Putting your new puppy or dog on a crate training schedule can help him adjust to his new surroundings and will give him a head start on learning the house rules right out of the gate. Using a crate helps limit unwanted behavior, such as a dog who starts to rip apart furniture because of separation anxiety or if you have a dog who eats everything he can get his mouth on. Crate training can also help you to house-train a new puppy so she will understand where she can go and — more importantly — where she can’t go to the bathroom.
The benefit of crate training, according to veterinarian Dr. Melissa Webster, the owner of Tampa Veterinary Hospital in Tampa, Florida, “is that when you’re starting with a puppy, you can control destructive behavior. But don’t just put a dog in the crate and walk out of the house. Use positive reinforcement with treats and encourage him with his favorite toy.”
She also stresses making sure to get the right-sized crate. Many people mistakenly purchase a crate that’s too small for their dog, she notes. Use a crate that allows the dog to stand up and stretch out without pressing up against the sides or top.
Crate Training Steps
Follow these three tips, as recommended by Dr. Webster, to ensure that your dog enjoys and actually wants to use the crate:
- Feed All Meals and Treats Inside the Crate
Encourage your dog to want to go into the crate by feeding all of his treats and meals inside it. When your dog stands outside the crate, simply toss in a handful of dry food. He will automatically climb into the crate to eat the food.
- Create a Verbal Cue
Now that your dog enjoys the crate, select a word that will help your dog identify when to go into the crate. For example, if you select the word “crate,” put in the treat and call “crate” as your dog steps in. Once your dog is inside, give her the treat.
- Make a Schedule
Decide how and when you want to use the crate and devise a training schedule. For example, if you’re housebreaking a puppy, your pup will stay in the crate until you let her out to use the bathroom. However, don’t start too young. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) suggests that puppies younger than 12 weeks of age will not have enough bowel control to start housebreaking.
Crate Training Schedules
How often you use the crate will depend on your lifestyle. For example, a weekday crate scheduling might revolve around your work or school hours, while the weekend schedule could offer more flexibility. If you have a full-time job that takes you away from the home throughout the day, attempting to crate train a smaller puppy that requires more frequent potty breaks may present a challenge. However, you can still work on crate training a puppy on weekends when you can spend more time at home.
Here are examples of weekday and weekend training schedules that you can adjust to suit your lifestyle:
Sample Weekday Schedule
- 12 to 16 weeks of age
Crate your dog for two hours during the day and six hours during the night.
- 4 to 5 months of age
Crate your dog for three hours during the day and eight hours during the night.
- 6 to 7 months of age
Crate your dog for four hours during the day and eight hours during the night.
- 8 to 11 months of age
Crate your dog for six hours during the day and eight hours during the night.
- Over 12 months of age
Crate your dog for eight hours during the day and 10 hours during the night.
Sample Weekend Schedule
On Fridays when you’re home, leave the crate door open. Toss treats into the crate randomly, and if your dog happens to go near the crate on his own, reward him. You should also feed your dog his dinner inside of the crate.
Start using verbal cues with your dog on Saturday, beginning with a practice exercise where you will say the cue, such as “crate,” and then toss in a treat. Repeat the exercise about 10 times and then take a break. Throughout the day and evening, repeat this exercise at least three times.
On Sunday your dog will begin to learn how to stay in the crate for longer periods of time. Starting in the morning, give your dog the usual cue to get him to go into the crate, then leave him in the crate for at least 30 minutes. Make sure to put in a chew toy or bone so that he has something to occupy him. After the 30 minutes has passed, let him out of the crate but don’t reward him with any treats.
Keep in mind that if your dog exhibits vomiting or diarrhea, the ASPCA does not recommend using a crate until he recovers. Once your dog gets used to being on a crate training schedule, he will not only get in the crate when you leave the house or serve dinner, he will actually get excited to use it.
And check out The Benefits of a Puppy Feeding Schedule.
Kelly Sundstrom is an award-winning journalist, author and artist. As the caretaker of two dogs, five cats and a bearded dragon, Sundstrom understands the importance of training a pet consistently. Follow her on Twitter.