Crate Expectations: What You Need To Know About Your Dog’s Crate


I First learned crate training for dogs in the early 1980s and has been a huge fan since then. There are many benefits to having a dog that is comfortable in its crate, not least the training and management of puppy houses. Imagine my surprise when I recently discovered an increasingly loud, visible, and growing opposition to crate. Granted, there is an unfortunate amount of abusive crates out there, and that is certainly not acceptable, but the vehement anti-craters are essentially against every crate that has ever existed. Seriously? Never?


There are so many advantages to having a suitable crate that I cannot list them all, but here are some of the most useful:

* Training and management of puppy houses. As mentioned above, house training for puppies (and even adult dogs) is made a lot easier with the proper use of a crate. Since dogs are naturally reluctant to pollute their own dens, it can be helpful to put your puppy in a crate for periods of time when he cannot be directly supervised, and then remove him from its designated bathroom space for quicker and easier access to accommodate far fewer accidents reliably. Crating also minimizes puppy chewing / destructive behavior when direct monitoring is not possible. Properly trained, most puppies and dogs can learn to see their crates as a very positive place.

* * Restricted activity. Most dog owners know the dreaded words of their veterinarian after an operation or other intensive medical treatment: “Your dog only needs to be limited in activity.” If your dog is already comfortable / happy to be in a crate, a time is more limited Activity is far less stressful for him (and you!) And his rehabilitation is likely to be more successful. (See “Rest Easy”, WDJ August 2015.)

* Transportation. We know that there are significant risks with loose dogs sitting in a car – both because of their potential to disturb the driver and cause an accident, and because of the increased risk of injury or death to the dog in an accident.

My own brother lost his beautiful Australian Shepherd in a car wreck; She survived the accident, but jumped out of the broken windshield and was killed by another car on the highway. A buckled box (or a harness and seat belt combination) could have prevented her death.

* Dog classes and competition venues. There are a variety of dog classes and venues where dogs are routinely crated when it is not their turn to work. It is generally expected that your dog can be placed in a crate if necessary.

* Behavior management. There are many situations in which a behavior management box can be of great use.

For example, our little mongrel Sunny is constantly competing for attention with Kai (our Kelpie), and because Kai consistently shifts against Sunny, he tends to lose in the attention game. We crate Sunny at night and Kai sleeps on the bed so that he can be with his people for a long time without having to take part in competitions.

If one of your dogs is having trouble protecting the food, feeding one or both dogs in the crates can remove this source of voltage. Some adult dogs still need to be detained for management purposes when their humans are away, and others find their crates comforting during stressful events like thunderstorms, fireworks, or visitors to the house. Others see it as the perfect place to store their toys when not in use.

* Decor. No, I’m not kidding – there are actually some very stylish dog crates that come in handy when doing a dual service like end tables, sideboards, coffee tables, corner cabinets, and more. You can decorate your house while putting your dog in a crate!


Here is a step-by-step guide on how to teach your dog to love their crate. If at any point you are stuck in the process, please contact a qualified, nonviolent professional for help:

1. For now, leave the box in its intended long-term location with a soft blanket inside and some toys and treats on the ceiling. The best introduction to the crate is when your dog can explore it on his own. (Make sure you untie the door so it doesn’t slam and startle you.)

2. After she got the chance to explore, with the box door still open, toss in some irresistibly tasty treats. If your dog is reluctant to go after them, throw them close to the door so that they can stand outside and just stick their nose in the box to eat them. If you’re exercising with a clicker or other reward marker, use your marker every time she starts eating the treat.

3. Keep tossing the goodies into the box one by one until it enters to get it. Mark each time she eats a treat. If she can easily enter the box for the goodies, mark it and offer a treat while she’s still inside. When she is ready to stay inside, mark up and move on.

If she comes out, that’s fine too. Just toss in another treat and wait for it to re-enter. Never try to force them to stay in the box.

4th If she walks into the box without hesitation, use a verbal cue when entering (e.g. “Go to bed!”) So that you can finally send her to the box with just one verbal cue.

5. When it stays happily in the box in anticipation of a time and a treat, gently move the door a little. Mark and treat. Gradually increase the movement until you have completely closed the door. Use a marker (click or “Yes!”) And give a reward every time you swing. Don’t Lock It! Mark and treat, then open the door.

Repeat this step, gradually increasing the amount of time the door stays closed before marking. Sometimes you can mark and reward without opening the door immediately.

6th If your dog stays in the crate for at least 10 seconds with no signs of fear with the door closed, close the door, latch it, and take a step away from the crate. Tag, return to the box, reward and open the door. Repeat this step, varying the time and distance you leave the box. Gradually increase the number of times you mark and treat without opening the door. However, remember that a marker is always treated.

NOTE: Don’t make each dog’s stay in the crate longer and further away from you. confuse longer stays with shorter ones. Some dogs become increasingly concerned when they find that they are “stuck” in the crate for an extended period of time each time they are in the crate. Randomize the length of each stay.


It’s a good idea to leave the crate open when you’re not actively exercising. Throw your dog’s treats and favorite toys in the box when she’s not looking so she never knows what wonderful surprises she might find there. You can even feed her meals in the box – with the door open – so she can see that her box is a really wonderful place. With the door open, she can relax in her box at any time.

There are many dogs and puppies that can do all of the crate training in one day. Others may need to be practiced for several days before they are comfortable and can stay in the box. Some take weeks or longer. If your dog or puppy is one of those crates that love slower, you may need to use an exercise pen instead to contain them for administrative purposes.

