Crate training a puppy: What do owners need to know?

16 November 2023 - 8 min read
Puppy in a dog crate

Crates are a popular and effective training tool for dogs of all ages, but it's easiest to introduce one when they're a puppy.

You’ve got a new puppy, which means hours of playing, exploring… and getting them used to their new home

Crates are a popular and effective training tool for dogs of all ages. However, since puppies are easier to train than older dogs, it’s better to introduce them to crates while they’re still young.

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How to crate train a puppy?

Crate or kennel training a puppy means introducing them to an indoor dog crate or kennel. You can use a crate as a safe and secure den for your new puppy to help them rest and relax for short periods of time.

Crates are suitable for dogs of all ages but are particularly popular with owners of puppies that are house training.

Puppies can be quite destructive when they arrive in their new homes. Some common issues include puppies going to the toilet in the wrong places, and causingdamage to furniture by chewing. You can use a crate for training to help reduce these incidents.

Crates can also stop your puppy accidentally injuring themselves by eating and chewing things they shouldn't.

It's a good idea to take outpuppy insurance as soon as you bring your new friend home so you're covered for any mishaps as soon as possible.

What are the benefits of crate training a puppy?

  • Calming: A crate gives your puppy a place to go when they are tired or stressed and need to relax.

  • Toilet training: Crates can help with toilet training as dogs don’t like to make a mess in the place where they sleep.

  • Confidence: Crates can help build confidence and allow your dog to get used to a new environment.

  • Recovery: Crates provide a place where your dog can recover from illness or injury.

  • Travel: Crates are ideal for travelling with your pet in the car since they keep them safe and restrained while you’re driving.

Crate training puppies: A step-by-step guide

Crate training doesn’t have to be complicated and you can make the process easier as you introduce your pup to its new home by preparing ahead of time. Get started with our step-by-step guide to crate training a puppy. 

1. Prepping the crate

Find a suitable room or area in your home to place your crate. Make sure the surrounding area is clear, and that there are no objects lying around that might distract your puppy. Your crate should be warm, cosy, and big enough for your puppy - and allow it at least a metre’s distance from food, water, and toys. 

Empty crates can look unappealing to puppies. ManyPets Veterinary Relationship manager, Sarah Dawson says: “You can line your crate with a comfy blanket or something non-slip, place a favourite toy in there - and some pets prefer a blanket over the top to create a den.

Make sure the crate is big enough for them to stand up and move around a little, and has space for a water bowl if they'll be shut in overnight or for longer periods."

2. Introducing your puppy

Don’t force your puppy inside their crate immediately. Let them explore it in their own time and make the experience positive with toys, treats, and play. Your puppy may be reluctant to enter the crate at first so it’s important to be patient. Stay by the crate as your puppy moves into and around it. You may find that your puppy is more open to going into the crate at certain times of the day. 

3. Getting used to the crate

Start feeding your puppy while it’s in the crate, leaving the door open at first. You can start shutting the door after a few mealtimes, but make sure your puppy doesn’t get anxious when you do. It’s worth having a command word, like “Food” or “Bed”, to let your puppy know it’s time to get into the crate. You should remain nearby or in the same room when the crate is shut. 

Once your puppy is comfortable, you can try increasing the time that the door is closed, and then stepping away for periods of time - returning if they become anxious. Keep your routine going until your puppy is comfortable with being in their crate for extended periods.

Building up time is key, says Sarah Dawson: “Slowly get them used to the crate. Start to feed them in the crate with the door open until they’re confident. Then close the door for only a few seconds. Build this time up over time to avoid them panicking and seeing it as scary.”

4. Staying inside the crate

When your puppy can stay in its crate happily with you out of the room, you shut them in the crate for longer periods throughout the day - not just around mealtimes. Use your command word to signal that you want them in the crate and, if necessary, positively reinforce their behaviour with treats. Take the same approach as before: start them in the crate for short periods outside mealtimes, and then increase that time, stepping away for longer periods as they become more comfortable. 

Remember: dogs are individuals with their own personalities, and some may take to crate training faster than others. You can always check with your breeder to find out whether your puppy has had experience of crate training during their first few months.

Crate training FAQs

When crate training, there are things you should do, and things you should avoid doing. Here are a few common questions:

Should I put my puppy in their crate if they misbehave?

