Crate Training Puppies

Successful crate training can take a couple of days or several weeks – it all depends on HOW it’s done. If your puppy is calm and relaxed it may only take a few days but if he’s stressed or anxious, he may never accept his crate. Learn how to crate your puppy the right way!

7 Simple Steps To Crating Your Puppy

So, you've decided to crate your puppy - congratulations! 

It's one of the kindest things you can do for a young pup and despite what some people think, it isn't cruel.

You're simply providing him with the exact type of 'home' he'd be looking for in the wild - a safe, den-like hide to protect him from predators and bad weather.

To crate your puppy successfully, he'll need to feel safe and comfortable in and around his crate. If his experiences are positive and his training isn't rushed, he'll adopt (and love) his new home much more quickly.

To get the best out of this page, I recommend you read the essential rules of crating as it will help you to get the best results for you and your puppy. 

When you've read that, come back here and follow the steps below.

Step 1: Crate Training - Introductions 

Your fist step is to introduce your puppy to his cage and to entice him into it - quietly, calmly, and without any stress. Help your little boy to understand that good things will happen to him when he's in or around his crate.

Black and tan cocker spaniel puppies in a crate

You've already put a soft blanket inside, preferably one with the scent of his mother and siblings, so it's already smelling like 'home'.

Begin by sitting outside of the crate, with your puppy by your side, and do the following:

  • Slowly open the door and then feed your pup a small training treat. Stroke him and talk to him in a loving tone.
  • Let your puppy explore the crate if he wants to, and if he goes inside, reward him with a treat. 
  • If he doesn't show any interest, place a couple of treats on the floor just outside of the door, and another just inside.
  • Let him eat the treats on the floor. He may put his head inside the crate to get the remaining treat, in which case, praise him and drop another morsel inside, but this time throw it further back to entice him to step inside.
  • If he goes into the cage, praise him and give him another treat. Let him explore a little and then call him to you. If he comes out when called, reward him with a treat, but never reward him for coming out unless you've asked him to do so.
  • Repeat the above exercise several times until your pup seems comfortable with going in and out of his crate.

Crate training puppies needs a gentle hand if they're to get used to their cage quickly and without trauma; never force your puppy to do anything he doesn't want to.

Remember, crate training should be fun!

TIP: It's best to crate train your puppy when it's quiet, and when there's nothing much going on around him, otherwise he'll become easily distracted and the chances are you won't make much progress.

Step 2: Crate Training - Closing The Door

Your next step will be accomplished when you're able to close the door to the crate, with your puppy inside, and not have him react.

So, here goes:

  • Place his favorite toy in his crate and throw a couple of treats inside, towards the back of the cage. When your puppy goes inside, quietly close the door behind him for a few seconds.

  • Just as he's about to finish his last treat open the door.

Sally, an orange roan cocker spaniel in sand dunes
  • Try this exercise again, only this time leave the door closed. When he's finished his treats, he may settle down in his crate, play with his toy, or he may whine and want to be let out.

    If he whines, try feeding him a couple of additional treats through the bars to quieten him, before opening the door. (If you open the door as soon as he cries to be let out, he may learn that crying gets him what he wants!)

  • Repeat the above dog crate training exercise until you're able to leave your pup inside for several minutes, gradually building up the time he spends inside.

You can now drop his reward for coming out of the crate when called. When crate training, it's always better to reward your puppy more for going into his crate and less for coming out; help him to learn that it's more fun to be inside the cage than out of it!

If you crate train your puppy using treats as a reward, don't forget to offset the treats against his food allowance, otherwise you may end up with an overweight puppy!

Overweight puppies grow up to be overweight dogs and that's not healthy!

Step 3: Crate Training and Feeding

Feeding your puppy in his crate is a good idea because it's another way of reinforcing that good things happen when he's in his crate - another positive experience for him!

To begin with, place his food bowl just outside the door and let him eat.

Move his bowl just inside the cage for his next meal, and gradually move it further inside each meal-time until it's in the back corner of his crate.

When he's inside eating, close the door gently behind him.

He may be engrossed in his meal, but it's possible he'll want to be let out immediately, in which case, open the door and let him come out, but leave his food bowl inside and then close the door again.

Don't praise your Cocker at this stage; just stay quiet.

If he's hungry and tries to get back into his crate, open the door and let him in.

If he doesn't seem to want to go back inside, leave the door open and leave him to it. If he's hungry, he'll eventually wander inside and eat...and when he does, quietly and gently close the door.

Open the door just as he's finishing his food.

Repeat the above crate training for each meal, but leave the door closed for longer each time.

Remove the food bowl, offer your Cocker some water, and then take him outside to his toilet area. Praise him if he does the business, and then reward him by playing with him for a little while.

