How to Crate Train a Puppy

If you follow me over on Instagram and YouTube, you likely already know we added a new puppy to our home! And let me tell you, learning how to crate train a puppy became a quick priority for us in our first week.

I do have a blog post with my full new puppy checklist of essentials – a crate is definitely on the list! Crate training in general, though, felt like it deserved its own dedicated post. Crate training can be super complicated and rough, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. Knowing your dog has a safe space to settle down, rest, or be transported is worth a lot. Especially in the very beginning!

So if you’re looking for the ins and outs of how how to crate train your puppy – you’ve come to the right post. We’ll dive into the best ways to introduce the crate, the ideal puppy crate training schedule, as well as just a little info about using the crate when it comes to how to potty train a puppy.

Learn how to crate train a puppy to actually enjoy their crate & sleep through the night in this blog post from Kelsey of Blondes & Bagels!

A little about me and my dog.

Some of you reading may not be regular followers, so I just want to do a little intro. Hi! I’m Kelsey. I am not a professional dog trainer, but I am a hardcore researcher and classic over thinker. When I do something – I DO it. I read books, watch shows, take classes, etc. At the time of writing this post, I am a relatively new puppy owner. We brought our standard Goldendoodle puppy, Lemon, home in early January 2021. I’ve researched endlessly on what training styles make sense for our family and we’re also enrolled in more than one training class with live instructors, both remotely and in person.

I am in the positive reinforcement camp. I believe dogs want to be part of our pack and want to please. I do not believe in using any “dominance” training or negative reinforcement training.

So if all that sounds good to you – let’s do this!

The benefits of crate training.

I’m well aware that not everyone is a fan of crate training. I’m probably even taking a little bit of a risk writing this post. If you’re not a fan of this method, please click away. I fully respect anyone’s opinion as to how they do or do not choose to train their dog. That being said – there’s a whole group of us out here who do see the benefits of crate training and want to learn how to do it in a way that’s actually enjoyable and enriching for our dogs.

Crate training helps teach puppies and dogs to self soothe.

Many dogs are unable to self soothe. Especially in the times of the pandemic where humans are home, well, just about all the time. Dogs are now used to their people being around! Crate training can help teach a dog to enjoy their own company and prevent separation anxiety.

Crates can help keep puppies safe.

Puppies in particular need constant supervision. That being said – we’re all human! We all need little moments throughout the day to do household tasks or get work done. We all have errands to run at places that unfortunately don’t allow dogs. Rather than leave your dog in a hot car or unattended in your home, a crate is a safe alternative where pup can play and rest unsupervised in a safe environment.

Crate training helps socialize your pet in case of an emergency or a trip to the vet.

Vet visits suddenly become much easier for your dog when they’re already familiar with the concept of being crated. Whether it’s waiting to see the doctor or needing an overnight stay for observation, vets do utilize crates. If your dog has already been crate trained and exposed to a crate, this makes the experience a lot less stressful.

Emergency personnel may also use crates to transport dogs in emergency situations. For example, emergency personnel may need to use a crate for transport if a pet escapes and is then recovered or if a pet needs to be transported during an emergency such as after a flood or fire. Again, if your pet already has been crate trained, their stress levels are likely to be a lot lower in these situations.

Crate options – which crate setup is right for you?

Crates come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and materials. You’ll want to do your research to make sure you pick up the best crate (or crates!) not only for your dog, but for your lifestyle.

Soft sided crates

I’ll admit, this is the style of crate I was most familiar with when we had my family puppy growing up. He was a tiny little Shitzu that could easily fit in my lap. A small, soft sided carrier worked just great for him.

Soft crates come in different sizes and materials, but are likely the ideal choice for smaller dogs who do not have a propensity to chew. The lightweight material allows for easy transport, making soft sided crates awesome for travel (from planes to cars!).

If your dog is a big chewer, it’s worth noting a soft sided crate may not be best for you. If your dog can blow through a fabric chew toy, there’s really nothing to stop he or she from attempting the same level of destruction with a soft sided crate. Fabric is not nearly as durable as other materials, such as plastic or metal.

Plastic crates

Plastic crates, like fabric crates, also come in many sizes. Because plastic is much sturdier and heavier weight than its fabric counterpart, plastic crates make for a decent option for larger sized dog breeds or for smaller breeds with a higher propensity to chew.

That said, plastic crates can still be susceptible to damage from heavy chewers. A plastic dog crate will be no match if your new puppy (or new dog!) is truly determined to chew their way through.

Metal wire crates

Metal wire crates are some of the most common types of dog crates out there. Between in home use as well as use in cars and at the vet’s office, your dog is bound to run into a metal crate at one point in his or her life. Metal crates are highly durable and very versatile. Metal crates often have the option to have not just one, but two doors, allowing for the use of an attachable x-pen if desired.

