Whether you call them kennels, dens, or puppy jail (just kidding), dog crates are a common tool to make it easier to live with your best friend.
There’s a lot of conflicting information out there in the dog training world though. Are crates cruel? Will your dog hate being confined? How do you start the process? What should your long-term crate usage look like as your dog grows up?
We’ve organized the facts all in one place. Behold, everything you need to know about crate training your puppy!
- Crate training is the process of teaching your puppy to accept a kennel. A properly crate-trained dog will enter her den willingly and settle fully once inside. Conditioning your puppy to a crate isn’t cruel. In the long run it can be a source of comfort.
- Every dog, owner, and situation is different. While it never hurts to get your puppy used to a crate just in case she needs one someday, there’s no reason you have to use a kennel if it’s not a fit for your lifestyle. It’s less about the tool and more about how we employ it.
- Proper crate training isn’t a panacea, but it does have many benefits: making puppy raising and potty training simpler, preventing separation anxiety, encouraging deep sleep, keeping your dog physically safe, providing a sense of security, making travel and vet stays easier, and being prepared for potential emergencies.
- The right crate is appropriately sized, comfortable, and thoughtfully positioned in your home. Spaces that are too big or small can prevent your puppy from settling, and it’s harder to relax in high traffic areas.
- When your dog’s basic needs are met, she’ll be able to rest more easily in her crate. It’s unfair to ask a puppy to be calm if she hasn’t had enough food, water, bathroom breaks, exercise, and social time with her family.
- You can teach your dog to love their crate through positive reinforcement training. Take the process slowly. Play fun crate games. Provide her with in-kennel enrichment as possible. Watch as she comes to feel confident in her safe space!
- It's a good idea to build other skills in tandem with crate training long term. There’s nothing wrong with using a crate in the long run. Many adult dogs sleep in kennels throughout their entire lives. But you don't want to feel completely dependent on one tool.
- Once your dog is fully crate trained, you can be flexible about how you use her kennel. Many adult dogs are crated at various times: overnight to ensure deep sleep for everyone in the household, periodically throughout the day to encourage naps (especially before or after stressful events), for peace of mind when left alone, and if guests are over or the environment is particularly overwhelming.
What is crate training?
Crate training is the process of teaching your puppy to accept a kennel. A properly crate-trained dog will enter her den willingly and settle fully once inside. She might occasionally whine or bark to express immediate needs (like an urge to use the bathroom) but otherwise won’t show signs of stress.
Crate training has two main parts:
- It teaches your puppy to settle in one physical location. This is especially helpful for dogs who are always on the move. Some puppies struggle to sit still, but it’s important they also learn how to rest.
- It helps your dog feel comfortable being left alone. Dogs are social mammals who form deep bonds with humans. The younger they are, the harder it is to be left behind! Crate training can prepare your puppy to confidently spend time by herself.
Cultural differences on crate training
While crates are pretty common in the United States, countries like Finland and Sweden have actually outlawed their routine use. In those nations kennels are only legal for transportation, sanctioned events (like dog shows), or special cases of injury recovery.
Depending on where you live, it might be completely normal for dogs to spend several hours in a crate on a daily basis, or you might be looked down upon (and possibly fined) if they’re shut away for just one.
This illustrates the importance of individual differences in dog parenting cultures, lifestyles, and goals. There are people living successfully alongside dogs with minimal crate use. It would be remiss of us to act like a crate is strictly necessary for everyone with a dog. By the same token, there are also dog-owner teams whose lives are made significantly better by responsible crate use. It would also be remiss of us to act like the tool is strictly unnecessary either.
What good crate training is and isn’t
Ultimately, dog crates aren’t inherently good or bad. It’s about how we dog parents use them.
Proper crate training involves:
- Making sure your puppy’s crate is appropriately sized. She should be able to stand up, turn around, and lie flat in it.
- Taking the time to get your dog comfortable with her den at a fair pace. While the crate training process might involve some mild stress for both of you, it should fundamentally be a positive experience.
- Providing your puppy with adequate exercise, opportunities to express her natural drives, and social time with you outside of her crate.
- Adjusting to your individual dog, lifestyle, and goals over time.
Poor crate training might look like:
- Prolonged confinement that limits your dog’s ability to adjust position. A crate should be cozy, secure, and comfortable. It's not the equivalent of a straight jacket.
