Note: Dogs should not be left in a crate for more than 4 hours during the day, and for more than 8 hours at night. Young puppies will have to go potty more frequently and duration of time should vary accordingly. The general rule is that a puppy can "hold it" for the same # of hours as they are in months. Two months = two hours. Young puppies, just like adults, will be able to hold it for longer at night when their metabolism slows down - but this will vary from puppy to puppy. Consider hiring a dog walker or pet sitter to come visit mid-day while you are at work.
The average puppy , with no prior negative associations with crates can be moved through this training process in 3-7 days. If your puppy or adult dog has been forced into a crate without the necessary training he may exhibit fear and anxiety and this process may take 2 or 3 weeks - or longer - depending on the intensity of the fear and anxiety.
What You Will Need in Your Training Toolbox
1. High Value Reinforcement: we recommend using Happy Howie rolls or Red Barn rolls. Happy Howie rolls are preferred if you are able to locate a distributor, but Red Barns rolls are easier to order online.
2. A Crate: use crates with doors that swing open and closed, avoid crates that have sliding doors.
3. A Treat Pouch: recommend Pet Safe or Olly Dog treat pouches. A good treat pouch improves your timing by allowing for easy access to food. Avoid plastic bags! The crinkly sound will be extremely distracting to your puppy and weaken your training results.
Step 1: Step Right In
Sit down with your puppy in front of an open door crate. Throw a several pieces of food inside the crate and allow your puppy the opportunity to step in and search for the food. He does not have to put his entire body inside the crate. If he seems nervous (stretching out to grab the food, and/or running away from the crate) make it easier for him to get the treats by placing the food at the opening or outside the entrance.
Do not move forward if you are seeing any apprehension in body language or facial expressions (no stretching, or suspicious glances).
Step 2: The Turn Around
Throw a few pieces of food in the back end of the crate. Your puppy will likely step in with one or two paws and back out. She might even put her entire body in, before reversing out. Continue scattering food until your puppy makes the decision to step inside and turn around. Capture the turn around by immediately delivering food. Offer as many reinforcers as possible before she even thinks about walking back out.
Move on to Step 3 when your puppy is waiting inside the crate, eager to receive another treat. Do not move forward if you are seeing any apprehension in body movement or facial expressions (scrambling to get back out of the crate, uneasiness about walking inside).
Step 3: The Texas Two Step
Once your puppy is comfortably walking in and turning around in the crate you can move on to the “Texas Two Step.” Offer reinforcement when they step in and turn around, and withhold reinforcement when they step out. Empowering your puppy to choose between being inside and outside the crate will reduce anxiety and form a positive, relaxed association with these crate training exercises.
Reinforce your puppy for 15-20 seconds using a high reinforcement rate. Then entice your puppy to walk back out by drumming on the floor in front of the crate. Withhold on reinforcement when your puppy steps out to create contrast and build value for being inside.
If your puppy focuses on you, be still. Don’t move or talk to your puppy. You want to give her the opportunity to re-orient to the crate. Move on to Step 4 if your puppy starts to walk back into the crate even when you have not prompted the behavior. Do not move forward if your puppy is exhibiting any apprehension about walking inside or staying inside the crate. Go back to previous steps if necessary.
Step 4: Sit in Crate
Once your puppy begins to show a clear preference for being inside the crate, you can raise the criteria by luring her into a sit. Again, reinforce for the duration of time that your puppy remains in a sit inside the crate, and then ask her to step out by drumming on the floor. Repeat this a few times over until your puppy walks into the crate, turns around and settles right into a sit.
Step 5: Closing the Gate
If your puppy is comfortable and confident with all exercises up until this point, you can begin to raise the criteria further by closing the crate door. As soon as you close the gate give your puppy 4-6 rewards in rapid succession before opening the gate again. If you’re able to, give your puppy 2 or 3 more rewards if she doesn’t attempt to “bust out” as soon as the crate door is open. Repeat this process a few times overs. We want to make sure that she is just as relaxed with the gate closed, as she is with the gate closed.
Loss of appetite, pawing or biting at the gate, stress whining, frustrated barking and rushing the gate when you open it are all indications that you should drop your criteria and go back to a more basic exercise. Pushing your puppy past their comfort zone will only prolong the training process.
Step 6: Walking Away
The next step is to close the gate and walk away momentarily. The goal throughout this entire process is to keep the puppy below their stress threshold. The more gradual you are in building criteria, the better your results will be. Close the gate, reinforce, walk away 5 to 10 feet and then IMMEDIATELY walk back and reinforce your puppy. Repeat this a few times over before opening the gate. Again, reinforce your puppy if she remains calmly inside the gate when the gate opens.