During this phase, please be aware that not all puppies react in the same way or develop at the same pace and this step of the crate training may need to be attempted several times before your Cocker becomes comfortable with his crate door being closed.

Take your time and be patient!

Step: 4 - Entering His Crate On Command

It's now time to stop using treats to entice your puppy into his crate and begin using words instead; you're going to teach your puppy to enter on your command!

Crate training's not just for puppies, it's possible to crate train an older dog too!

But you must only do this exercise when he's comfortable entering and leaving his crate, and not before.

First, choose your command word(s). I use, "into bed" for Max, but you can use whatever words you feel comfortable with. 

You'll  need to teach him this command and get him used to hearing it, and the way to do this is to say your chosen words just as he's going into his crate.

Timing is very important. Your puppy needs to be able to associate the act of going into his crate with your command words.

Practiced regularly, he'll soon learn that your command words (in our case, "into bed") mean that he's to go into his crate and he'll understand exactly what you want from him!

Once you believe he understands this new command, probably after a few practice sessions, you can try using it as a command, rather than waiting for him to enter and then saying the command words.

Here's how:

  • Ask your puppy to sit just outside of his crate.

  • Say the command, enthusiastically but not over-excitedly. You could give him a helping hand here by pointing to his crate.

    If he goes inside, praise him and give him a treat to help him understand that he got it right!

  • If he doesn't move, don't command him a second time, and don't throw in any treats to try to entice him inside - stick to your guns and wait it out!
  • If your puppy still won't move, end the crate training session. Don't be angry and don't say anything to him, you can always try again in a few minutes time.

Practice the above lessons whenever you get the opportunity and your puppy will soon be going in and out of his crate on command!

Step 5: Crate Training And Lock Down!

I strongly recommend you help your puppy to get used to being locked inside his cage for short periods of time while you're at home, before leaving him on his own.

If he's locked in his crate but he can still see you he's more likely to feel settled. It will also help to stop him from associating being crated with being left on his own.

Your aim now is for him to get used to being locked in his crate when you're not around, but this must be done gradually.

Your puppy is in his crate and he's playing with his favorite toy - great! Now you can begin training:

  • Move out of his sight for about 30 seconds and then return.

  • If he's standing up, looking for you, you can reward him with a stroke through the bars of the cage, or a training treat, but don't say anything and don't make a fuss.

  • If he's still lying down, playing with his toy, success!

  • You can now practice moving out of sight as often as time permits. The aim is to gradually increase the time you stay away, and for your puppy to realize that you always return.

Don't be tempted to rush this part. To get it right, crate training should be done in small, gradual stages. Give your little boy plenty of time to get used to his crate and you'll soon see that he'll settle down quietly when you're not around.

Step 6: Crate Training and Leaving The House

The hardest part of having to crate train a puppy is leaving him on his own, but if he's comfortable and hasn't had any unpleasant or distressing experiences inside his cage, there shouldn't be any reason why you can't leave him locked in for a little while.

A few preparations first though:

Black american cocker spaniel wearing vest
  • Take him outside into the garden and see if he wants to pee.

  • Let him have a little playtime and exercise beforehand to help tire him out - he may even fall asleep in his crate while you're away!
  • Don't forget to remove your Cocker Spaniel's collar before you lock him in his crate - safety first!

  • Don't make a fuss when you leave; no long goodbyes, simply leave quietly.

  • When you first begin crate training, I recommend you leave your puppy for no longer than an hour until he gets used to being alone.

If you need to go out for longer, you may want to ask someone to look in on him after an hour to let him out into the garden for his toilet, and to play with him for a short time.

If you need to go out to work, there are a couple of ways to make sure he's safe and happy.

For example, you may be able to come home at lunch time or, if that's not feasible, you could consider paying a dog sitter to look after him, hire a dog walker, or ask a neighbor to pop in and feed him and take him out into the garden a couple of times each day.

If left alone for too long, some puppies can develop what's known as 'separation anxiety' and can become quite stressed and anxious, which isn't a good state for your pet to be in. It can also lead to destructive behaviors and a dog with severe separation anxiety can trash a room in the blink of an eye!

Step 7: Crate Training - Your Puppy's First Night!

This section assumes your pup has already been crate trained by the breeder and applies to your puppies' first night in his new home, inside his crate.

Exercise your Cocker in the evening, play games with him and let him play with his toys - wear him out!

Soulful looking cocker spaniel

Before you put your pup into his crate for the night, take him outside to his toilet area and encourage him to pee.

It's best if you don't give him anything to eat or drink after 7:00pm.

When you're sure his bladder is empty, bring him inside, put him in his crate, and leave him.