If at any point during the program your dog whines or worries about being in the crate, try waiting a few seconds to rest, then tag and then reward him. (If she doesn’t stop fiddling, she’s probably stressed out and you need to let her out despite her excitement.) Then back up a step or two in the exercise routine. you made it too difficult for her.

When she is fine at this level, increase the difficulty in smaller steps and vary the times instead of making it more difficult all the time. For example, instead of going from five seconds to 10 to 15, start with five seconds, then seven, then three, then eight, then six, then four, then eight, and so on.

However, if you believe your dog is experiencing separation-related behavior, stop crate training and consult a qualified, effortless professional.

Once your dog is crate-trained, you have a valuable behavior management tool for life. Respect it. If you abuse your dog by keeping him in detention for too long, too long, or using him as a punishment, you can easily ruin the good job you have done and lose your use of this invaluable tool. You really don’t want that!

Five Common Ways Crates Can Be Abusive

Unfortunately, there are far too many readily available examples of improper and even improper use of boxes:

* Over crates. Some owners box too much because they don’t know any better. Just because your dog can “keep” it in his crate for 10 to 12 hours while at work doesn’t mean he should. Anyone who has to leave their dog house at home for more than four to five hours will need to find other options for a dog lunch break. (Young puppies shouldn’t be asked to hold it for more than two to three hours a day.) Options include a family member, neighbor, or stroller who can come by for lunch, a box in an exercise pen with the dog who is responsible for trained to use pee pads or a well-run dog day care center (young puppies should generally not go to day care center). Or maybe a responsible friend, neighbor, or family member could offer your dog a daycare.

*Punishment. A dog’s crate should never be used as a punishment – as in “Bad dog, go to your crate!” The crate should be your dog’s happy place – not a place you send him angry. (Of course, we don’t advocate verbal or physical punishment anyway.) It’s perfectly fine to use a box as a temporary happy break: “Oh, you need a break? Go to bed a little! “Nobody should ever punish the dog by knocking on the box or shaking it.

* Teasing. A box should be both a safe and a happy place. No teasing allowed – from thoughtless or evil people or from other dogs. If your dog has to be kept in a crate when there is pedestrian traffic, place an exercise pen around the crate as a generous “air lock” so that no one can get to it.

* Misguided behavior change. A crate is the absolutely wrong management or modification tool for most dogs with segregation-related behaviors. (See “Friendly Separation,” June 2020.) The outdated adage of leaving your anxious, stressed, screaming dog of any age alone and placing it in a crate until he is calm is disgusting advice and can still make your dog fearful aggravate. Dogs with moderate to severe separation stress really panic if left alone, and dogs with these behaviors are notorious for not crating well.

Your job in crate training is to make it so positive that your dog never has to bark in protest. If this is not possible then there is likely an element of stress and you will need to address it before you can even start crate training.

* Hoarding. Bad breeders, rescue groups, animal shelters, and even grooming providers sometimes keep dogs in crates 24 hours a day, with occasional toilet breaks if they’re lucky. These are situations better known as “hoarders”. No dog should live in a crate in its own urine and feces. No dog should live in a crate 24/7, even if they get out often enough to avoid contaminating their den. Period.


So, if you have a box (and me!), Get it right. Consider whether you have other options, either temporary or long-term. When we first adopted our dog Sunny, he had not been crate trained and had some (luckily mild) behaviors related to separation that ruled out crate as an option. For the first few months, he slept in a practice pen next to my bed, initially with my arm over my side to reassure him that I was nearby.

Over a period of weeks I was gradually able to remove my arm from the pen and move the pen further and further away from the side of the bed. Our bedroom is really too small to fit a box comfortably so he was eventually trained in the box and is now happily sleeping in his box.

However, Sunny is still not 100% trustworthy in the house. If I leave him alone, it closes in my office (spacious compared to a box!) To keep him out of trouble, usually with his brother Kai and everyone else is fine. We were even able to remove the barriers originally put in place to prevent him from chewing up all of my books. Be a creative minimalist in using your crate!

Right box

Some dogs prefer a bare crate over one with bedding, especially in hot weather. If you can offer him two boxes, each with a different type or amount of bedding, to determine his preference.

There are a number of things you can do to make your dog’s crate experience more successful and positive for him.

• If your dog has had an uncomfortable experience with crates in the past, consider making changes. If you’ve used an airline crate, try a wire crate. Try offering two or three different types of crate and see if she has a crate style preference. If it was in a box in the living room, try the den. If stimulated by outside stimuli, move the box away from the front door in an isolated, quiet place in the house.

• Make sure your dog’s crate is in an environmentally friendly place. You may not notice that the sun is coming in through the living room window and hitting the crate at 1:00 p.m., causing your dog to overheat, or that a draft from an open window is making them uncomfortably cold. Put multiple boxes in different locations and see if it has a location preference.

• Respect your dog’s preference for bedding. She likes a comfortable duvet to lie on in the box – or she may prefer the coolness of a bare box bottom. Record their wishes! Try offering two boxes with different flooring and see if she chooses one over the other.

• Consider giving your dog more spacious accommodations. In house training, we want the box to be just big enough to comfortably stand up, turn around, and lie down so it doesn’t stain one end and rest comfortably in the other. However, after she is in-house trained, there is no need to keep her in a small space. When you have the room, give her luxury accommodations!

The author, Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, is WDJ’s training editor. She and her husband live in Fairplay, Maryland, where their Peaceful Paw Training Center is located. Miller has written many books, including How To Care For Dogs: From Homeless To Homebound and Beyond Dogs: Give your dog a second chance at a top notch life. See Resources, page 24, for information about their books, dog owner courses, and dog trainer academies.

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