Crate Training a Puppy Using Positive Methods

Crate Training a Puppy
You’ve probably heard of the benefits of crate training a puppy. It helps with house training, helps the puppy relax and keeps them from chewing on everything in the house. Crate training a puppy is a good tool, especially if you have children and can’t keep an eye on the puppy at all times.

Even though there are great benefits, crate training a puppy can feel very difficult. I am a dog trainer; I’ve had plenty of dogs and helped many other people train theirs. I know it’s hard. Especially with kids.

Let me tell you a secret:

Crate training a puppy is hard for me too.

I know what I’m doing when I’m crate training a puppy, and it’s still hard. When you have young kids, a puppy quickly goes by the wayside. After all, you wouldn’t want to neglect your kids just because of a puppy, right? That would make you a horrible mother, right? (That’s at least what my brain says.) I love my puppy, but not as much as I love my kids, so they come first. Balance can be difficult. Sometimes it feels like it’s all or nothing.

Yet, when you bought your puppy, you had dreams of this puppy and your kids growing up side by side. The puppy is your kid’s best friend in this dream-land. But reality strikes as you have to clean out the crate from another accident, bathe the puppy again and you hear the baby wake up and start screaming. You might think you don’t have time to crate train a puppy.

So you wonder, how can I crate train my puppy without neglecting my kids? I don’t have time! I’m going crazy!

How to Go About Crate Training a Puppy

For most moms, successfully crate training a puppy looks like this:

  1. Puppy does not go potty in its crate.
  2. Puppy is quiet in its crate.

Seems… easy… riiight? For most moms, they achieve this by putting the puppy in the crate and then taking it out to potty when they remember and by probably yelling at the puppy when it’s noisy. (I may or may not have done this.)

However, as you know if you are reading this, it’s not that easy. It’s also not the quick way. It’s the way of instant gratification. The puppy is out of the way, not pooping, and quiet temporarily. Is this crate training a puppy? No.

The reason it’s not that easy is because in order for the puppy to behave like you want, it must be given an environment that makes it easy to behave, then it must taught how to behave and then rewarded when it behaves. This is how you go about crate training a puppy quickly. So let’s go over this.

Manage Your Crate Training Expectations

First, you’ll need the right mindset for crate training a puppy. Why? Because sometimes (all the time?) puppies are hard, so we need to keep from going crazy.

1. Patience is key.

A few studies have shown that the thing people wish that they had known most after they got a puppy was that they needed to be patient. Patient with themselves, patient with the puppy, patient with setbacks. People had an easier time raising their puppy if they knew they had to be patient. Just like children, puppies go through phases and have accidents. Remember to be patient while you’re crate training a puppy. And if you aren’t patient with them, forgive yourself and try again. Just keep on going and if you are working on it, eventually things will get better. Even if you make mistakes.

2. Your puppy is not trying to make your life miserable.

A lot of my clients will say things like “I think she’s just peeing in the crate to get out of the crate.” This is unlikely, as dogs don’t really connect things together that way.

Just like you, dogs naturally do not like to relieve themselves in their sleeping space.  If they are peeing in the crate, think about it this way: either they were raised by a breeder that taught them they HAD to pee in their sleeping space or they literally can’t hold it. Yes, this means that sometimes it seems like they can hold it for three hours and then a few minutes later, they peed after you took them out 5 minutes ago. It depends on many factors, and honestly they probably can’t help it. They rely on you to let them out at the right time, since they lack thumbs.

Your puppy also doesn’t know that when they scream that it bursts your eardrums. They really have no malice toward you. Puppies scream for their mom, because they are lonely, hungry or cold. They aren’t screaming for fun.

3. Your puppy is a baby.

Puppies are babies. Babies cannot control their bladders. Babies don’t like being alone. If you want to potty train a human baby, you learn something called “elimination communication,” which is basically learning what a baby looks like when it’s about to go to the bathroom, then you learn, over time, the schedule that baby has for using the bathroom. This is exactly what you do when crate training a puppy.

Also, just like human babies need to be soothed in their cribs often at first, puppies need to be soothed and cared for until they are secure being by themselves.