- Keeping your pet in her kennel for hours at a time without any breaks or sufficient fulfillment. This is especially dangerous if she’s forced to be alone without getting enough social interaction.
- Using the crate as an unpleasant punishment as opposed to a safe den.
- Forcing your dog to handle unpleasant stimuli—like loud noises or being harassed by children—when she is unable to escape. We should never let people or other pets interact with our dogs through their kennels.
Why should I crate train my puppy?
Proper crate training isn’t a magic cure-all for every problem you might encounter with your dog, but it does have several benefits. It can make your job of puppy raising a bit simpler, increase the speed of potty training success, prevent separation anxiety, encourage deep sleep, keep your dog physically safe, provide your puppy with a sense of security, make travel and vet stays easier, and help you prepare for potential emergencies.
Benefits of crate training
Crate training can make puppy raising easier
Bringing home a new dog is both exciting and overwhelming. With so many puppy tasks to keep track of—and your typical work, family, and household obligations still requiring your attention—it can be a huge relief to designate a spot for your dog to hang out when you’re unable to supervise. A comfortable crate makes sure your puppy stays safe and helps you stay sane.
Crate training helps with potty training
Dogs typically don’t use the bathroom where they sleep or eat. Because of this, thoughtfully using a kennel can make a world of difference while potty training your puppy!
It’s important to note that crate training won’t enable your dog to hold her bladder longer than she’s physically able (typically one hour for every month of age). But it will help her build healthy habits about eliminating outside.
Crate training can help you avoid separation anxiety
Many dogs struggle to settle away from their people. While this is a natural part of bonding with a social mammal, dog parents often need to leave their dogs alone from time to time. Whether you work full-time in an office or have a flexible remote schedule, chances are you can’t (and let’s be honest, probably don’t want to) take your puppy absolutely everywhere you go.
Proper crate training can prepare your dog to relax by herself without constant input from you. You might phase out the crate over time depending on how long you’ll be away from home, but you can always fall back on it as a safe, secure option.
A crate can make sure your puppy gets enough sleep
Puppies need more sleep than you might think! Most experts agree that growing dogs should get between 18 and 20 hours of sleep a day. (Think about it—that means your new family member might only be awake for four to six hours per day.)
While some pets have no problem napping in a range of situations, others struggle if exciting things are going on around them. And with senses of smell and hearing that far surpass ours, what’s interesting to a puppy might not even be on your radar.
Thankfully, crates can create the perfect environment for deep rest:
- Dogs are diurnal mammals like us. The darker their sleeping spots, the better. You can simply drape a blanket on top of a crate for this (or invest in a custom-sized crate cover that matches your home decor).
- It’s easier for dogs to stay asleep in a calm area without much noise. This is especially true for pups who like to keep tabs on their humans throughout the day, which has become more common with the increase in remote work situations.
- Animals relax best in familiar territory. Your dog’s crate can be a constant: a safe place no matter what else is going on (like visitors, loud weather, or maintenance projects).
Crate training can keep your dog physically safe
One of the most important things a dog crate can provide is physical safety. Secure kennel setups can prevent our puppies from:
- Getting into anything they’re not supposed to, from food to cleaning supplies to our brand-new shoes. Of course we should help teach our dogs what is and isn’t theirs, but sometimes it’s not possible to watch them 24/7.
- Practicing unhealthy behaviors, like barking out the windows or pacing anxiously, when we aren’t there to intervene.
- Getting into squabbles with other pets. Even animals who have coexisted for years can have disagreements.
- Being injured in a car accident. A crash-tested crate is more durable than a seatbelt attachment (and either is preferable to riding loose in a vehicle).
- Escaping on their own during a chaotic event like an overnight house fire or gas leak. Thankfully these situations are unlikely. On the off chance tragedy does strike, though, it’s easier for emergency responders to rescue a crated dog than one who is scared and running loose.
A crate can help your puppy feel secure
Giving your dogs her own private space can help her feel more in control of her environment. Over time, she’ll learn to handle greater levels of stress at her own pace without feeling forced to endure stimuli that make her feel unsafe.
A secure den can be especially important for puppies who are easily overwhelmed or live with children and other pets. Your dog retreating to her crate is not unlike the way we humans might step outside of a party or hide in the bathroom for a minute. Sometimes we all need a break!
