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How to Crate Train a Puppy: Your Step-by-Step Guide

Written By
Reviewed by
Richard Lovejoy, Professional Dog Trainer
10 min read

Updated - Feb 24th, 2022

Reviewed by Richard Lovejoy, Professional Dog Trainer.

You’ve brought your new puppy home and you couldn’t be happier. After all, there’s nothing more fun than puppy kisses, snuggles, and playtime. Of course, on top of all the fun and excitement, you’re also crossing items off your new puppy checklist. From keeping up with their vaccination schedule to the thrills of potty training, there is so much to do in so little time.

During this crucial phase of puppyhood, it’s important to give your dog a place to call their own – that’s where crate training comes in. From providing a sense of security to helping with housebreaking, there are many benefits to crate training your pup, both for you and for them.

Wondering how to get started? This step-by-step guide will walk you through the process of how to crate train a puppy and offer some tips for success along the way.

The benefits of crate training

A dog crate, sometimes called a kennel, might seem like a simple tool for confinement – it has four walls, a door – it’s not all that different from a playpen. This simple object, however, can offer a number of important benefits for you and your new puppy.

Here are just a few benefits of crate training:

  • Safety – Crate training helps give your puppy a safe place to call their own. This allows them to have a place where they can feel relaxed, comfortable, and they know they can take a break to rest safely if they need to do so. Giving your pup the opportunity to create their own space can also help prevent separation anxiety as they get older. 
  • Housetraining – Potty training your puppy isn’t always easy, and crate training can help guide the process along. According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, crate training takes advantage of the canine “denning instinct” – meaning dogs are more likely to use the bathroom away from where they eat and sleep. So, if your dog enjoys crate time, you know they’ll be less likely to use the bathroom while inside (as long as it’s for short intervals at a time).
  • Visibility – Training your pup to relax and spend quiet time in a crate can help you keep an eye on them while you’re multitasking, cooking, or when you have company over. New puppies can be mischievous – so allowing them to cuddle up in their crate with a bed and a toy can be useful to prevent them from getting into things like shoes, wires, or other objects you don’t want them to chew up.
  • Travel – At some point over the course of your new dog’s life, they’ll likely travel in the car, on a plane, or have a boarding experience. Whether you’re headed to the vet’s office or a daycare facility, working on crate training early on in life can help prepare your dog for these future experiences and hopefully, make them more comfortable when they come along.
  • Bonding – Finally, one of the best benefits of crate training is that it gives you an opportunity to work on training with your new puppy – which helps you create a closer bond between the two of you – and who doesn’t love that!

How to crate train a puppy in six simple steps

Although the crate training process isn’t overly complex, it will take time, dedication, and patience to work through these steps with your puppy. 

Remember, the crate should be a positive experience for your pup. Take things slow and let your pup dictate the pace, especially when you’re just getting started.

Step 1: Choose the right crate

The first step to successful crate training is choosing the right crate for your puppy. There are two standard types of crates:

  • Hard, plastic crates (sometimes called flight kennels)
  • Wire crates
    • Often collapsible, making storage easier
    • May include a divider to separate front and back of the crate
    • Durable and long-lasting

Either of these options can be effective for crate training, but more important, is choosing the right size.

Your dog’s crate shouldn’t be too small or too big. Your puppy should be able to stand up, turn around, and lay back down in the crate, but it shouldn’t be big enough for your pup to have a separate area to use the bathroom in it.

If you expect that your puppy has a lot of growing to do, you should look for a crate that will be big enough to fit them as an adult dog, but block the back of the crate to reduce the chances of accidents. Some crates can be adjusted to different sizes and include dividers designed for this purpose.

Step 2: Set up your crate space

Once you have the right crate for your puppy, you’ll want to choose a suitable location in your house or apartment to keep it.

You should put the crate in a location that’s quiet enough for your pup to rest, but isn’t too isolated. A specific corner of your living room or family room – somewhere where your family spends a decent amount of time – can be a good location.

It’s also important to consider how close the crate is to your bedroom, especially for young puppies, so that you can hear if your dog whines or barks to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Proximity to the backyard or front door for bathroom trips can be helpful as well.

After you’ve chosen a location, you’ll want to decide what you’re going to put inside the crate. You might go with a dog bed or blanket, or opt for something more firm, like a towel or mat. 

There’s no right or wrong answer – it will depend on what works best for your dog. Some dogs may be comforted by a soft blanket, whereas others may be tempted to pee on it.

Step 3: Introduce your dog to the crate

Now you’re ready to start the actual crate training process. As you begin, it’ll be helpful to have training tools on hand, including treats and some of your puppy’s favorite toys.

