Crate Training A Puppy

To crate train or not to crate train? That is a common question for many new dog owners. On the one hand, your puppy needs to have space to move freely as well as social time with you and your family. On the other hand, you need to know that your puppy and house will be safe when you go to sleep at night or need to leave the house for a time. Is there a balance between these two needs, and can it be found using a crate?  The Humane Society of The United States says, “A crate is not a magical solution to common canine behavior. If used incorrectly, a dog can feel trapped and frustrated. And for some dogs, crates will not be an option.” At America’s VetDogs/Guide Dog Foundation, we teach our volunteer puppy raisers and our program graduates how to use the crate as a positive tool. 
black lab in crate
Here are some important things to remember when considering crate training:  
A crate can be used to manage behavior, but it should never be used as a form of punishment. Keep in mind that a crate is not the only option for behavior correction. Using a tether can be a productive way to keep dogs safe while still allowing them freedom to move around.  

An adult dog should not stay in a crate for more than 6 hours during waking day. This window is much less for a puppy and for any dog who is not house trained. Dogs who are crated for too long do not get enough exercise or socialization. They can become anxious or depressed.  

Crates don’t have to be a forever solution. They can be introduced and used until behaviors have been corrected and your dog is able to handle being loose in the house while you’re away.  

If you decide to move forward with crate training your dog, use our expert guide based on techniques we use to raise puppies into future guide dogs and service dogs!  

Goal: Your puppy should feel like the crate is a comfortable, safe place to relax. The crate should be an aide to keep your home and the puppy safe, teach polite house manners, and confine the pup when you cannot supervise them. The crate should not be used for more than six hours during the day with an adult dog. Younger pups cannot stay in the crate for more than 4 hours. While you are puppy raising, the pup should be comfortable in the crate without vocalizing, relieving, or being destructive. 

Introducing the Crate 
» Always leave the crate door open when you’re home and not actively training.  

» Feed all meals in the crate until the pup is eagerly going into the crate. This can take several months, but the more positive association, like food the dog gets with the crate the faster they will acclimate and be comfortable in it. 

» Do not leave the puppy unsupervised in the crate with cloth or bedding. The crate should be clear of items the pup can destroy or ingest. 

» Give the pup a hard toy to play with in the crate. We suggest a Kong toy or a Nylabone. If the pup has to be left in the crate for a period of more than 15 minutes at a time during the day before they have a foundation with the crate game, give the pup a food stuffed toy. 
*Soak the food for at least 10 minutes in warm water and then stuff the food in the Kong or sterilized bone. You can also freeze the toy with food ahead of time to keep the puppy occupied for extended periods. 

Play The Crate Game 
Introducing the crate to the pup with food creates a positive association. Play this game several times a day when the pup is hungry, but not right before mealtimes so they don't become frustrated or frantic. Have the crate set up in a quiet room with minimal distractions. All food rewards should be given in the crate during this game. 

Download The Crate Game Infographic  
Crate Game Graphic
Phase 1 
1. Lure the pup into the crate with food so they go all the way to the back of the crate.  

2. Once the pup is in the back of crate, drop the food and allow them to eat the food. 

3. After you have done this portion of the game several times only reward the pup for being in the back of the crate.  

4. The pup should be facing the back of the crate as they eat the food you dropped. Put another piece of kibble in your hand and extend it into the crate so the pup is met with food when they turn around.  

5. Let the pup leave the crate if they want to do so.  

6. Lure the pup back into the crate several times with food until they make the connection that food is delivered in the crate. Continue to meet the pup with food when they turn around to walk out.  

7. After luring the pup into the crate 5-10 times, start letting the pup walk into the crate on their own. 

8. Once the pup walks in, drop food into the crate from the top. Do not drop the food in until the pup steps into the crate.  

9. Meet the pup with a piece of kibble when they turn around.  

10. If the pup becomes hesitant to leave the crate, lure them out with kibble. Then, allow the pup to walk back in and be reinforced with food by walking into the crate. 

Phase 2 
1. As the pup turns around in the crate after the first food reward you dropped in, quietly close the door. Feed the pup several times through the door. 

2. Then, delay the feeding 5-6 seconds. Continue increasing the duration of time between feeding through the closed door.  

3. After feeding 10-15 pieces of kibble, open the door. Feed the pup several pieces of kibble in the crate with the door open. 

4. When the pup walks back into the crate close the door and increase the time between feeding by 10-20 seconds.  

5. Open the crate and feed the pup at the entrance before they exit.  

6. Allow the pup to walk back into the crate. Close the crate and walk away. Return to the crate after several seconds and feed the puppy.  

7. Continue increasing and varying the duration of your time away from the crate to 20 seconds. 

8. Walk out of the room and pup's sight for several seconds and increase and vary the time with your absence. 

9. Increase the distractions and sounds when away from the crate by moving the crate into a different room, allowing your pets to enter the room, turning on the radio or tv. 

10. Place a toy in the crate for the pup to chew on during this step of the exercise.  

11. Return and reward after shorter periods away when increasing stimulation in the environment.  

12. Continue this exercise by placing the pup in the crate while you're home. Leave the room but return to reinforce the pup's quiet and calm behavior with food reward.  

In conclusion
Crate training is a personal choice for each dog owner, according to the needs of your family and your dog's temperament. We hope you found this blog post informative and helpful if you choose to go the route of crate training your new puppy. If you're interested in potentially becoming a puppy raiser, helping to raise future guide dogs, learn more here