New dog owners may ask why crate training is necessary or even think crate training is cruel since it entails confining their canine companions to a restricted space, typically when you aren’t home. On the other side, we maintain that crate training is highly advantageous for all dogs, particularly those that are newly adopted or in their puppy stage.
Why is crate training important? When a dog is introduced to a new environment, it is common for them to experience stress, which may manifest in undesirable behaviors such as anxiety or destructive tendencies. Some dogs are inherently more prone to anxiety, and this may persist regardless of how long they have been with their owner. Crate training can prove to be an extremely important tool to help minimize or even eliminate those negative behaviors. Let’s dive into the benefits of crate training and how it can enhance the quality of life for your dog.
How to crate train your dog & crate training tips
Fortunately for us, the process of how to crate train a rescue dog is the same as crate training an adult dog. It is much easier to teach your dog to be comfortable in the crate if you do not use the crate as punishment. Crate training your dog is essentially teaching your pup that the crate is a fun or neutral place. We do not want your pup to think it is a negative place.
We love the Puppr app and will be summarizing their process for crate training. Check out their app if you need more detailed instructions, and soon you too will reap the benefits of crate training. It’s worked so well for us that when we ask our dogs to go to the crate, they run to it and wait for their treat! We’ve used a similar process for both harness training and muzzle training for our pups!
It’s easier to start with an open crate, something similar to this Frisco crate (Chewy), this Midwest crate (Amazon), or this Amazon Basics crate because it’s larger and open. It will help your dog feel less confined than a solid-walled crate because of the open sight lines. We have the large size for our dogs (42 inches x 28 inches) to give our pups enough room to be comfortable in plus a little extra. This crate is the same size as our DIY dog bed, which has been fantastic for making our dogs’ crates more comfortable than the overpriced crate liners you may see.
To start crate training, lure your dog into the crate without using physical contact. You can leave a trail of kibble, throw a piece of chicken in the crate, or their favorite toy. Whatever works for motivating your dog is the best option to use. Tell your pup they’re a good boy or girl when they go inside of it and eventually pair a command word with it, such as “crate.” If your dog is still skittish with the crate, you can use higher-value rewards such as their meals to help make your dog excited about the crate. Repeat multiple times per day, but don’t close the crate door, yet.
After your dog is okay with walking into the crate, we’ll work on getting your dog used to the closed door. For closing the door, have your dog inside the crate (use a lure if you have to) and then shut the door for a few seconds while you’re right there with them. Give your pup a treat while they are in the crate and then open the door and give them a release command. We use “free” for this, but anything works. Slowly work up the duration your pup can stay in the crate with the gate closed while still staying nearby.
Finally, we’ll work on increasing the duration. To start, you should still stay in the house and work on increasing the time your dog can stay in the crate with you at home. We recommend trying some food-based enrichment to help your dog be distracted initially, such as stuffed hollow bones, frozen lick mats, or a DIY snuffle mat. If you’re looking for something that you can buy, bully sticks are great, as well, but every dog is different. These will help your dog get comfortable in the crate, but make sure to know if your dog can handle these safely before leaving them unattended.
After your dog can spend small blocks of time in the crate, start working up the duration when you aren’t in the house. We have a camera to keep an eye on our pups when we aren’t home, which is extremely useful for crate training. We were able to pop outside for half an hour and complete some yard work while still keeping an eye on our dogs. You can do whatever works for your situation, but we recommend working up to your target duration. Most dogs won’t be okay with jumping from 15 minutes to 9 hours but can handle slowly increasing the time.
Our favorite crates
We’ve tried a bunch of crates over the years from, but this Frisco crate and this Midwest crate are our favorites. We’re actually going to replace our Kong crate with a MidWest crate soon since it is much easier to move around. Unless you have an escape artist, our favorite is either the Frisco or MidWest options, depending on where you prefer to shop at. They’re extremely similar to each other, work great, and are easy to use.
They’re both light enough that they are easily movable but still secure enough that your pup won’t escape. We also like the options for choosing how many doors and the variety of size options. We have a two-door one, currently, but find it has more moving parts that make noise. We’ve never used the side door and would recommend the single door unless you need the crate to be in a spot where you wouldn’t be able to open the front door.
Whatever you decide to get, we recommend a metal wire crate over a plastic hard-walled crate. They are much more confining and generally have plastic hinges, which break much easier than metal. We also like that there is ample air flow with a metal/wire type of crate which can help keep your dog cooler and feel less restricted.
Benefits of crate training
Prevent your dog from escaping
At the risk of stating the obvious, preventing your pup from getting loose is one of the primary benefits of crate training your dog. As we’re writing this, it’s the week of the 4th of July, which is the week with the highest numbers of dogs escaping from their homes every year. When dealing with something like fireworks, even a normally calm dog can become terrified enough to attempt extraordinary ways of escaping.
If you have a pup who’s an escape risk (*raises hand*), crate training is useful if you have visitors who are making repeated trips through your house. For example, a contractor working in your house may or may not be as careful as you are with making sure your furry friend doesn’t make their way outside and chase that squirrel that’s been tormenting them for the last week. It’s much safer for your dog to be confined to a room or crate for a short period of time than to have to chase your dog all over the neighborhood.