Comfort in a crate is important for travel and vet stays
Crates are also about more than just comfort at home. Since your dog’s kennel is a familiar den, it can create consistency when you travel to new environments. You can set up your puppy’s crate in a family member’s house, hotel, or Airbnb. And even if she doesn’t recognize anything else around her, she’ll feel safer in her own space.
The same applies if your dog ever needs to spend a few hours or overnight at your vet. Most clinics will keep pets who are recovering from anesthesia or sedation in some sort of kennel until they come to. Some will even let you bring your own!
Crate training can be valuable “just in case” preparation
Crates might also be a necessary part of already-stressful situations. By getting your dog used to secure confinement ahead of time, you can remove some discomfort if she has to encounter a kennel:
- If she gets lost and is picked up by animal control. Flukes can happen to even the most responsible dog parents. While a dog who is microchipped and wearing appropriate identification should be found quickly, she still might have to spend a few hours in a shelter crate until you can bring her back home.
- If diagnosed with a medical condition like epilepsy where she could hurt herself falling off a higher surface. Many dog parents of dogs with similar diseases prefer the peace of mind that comes from leaving them in a secure crate where they won’t be able to cause any damage.
- During mandated rest after an injury or surgical procedure. Some common causes of crate rest are heartworm treatment, paw pad cuts, muscle sprains, and broken bones.
- In a shelter space if you’re displaced from your home. In order to keep as many people safe as possible, natural disaster evacuation areas often only welcome pets if they’re securely contained.
How do I know if crate training is right for my dog?
It’s worth remembering that every dog, owner, and situation is different. Some environments require more or less management than others. Some puppies quickly adjust to their private dens while others struggle to be in a small space. Some dog parents can’t imagine life without a dog kennel while others have little need for their puppies to be crate trained.
Here are some questions to ask yourself to help decide if crate training is right for you and your dog:
- How long do you regularly have to leave your puppy alone? A kennel might feel unnecessary for daily life if someone is often home to supervise. If you live alone or work out of the house, though, you might prioritize crate training more.
- What is your household environment like? Are there potentially dangerous things your dog could get into (like young children’s toys out and about) or is it a minimalist situation?
- Does your pets have any special needs? Some dogs struggle in the crate due to health problems (like arthritis that causes stiff joints if they stay still for too long) or behavioral issues (like confinement anxiety from a traumatic past experience). Other dogs have conditions that actually mean they’re safer being crated (like epilepsy or pica).
- What are your goals with your dog? Will she need to be still on long car rides, during air travel, or in other chaotic environments? Is she social with the rest of your family and guests, or might there be times when she needs her own space? There’s no shame in admitting that your dog might not love every situation you do (especially if she’s an aloof or guardian breed).
- What is your pet’s personality like? A dog with a very mellow temperament might have less use for a crate than a puppy who constantly craves stimulation. While training and fulfillment are absolutely important for an over-aroused pup, crates can also be great management tools in the interim!
Basically, it never hurts to get your puppy used to a crate just in case she needs to be in one someday. That said, there’s no reason you have to use a kennel if it’s not a fit for your lifestyle. When in doubt, a professional trainer can help you make the best plan for your individual dog.
How do I crate train my puppy?
You’ll want to do a few things to set your dog up for success in crate training. Make sure her kennel is appropriately sized, comfortable to sleep in, and thoughtfully positioned in your home. Then think about your puppy’s basic needs. It’s unfair to ask her to settle if she has to use the bathroom or hasn’t had a chance to play in a while. From there, build a positive association with her den and increase the amount of time she spends in her den at her own pace.
It’s normal for your dog to struggle in her crate at first. With your calm presence and positive reinforcement, she’ll quickly learn it’s a good thing!
Create the right crate set up
There are many types of dog crate to choose from
- Wire dog crates. Many dog parents opt for a basic, collapsible wire crate. The pros are that they’re usually cheap, easy to come by, and fold up nicely for transportation. The cons are that some puppies might hurt themselves chewing on the bars or even be able to escape. And they can still be rather heavy to lug around if you’re a frequent traveler.
