Crate Train Your Puppy: The ULTIMATE Guide

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Bringing Home Your New Puppy/Adopted Older Dog:

You are filled with excitement and possibly nerves and concern at the thought of the new puppy that you just picked up and have nestled in your arms. You know there are going to be many training hurtles, but you are most nervous about How to Crate Train Your Puppy. You’ve heard from some people and trainers of the benefits to Crate Train Your Puppy, however, you also may have heard the incorrect assumption that to Crate Train Your Puppy is cruel and unnecessary.

In my honest opinion, there is NO OTHER WAY to have a brand new puppy in your home. Throughout this article, I will refer to new puppies being crate trained however, you can use exactly the same techniques and games to get your older dog to train to be crated as well!

As breeders of purebred and registered Border Collies here at Counting Sheep Kennels, we are in complete favour of crate training and we actually encourage our new puppy owners to obtain a crate ahead of bringing their puppy home. It is our preference that you Crate Train Your Puppy.

Dogs are creatures of habit and routine. If you are consistent with how to Crate Train Your Puppy, the rewards you will reap are incredible!

Make sure you have a daily routine of when your puppy is having crate time vs. walk time vs. play time vs. family snuggle time. Make sure every day provides opportunity for your puppy to spend time in his crate with no expectations so that he can wind down and relax/rest as he needs.

Until you have received proper instruction on how to properly and safely train your puppy with a crate, it may seem like a daunting task. In this article, my aim is to demystify the process of how you should Crate Train Your Puppy.

What are the Different Types of Crates?

  1. Plastic Body Crates:
    These crates are great for some types of dogs. My mother who is legally blind and has had three guide dogs to date, had a German Shepherd that loved his plastic body crate!!! It was his Den; his cave.

    These are not necessarily my preference because they can be difficult to store and the plastic can hold odour if you have a breed of dog that tends towards oily skin (such as collies, shepherds, shelties, etc.)
  2. Fabric Crates:
    In my opinion, these crates have a time and a place. These crates appeal to our humanness and tend to be the ones you look at and think, “I wouldn’t mind if I had to spend time in this”… However! Be Cautious!

    Many years ago, I had one of these crates and my little border collie puppy at the time, Addison, chewed her way out of this crate! Puppies are notorious for chewing since they have razor sharp teeth and their adult teeth come in just like humans. Puppies explore everything with their mouth!

    These crates are better designed for things like containing your puppy in the car while you are driving, for camping (it will be easier on the floor of your tent) and other supervised situations, but I would not recommend this product for your puppy’s long term “Den” or “Safe Place” intended for any length of time, or for your “Peace of Mind” either… not much peace when puppy escapes!
  3. Wire Crates:
    These are by far my favourite crate. They are versatile, can be adapted by placing a cover over top of them (I recommend a wooden cover if you can find someone to make it for you because a cloth cover they can sometimes pull into the crate and chew however I totally recommend the fabric cover as well), they fold up nicely, they are easy to clean, they have two way access through the side door and the end door AND THEY ARE AFFORDABLE.

    There is a divider that you can set up to change the internal size of the crate so that the crate can grow with your puppy. This can be invaluable when training puppy to control his bladder!

    I never have to worry about a puppy escaping from these crates and this is worth a lot to me!! If you have to go to work, to the grocery store, or run an errand, making you unavailable to closely watch your puppy, then this crate offers you peace of mind!


    To purchase one of these crates you can >>>click this link <<< and you will find you won’t regret this purchase for your new puppy!!

What are the Benefits of Crate Training?

When you are first contemplating How to Crate Train Your Puppy, you will likely meet with varied opinions on crates, depending on your Google Search and social acquaintances. The truth is, you will Crate Train Your Puppy best if you understand the benefits yourself:

  1. A study was conducted to find out if providing a Dog Appeasing Pheromone to a puppy would help improve house soiling in the first two months the puppy was at its new home. This study found that puppies that were placed in crates during the night or had come from domestic maternal environments had significantly fewer reports of house soiling over the first 2 months in the new home. (Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Volume 105, Issue 4, July 2007, Pages 358-368).

    Puppies prefer to keep their bed area clean. Therefore, set up a routine that enables your puppy to relieve himself in the middle of the night, until his bladder size has grown.