Another positive note about wire crates is that many come with a divider so that you can appropriately size the interior for your dog and expand the amount of space as they grow.

Metal crates do have their downsides – the primary of which is potential safety (or lack thereof). Metal crates do have the occasional sharp edge or corner, so if your dog is attempting to chew their way out, it’s possible to cut themselves. Metal crates also have plenty of nooks and crannies for dog harnesses and collars to get caught on, which is why it’s advisable to remove all of these prior to crating your pup (more on this in the safety section further down in this blog post).

Modern crates

Just like Warby Parker did for eyeglasses, there are several companies out there working to “revolutionize” the otherwise bland world of dog crates.

The Diggs Revol dog crate utilizes a mix of wire mesh and plastic for their dog crate. The crate uses single pieces of wire mesh, making it much safer than a traditional metal wire crate because it lacks any sharp bits. The Diggs Revol also folds up neatly and has multiple entry points, making it ideal for travel, storage, vet visits, etc. As of the time of writing this blog post, Diggs only makes a small and medium size of their Revol crate, and is taking waitlist sign ups for a larger size.

There are also a few other modern crate brands out there (such as Fable). Transparently, these crates are far more design focused than function. If you have a fully grown dog that has shown no signs of crate destruction, it could make sense to upgrade to one of these beautifully designed crates. Otherwise, I’d save the cash and focus on a crate that will help get you through your initial training phases and/or keep your pup safe while you’re out of the house.

Crate covers

Crate covers can be super handy during the crate training process. Covering your crate can help signal to your pup that it’s nap time thanks to a darker, cozier atmosphere. Crate covers also help reduce line of sight, meaning if you have a highly distract-able dog, reducing the amount of stimuli can greatly help them settle.

Many wire crates are able to be covered with handy crate covers. You can also utilize a blanket, but it’s important to note that pesky puppies (or doggies) can actually pull blankets through the gaps in the crate, making for a terrible choking hazard.

Crate sizing

The golden rule of crate sizing, particularly if you’re trying to utilize the crate to fast track potty training, is that the crate should only be big enough for your dog to turn around in and comfortably lie down. If your crate is too large, your dog may choose to do their “business” on one end of the crate and sleep in the other end. Because dogs don’t particularly like to sleep where they “go,” having a properly sized crate encourages dogs to hold it and build up their bladder strength.

It’s totally okay to purchase a larger crate with the anticipation that your dog will grow into it, but make sure to utilize a divider so that you can section off the crate and expand it as your dog grows.

For our puppy, we went with a 42″ crate, but utilize the divider so that she only has as much space as she needs to comfortably rest.

Crate safety

I wanted to make sure to carve out a specific little section for crate safety. It’s so important that the crate is a physically safe space for your pup!

It’s often recommended to remove all collars, harnesses, bandanas etc prior to crating your dog, to prevent anything from getting caught along the sides of the crate. Bandanas and ill fitting collars or harnesses can also quickly become choking hazards if your dog decides to chew on them while unsupervised in the crate.

It’s also important to be very selective with what toys you provide to your dog inside their crate. Many toys are not suitable to be played with unsupervised. You know your dog best. If they’re an avid chewer, do not leave soft toys with squeakers inside them for your dog to play with in the crate. Both stuffing and squeakers are choking hazards. Toys made specifically for chewing are usually the best choice.

When it comes to bedding, again make sure to keep safety in mind. Many dogs, particularly young dogs, will chew at beds. It may make sense to utilize a towel, old blanket, or even leave the crate bare to start.

Learn how to crate train a puppy to actually enjoy their crate & sleep through the night in this blog post from Kelsey of Blondes & Bagels!

So, how DO you crate train a puppy?

Introducing your dog to the crate.

LOTS of mistakes are made when introducing dogs to their crates and crate training. The ultimate goal is to make the crate a positive, happy, safe place that your dog doesn’t mind spending time in. Approach your crate training attempts with this in mind and you’ll absolutely find success.

The #1 thing NOT to do when introducing your dog to their crate.

The absolute worst thing you can do when beginning crate training is waiting until it’s bedtime on their first night in your home to introduce your dog to their crate. If your first introduction to a room was a stranger tossing you inside, shutting the door, turning off the lights, and walking away – you’d probably scream! Which is exactly what most pups do on their first night home in the crate because they have no understanding that the crate is a safe place.

Often “gotcha day” is so busy and packed with activities or travel that many people forget to prioritize properly (and slowly) introducing the crate. Make time for this activity. You won’t regret it.

Playing in and around the crate.

The first step to introducing your dog to their crate is simply playing both in and around the crate. Spend time with your dog playing with some toys or giving them treats next to or near the crate. You can then slowly toss toys and treats in and out of the crate. Do not physically force your dog into the crate at any time. By utilizing toys and treats, you should be able to encourage the dog to check out and enter the crate on their own.