- Solid plastic or metal dog crates. Other people choose a plastic or metal crate with solid sides. While these kennels are usually more expensive and difficult to transport, they’re also more durable. The opaque sides make it easier for dogs to settle and are more difficult to chew on. Some of these crates are also crash tested, which means that if you carefully pick the right size, you might be able to use them both on the road and inside your home (Car crates are generally a bit smaller than those designed for long durations like sleeping overnight, so it’s important to think about how many hours you’ll ask your dog to be inside at one time).
- Foldable soft dog crates. Soft-sided kennels are another option. These are especially great for dogs who are already reasonably kennel and house trained. They fold up for easy transportation, which makes them perfect for hotel stays, visiting family, or even moving into a new home before the rest of your boxes are unpacked.
Pick the right crate size for your dog
Your dog should be able to comfortably stand up, turn around, and lie down in her crate. She shouldn’t be able to run or jump though. Think of her kennel like a baby’s crib, not a larger playpen.
If your puppy is growing quickly, you can find a range of crate dividers online and at your local pet stores. These allow you to section off an appropriately-sized portion of her adult crate so you don’t need to make multiple new purchases as she grows.
Carefully consider what you put inside your puppy’s crate
Some dogs do best in an entirely empty crate with nothing to chew or soil. Others settle more easily with comfortable blankets, beds, or even toys to snuggle.
Here are a few questions to ask to make the right decision for your dog:
- Do you trust your puppy not to consume any non-edible objects (like dog bed stuffing) you leave behind? You don’t want to risk a foreign object surgery, especially at a young age. Many dog parents start by only giving their dogs crate enrichment if they’re able to supervise or providing old towels they don’t mind getting ruined. Over time, you can gauge your puppy’s ability to be trusted with nicer bedding and toys.
- Does your puppy like to sleep on hard surfaces, or is she always looking for the coziest spot? Some dogs get hot easily and actually prefer the cool bottom of a plain crate floor. Others love curling up in blankets. Pay attention to your individual puppy’s preferences!
- Is your dog old enough to hold her bladder for multiple hours? If she’s reasonably house trained, you might consider putting water in her crate. If you’re still in the potty training process, you’ll likely want to leave it out.
Think about where to place your dog’s crate in your home
Too much social isolation can be hard for some puppies, especially in the early stages of crate training. This means far out-of-the-way spots like back bedrooms might not be ideal for your dog’s initial kennel setup.
On the other hand, high traffic areas can also make it difficult for your puppy to relax.
Ideally, you’ll find a middle ground in the beginning—maybe your home office or a quiet corner of your living room—and progress to your dog’s final crate location over time. Many dog parents begin with their puppies’ crates in their own bedrooms and later designate a dog room or separate area of the house.
Meet your puppy’s needs out of the crate
Now that you’ve thought through your dog’s crate set up, it’s time to consider her basic needs. When your puppy is reasonably fulfilled, she’ll be able to settle more easily in her crate, and the time away from you won’t negatively impact your bond.
Food, water, and bathroom breaks
- Depending on your puppy’s age, she needs to eat two to four times a day.
- Your puppy should always have access to fresh water unless you’re about to leave her alone for an extended period or it’s bedtime. In those situations, you can consider removing her water bowl 30 minutes to a couple of hours beforehand.
- Puppies can typically hold their bladders and bowels one hour for every month of age, sometimes plus one. If your puppy is eight weeks old, she can only hold it for two to three hours. As she ages, you can extend the time between bathroom breaks slowly as long as potty training continues to go well.
Exercise and fulfillment
- While sustained running is not recommended for young dogs whose bones haven’t finished growing, puppies still need daily exercise, regularly moving her body will help her build muscle coordination and strength.
- Give your dog opportunities to fulfill her natural drives by sniffing on neighborhood walks, playing games like tug, or searching for treats in puzzle toys.
Exposure to the world
- Exposure to a variety of sights, sounds, surfaces, and objects will help your puppy’s brain develop. Try to do at least one novel thing with your dog each day, even if it’s just taking a new walking route or bringing her with you to run a few errands.
Social time with you
- Regular interaction is one of your puppy’s basic needs! Our canine companions are social, cooperative mammals just like us.
- One of the most important things you can do with your new dog is spend time getting to know each other. The more you listen to your dog and communicate back in ways she can understand, the more you fill her trust battery. The fuller that battery, the more challenges you can face as a team.