Minimizes destructive behavior
Another time the benefits of crate training are made clear is when you introduce a new pup to your home. Destructive behavior is common in this situation due to the stress of being in a new environment. From our own experience, when we adopted our first pup, Goomba, from a shelter, he wasn’t used to an environment similar to our house. As a result, when we were at work, Goomba chewed all manner of things including furniture, drywall, one of each of Sarah’s shoes that were downstairs, and a variety of sentimental items.
Not what we wanted to come home to after a long day of work. Over time, we were able to help set expectations with Goomba so that he knows this isn’t acceptable behavior, but had we known the benefits of crate training early it would have saved us a lot of grief!
Faster recovery from injury
One of the benefits of crate training that has been the most helpful for us is faster recovery from injuries for your pup. If your dog has an accident that results in a broken bone or torn ligament/tendon, crate training is a wonderful asset to prevent the injury from getting worse. One of our pups, Goomba, tore his CCL (essentially the dog version of an ACL) and had varying degrees of restrictions for physical activity for months. Crate time was vital to help enforce rest and ensure as quick a recovery as possible.
After CCL surgery, typical recommendations include limited mobility and no climbing stairs, jumping, or any other activity that puts unnecessary strain on the rear legs. Goomba is a bit of a jumper and loves sleeping on couches, so it took some trial and error to try to find ways to make sure he didn’t derail his recovery. One of the main ways we accomplished this was by confining Goomba to a crate when we weren’t home & it helped his recovery from CCL surgery be much faster.
Less stressful overnight stays
After Goomba tore his first CCL, we found out he was going to have to stay overnight at the vet after his surgery. That’s generally enough for a stressful experience by itself, but combined with the anesthesia, other dogs barking, unfamiliar people, and post-surgery pain, it all adds up to quite an unpleasant experience.
The benefits of crate training are clear here; the fact that your pup is already used to being in a crate is one less stressor to add to your dog’s overnight stay. Typically, for overnight vet stays, your pup will sleep in a kennel or crate to limit mobility. If your dog isn’t accustomed to being in a similar environment, it can make the stay more stressful than it needs to be.
Minimizes unwanted greeting behaviors
Our next few benefits of crate training will focus more on training and reinforcing positive behaviors. One of the easiest ways to help reduce unwanted greeting behavior when a visitor enters your home is to have your pup in the crate. The timing for this overlaps with another of the benefits of crate training, preventing your dog from escaping, which is more likely when a visitor is entering or exiting your house.
After your dog is used to spending some time in the crate, it can be used as a tool for your pup to calm down to a more manageable level of excitement before allowing interaction with the visitor. The idea is your pup gets the reward (interacting) for being calm, not anxious. This process will be quicker if your pup and crate are in a different room than your visitor will be in.
Helps teach and reinforce potty training
Potty training is a frustrating time for most pup parents, but one of the many benefits of crate training is that dogs are much less likely to use the bathroom where they sleep, which makes having an accident less likely. During potty training, most pups are confined to an area smaller than normal, whether that is a room, section of a room, or a crate, to help make the process easier.
Potty training is more involved than just keeping your pup in a crate until bathroom time, but a good dog crate can help reinforce your training and make the process more efficient for you and your dog.
Reinforces calm behavior
Continuing off an earlier of our benefits of crate training, a kennel or crate can be a great tool to reinforce calm behavior in your pup. If you pair the crate with positive experiences, such as treats, food-based enrichment, a favorite bone, or other items your dog enjoys, your dog will be excited to use the crate. We don’t interact with or bother our pups when they are in their crates, which results in them getting uninterrupted relaxing time. We have our crates in a room that allows our resident sunbather (Prim) to bask in the sun from our sliding door while chilling in her crate. She loves it!
We give our pups stuffed bones, snuffle mats, and other treats in their crates to help reinforce the positive association. We want our pups to think crate equals treats, not punishment or other negative experiences.
Gives your pup a cave to feel safe in
This was one of the most surprising benefits of crate training for us. We never use our crates for punishment, so both our pups love their crates! When Prim gets too tired from sunbathing or doesn’t feel like interacting anymore (everyone needs their alone time!) she will trot back to her crate and wait for us to open it. We have our crate set up in our mud room which essentially has 2 crates in it and some other dog supplies like walking gear, bowls, and another dog bed.
It doesn’t matter if Prim is out in our yard or sleeping on the couch, if we ask her if she wants to go in her crate, she sprints back to it and patiently waits to relax and get her reward.
If you want to make your pup’s crate extra comfortable, you can always create your own dog bed for it! It’s easy to make one with memory foam that fits perfectly in a crate or wherever you need it to.
Even if you don’t want to use a crate often, you and your dog can enjoy the benefits of crate training! The main thing to remember is to use it as a tool for training and make it a positive experience for your pup. If you don’t use it as punishment, your dog could learn to love it, like Prim!
If you’re sold on the benefits of crate training and want a great resource for crate training, check out the Puppr app’s guide! We highly recommend it to make the training process much smoother.
Does your pup love their crate time like Prim? What other benefits of crate training have you heard about or experienced? Share photos of your favorite training tools (or just your pups!) with us on Instagram by tagging @therulybully.