    This is a definite benefit if you Crate Train Your Puppy! You reduce the problem of having to keep track of your puppy all the time because he has gone quiet and is likely getting into mischief somewhere (like peeing)!
  2. Crating a dog when riding in the car, you will have peace of mind. You will know that if Heaven forbid, you are in a motor vehicle accident, not only will there NOT be a flying dog body in the car wreaking havoc as it catapults around the passengers in your vehicle, but it will not be running around terrified if you are trapped in the vehicle unable to help yourself and your dog escapes.

    From your dog’s perspective, he can stretch out, be safe, enjoy the scenery and you? You the driver, can FOCUS on driving.
  3. You have company coming for dinner, and their child is nervous of dogs. You know your puppy will jump up (because he’s still a puppy) and this causes you to become anxious just anticipating this situation. Guess what? When you have a crate, you can train your dog to target the bed in his crate and remain there until it is appropriate for him/her to come and greet guests!

    You may be thinking this is way out of your league to have your pooch perform this well behaved, but I can assure you, it isn’t! Set the stage right by first crate training your puppy properly so that he/she LOVES going in the crate. The rest we can focus on training, later using positive reinforcement and clicker training! (We will have further posts on clicker training and positive reinforcement but in the meantime, you can >>>get yourself set up with a clicker <<< so you are ready and waiting!!)

    When you set up your crate in your house, you will need to set up an area around the crate that is dog friendly. If you have the space in your house, it is possible to set up a play pen space for your puppy to have room to roam if you are working long hours (particularly during the current 2020 social isolization period we are in).

    During the day, it may not be possible for someone to come and let your puppy out while you are at work, so I would recommend that you set up this puppy play pen which I have myself and LOVE! When you need to contain your pooch for whatever reason, having been able to Crate Train Your Puppy, this will become by far one of your most favourite dog owning hacks of all time!

    Crate that puppy! Your puppy can’t do anything wrong if there is NOTHING HE CAN GET INTO! Having a Safe Place for your pup is a GOLDEN hack!
  4. Building on #3 above, this safe place for your puppy will REDUCE YOUR PERSONAL ANXIETY LEVELS.

    Who doesn’t like a little anxiety reduction?? When you are less stressed out, your pooch will be less stressed out. There is no need for you to build on each other’s anxiety. You know, the kind when you are madly trying to keep your nipping, yelping, excitable, peeing everywhere on the new visitors at the front door, anxiety.

    Crate Train Your Puppy to reduce your own anxiety levels.
  5. The crate, over time (some puppies sooner than others) will become your puppy’s safe haven. Before too long, you will begin to notice your puppy will retire to his crate on his own freewill while you are making dinner or watching TV or getting ready for bed.

    Your puppy will have his own space to decide that he can own, that will smell just right, that will be just comfy enough that, OK, I’ll stay here for a few hours…. This quiet time and space is SO important for your puppy. So I repeat: Crate Train Your Puppy!

Now that I hope we’re in agreement that it is a GREAT IDEA to Crate Train Your Puppy, one of the first questions you are going to ask yourself is:

Where is the best place for a crate in my house???

There is no right or wrong answer to this question, only personal preferences. I will offer my experience and personal preference, but as long as you are able to identify the possible problems with your chosen area, you will be fine as long as you address them.

My recommendation is to pick a room that has lots of activity in it throughout the day and evening. My favourite place is the kitchen for a number of reasons:

  1. The floors are usually far more forgiving when there are accidents. When cleaning up an accident, be sure to use a pet friendly cleaner. Often when we use good old bleach, the ammonia left behind from the bleach cleaner will actually confuse the dog into thinking he SHOULD be peeing in that location. >>>click here<<< to see the appropriate cleaner to use for accidents.
  2. It is easy to section off the kitchen from other rooms in the house. >>>click here<<< to see a pet friendly gate that you can put in your kitchen doorway to section off the kitchen.
  3. There is ALWAYS traffic in and out of the kitchen so your puppy will have constant interaction throughout the day.

In the kitchen, it is beneficial and I argue necessary, to put up pet friendly gates at the doorways or purchase a >>>puppy play pen (click this link)<<< and place it around the opening to your puppy’s crate. When you need to contain your puppy, you will have this all set up to reduce your concerns with puppy getting into anything while you are trying to eat dinner peacefully.

You may wish to invest in resuseable Puppy Pee Pads which I use religiously in our kennel while rearing a litter of puppies. They are heavy weight. I have used them exclusively for the most recent litter of six Border Collie Puppies that we have had at Counting Sheep Kennels. I HIGHLY recommend this product!