4. Your puppy is not a robot. Expect some accidents.

Once a puppy learns something, we often expect them to be on their best behavior forever after. But puppies are not robots. Once they learn something, they are not going to be perfect. They will have accidents, they will make mistakes, but forgive them and look for the good—they are making progress.

5. Decide to make time for crate training a puppy, or be more forgiving on how long it takes.

If you want crate training a puppy to go quickly, you must make time for it. If you cannot make time for training, then you will need to instead be patient, make time to clean up after accidents and deal with the noise for now. Where can you slot in training? Prioritize it over things you can catch up on later (like housework, Facebook, etc.)

The Puppy’s Crate Environment

Crate Trained PuppyThe environment the puppy’s crate is in can make crate training a puppy easier for you. Having the crate set up this way is not required. Crate training a puppy can happen in any confined environment (even if it’s just a baby gate blocking the puppy in the bathroom or something). The environment alone is not enough to make the puppy magically crate train itself, but it’s an important part of a successful crate training routine.

1. The crate should probably be near the door where you are going to let the puppy out to potty.

Many a pee spill has occurred as I was taking the puppy out of the crate and taking them to the door to potty. Sometimes these spills occurred on my pants while I carried the puppy. Life is far easier if the crate is near the door where they’re going to go out. Sometimes this means putting a cot for you by the puppy by the door for a bit so you can get a decent amount of sleep while taking the puppy out at night.

2. If you’re not going to be able to take the puppy out to potty on your regular schedule, you should set up an indoor spot for them to potty.

This looks like this: a crate in the corner of a blocked off room or a puppy pen with a few chew toys inside. Water securely attached to something, or in a bowl that cannot be flipped easily. A puppy pad or a dog “litter box”. I use those long, thin plastic totes that slide under the bed and fill them with bark chips. Some people use sod instead or wood shavings.

Alternatively, you can set up a safe space outside with a good fence, shelter, food, water, and shade or warmth, depending on the season. Do not leave the puppy out there for the rest of its life, please.

3. Don’t put a blanket/towel in the puppy’s crate.

I have tried this many, many, many times and every time, the puppy eats it or poops on it, or drags it through some poop and I throw it away because I don’t want to clean it. (I already do enough laundry, thank you very much.) When the puppy gets older and stops eating everything, you can put a blanket in with them. They will be fine sleeping on the floor of the crate for now.

4. Set up a puppy pen around a dog door.

If you can do this, this is a very clean and easy solution for potty training (though not foolproof.) Hook that puppy pen up to the wall on either side of the door with some eye hooks. Leave the dog door open (no flap, or flap up at first) for them during the day. If you don’t want the puppy destroying your yard, set up another puppy pen on outside in similar fashion. Puppy learns to let themselves out to go potty. Ta da! Not everyone has this option though. I don’t. 🙁

5. Use an appropriately-sized crate.

The bigger the crate, the more likely you are to have accidents. I own two crates: one airline crate that’s a small puppy size for crate training the puppy and one large wire one that’s for my bigger puppy/full-grown dog.. The reason you want a smaller crate for potty training is because the puppy is less likely to go potty in a crate that is just big enough for them to lay in. In a large crate, the puppy has plenty of sleeping space and then they also have potty space away from the sleeping space.

6. Don’t limit your puppy’s water.

Your puppy needs fresh water all day long. It prevents UTIs and keeps him healthy. Limiting water rarely helps with potty training. Your puppy’s body still produces urine, even when they aren’t getting enough water. Only dehydrating the puppy to near death will keep them from peeing. So please don’t limit water.

Crate Training a Puppy Step-by-Step

Ok, now to the actual “how-to”. You’ve readied your mind for success, you’ve set up the crate as ideally as possible. Now what do you do?

1. Set up a crate training schedule you can stick to.

A schedule is one of the most helpful things you can do for your puppy for the first couple of months. It gives them predictability and stability. When I work on a schedule, my puppy is quieter, there are fewer accidents, and crate training goes much more smoothly.

