Crates can be useful for travel, if your dog ever needs to stay at the vet, or to keep puppies safe and out of trouble for short periods during the day. 

woman with grey shit and blue jeans standing in bedroom while puppy is relaxing in crate

Crates can also be used for puppies at night, while they sleep. Dogs are social animals, it’s ideal to place a crate right next to the bed so that they still feel safe in close proximity to you. 

Avoid using a closed door crate for more than 1-2 hours during the day. Overuse of crates can be detrimental to a puppy or adult dog’s emotional and physical well-being. 

It’s a great idea to leave an open door crate inside of a gated area or exercise pen. This will allow your puppy to enter or exit the crate of his or her own choosing and will set the stage for a puppy that has a safe, secure place to stay if they need to be left alone.

Let me show you how to introduce this gated area to your puppy so that your puppy develops positive associations with this space and it can ultimately be used for alone time when you are taking a shower or if you need to leave the house.

These training exercises require a high rate of reinforcement. In some cases you can use your puppy’s meals for training. You can also supplement those meals with a moist, meaty, nutritious training food that can be easily broken into small pieces without crumbling.

Step 1: Positive Associations with a Mat

woman in black shirt and blue jeans sitting in kitchen floor hand feeding puppy on a red training mat

Start off by offering food on a training mat. Be generous with your reinforcement.

Reinforce for 15-20 second periods of time. Calmly say the word “good” with a warm, genuine voice as you feed your puppy. Avoid giving your dog a verbal cue, like “go to place” or “stay.” Leaving these verbal cues out of the picture will help your puppy learn to offer these behaviors without always having to hear a cue.

Step 2: Positive Associations with the Crate

woman with black shirt reaching into puppy crate to scatter food

Teach your puppy that the crate offers an abundance of good things. Place their training mat inside the crate and then scatter food on the mat. Give your puppy the opportunity to walk in on their own four paws. Patience is key. Avoid the temptation to push or place your puppy inside the crate. The end goal is to have a puppy who happily and willingly walks inside of their own choosing.

Step 3: The Turnaround

woman in black shirt deliver a treat to puppy in crate who is turning around

Capture and reinforce your puppy the moment that they turn back in your direction. Be generous and offer them as many rewards as possible before they have the opportunity to walk out. 

If and when your puppy walks out of the crate – freeze and withhold food for about 5 seconds – before placing a little piece of food back inside the crate. With repetition your puppy will learn to orient towards the crate, even if you’re sitting there with food in hand. Remember not to use the word “crate” or “stay” or “no” – we want the puppy to be problem solving, and to ultimately offer these behaviors on their own without needing to hear the cue.

Step 4: Stepping Away, Return and Reinforce

puppy relaxing in crate within a gated area in the kitchen

Once your puppy is choosing to go in the crate of his or her own choosing and seems to be settling inside, you can begin to raise criteria. I very rarely leave puppies in a closed door crate during the day. Instead, I like to train puppies to use open door crate crates inside of a gated area or exercise pen. To teach the puppy to settle inside of a gated space, you can step on the other side of the gate. Take a step or two away and then step back and reinforce your puppy. Repeat this a few times over before opening the gate and giving your puppy a break.

Step 5: Break Time

puppy taking a break and drinking some water in the kitchen

You can encourage your puppy to take a break by drumming on the ground in front of the crate. The break will give your puppy an opportunity to get a drink of water, to give your puppy an opportunity to potty or to just .. hang out.  The best learning happens when puppies have short intervals of time to step away from the training, and process newly acquired information. 

In the early stages, the break should be relatively calm. You don’t want your break activity to overshadow your training. After your puppy takes a 30-60 second break you might find that your puppy is ready to walk back to his crate in anticipation of more training. If this becomes a common occurrence, your puppy might be ready to move to the next step.

Step 6: I’ll Back in a Flash

woman with white shirt and blue jeans creating some distance away from the puppy in a crate within a gated area

It’s a good sign when your puppy starts to trot back to their crate after a short break. If my puppy appears calm and relaxed with me on the other side of a gate I will:

  • Grab something from a nearby table, walk back and reinforce
  • Step out of sight for a second, walk back and reinforce
  • Sit down on the couch for 5 seconds, walk back and reinforce

How Often Should I Practice?

flow chart explaining what to do if you notice certain stress signals

What if my puppy stops taking food, begins to stress whine, bark, bite or scratch at the gate? If you see any signs that your puppy is distressed: give your puppy a break. When you come back to training, work on a more basic version of the same exercise.

Drop back to a variation of the training where your puppy offered a higher level of success. You can always build from calm, confident behavior.

When Can I Leave My Puppy Alone?

Make training part of your daily routine with your puppy. You can use breakfast and dinner as an opportunity to connect with your puppy and build value for calm behavior inside of “safe space.” 

Practice these exercises for 5 minutes, once or twice a day for 5-10 days. If you are not consistent with the training, or if your puppy already has a negative association with the space or with the crate – you may need more time.

Step 7: The Final Touches

puppy chewing on a bully stick on a blanket on the kitchen floor

To close the gap between these formal training sessions and practical use of this space.

I will start off by having the puppy in their safe space with a special chewie while I take out the trash or water the outside plants. 

When you do this, it’s ideal if the puppy has already had other mental and physical needs met. For example, I might do a short play session, make sure they have an opportunity to go potty and sit outside with them for 10-20 minutes for a “watch the world” session. If their physical and mental needs are already met, they are more likely to curl up for a nap once they walk inside their gated safe space. 

woman with grey shirt drinking coffee and relaxing on couch with 2 adult dogs

I personally love having my adult dogs up on the couch with me, or sleeping in my bed at night. That being said, if I’m raising a puppy I like to set them up so that the majority of naps and nighttime sleep happens in their gated safe space or a crate. 

I make sure that the coziest spot to take a nap during the day is inside an open door crate. I also usually have a puppy sleep in a closed door crate next to my bed at night in their first year. The more that a puppy associates the crate and/or their gated area with rest and relaxation – the calmer your dog will be when you have to leave them alone, to take a shower, leave the house, or if they have to stay at the vet. 

This space also becomes incredibly valuable when you are trying to calm your puppy piranha. 

If you have an adult dog that you are trying to crate train, check out How to Crate Train an Older Dog in 7 Simple Steps.

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