To Crate Train Your Puppy you will need to have a plethora of tricks up your sleeve and you will want to be sure the crate and crate area are inviting for your puppy. Never underestimate the power of rationing out toys and treats and keeping them on a rotation. If your puppy has everything in his crate area from the beginning, you will have nothing to leverage your puppy’s interest when he/she gets bored of the toy/treat they are currently with.

Be sure to rotate toys for your puppy and make note of any that he she really loves… >>>Click here to see a number of dog toys you can chose for your puppy<<<

The toys your puppy REALLY LOVES are called high value toys/treats and you can use these to your advantage for future training endeavours. Always pay attention to your puppy’s behaviour because they will drop clues for you about their personality along the way!

What should I put inside my Puppy’s Crate?

Your puppy could have access in rotating periods to any of the following:

  1. Pig Ears
  2. Cow Hoof
  3. Antlers
  4. Kong Brand Rubber Toys
  5. Bully Sticks
  6. Raw Frozen lamb or beef bones (not freeze dried and not rawhide)
  7. Sensory Toys
  8. Ball
  9. Braided Tug Toy

***If you have an additional treat or toy to add to this list, that’s AWESOME!

It is really important to note, small puppies if they get too much of the pig ears, bully sticks and or peanut butter stuffed in a Kong they may get diarrhea so meter these treats!

Pro Tip: You can put 1-2 Tbsp canned dog food in the tip of a cow hoof or in a Kong toy, freeze it overnight and give it to your teething, nipping, yapping puppy for a few minutes of entertainment. The cold will soothe their gums and teeth and their silence will soothe your soul for a moment!

CAUTION: When leaving ANYTHING in the crate with your puppy unattended, be analytical of all possible problems that could occur. Toys that could cause choking, treats that are going to cause stomach upset etc. Be aware of any pitfalls and read package warnings!!! You are responsible for the well-being of your puppy.

What Things are BAD for my Puppy in the Crate?

When you are trying to Crate Train Your Puppy you should know there are lots of things that can cause your puppy problems if he is left unattended. This list is certainly not exhaustive as the market has new things all the time, however it will give you an idea of the sorts of things that you should NOT provide your puppy in his crate ESPECIALLY when unattended:

  1. Rawhide
  2. Soft Stuffies/pillows/bedding
  3. Plush Dog Beds
  4. Rope Toys
  5. Cooked bones (these become brittle and can splinter in your puppy’s mouth)
  6. Wooden Sticks from their morning/evening walk
  7. Small Plastic bowls (Yep, have lost a few to puppy chewing)
  8. Small Ends of Chewed Bone Toys (be cautious of this as a 1″ piece of nylabone or chew toy can get lodged in their throat and can cause them to choke. Just keep an eye of your puppy when they are chewing toys like this)

How do I get my Puppy to Like His Crate?

Your puppy should believe that the crate is the BEST place to be EVER. You must always have positive experiences with the crate, NEVER just shove your puppy in the crate and expect him to learn to love it.

You can start with feeding ALL MEALS inside the crate. Place your puppy’s food dish inside the crate and LEAVE THE DOOR OPEN. Sit with your puppy and quietly watch him. Remember Puppies are easily distracted so you want to sit quietly and let them explore their food dish and the crate.

Once they start eating, continue to sit quietly. Wait until they have finished what they are going to eat and then LIFT UP THE BOWL. Offer the bowl of food at REGULAR intervals (every 30 minutes) until their bowl is empty so that they can learn to eat on cue from you, their owner. They learn that all good things come from you!!!

If you are going to “Ditch the Dish” and hand feed, I am SO PROUD OF YOU! This is ONE of the ways you can make incredibly strong bonds with your new pet… hand feeding them. Hand feed them while they are in the crate. >>>click here to see one of my favourite treat pouches that will come in really handy if you are DITCHING THE DISH and for trick training!<<<<<

Once your puppy has examined his food dishes in the crate and explored a bit you can move on to some crate games. It is perfectly normal if your nervous new puppy wants nothing to do with the crate. Limit where the puppy goes in your house for AT A MINIMUM the first 24 hours so that your puppy is not overwhelmed by all of the new sites and smells.

If your puppy only has to come to grips with the kitchen (for a particularly nervous puppy) then you will make progress quicker if you control the size of his environment. Take note of your puppy’s body and behaviour cues to help you decide on this one as each puppy is different.