I set up a schedule by putting alarms on my phone because I have so much to do between taking care of my baby, my kids and myself. My schedule includes what time I will feed, potty, train and play with my puppy (Side note: I do not exercise my puppy, because that can injure their joints and also set you up for an exercise junkie. It rarely helps with potty training or quietness). Going off schedule increases the likelihood of accidents and a noisy puppy. Changing the schedule gradually as your puppy gets older and wiser is just fine, and necessary. If you abruptly change it, prepare yourself for problems.

2. Give your puppy something to do in the crate.

Wild dogs spend a good portion of their day foraging for food. The rest is spent sleeping and playing. I like to give my puppy Kongs with frozen, wet kibble inside and various puzzle toys with most of their daily ration of food (the rest is for training) instead of putting it in a dish. This just helps them stay busy and quiet. I prep a bunch of these before bed so they’re frozen for the next day. I give one to my puppy between 3-5 times a day.

3. Let a new puppy out to potty at least every hour during the day and every 2-3 hours at night.

A new puppy should be let out about every hour during the day and every 2-3 hours at night to avoid accidents. This doesn’t mean you should ignore your puppy if it cries, however. Sometimes they need to go out more often. Letting the puppy out several times in an hour is much better than cleaning up an accident, at least in my opinion. Adjust this time slowly as the puppy gets older. Don’t suddenly jump from one hour to three hours.

An older puppy or dog that’s having trouble with accidents in the crate should also be set back to going out once every hour. Sometimes this may even need to be every half hour if they have a long history of soiling their crate. Slowly increase the time between potty breaks.

With any puppy or dog, if they begin having accidents in the crate, they are probably not going out often enough, so you will need to have potty breaks more often. (Sometimes accidents are happening for other reasons, but this is the first thing to try.)

4. Set up the “litter box” in a puppy pen if you’re going to have to leave them longer than normal.

When you go through the trouble of adding a litter box, the puppy is less likely to learn that going potty in the crate is okay and they begin to understand that their business should happen on grass/bark/outside things. Cleaning up afterward is way easier than if you have to clean up the crate and the puppy.

5. Reward and pay attention to your puppy when they are being good.

This means that when your puppy goes potty outside, you say “Go Potty! Good potty!” and have a party with petting and toys and give them amazing treats. When they are being quiet in the kennel, go over and say “Quiet. Good quiet!” and give them a treat.

Don’t give them a kong when they are making noise to “make them be quiet.” Try to do it while they are quiet so they don’t learn that screaming gets food.

6. Ignore the puppy when they are doing anything they shouldn’t be.

Unless they’re going to ruin something (in which case just put the thing away) or it’s possible they are making noise because they need to go potty, ignore bad behavior. Do not shout, hit or look at a puppy that’s throwing a fit or has pottied in the kennel. Leave the room if you need to for a tantruming puppy. As soon as the puppy is quiet, you can go over and pay attention to them.

If the puppy has pottied in the kennel, take them out quietly and see if they will potty outside (reward them for the outside pottying), temporarily put them somewhere while you clean out the kennel, and then quietly put them back in their kennel.

Remember: Any attention is reinforcing behavior.

7. Proactively teach your puppy what you want them to do in the crate.

Do you want your puppy to sit in the crate when you come up to it? Teach them what sit is outside the kennel, then ask for sits in the kennel and reward. (This is what I did in the video below.)

Do you want your puppy to be quiet in the crate? Teach them to bark on command and be quiet on command, then when they bark in the crate, ask for “Quiet!” and reward for it.

Do you want your puppy to race into the crate when you ask them to? Toss a treat in and say “Crate!” and give them fun stuff to do in there. 

8. Set up a management system when needed.

If you’re not sure how to get your puppy to stop doing something (or you don’t have time to work on it), manage it.

Managing a situation means to set things up so the situation doesn’t occur. I am currently having trouble with my puppy barking when my older dog walks past her crate. I put up some baby gates so the older dog can’t walk past the crate. Now, the puppy doesn’t bark and my husband doesn’t sigh loudly when she barks. Everyone is happy. Then, later in the evening, I am not feeling frazzled about the puppy barking and I have the mental energy to set up the situation to happen on purpose so I can teach my puppy how to act.

9. Forgive yourself, forgive your puppy and try again.

Forgot to let the puppy out and they pottied in the crate? It happens sometimes. It’s not going to ruin everything, so forgive everyone, clean it up and try again.