It's almost certain that he'll cry during his first night as his new home will be unfamiliar to him and he'll probably be missing his mother and his litter mates.

For his first night in his cage, you have two choices; put his crate in another room where you can't hear him crying or bring it into your bedroom where you can comfort him if he cries during the night.

Either is acceptable, but I'd recommend the latter for his first night. If you place the cage by your bed you should be able to reach out to reassure him if he wakes.

While you crate train your puppy, don't allow him out of it unless you're certain that he wants to pee. Take him outside to his toilet area and wait with him. If he pees, quietly praise him and bring him straight back to his crate; no playing and no fussing - your baby must learn that night-time is not for playing.

You may need to do this every 2 or 3 hours during the night for his first few weeks, but this will quickly improve as he's able to hold his bladder and bowels for longer.

At 3 months, a puppy can usually go all night without a bowel movement as long as he's been allowed out to relieve himself just before being put to bed, and isn't given any water for a couple of hours before bedtime.

Crate Training Tips And Techniques

Crate Training: Don't Force It!

Puppy crate training shouldn't be traumatizing; it shouldn't be a stressful or frightening experience otherwise your puppy may never accept his crate.

Please don't ever try to force him into his cage and try not to show disapproval or sound angry if he gets it wrong - keep the training light and make it fun!

Try throwing his favorite soft toy, a chew bone, or a few small treats inside his cage from time to time so that if he wanders in without being prompted, he'll get a pleasant surprise.

If all his experiences inside his crate are positive, he'll soon love his new little den.

Important Note: Always check that any toys you leave with your puppy are safe for him to play with unsupervised as some come apart, or the squeaker can be chewed out and swallowed and can accidentally choke your puppy. The same applies for chew bones.

Crate Training and Whining

When crate training your puppy there will probably be times when he cries or whines to be let out.

Golden American cocker spaniel sitting quietly.

It's important that you don't pay any attention to him. If you do, your Cocker Spaniel will soon learn that crying is the way to get your attention and he'll do it all the more.

Wait until your puppy has stopped crying for at least 10 seconds before letting him out.

If he won't stop crying, try feeding him some treats through the bars of his crate; alternatively, you could try distracting him with a new toy.

Your aim is to stop him crying for 10 seconds so that you can let him out without him learning that crying opens doors!

Learn more about why you should ignore attention seeking behavior in dogs.

How Long Can I Leave My Pup In His Crate?

How long you leave your puppy locked in his crate depends on his age, and I don't recommend you leave him any longer than he can control his bladder and bowels. 

His control will improve as he gets older so please be patient.

As a general rule, the length of time your Cocker can be left during the day, is as follows:

Black american cocker spaniel playing with soft toy
  • Less than 10 weeks old - a maximum of 30 minutes;
  • 10 weeks old - up to 60 minutes;
  • up to 14 weeks old - up to 3 hours;
  • up to 16 weeks old - up to 4 hours;
  • up to 17 weeks old - up to 5 hours.

Please note that these are guidelines only because all puppies are different and will develop at different rates. I recommend you use your own judgement when it comes to crating times for your pet.

If you're planning to leave an older puppy alone for most of the day, you might like to leave the door to the crate open to allow him a little more freedom, although you will first need to make sure the room is puppy-proof and that the floor is easily washed.

I appreciate that trying to crate train a puppy can sometimes be hard work , but with a little understanding and patience, it shouldn't be too long before you can leave him for up to 5 hours at a time.

But don't expect too much from your little boy too soon - he's only a baby.

Crate Training An Older Dog

I've covered puppy crate training and we've seen that with a little patience and perseverance anyone can quickly and easily crate train their puppy.

This cocker spaniel is wishing he was snuggled in his crate!

But what if you want to train an older dog to use a cage?

Well, it is possible, but crate training an older dog may take a bit longer and may well prove a little more difficult. If you'd like to learn how, simply follow these guidelines on crate training a dog.

If you're looking for another good reason to crate train your puppy - here it is - crate training can help with potty trainingHow good is that?

So if your pet isn't yet fully house-trained, a dog crate might just be the thing for you and your Cocker Spaniel! Just remember, all dog or puppy training, no matter what it is, takes time and patience - so take it slowly.

Good luck!

More In The Crate Training Your Puppy Series

Crate training a puppy isn't cruel - dogs love small spaces and their crate is an ideal to make them feel safe and protected. Let's see how crating your puppy makes a good deal of sense effect - learn more.

Benefits of crating your puppy - If you're not convinced, why not take a look at the many benefits (for both you and your puppy) listed here.

Dog crates come in many different sizes, shapes, and materials and our page on choosing a dog crate will help you to make sure you get the perfect fit for your pet. 

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