that her crate is a place she wants to go (as opposed to a place she has to go).

If you are in the process of potty training, and are worried about your pup going potty in the house, try any/all of the following…

  • avoid putting absorbable materials in any of her roaming space

  • take her out as often (or more often than she needs) to go potty

  • put a jingle bell on her collar so that when she wakes up, you will know to take her out potty

Training Plan
teaching your dog to enjoy the crate

(2 or more x per day for 15 minutes each session)

Before you start… To better ensure that your dog will become a well-adjusted, confident member of your family and the human world, try to minimize unnecessary stress when working on any kind of boundary training. Doing any form of “cry it out” with a new puppy is likely to result in separation anxiety. Therefore, especially in the early stages, take great care to ease your puppy into the transition of being behind boundaries such as the crate. Also, be sure that all of your pup's basic needs are met by asking yourself the following questions…

  • In general, is your puppy getting quality nutrition, exercise, and rest?

  • Is your dog hungry, thirsty, hot, or cold?

  • Does she need to go potty?

  • Is she under or over-exercised?

  • Has there been a change in home or family routine?

  • Does she feel well or is she physically uncomfortable for some reason (Common puppy ailments include: teething pain; growing pains from bones elongating and fusing; allergies; upset stomach; and injuries.)

If there are compromising factors that may be causing your puppy stress, you may need to take the training a little more slowly than suggested in the following exercises.

Work as slowly as your puppy needs. All puppies are different and will accept boundaries in their own way. It is important to take into consideration that dogs who are not used to having boundaries will become stressed when their freedom is restricted and they feel a loss over control of what they are allowed to do. Then, they will be further stressed when you leave them alone. So, to help with this, use the following slow immersion process to make learning boundaries easy and fun!

Week 1 — Exposure and Duration

The first week is just about boundary exposure and building up duration, from less time to more time, while being in the crate. (Important Note - For the first week, do NOT leave your dog’s side during this exercise!)

  • Step 1: Make a very high value SES item that you know your puppy absolutely loves. You can stuff a food puzzle with a very high value treat (for example, a Kong with Stella and Chewies dehydrated food or canned dog food), or get a very high value edible chew stick (for example, a Bully Stick). You will give this to her when she is in the crate so she will be completely content and happy and creating a good association. And then, when you let her out of the crate, you will “make a trade” for the object with another treat, try to have a relaxed energy, and be boring, boring, boring. This will help her associate that really good things happen when in the crate, and boring things happen when let out of the crate.

  • Step 2: Put your puppy in the crate for only a few seconds with the SES item. Then, let her out of the crate and immediately make a trade for it. This short duration will allow you to get a baseline of how easy or stressful this process will be for her. Evaluate… Did she seem to enjoy it and happily interact with the item? Or, did she ignore it and seem anxious that she was being confined? If her response was the latter, the SES item may not be high value enough, or she may be too stressed out by the experience. Try making the item higher in value and see if there is a difference. If there is not a difference, you may need to work on creating a better association with the crate, as detailed in the “Management” section. 

  • Step 3: If your puppy seemed comfortable in Step 2, you can increase the duration in ~15 second increments, building to a goal duration of 15 minutes in the crate. Each time you confine her in the crate, add about 15 seconds to the previous time. Each time you take her out of the crate, make a trade for the SES. Then, wait about ~10 seconds before putting her in again. Over the first week, build up to 15 minutes of confinement; your goal is to put her in the crate for 15 minutes with her being very comfortable and relaxed the entire time.

Note: If your pup pauses from eating or chewing to see what you are doing, wait for about five seconds to see if she will return to her SES. If she doesn’t self-sooth and return to the SES item, stop the session by calmly taking her out of the crate, and then trouble shoot.

Trouble Shooting: If your puppy is not relaxed while you are training or when time is up, the length of time training time may be too long or she may need a better SES. Try decreasing the training time and increasing the value of the food puzzle or chewing option. If neither of these are the problem, go back and make sure that all of her basic needs have been met.

Week 2 — Distance

The second week is about adding separation, or greater amounts of distance from you, while in the crate. This exercise will help your dog to be comfortable in the crate whether you are in her sight or you are out-of-site. 

  • Step 1: Make a very high value SES item, just like in Week 1. You will put the SES in the crate with her each time you confine her, just as you did in Week 1.

  • Step 2 : Put your puppy in the crate with the SES item, walk a few steps away from the crate and immediately return to let her out of the crate. Make a trade for the item, just like in Week 1. This short distance will allow you to get a baseline of how easy or stressful this process will be for her. Evaluate… Did she seem to enjoy it and happily engage with the item? Or, did she ignore the it and seem anxious that you were leaving her? If her response was the latter, you walking away may have been stressful for her. Try making the distance shorter and see if there is a difference. If not, try making the SES higher in value.