You went off schedule and the puppy is screaming for his dinner? Break the rule to ignore bad behavior (remember, the puppy is just a baby), go in and give the puppy his dinner and try again tomorrow. It won’t ruin everything.

Don’t feel guilty if you mess up, or if your puppy messes up despite you doing everything “right”. Have patience. With time, with patience, with practice, things will get better.

Troubleshooting Puppy Crate Training

I don’t have time to do all this crate training!

That’s fine. You’re not a bad pet parent for not doing everything by-the-book. Try to decide how much of a priority having a well-behaved dog is. Make a list of pros and cons, if you need to. If it’s not a priority, ignore the bad behavior for now until you do have time to work on training. If it is a priority, find the time.

Sometimes I have to just learn to ignore the screaming puppy until the baby is a little bit older and I have the time to work on teaching quiet. That’s ok. The puppy will live, my family will live, it’s annoying, that’s all. Sometimes listening to the screaming is worth the tradeoff for extra time to get things done. Sometimes cleaning out the crate after an accident is worth it because I got the baby to go to sleep.

Make things easier for yourself. Sometimes this means the puppy has to go in the backyard in a fenced off area for a bit. My puppy had diarrhea for days once and I had to do this because otherwise I was cleaning out the crate every 30 minutes. One day I just couldn’t handle the screaming and didn’t have time to figure out why she kept screaming every five minutes, so I put the puppy in the garage for the day and checked on her every hour or two.

Things come up, things change, sometimes you don’t have time or patience. It’s ok to do what you have to, as long as it’s not forever or hurting the puppy. Leaving your puppy in the backyard or garage forever is where you have to ask yourself if you should have the dog (reevaluate your priorities and see if you can make time for them). Leaving the dog there temporarily (making sure they are fed, watered and sheltered, not too hot or cold and played with every once in a while) until things are more favorable is ok. Sometimes things can’t be picture perfect. If the only people who kept dogs were those who did everything by-the-book, no one would have a dog.

My only rule is this – don’t neglect your dog. No neglect means, they shouldn’t be starving, beaten, dying in the hot sun/garage, they should have water or shade, and they should get occasional attention. Sometimes my dogs go a little while without getting petted or played with (though they are still fed and watered and pottied), it happens when I’m overwhelmed sometimes and just barely functioning. Neglecting attention is more than that – it’s a pattern of never petting or playing with them, and not being willing to make time to do those things.

Crate Training Still isn’t Working

Take the puppy to the vet, just to make sure that the problems aren’t because of health issues. Puppies get ear infections, UTIs, and other sicknesses that can lead to accidents or crying.

Keep trying, be patient.

Sometimes you just need to think about why things aren’t working or ask a trainer for help. I had a puppy that kept pottying in her crate despite being taken out often. Finally, I figured out that she didn’t really love pottying outside in the snow, so she’d pee outside real quick (but not empty her bladder), then 30 minutes later her bladder would be full again and she’d potty in the crate. I got her a warm sweater and that solved the problem.

Final Words on Crate Training a Puppy

If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this article, it’s to be patient and kind with your puppy and yourself. Sometimes things just aren’t going to be quick and only time or trial and error will resolve them. That’s how life is. Don’t feel bad. Take a few deep breaths and then keep going and try again. It’s worth the short time of annoyances for the payoff of a dog that you and your kids will love 10-15 years. It’s an investment, like the money you pay to have a good, long-lasting car or mattress, the initial down payment is worth it for the years to come.

Need more help?

If you’re needing more help with your puppy, I’ve put together a free e-book that gives solutions to your puppy problems: The Ultimate Guide to Solving Puppy Problems.

In it, I’ve included:

  • How to manage common problems, like potty training, crate training, noisy puppies, jumping and more.
  • How to train your puppy to stop doing the things that are annoying you.
  • The mindset you’ll need to get through the puppy days and the specific tools that I use to help my puppies behave.

Download a FREE copy of the Ultimate Guide and feel good again about your choice to get a puppy.

Yes, Send Me the Free Ultimate Guide to Solving Puppy Problems

Need help with your puppy? Our free e-book has solutions to everything from potty training to pulling problems.

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