Help your puppy build a positive association with her crate
You feel good about your crate set up. You’re on top of your dog’s basic needs. Now for the nitty gritty. Here’s how to actually teach your puppy to love her den!
Consider separating out the two parts of crate training
We mentioned before that crate training has two main pieces: teaching your dog to settle in one physical spot and helping her feel comfortable being left alone.
While it isn’t always necessary, some dogs benefit from tackling these skills separately. It’s often best to approach dog training in slow, progressive steps. This way your puppy isn’t trying to adjust to multiple new things all at once.
You might break the “physical settling” and the “being left alone” parts of crate training up by:
- Occasionally leaving your puppy alone in a larger pen or closed-off area (many dog parents find that bathrooms work well for this) with space to move around and play.
- Sitting with your dog while she’s in her crate. For example: If you work from home, you might keep her crate in your office so she’s with you but still confined.
Play fun crate games during the day
With positive reinforcement, you can make your puppy’s crate a place she happily goes. Here are a few ways to start creating a positive association with the crate itself:
- Calmly praise your dog for venturing near her crate once you set it up.
- Throw treats around the crate opening.
- Toss some treats inside the crate. When your puppy goes inside to eat them, throw a few more outside so she gets a quick break. Then repeat!
- Feed her meals around or in the crate.
- Give special chews inside the crate.
- Practice closing and reopening the crate door. First shut it just for a moment, then work up to a few seconds. Eventually take a few steps away.
Be careful not to rush anything right away, and avoid accidentally rattling the crate door or bumping its sides when your puppy is nearby (those noises can be scary to a young dog). Just make it clear how awesome her new den is!
Help your puppy appropriately channel her energy in the crate
For many dogs, the first few minutes after being shut in their crate are the hardest. Your puppy might experience an initial rush of stress, but by giving her a way to productively channel that arousal, you can prevent her from hyping herself up further.
Natural behaviors like chewing and sniffing can actually decrease your dog’s heart rate. You can provide her calming enrichment inside her crate through things like:
- Frozen stuffed kongs
- Stationary puzzle toys
- Small snuffle mats
- Puppy-safe edible chews
Slowly increase crate duration
As your dog gets used to her crate, you can slowly increase the duration she spends inside. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Avoid making every crate session harder than the last. Vary how long you shut your puppy in her den. By mixing short stints into your overall progression, you make sure your dog doesn’t develop a negative association that her kennel only gets more boring. This might look like a 30-minute session followed by 10-minutes followed by 40-minutes and so on.
- Pay attention to how your dog feels. If she’s showing stress signals or consistently waking up before your alarm goes off to take her outside overnight, take a few steps back in the process.
- Be prepared for your puppy to complain a little bit. Some whining, barking, and pawing at the crate door is completely normal! If she’s really struggling to settle, circle back to evaluating her crate set up and making sure you’ve addressed her basic needs.
How to use the crate overnight while still in the training process
You’re working on building your puppy’s love of her crate in short sessions throughout the day. That’s great. But what about when she has to be in it for a certain amount of time overnight? Dog parents need their sleep too!
Don’t worry. If you’re taking the time to build a positive association with your puppy’s den and making sure to wake up for the appropriate number of bathroom breaks based on her age, she should settle into a routine quickly.
Here's how we like to approach the first few nights with a puppy:
- Start the process early so you have plenty of time.
- Put your puppy in her crate and sit near her.
- If she tries to leave her den, open the door and close it again. This teaches her that nothing she does will successfully get her out of the crate.
- Be a calm, steady presence. Don’t talk to your puppy or make eye contact. Just hang out and provide comfort from afar so she doesn’t feel completely alone.
- Once your puppy falls asleep, quietly get up and go to your own bed.
What if your dog whines while in the crate?
The general rule of thumb is to only let your dog out of her crate when she’s calm. But what if it’s an emergency?
Knowing whether you’re showing your puppy that you’ll listen to her needs or if you’re reinforcing attention-seeking behavior can be a tricky judgement call. Eventually you’ll come to learn your individual dog’s signals and habits. In the meantime, here are a few things that can help:
- Think about the last time your puppy peed and pooped. If it’s been a little while or if she recently ate or drank, she might need to empty her bladder and bowels.