No. The crate should be a place that your puppy enjoys. “Never use the crate for punishment,” advises Sarah Dawson. “It needs to be a fun space where the pet can feel safe.”

How long should my puppy be in their crate?

Crates are great at keeping young dogs safe and secure, but they shouldn’t be used for really long periods of time. Use your judgement to determine how long your puppy can be in its crate, and let them out if they become anxious. Ideally, puppies aged six months or younger shouldn’t be left inside their crate for more than three or four hours at any given time.

Should I lock my puppy’s crate at night?

Ideally, you should work up to being able to lock your puppy in his or her crate overnight. You’ll need to make sure they’re comfortable spending hours in the crate without you in the room before you reach this stage. 

What should I do if my puppy doesn’t like being in their crate?

Puppies may not enjoy their crate at first, so it’s important to leave it open while they get used to it and gauge their reaction when they’re inside with the door closed. If your puppy starts showing signs of distress when they’re in or around the crate, such as whining, barking, digging or self-harming, you should avoid putting them inside. 

Using a crate for toilet training

Crates are  a popular method for toilet training puppies because dogs don’t tend to go to the toilet in the areas where they eat and sleep. If they do go inside, it’s usually a sign of distress and you should consider whether they’re spending too much time in the crate.  

Spending time in a crate can help puppies control and hold their bladders. With that in mind, when they do leave their crates they’ll typically want to go to the toilet immediately and you can let them outside to do so. With a little encouragement and praise, this approach should help puppies develop a routine, and learn that they need to be outside to go to the toilet.  

How to crate train a puppy at night

Ideally, your puppy should eventually be able to spend the entire night in its crate. You’ll need to be patient as you build your puppy up to that, and there are a number of things to consider during training. 

ManyPets vet Dr Kirsten Ronngren says: "In the hours leading up to bedtime, large meals should be avoided, and water consumption monitored.

"This can help you predict the needs of your puppy overnight. For example, letting your puppy gulp lots of water before bedtime is almost a way to guarantee an accident - as they will need to go more frequently.

"Allowing them to drink if needed (without draining the bowl) will keep them hydrated without overload prior to bedtime!

"Remember, giving your pup a chance to go to the toilet right before they go in their crate and right after is helpful to set a successful routine."

With puppies, you may need to sleep next to them in the first few days and weeks of bringing them home with you. This can be challenging at first, but puppies will eventually grow out of it.

How to choose a dog crate

You will find there are various types of dog crates available - including fabric, plastic, and metal crates. What you choose should depend on your specific pup's preferences and tendencies, for example, fabric may not be best for excessive chewers or diggers.

You should choose a crate that’s right for your dog’s size. When inside, they should be able to stand up, turn around, and lie down. If they can’t do this, the crate is the wrong size.

Most crates will be very similar in design and build. You should try to choose one that can be used for puppies, adult dogs, and dogs in old age. A crate that offers good value for money should be an obvious consideration.

Whichever crate you choose, you can personalise it by adding accessories, such as blankets, toys and chews, to make it a cosy comfortable refuge. Use ourpuppy shopping list for a few ideas.

When to stop crate training

When your dog or puppy can remain calm and relaxed inside their crate for more than 30 minutes, that’s usually a good sign that they’re now comfortable with their crate.

Once you’ve managed to house train your dog you may find that you don’t need to use the crate as often. You might even decide you don’t need to use a crate after house training has finished, but lots of owners continue using it as a safe den-like area for their dogs.

The choice will depend on each individual dog and the personal circumstances of their owners.

Crate training has become a popular discussion topic among dog owners. The benefits are that it teaches your dog how to behave in your home, as well as giving them a comfortable, safe place if they feel stressed or overwhelmed.

Don’t leave your dog inside a crate for hours on end, and always make sure you use your crate for the right reasons. Crate training is just a small part of caring for your puppy and if you’re worried about protecting them, it’s always a good idea to consider insurance coverage for any accidents or illnesses they might suffer as they’re growing up. To find out more, get a ManyPets puppy insurance quote in seconds. 

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Lewis Martins
Communities marketer

Lewis has worked in pet health since 2017. Before joining ManyPets in 2021, he led content production at VetForum and PetsApp. Lewis has collaborated with some of the world’s biggest vet groups and suppliers to write educational articles for vets and pet parents. His Instagram feed is 60% dogs, 40% cats.