With the crate in place, coax your dog inside and let them explore at their own pace. The crate door should be open and secured – or you might decide to remove it, if possible – you just don’t want it to move and startle your pup.

Some dogs might be curious and immediately interested in the crate, others may not. If your puppy shows interest in the crate, reward them with a treat or a toy and give them lots of praise. Continue to reward them for any progress they make, even something as simple as going inside the crate or lying down in it.

Remember, you want your puppy to create a positive association with the crate, so if they aren’t curious enough to venture inside right away, don’t force it – they might just need more time.

If your dog is particularly hesitant to go inside the crate and explore, you might try feeding them a meal while in the crate. This way, they have a strong positive association with crate time.

Step 4: Practice closing the door

After short training sessions of crate introduction, you’ll want to prepare your pup for longer periods of time spent inside.

Start by getting your puppy to lay down in the crate, rewarding them with their favorite treats or giving them a chew toy to keep them busy. Then, try closing the crate door while your dog eats or plays and open it after a short period of time. 

Step 5: Work up to longer periods of time

If your dog tolerates staying in the crate with the door closed – that is, they stay relaxed and calm – you can build up to longer periods of time. If your dog can’t remain calm, and instead excessively whines or barks, you’ll want to decrease the length of time until they’re more comfortable.

During these longer periods of time, you might also practice leaving the room and coming back. Again, you’ll want to start this process very slowly and as your dog remains calm in the crate without you in sight, you can increase the length of time that you’re gone.

Step 6: Practice leaving your dog in the crate alone

After your puppy becomes comfortable staying in the crate for longer periods of time without you in the room, you can take things up a notch in the following ways:

Leave your puppy in the crate at night

When you leave your dog in the crate at night, you should always take them for a potty break right before they go into the crate. You can reward them for going into the crate and even give them a toy to keep with them. 

You’ll want to keep the crate close enough to your bedroom so that you can hear your dog if they need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night. It’s important to remember that puppies can’t hold their bladders for very long, so they’ll need to go out every few hours.

As your puppy gets older, they may be able to spend more of the night in the crate and eventually, you may be able to move it to another location within your house or apartment.

Leaving your puppy in the crate while you leave the house.

Similarly, you can also practice leaving your puppy in the crate for short periods of time when you leave the house. However, since you can’t hear your dog whine or bark if they need a potty break, you’ll want to keep these training sessions on the shorter side and work up to longer periods of time.

Puppy Crate Training Tips

Unfortunately, crate training doesn’t happen overnight. Investing in training sessions with your puppy, however, can create benefits for years to come. Here are some tips to help you through the process:

Never use the crate as a punishment

You always want your pup to have a positive association with the crate. Don’t force the process, try to take things too fast, or make your dog go into the crate for doing something wrong – these things will only set you back.

Don’t keep your pup in the crate for too long

Puppies need frequent potty breaks and if you keep your dog in the crate for too long, they may have an accident. You want to be able to use crate training as a potty training tool, not hindrance. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to take your pup to use the bathroom before crate time, especially if they’ll be staying in it overnight or while you’re away from the house.

Reward your puppy and create a positive experience

The best way to find success in crate training, and one of the best puppy training tips in general, is to reward your puppy frequently. This way, they develop a positive association with the crate. 

Another great way to create this association is to play crate games. You might line up a trail of kibble to the crate or play a game of fetch where the toy lands inside the crate and your dog has to retrieve it. These types of games can make the dog crate more approachable and fun.

Remember: Crate training, like all puppy training, requires time and patience – and despite your best efforts, the unexpected can still happen. 

Pet insurance can help cover eligible vet bills for accidents, behavioral issues, and illnesses if they do occur. Take the step towards protection during puppyhood and beyond with one of Pumpkin’s puppy insurance plans today.

*Pumpkin Pet Insurance policies do not cover pre-existing conditions. Waiting periods, annual deductible, co-insurance, benefit limits and exclusions may apply. For full terms, visit pumpkin.care/insurancepolicy. Products, discounts, and rates may vary and are subject to change. Pumpkin Insurance Services Inc. (Pumpkin) (NPN#19084749) is a licensed insurance agency, not an insurer. Insurance is underwritten by United States Fire Insurance Company (NAIC #21113. Morristown, NJ), a Crum & Forster Company and produced by Pumpkin. Pumpkin receives compensation based on the premiums for the insurance policies it sells. For more details visit pumpkin.care/underwriting-information and pumpkin.care/insurance-licenses

Writer, Proud Dog & Cat Mom
Randa is a writer & former assoc. digital content editor at the American Kennel Club. She's also mom to 1 Corgi & 2 orange cats.
Reviewed by Richard Lovejoy, Professional Dog Trainer