As Pearl continues to grow, she is learning many behavioral and training lessons. According to her mentor Dr. Jill Sackman, crate training is among the most important. That’s why this Pupdate is devoted to teaching you how to make your puppy comfortable in her crate.
Let’s start by learning the benefits of crate training your puppy:
Safety – Puppies learn about their environment by chewing and exploring, which can unfortunately lead to trouble. By crating your puppy, you can ensure she has a safe place where she cannot cause harm – both to herself and to your belongings.
House training – Dogs naturally avoid soiling their area of rest, so crates are an essential tool for house training your puppy. Crates can also prevent your puppy from having accidents on your furniture or carpet.
Relaxation – To people unfamiliar with crate training, it may look like a punishment. But that’s not its purpose. A crate actually is a way of making your puppy feel warm, relaxed and safe. The crate serves as your puppy’s own quiet place to rest in your home.
Preparation for veterinary visits – At veterinary hospitals, pets are often housed in kennels during treatment or waiting periods. If your puppy has never been exposed to a closed space, she might show signs of anxiety or aggression. Crate training familiarizes your puppy with the feeling of temporary confinement.
Travel – It is important to crate your puppy on car rides to provide safety and prevent her from roaming the vehicle freely. In most cases, crates are required for dogs and puppies if they are accompanying you on a plane or train ride.
The first step in crate training is choosing the right crate for your puppy. Dr. Sackman recommend soft-sided crates because they are best for travel and in-home supervision. However, these crates should not be used for unsupervised crating, such as crating while you are away at work. Wire cages with plastic mats are also popular. They are suitable for unsupervised training. Make sure your crate is large enough to allow your puppy to move comfortably, but small enough to ensure she cannot soil one corner then rest in another.
For large breed puppies, you may need to purchase multiple crates during the first year to accommodate for growth.
Pearl expert tip: “My parents have two crates for me – one in our home and one in their vehicle. This way, they never have to worry about transporting my crate inside and outside!”
The crate training process should begin as soon as possible – ideally while the puppy is only a few weeks old. It’s important to be mindful that crate training is a gradual process that will happen over a series of short training sessions.
Start the training process by making the crate an appealing place for your puppy. Line the crate with soft bedding and add your puppy’s favorite chew toys. Introduce your puppy to the crate by placing treats on the inside. Feeding your dog her meals in the crate will also help her learn that the crate is a happy place. During this introductory phase, do not close the crate door. Going into the crate should be your puppy’s decision; never drag her in or use the crate as a form of punishment.
Once your puppy gets more comfortable with relaxing in her crate, you can move on to the next phase of crate training – shutting the door. Give your pup a chew toy or fun treat as a distraction before shutting the door for the first time. Only shut the door for a few minutes at a time in the beginning.
Your puppy may whine for a moment, however, if she is crying or screaming, she may not be ready for you to shut the door yet. If this happens, you may need to spend more time letting your dog get comfortable with the open crate.
Dr. Sackman expert tip: “Pack a Kong-style fillable toy with treats and peanut butter before shutting the door. She will focus on the challenging treat and might not even notice you shut the door.”
As her training progresses, begin closing the crate door for longer periods of time. The goal is gradually increase the duration until she is comfortable being crated overnight for house training purposes. Overnight crating is one of Pearl’s biggest struggles because she would rather sleep with her mom and dad in their cozy bed. As cuddly as your puppy may be, it is important to remember that the crate is the best place for her at night when it comes to behavioral training.
Dr. Sackman expert tip: “Before bed, toss the very best treats in your puppy’s crate. This will help her adjust to nighttime crating.”
Depending on both your puppy and your time commitment to crate training, the entire process should take a few weeks. Once your puppy is crate trained, you should crate her whenever you are unable to supervise. Crate her when you are asleep, away from the home or unable to provide your attention.
Pearl’s parents advise that one of the essential steps in crate training is starting as early as possible. Dr. Sackman agrees and adds, “It is important to make sure your puppy knows that the crate is a safe, happy place. Only make positive associations with her crate.”
Read Pearl’s Pupdates:
Dr. Sackman is a specialty veterinarian and medical director for BluePearl’s Michigan hospitals. She practices on BluePearl’s veterinary behavior service and possesses years of experience as a behavior expert and dog trainer. She is currently a resident in the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists pursuing double board-certification. To learn more about Dr. Sackman, Pearl and her family, please visit our Introduction to Pearl’s Pupdates article.