I suggest utilizing high value treats when working around the crate for the first time. We’re talking about the good stuff. Think pieces boiled chicken breast, low fat turkey dogs, the works! These will help get your dog very excited about their crate.

After your dog has entered the crate and started to explore, try quickly shutting and then opening the door. By quickly repeating this door open, door closed, door open motion, you’re indicating to your dog that sometimes the door is open, sometimes it’s closed, but either way it’s all good. You can then start closing the door for short periods (think 20 seconds, 30 seconds, etc) and giving your pup a high value treat through the bars.

While performing some of these “get to know you” style exercises with the crate does take a little time, this will pay off immensely when it comes time to go to sleep. Your puppy will already be familiar with this fun treat and toy filled space and will know that having the crate door closed doesn’t mean there’s any reason to panic.

Serve meals in the crate.

Another way to familiarize your dog with the crate is to give your dog their meals inside the crate. Many trainers do not recommend bowl feeding, but the occasional bowl meal in the crate can be a great way to again show your dog the crate is a safe place where good things happen. You can also feed your dog meals via chew safe puzzle toys inside their crate (such as a Kong).

Continued socializing to the crate during the day.

Many dog owners primarily prefer to utilize a crate during bedtime or while out of the house. Again, it’s important to use the crate during the day as well, particularly at the start of crate training, so that your dog becomes very familiar with this space and enjoys their time in their crate.

Carve out small chunks of time during the day to crate your pup. If you notice your dog starting to settle down for a nap outside the crate, this makes for the perfect time to guide them into the crate (try using a treat as a lure!) for their nap. You can start with small bits of time (30 minutes or so) and work up to longer stretches as needed. If the ultimate goal would be to have the crate as a safe space for your dog while you’re out of the house running errands for a couple hours, make it a goal to work up to this amount of time while you are home so that they can get used to this arrangement.

The primary hurdles with crate training and how to push through them.

A crying dog.

Everyone’s least favorite part of crate training – the crying dog. And let’s be honest, some dog “cries” are much closer to screams or shrieks than a simple cry. Crying, barking, yelping, shrieking, and just generally wailing – it all happens and it’s all super unpleasant.

Stay close and comfort

One of the biggest reasons your dog is crying inside their crate is because they feel separated from you, scared, and alone. Particularly if you are puppy crate training, your little pup has likely just been separated from their mom and littermates. This is truly the first time they are learning to be alone. That’s scary!

Come at this with a loving approach and stay nearby the crate to comfort your dog. Many people will sit or lay off to the side of the crate and stick their fingers inside the bars so that their dog knows they are there. This definitely worked wonders for our puppy. My husband and I traded shifts sleeping on the couch next to her crate for her first week home, putting our hands nearby if she fussed so that she knew she wasn’t alone and was safe.

Cover the crate.

Covering the crate may help your pup feel more safe and secure inside. Not only do crate covers reduce stimuli, but they also create a cozy, dark, den-like atmosphere that many dogs really enjoy. Just be sure to leave a little gap somewhere to allow for air flow.

Make comforting noises if they can’t see you.

Another way to comfort your pup during crate time if they are fussing is to make a gentle shhhh or shushing noise so that they know you are nearby. Imagine how a mom gently soothes her baby with a shushing noise – same concept!

Utilize white noise machines or ambient noise.

Sometimes dogs are comforted by the sounds of white noise, ambient noise, or gentle music. White noise machines can really come in handy when crate training!

We personally love to play various soothing dog playlists you can find on Apple Music or Spotify. We use AirPlay to play these through our HomePod so that our dog can hear them from her crate. These playlists help give a really relaxing, calm atmosphere. Truthfully we have no idea if this really “does” anything, but she is doing great in her crate so why mess with something that seems to be working!

If all their needs are met – let them cry it out.

Your dog, your rules. This method may not be your style. But I do want to share that we did choose to let our pup cry it out in the beginning if she needed to do so in order to learn to self soothe.

When you’re just starting down your dog training journey, you’re really still getting to know your pup. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a cry means “pay attention to me!” or “help, I really need to go potty!” If you know your dog has recently done their “business,” and you can safely rule out the need to “go,” it’s a little easier to remind yourself that their crying is literally a cry for attention and they are okay. All their needs are met.

When our puppy would cry, assuming she had been outside recently to do her business, we did soothe her with our hands near the crate or by making noises. But we absolutely also let her cry it out. The reality is that we did not want our pup to think she chooses when she is or isn’t in the crate or that crying is a tool to get herself out of the crate. If she cried and we questioned whether or not she needed to “go,” we’d quickly take her out for a potty break and then put her right back in the crate.