- Setting alarms and taking your puppy out proactively overnight can help with this. If you know you’ve been following a fair potty training schedule, it will be easier to ignore barking and whining as she adjusts to sleeping in her new den.
- Consider if she might be hungry or thirsty. Is it approaching a meal time? When was her last access to water?
- Ask yourself if she’s gotten enough fulfillment lately. Are you reasonably expecting her to settle in her crate after playing with you or going on a walk, or does she need an outlet for some of her puppy energy?
If you think your puppy might have an unmet physical need, give her the opportunity to use the bathroom or have a drink of water. Keep everyone’s energy low by moving slowly and talking quietly. Then put your dog right back into her crate. You want to show her that you have her back if she’s feeling uncomfortable, but not that whining gets her a bunch of fun play time.
If you’ve realized that she might need more activity overall, wait for a few moments of quiet behavior and then release her from her crate for some interaction with you.
Ultimately, it’s important to keep our expectations fair and be consistent in teaching our dogs what does and doesn’t earn them freedom from their crates.
Build lifestyle skills so you don’t rely on the crate forever
While there’s nothing wrong with using a crate in the long term—it’s often a great lifelong tool—it is worthwhile to consider if you feel like you depend too much on your dog’s kennel.
Most dog parents want our puppies to be able to settle while out and about with us, not just while contained. And depending on our schedules, it can be a blessing to trust our dogs alone in the house without being crated on occasion!
It’s a good idea to work on some other skills in tandem with crate training:
- Impulse control so your dog can pause before immediately acting on their urges. This gives you time to step in.
- Basic verbal commands so you can provide your puppy direction when she’s roaming the house with you.
- General household boundaries so over time you don’t need to give your dog guidance about every little thing.
- Ability to switch between levels of arousal so your puppy can learn to self regulate after exciting events (like someone knocking on the door or finishing a particularly energetic play session).
How should I use the crate once my puppy is comfortable in it?
Once your dog is fully crate trained, you can be flexible about how you use her kennel. Many dogs are crated overnight to ensure deep sleep for everyone in the household, periodically throughout the day to encourage naps (especially before or after stressful events), when left alone, and if guests are over or the environment is particularly overwhelming.
Common ways to use your dog’s crate
Overnight so everyone gets deep sleep
There’s nothing wrong with letting your dog sleep in your bed if it works for you! Many dog parents do prefer having their own space overnight though. And crating your dog can ensure your entire household gets the best rest possible. No fighting over pillow room or inadvertently kicking your best friend in the middle of a bad dream (It’s harder to explain an accident to your dog than to a human partner).
During the day to encourage naps (especially before or after big outings)
Most healthy adult dogs are pretty good about regulating their own rest needs. They’ll take a nap when they’re tired and initiate play or find some other activity when they aren’t.
Sometimes, though, you might need more control over your dog’s sleep schedule. If you want to make sure your dog is fully charged up for a planned outing (like a group class or long hike) later in the day or help them come down from a high energy experience, giving them a crate nap can be the perfect solution.
When left alone
Some dogs have proven themselves trustworthy when unsupervised and can freely roam the house (or a gated-off section of it) for hours by themselves. Other dog parents love the peace of mind that comes from crating their pets when they leave—either because their dogs still struggle with the occasional urge to raid the trash, or just in case of an emergency. Make whatever risk assessment helps you feel most comfortable!
When guests are over or you need to manage a situation
Many dogs get excited when visitors come to the house. Sometimes other things—like your kids, a last-minute work project, or inclement weather—need your attention. Crating your dog during these moments can keep her safe while you focus your energy where it needs to go.
It’s also good to remember that not everyone is comfortable around dogs. Workers and contractors often prefer that resident dogs are crated or otherwise restrained while they work on your home.
In short stints to maintain a positive association
Crate maintenance can be just as important as the initial training. You might consider crating your dog in small bursts here and there for a few reasons:
- Quick stints (even as short as 15 minutes) help ensure your dog’s kennel doesn’t always become a signal that long, boring hours are ahead.
- It's a great way to keep up a positive association! Sometimes the crate simply means a delicious kong and then immediately being let out once it’s finished. Awesome.
- Depending on your lifestyle, it might be easy to go days on end without kenneling your dog much at all. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s a good idea to keep her comfortable in case it's ever needed.