Crate training your puppy or dog – what you need to know

Deciding whether to crate train your puppy or new dog is a big decision, and no doubt you've already done a lot of research. If you're still weighing up the pros and cons of crate training, then read on to find out more about how it works and what you need.

What is crate training for dogs?

Crate training is a way of helping your puppy or dog to feel secure in their crate when you need to leave them or restrict them to a certain area of the house.

Dog crates come in a variety of sizes and are usually collapsible, so they are easy to transport, and they can be stowed away when you're not using them.

Why use a crate for your dog?

On the face of it, putting your dog in a crate might sound like a cruel thing to do, but just like us, dogs need their own space too. Think of the crate as a "den" where they feel safe enough to relax in a secure environment.

When you bring your puppy or new dog home, you may want to restrict their access to the rest of the house until they learn the rules, and this is where having a dog crate is useful.

A dog crate won't stop separation anxiety or destructive behaviour, but it will keep your four-legged friend safe while you're training them.

It can also be used for safely transporting your dog in the car, and creating a calm environment where they can recover after surgery. Crate training your dog now will pay off in the future if you ever need to separate your dog from a nervous house guest.

How to choose the right dog crate

Most dog crates are made from sturdy metal wiring that is light enough to carry. If you're planning to use your crate for travelling, look for one that will fit in the boot of your car.

At the bottom of the crate there is usually a removable plastic tray where you can put your dog's bedding or a soft blanket to make it feel warm and cosy.

Some dogs benefit from having a towel or a blanket partially covering the top and sides of their crate. It can help make the crate feel more secure, and it's handy for blocking out excessive noise when they're sleeping – not to mention cold draughts in the winter.

How big should your dog's crate be?

Your dog's crate should be just big enough for him to stand up, turn around, and lie down. To make your investment stretch further, get something that your dog can grow into, but don't let your puppy travel in their adult-sized crate.

When you're setting up your crate for the first time, think about where your dog's water bowl will go. Consider getting an anti-spill bowl, or get something that will clip to the sides of the crate.

How do you crate train a dog?

It takes a lot of patience to crate train a dog – be prepared to take small steps over time. Some dogs will get used to their crate quicker than others, but as a rough guide, you can expect it to take at least a few weeks.

  1. Step one – introducing the crate

    The key to successfully crate training your dog is to make it a positive experience. When you introduce the crate for the first time, make sure the door is securely fastened open so it doesn't accidentally swing back and hit your dog.

    Use dog treats to entice him into the crate (or a toy, if he prefers) but don't shut the door just yet.

  2. Step two – feeding in the crate

    The next step is to increase the amount of time your dog spends in the crate.

    Start by putting his food bowl near, or just inside, the crate, then progressively move it towards the back until he's comfortable eating all his meals in there.

    Once you're at this point, try closing the door while he's eating, then opening it when he's finished. Slowly increase the length of time you leave the crate door closed, until he can manage ten minutes after he's finished eating.

  3. Step three – increasing the time

    When your dog is happy to eat all of his meals in the crate with the door closed, you're ready to move onto the next step.

    To begin, stay with him while he's in the crate, then leave the room for short periods and return again. Slowly increase the length of time until he will stay there on his own without crying or whining.

    When he can manage 30 minutes, you can start leaving your dog in his crate while you leave the house and/or overnight.

    Before you leave, make sure your dog has been to the toilet, and give them something to do while you're away – try a 'Kong' stuffed with food or a chew toy.

Is crate training cruel?

Far from being cruel, your dog's crate should be a safe place where they voluntarily go to relax and sleep. The key to making your dog feel comfortable with their crate is to make it a positive experience.

Give them plenty of praise and treats for getting in the crate, but don't over fuss them when you return home or you might find your dog is anxious to be left alone next time.

You should never use the crate to punish them or prevent unwanted behaviour. If you're worried about your dog's behaviour, then contact your vet.

Don't leave your dog in his crate for longer than four or five hours (three to four hours for a puppy until they are toilet trained). If you think you're going to be away longer than this, make alternative arrangements.

Crate training your dog – the bottom line

Not everybody crate trains their dog – there is no unwritten rule that says you have to. It's a matter of figuring out what's right for you and your dog. If you decide to go ahead, then we'll be here to support you with advice on picking the perfect crate.