If you have a confident little puppy, as soon as you are able, you should begin your games with the crate.

Games include the following:

  • tossing food into their crate one piece at a time and have them rush in and retrieve the food and then return to you! You should always be making a fuss of your puppy when they are doing something you like! Let them know! They LOVE attention!!
  • once your puppy will retrieve the kibble/treat bits you toss into the crate, like a pro, you can up the challenge by standing up and taking a step backwards. Increase the distance between yourself and the crate and continue tossing food in the crate
  • once your puppy is confident with you being further away from the ‘scary crate’ and will continue to retrieve pieces of food from inside it, you can place a few pieces of food in the crate and then close the door while your puppy eats the pieces. Once your puppy is done, you can open the door, have them come out and make a big fuss
  • slowly increase the amount of time you leave the door closed after tossing food in the crate. You can drop pieces of high value food or treats in the crate while the door is closed – one of the benefits if you have a wire crate. This will ensure the continuation of positive reinforcement while you puppy is in the crate
  • Once you can close the door and leave the room for a few minutes, you know you are well on your way to successful crate training
  • be sure to have your puppy in the crate for times like dinner, or when you are watching a movie… times when you will be in the room but not engaging with the puppy directly. It is important that your puppy learns to REST. This is just as much a ‘trick’ you are training your dog to do as ‘give me five’ or ‘rollover’. If you are constantly stimulating your puppy and not allowing downtime, you will find crate training very challenging.

When playing the crate food game, using high value treats like freeze dried liver or boiled chicken, will result in your puppy having crazy interest in the crate! If every time he goes in to the crate he is retrieving a piece of tossed, high value treat, he will have only positive associations with the crate.

Since I recommended you place the crate in the kitchen, I would suggest spending time in the kitchen with the crate door open with your puppy. As you make dinner, leave the door open but still encourage your puppy to spend time in it.

As you increase the amount of time in the crate with the door closed when it is NOT bedtime/night time, your puppy will be more and more likely to spend his nights in the crate with zero issues. Time alone in the crate would be a great time to have your puppy chew on a pig ear or a stuffed cow hoof or a Kong treat so that he is engaged in what HE is doing, not on what YOU are doing.

Do not let your puppy beg at the table. There is plenty of time to spoil your new pal, NOW is NOT the time. It is important that your puppy should learn proper table manners and food manners – IT COULD SAVE HIS LIFE ONE DAY. Crate Train Your Puppy for your dinner time meals.

Is there anything I should NOT DO?

YES!!! Do not ONLY use the crate for your puppy when you are leaving the house.

Remember how we were building positive vibes with treats in the crate? The game of tossing it into the crate? If all you ever did was catch your puppy and put him in there when you are about to ‘leave’ him, he will take a VERY long time to adjust to the crate and he will NOT find the crate training process EASY.

This could be something as simple as you going to bed and locking your pooch up, or as complex as you locking your puppy up so you can go to work for 8 hours. Your puppy doesn’t know which of the scenarios you are putting him in and will likely resist.

Therefore, I encourage you to spend LOTS of time playing games in, around, beside and out of the crate. Make it a fun, loving, desirable place for your puppy to go.

Crate Train your Puppy – “ON DEMAND”

As you are playing your games near the crate and in the crate, EVERY TIME your puppy ORGANICALLY enters the crate, you can say a cue word: “Crate, Kennel, Bed, Den”…. Whatever you choose.

What do I mean by ‘organically’ entering the crate? An organic entrance to the crate is when the dog voluntarily enters the crate. You do not have to coerce or push the puppy in when he is walking in organically. Catch all of these moments of him chosing to enter the crate and place them on cue.

If you are picking your puppy up and placing him in the crate, this is NOT the time to use the cue word. Only use your cue word when it is fun and your puppy is HAPPY to go into the crate.

What do I do when my Puppy is Tired?

The beauty is when you Crate Train Your Puppy, you gain a LOT of freedom. When your puppy is tired (and I encourage you to make sure you are watching your puppy for signs of exhaustion), you should encourage him to come back to the crate safe area… the sectioned off kitchen.

Bring him there, place a desirable treat or toy in the crate and when he goes into the crate, close the door and LET HIM SLEEP OR HAVE QUIET TIME.

In my opinion, QUIET TIME is crucial to the success of your puppy!

I like to set puppies up to succeed so what we need to be doing is making sure that they are well rested to reduce the nipping, yapping and destructive behaviours.

