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Crate Training Made Easy As 1-2-3

puppies in their den
Luna's puppies emerging from their den

Crate training, when properly done, provides owners with peace of mind during those times when they cannot monitor the activities of their new puppy or dog. 

Dogs Love Their Dens and Crates

Dogs are essentially den animals by nature, meaning they instinctively enjoy being in dark close quarters.  In the wild, expectant mothers dig dens in order to whelp and raise their new puppies.  In fact, our border collie regularly digs dens or re-excavates old dens in accordance with her seasons to prepare for her coming or imaginary litters. 

These dens are relatively spacious, and will protect the puppies from the elements such as summer heat, winter snow and rain. Their den maintains a relatively constant temperature, as it is typically one foot underground.  Here the puppies will stay until they begin to walk and venture out short distances from the den, returning to the den to sleep and nurse.  With proper introduction to his new crate, your dog’s natural instincts will cause him or her to seek out his crate for nap time or as a safe haven in times of stress.

Step 1 - Selecting the Proper Crate

There are 3 basic types of crates on the market: the soft-sided crate, the wire mesh cage and the plastic hard-sided crate.  Save the soft-sided crate for later, at a time when the dog is properly crate trained and has learned to seek comfort in a crate.  Soft crates are easily destroyed, causing unnecessary expense to the owner, and teaching the dog that if they try hard enough, they will eventually be able to set themselves free. 

The soft crate is only appropriate for dogs who are already crate trained and comfortable in their private den area.  However, they are great for travel and indoor containment of the well mannered dog, as they offer den-like privacy via their mesh windows and adjustable fabric flaps.

The plastic or sheet metal sided crates are an excellent option for the adult dog.  They offer den-like privacy and are the only crates rated for air travel.  On the down side, plastic crates are not easy to disassemble and reassemble, which is not a problem for small dog crates, but becomes an issue when moving large dog crates within the home or on a trip from car to hotel room.   More importantly, they cannot be safely reconfigured to adapt for growing puppies.

wire crate
3 door wire crate with divider
This leaves the collapsible wire mesh crate with a movable divider as the preferred training crate for growing dogs as well as for travel with large dogs.  You will want to purchase a crate that will accommodate your puppy when fully grown, and that also includes a divider which you can use to limit his sleeping area.

When fitting his sleeping area, the sleeping space should allow for comfortable rest but should not be so large that it provides him with enough space for him stake out two areas: one for sleeping and one for eliminating. A puppy that gets into the habit of soiling his crate will be very difficult to house break. 

The privacy-den effect can be added to the wire crate by draping the crate with a sheet or towel.

Step 2 - Teaching Kennel-Up! 

  • On day one, it’s a good idea to start by teaching your dog to enter his crate on command.  You can begin by saying, “kennel-up”, “go to your crate,” “get in” or any phrase of your choosing, and then tossing a treat into the crate.  Your dog will quickly find going into the crate is a rewarding exercise.  
  • Initially leave the cage door open to let him come and go as he pleases.  
  • Repeat the training session several times during the first few days with 4-5 “kennel-ups” or “go-in’s” per session. 
  •  If you plan on using clicker training, you will want to click the clicker when the dog enters the crate to retrieve his reward.  
  • Once he begins to enter the crate on command, switch to treating him after he has entered the crate on his own.  
  • As his understanding of the command solidifies, you can begin to reward him intermittently.

Step 3 - Feed His Meals in the Crate

  • Give the command to “kennel-up,” and once the dog has entered the crate, give him his food, and shut the crate door.  
  • For young puppies, you will want to take them out for a potty break within 30-45 minutes after the puppy has finished his meal.  
  • If you have multiple dogs, crate feeding is a good way to prevent rapid eaters from muscling-out the slower eaters from their food bowls.

Bedtime: If possible, we recommend bringing the crate to your bedroom for bedtime to keep an eye on him and provide some extra comfort in his new surroundings. As the dog becomes more comfortable in his crate, you may choose to crate him in the evenings in another area of the house.  You can include a chew toy in the crate to entertain him until he exhausts; we recommend selecting one without a squeaker.   

Be prepared, you may have a night or two of your dog or puppy “crying” himself to sleep.  Be careful not to let the dog out of his crate while he is barking or misbehaving.  Only let him out when he is behaving himself, unless you suspect he is about to have a potty accident.  

You can recognize a puppy or dog that is in need of a potty break, if you see him turning in circles and looking at the bottom of the crate.  In that instance carry him outside for a potty (literally if this is a young puppy), praise him for the potty, give him a short walk as a reward and then return him to the crate for the evening.  

Remember to give him a small reward for kenneling-up at bedtime as well.  In the morning, be careful to get your dog to his potty area immediately after leaving his kennel.  With young puppies, carry them outside to avoid unintended accidents on the way to the door.

A Word of Caution On Puppy Crating Durations

While sleeping in the evenings, the dog’s digestive system slows down considerably, allowing him to remain crated for an 8 hour stretch.  During the daytime, dogs should be crated a maximum of 4 to 5 hours at a time.  It is important that during their crate time they have access to water; a stainless steel pail hooked to the side of the crate or crate door works best. 

Young puppies require more frequent potty breaks than adults.  Puppy ages and their relative maximum crating times are:

8-10 weeks 30-60 minutes
11-14 weeks 1-3 hours
15-16 weeks 3-4 hours
17+ weeks 4-5 hours
happy dog in crate
By Taro the Shiba Inu (@_tar0_ scores a goal!
[CC-BY-2.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons

If you are on a working schedule that prevents you from coming home to give your dog regular potty breaks, you will want to create an indoor pen area or hire a professional dog walker.  

When creating an indoor pen, select a site with an easy to clean floor and provide puppy potty training pads, so that he has an appropriate area to eliminate on.  Most puppy training pads come with a scent to encourage elimination on them and not other areas of the pen. 

Before leaving for work and penning or crating your puppy or dog, be sure to give him at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise depending on his size and age. Make sure to release him as soon as you return.  Your arrival will trigger excitement and speed up his digestive system.

When you are home and enjoying time with your new puppy or dog, leave the door to the crate open, and you will soon find that he looks forward to relaxing in his own private area.  If you are planning on a task that you expect your dog to find unpleasant, such as a bath, close the door to the crate before he realizes your intentions, so that he cannot hide in it.  You want to avoid turning his safe haven into a battle ground with you trying to drag him out of his den.

You can use these same techniques to introduce your dog to his new dog house.  While we do not advocate leaving dogs outside 24x7, dog houses do provide shelter from the elements when a sudden storm comes up and provides a cool refuge on a hot summer day.

Visit 4 Best Dog Houses to learn more about what the best dog houses have to offer.

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