I really do sympathize that crying it out 1) isn’t enjoyable and 2) isn’t always possible if you have close neighbors. That being said – there really is a ton of power in letting a dog learn to self soothe. If possible, I’d recommend bringing your neighbors a nice note explaining you’re starting crate training along with a little goodie bag for them, and ask for their patience during this brief painful time period.

Learn how to crate train a puppy to actually enjoy their crate & sleep through the night in this blog post from Kelsey of Blondes & Bagels!

Our daytime crate training schedule for our puppy.

The Triangle

We are BIG fans of Brandon McMillan’s “Triangle” method for crate training during the day. This schedule/method actually helps with new puppy training as well as general house training. The basic structure of the triangle is: one hour of heavily supervised play, into the crate for a minimum of two hours, out for potty, repeat. This is very similar to what’s otherwise called the “1 up, 2 down” schedule.

The triangle method has plenty of benefits, the largest of which is the fast tracking of potty training. New puppy owners often have a hard time reading their new dog’s “queues” as to when they need to go potty. This can unfortunately lead to loads of accidents. The best way to potty train a new puppy is to give them as many opportunities as possible to “go” in the correct spot (outside). The more they get it right, and get heavily rewarded for it, the faster they’ll become potty trained. Because puppy has been in the crate for at least two hours, it’s easy for new owners to know their dog needs to go to the bathroom. Essentially the triangle method gives new owners and dogs some built in successful outdoor potty breaks.

The triangle is also awesome because it’s essentially an enforced nap schedule. Many young dogs don’t know how to settle themselves, so by enforcing naps you’re ensuring they’re getting all the rest they need. An overtired dog often is nippy and stubborn. The triangle ensures your pup gets plenty of rest.

The triangle also helps condition dogs to get used to and enjoy their crate. Our puppy even sometimes puts herself down for a nap in her crate when she’s tired! So when bedtime hits, she understands the crate is a safe space to rest and hits the hay without any fuss.

Plus, with your dog spending a chunk of their date crated, this should help ease separation anxiety as the dog begins to learn it’s okay to be alone and my humans do come back to get me.

All in all, if you’re trying to learn how to crate train a puppy fast or how to crate train a puppy for potty training – the triangle is an awesome method to try as it really helps accomplish both.

How long does it take to crate train a puppy?

I’m sure you’re wondering just how long it will take to get your puppy or dog fully crate trained. The reality is that the only one who can tell you this answer is your dog. Your pup will let you know when they’re fully crate trained, and they’ll also dictate just how long that takes.

Your only job? Providing fair, loving, and consistent structure.

At the end of the day, you need to do whatever is right for you and your dog.

The reality is that crate training isn’t right for every owner or every dog. Crating a dog may not make sense for you or your lifestyle and that’s totally fine. You might also have a pup who is much better behaved outside of the crate, with the crate causing unnecessary stress. There is no shame in abandoning crate training.

Ultimately it is your call how you choose to train your pup. Crate training can provide amazing structure and safety, and it IS likely your dog will have to be crated from time to time (like while at the vet), but it is also okay if fully crate training your dog isn’t right for you.

Resources to help you with crate training a dog.

There are SO many amazing resources out there when it comes to crate training a puppy or dog. Here are a few that helped us while we kicked off this journey.

The Brandon McMillan Masterclass

I’ve subscribed to Masterclass for about a year now and actually didn’t realize there was a dog training focused class until a friend turned me on to it! I’m so glad they did. It was in this Masterclass that I learned about the triangle method. I tried searching high and low and nowhere else but in this Masterclass is there a full, detailed explanation of how to use the triangle method. This blog post is absolutely not sponsored in any way, shape, or form, but I do think the Brandon McMillan Masterclass is worth the cost if you’re looking for not only an intro into crate training, but also training general commands and tricks.

Anything by Zak George

If you’ve even just started going down the rabbit hole that is dog training and research – you’ve 100% come across the name Zak George. Known for his positive reinforcement and approachable training style, his YouTube channel and books are really a goldmine of information. I found Zak’s various videos, training a variety of different dogs, on topics like potty training, crate training, and separation anxiety incredibly helpful. I also read both of Zak’s books and while they’re pretty high level, they’re very thorough and amazing resources to have on hand.

Sirius Dog Training

My aunt actually recommended the Sirius Dog Training Puppy Kindergarten Live Online class to me – and I’m so glad she did! This course was incredibly helpful to my husband and I, and actually helped us both carve out time in our busy schedules to get on the same page with our dog training. This class is held live via Zoom once a week for about an hour. It’s a group class, so you really get a chance to hear what other new puppy owners are working on and experiencing. This class was very behavioral focused and really was structured to give us the tools to understand our puppy a little better and manage through some of the classic puppy tough times (like dealing with zoomies!).

I hope you found this post helpful! If you have tips on how to crate train a puppy (or other general dog training!) tips and tricks – let me know in the comments below!

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