When puppies get into ‘bad puppy behaviour’, usually one of two things is going on, in my experience:

  1. Your puppy is under stimulated with mental development (up your game and start teaching more commands because in essence your puppy is bored) and;
  2. Your puppy is EXHAUSTED.

Please set your puppy up for success by ensuring that he gets the sleep he needs in the early days. They are super cute to be sure, but they need rest. It is so very important!

I am heading to bed and my puppy is crying!! What do I do?

It is important to note, you will get out of training, EXACTLY THE AMOUNT OF EFFORT YOU PUT INTO IT. If you are putting time in and not making progress, consider consulting your trainer or shoot me an email and I will do my best to help you out.

If you have been spending your time focusing on games with your puppy and the crate, (balls, tuggies, treats, cuddles, etc in the crate with the puppy multiple times a day) then the crying of your puppy may subside in about 5 or so minutes.

It is REALLY important that you MENTALLY EXHAUST your puppy before bed time. Make sure you spend this time before night time crating ensuring that you have reviewed your academic exercises for the day. Your puppy should be both mentally and physically exhausted for the best results of overnight crating.

If the crying does does not subside inside of 5 or so minutes, you may need to reassure your puppy and sit with him/her until they are asleep. You can then exit the kitchen and make your way back up to bed. Do not feel you need to sleep beside the crate if you would rather not.

Keep reassuring your puppy and then leave once he is settled again. Never leave your puppy to wail for extended periods of time as this is a sign of anxiety.

Complete a mental checklist:

  1. Be sure to mentally and physically exhaust your puppy before attempting your first overnight crating exercise.
  2. Make sure that your house is quiet and that there is nothing happening that could be distracting your puppy.
  3. Turn off the lights
  4. Put a cover over the crate if you have one
  5. Make sure your puppy has had his dinner, water and has had the opportunity to eliminate in his favourite spot in your backyard
  6. Make sure that you are past that crazy “Puppy Zoomies Hour”.

As you near the end of the day and you know your puppy is close to bedtime and should settle, try and have him/her do so before they are over tired.

Routine is KEY. You want to stay pretty rigid with your nighttime routine so that your puppy begins to understand the pattern of the evening events.

If your puppy is shaking, salivating and chewing at the crate, you have lots of work to do still to teach your puppy confidence and how to relax into rest which I will cover in future blog posts. If this is the case with you, please make sure you are comforting your puppy with whatever methods are working and in the morning resume your efforts and double down on playing your games with the crate!

When should I feed my Puppy before Nighttime Crating?

In order to have success with trying to Crate Train Your Puppy you should feed your puppy about 1 -1 ½ hours before bedtime and make sure puppy poops, pees and has plenty to drink.

About ½ hour before bed, take up your puppy’s water (especially if it is a breed of dog that love to binge drink water) and when you get up in the middle of the night to take your puppy pee, offer water at this time if your puppy seems to need it. Return your puppy to ad libitum water during the day – sometimes puppies will drink lots of water in the night trying to soothe themselves and having accidents all over the place which is why I recommend that you lift the water up if you have multiple accidents in the crate.

Please note, if you are in hot locations, this does not apply to you – you MUST keep your dog well hydrated at all times. I absolutely DO NOT advocate using dehydration as a method of house training your pup.

How long can my puppy go before needing to eliminate again?

This will be covered in future posts in more detail, however for purposes of this post, you can use this as a rough guide for otherwise healthy puppies.

# of months old puppy is, plus 2 equals the number of hours a puppy can be expected to hold his/her bladder.

For example, your 2 month old puppy plus 2 equals a number of 4 hours that your puppy can be expected to maintain no accidents. This may need to be adjusted for various puppies but it is a place to start!!

In Conclusion:

If you stuck with me this far, I am proud of you!!! Trying to Crate Train Your Puppy can be emotionally and mentally exhausting. Please know that I will answer your questions as best I can if I did not answer it in this article.

You can contact me at [email protected] and I will do my best to respond!

Setting out to Crate Train Your Puppy can be a frustrating endeavour. I hope that with the guide I have put together for you, some of your questions and insecurities may have been answered. It is delightful having a well trained dog and I firmly believe that setting the boundary of Crate Training is THE BEST place to start with your pup.

As your puppy gets more and more confident with being at his new home, he will begin to exhibit normal chewing behaviours! Read our post on Puppy Chewing to get ready for this next phase!

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