Every puppy will progress at a different rate. The better you are at reading your puppy’s behavior and body language and adjusting criteria accordingly, the better your training will be.
Step 7: The Finishing Touches
To close the gap between these formal training sessions and practical; start by having the puppy in the crate while you grab a glass of water, take a snack from the refrigerator, or go to check the mail - intermittently reinforce the puppy for calm behavior as you gradually increase the duration of time she spends inside a closed door crate.
If she is comfortable with this you can begin reading a few chapters from a book in a nearby chair or watch a show on netflix while your puppy chews on a bully stick. It’s also extremely helpful to have your puppy sleep in a closed door crate near your bed at night, so that she associates it with a place of rest, relaxation and safety.
Article written by Alyssa Lapinel, CPDT-KA. Founder and head trainer of Legends Dog Training. Legends Dog Training is based in San Diego, California. Fill out an assessment form if you would like customized training advice for your dog.
Here are 6 reasons why your puppy will benefit from using a crate early on:
note: dogs should not be left in a crate for more than 4 hours during the day, and for more than 8 hours at night. young puppies will have to go potty more frequently. the general rule is that a puppy can "hold it" for the same # of hours as they are in months. Two months = two hours. Young puppies, just like adults, will be able to hold it for longer at night when their metabolism slows down - but this will vary from puppy to puppy. consider hiring a dog walker or pet sitter to come visit mid-day while you are at work.
1. Rest and Relaxation: Every puppy needs good rest and relaxation to grow up to be physically and emotionally healthy adults. However, puppies (just like kids) are not very good at self regulating their sleep needs. When puppies do not have scheduled sleep time you are more likely to exhibit poor social skills and highly impulsive behavior (like mouthing and jumping). Schedule in nap time in the crate each day, to ensure that your puppy is getting sufficient sleep between play sessions.
2. Separation: Most puppies from the ages of 2-5 months of age will act like a duckling. They want to follow you everywhere. And while this is a normal behavior it does not fit in with the way we live our lives. No matter how much you want to, you will not be able to be with your puppy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When a puppy is conditioned to a crate, he will feel safe and secure in that space. Ultimately, this will significantly reduce the stress that he may otherwise feel when left alone. When used correctly a crate will actually decrease the likelihood that your puppy will develop separation anxiety.
3. Destructive Behavior: Puppies love to chew. Puppies need to chew. It's a fact of puppy life. You will see an increase in chewing when their new adult teeth come in around 4 months of age and you will see another surge in chewing through adolescence when their curiosity and energy spikes and they look for more creative ways to "explore" their surroundings. This natural impulse will need to be managed through careful supervision, puppy proofing and use of a crate when these other options are not feasible.
4. House Training: If you have sized the crate correctly, most puppies will have a natural desire to keep their immediate space clean. This can give puppies the necessary incentive to "hold" their bladder and bowel movements until they are given access to a large space. We recommend setting a timer to remind yourself to take your puppy outside every half an hour. Walk with your puppy on leash, carrying a high value reward. When your puppy goes potty - immediately reinforce the behavior with the high value reward (reinforcement should come within 1 second of elimination). You can increase the time interval at which you bring her outside once you have a better idea of your dog's individual potty habits.
5. Puppies That are Timid with New People: It's very important that you create a "safe place" for timid puppies to retreat to when they feel overwhelmed. Forcing a shy dog into social situations may reinforce the fear or uncertainty that your puppy is experiencing. If you notice that your puppy is showing signs of stress or fear you should encourage him to retreat to an open door crate, allow him to make the choice to approach unfamiliar people when he's built up the curiosity and courage.
6. Puppies That are Excitable with New People: Your friends and family members will LOVE to get your puppy excited during greetings. They will not understand or listen to you when you ask them not to reinforce your puppy for jumping. Have your puppy in a crate for the first 5 minutes that a new person walks into your home. Reinforce your puppy with treats for keeping all four paws on the ground inside of her crate. This will teach your puppy to be calm when new people come into the house and will save yourself a lot of frustration in the long run.
Feel free to share this article with friends and family members if you feel this information is helpful. What have your experiences been in using crates? Have you ever had a puppy or dog that LOVED his or crate? Have you ever had a puppy or dog that hated it? Stay tuned for an article about the right way to condition any puppy to a crate.
This article was written by Alyssa Lapinel, CPDT-KA - founder and head dog trainer at Legends Dog Training. Legends Dog Training is based in San Diego, California.
Alyssa Rose, CPDT-KA
Certified by the Council for Professional Dog Trainers