  • Step 3: If she seemed comfortable in Step 2, you can start increasing the distance by a few feet until you can go out-of-sight and return. Your puppy should still be very comfortable and relaxed throughout the exercise and when you let her out of the crate. Important Note - Don’t add duration for this step (ie, don’t go out of site and then wait for any period of time; come right back in).

  • Step 4: If your puppy seemed comfortable in Step 3, you can increase the distance and duration together. Your goal is to have your puppy be comfortable in her crate for 15 minutes while you are in and out-of-sight. Practice walking around the house, in sight and out-of-sight, as you build up to 15 minutes of duration. Because you have already previously worked on duration, you should be able to increase your time in ~5 minute increments. She should still be very comfortable and relaxed throughout the exercise and when you let her out of the crate.

Note: If your puppy pauses from eating or chewing to see what you are doing, wait for about 5 seconds to see if she will return to her SES. If she doesn’t self-sooth and return to the SES item, stop the session by calmly taking her out of the crate, and then trouble shoot.

Trouble Shooting : If your puppy is not relaxed while you are training or when time is up, the length of time training time may be too long or she may need a better SES. Try decreasing the training time and increasing the value of the food puzzle or chewing option. If neither of these are the problem, go back and make sure that all of her basic needs have been met.

Optional Lessons

“I’ll Be Back”: Once you have completed your goals of being able to go in and out-of-sight for 15 minutes, you can easily teach your dog a phrase to let her know times when you are going to leave her. To do this, hold the SES behind your back and say, “I’ll Be Back.” Then, immediately hand the SES item to your dog and leave for the duration of the exercise.

“Inside”: You can also teach your pup to go inside the crate upon request!

  • Get the behavior: The clicker picture is "going inside the crate."

    • Put the crate in a small room with little distractions (ie, the bathroom).

    • While your puppy is watching, close the crate and toss a few treats inside. 

    • When your puppy seems interested, open the crate and when she goes inside, click (or mark) and treat!

    • Repeat the above step until your puppy is going to the crate quickly and enthusiastically!

  • Label Behavior: "Inside”

    • Once your puppy is happily running into her crate, you can put the behavior on cue by saying “Inside!” right before you open the crate door to let her inside (and click/mark and treat!).

    • For best results, repeat for 50 repetitions of pairing the cue.

Note : “Inside” is the recommended cue because it is so versatile. You can use it for asking your dog to go into any space that is smaller than the space she is currently in (for example, “inside” can also be used for asking her to go into the car, the house, the dog park, etc).

Week 3 and Beyond — Real Life and Distractions

Week three is about applying the crate to practical real-life situations and adding distraction. This is because once your dog is comfortable with 15 minutes of duration in the crate, while you are in-sight and out-of-site, you can usually make much bigger jumps in progress. It is often possible to start increasing the duration of being confined by 20-30 minutes at a time. You will also likely not need the SES if it “runs out.”

You will be able use the crate in excitement-inducing situations with minimal stress, as well as to reinforce calm and relaxed behavior. Real life scenarios include:

  • potty training

  • nap time and bedtime

  • when you leave the house

  • while you eat dinner

  • when guests come over to the house

  • around people away from the house (ie. friends’ houses)

  • around dogs away from the house (ie. in class or in the lobby at the vet)

Redirection – what to do when things go wrong 

If the above guidelines have been followed, whining and stress should not occur very much. As mentioned in the above instructions, if your puppy pauses from eating or chewing to see what you are doing, wait for about 5 seconds to see if she will return to her SES. If she doesn’t self-sooth and return to the SES item, stop the session by calmly taking her out of the crate, and then trouble shoot. If your dog becomes stressed during the exercises it is generally recommended to make sure that all of the basic needs have been met and then make the task easier. However, if you see extreme stress (extreme panting, drooling, etc) stop the exercise immediately and contact a professional trainer for help.

Positive House Training with a Crate (Victoria Stillwell)

Notes on the above video: For the most part, this is a good quick-overview of crate training. However, there are a few things we’d like to point out:

  • As with all TV shows/videos, progress happens a lot faster than in real life. This video should be used as an overview; no puppy can crate train in seven minutes!

  • The video does not show the trainer trading the Kong for another treat; we encourage trades to limit negative association with the human taking away the puppy’s SES, which may result in guarding behavior.

  • The video features a towel and water bowl in the crate, which we do not recommend, and a potty pad in the safe zone (potty pads and newspapers are too close to rugs… use a novel indoor potty area like fake grass over a tray).

Quick and Easy Crate Training by Teoti Anderson and Stephanie Fornino

Midwest Life Stages Crate
Midwest Exercise Pen
Bully Sticks