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How To Guide: Crate Training

The dreaded crate. Crate training should be easy for dogs right? They have their own space. Dogs are said to love small dark spaces. So why do so many people struggle with crate training?

This is because puppies come with a pre-programmed need to be around others! Dogs naturally want to be around their mom and their littermates and aren’t accustomed to sleeping alone inside a sealed container. This type of separation is unnatural initially and can be a little scary. Crate training requires teaching our new dogs that being in the crate doesn’t mean they are being separated from their family but instead means they can enjoy a little alone time.

So let’s take a look at the best ways to get started:

First things first - picking out the right crate. There are so many options for crates these days; wire crates, soft sided, plastic, collapsible, furniture styles, etc. It can be overwhelming to choose from. There isn’t necessarily a wrong style of crate but dogs do tend to have a preference.

The most standard style of crate is the wire crates. They are the style that probably comes to mind first when thinking of a dog crate. They come in a variety of sizes and allow your dog to have a full 360 degree range of view which can be extremely helpful as we teach them that being stuck in there isn’t as isolating as they might initially believe.

Once you have the style picked out make sure the crate allows your dog to stand all the way up and turn all the way around comfortably. If you are noticing your dog is hunched when standing or isn’t able to turn around then it’s time to upgrade. Space is the first thing that allows dogs to get comfortable in their crate.

Now that the crate has been decided the next step is getting it set up as the perfect spot for your dog.

Toys and Treats : every kid wants toys and snacks in their room and dogs are no different! Filling your dog's crate with their new favorite toys and a couple treats can make the space a lot more inviting. When getting new toys we want to avoid any choking hazards. Rubber toys such as KONG’s are great options for new dogs.

Water: Water is of course a necessity of everything. If you are planning on leaving for extended amounts of time we want to remember to leave our dogs with either a small bowl of water or a small hanging pail. If you are worried about a potential pool party you can opt for a hamster bottle for the side but keep in mind that your dog might not have any idea how to drink from that so training might be necessary.

Bedding: We want the crate to be an ideal space to lounge, remember? So, don’t skimp on the comfy parts. Grabbing a nice soft bed or kennel mat is ideal and can completely transform the look and feel of the crate. Make sure whatever you decide to put in the crate is something that is flexible and can be moved around. Not all dogs like soft surfaces. If the temperature is high or your dog is naturally a little warmer (think husky in the desert) they might push their bedding out of the way sometimes.

Location: For the first few days have the crate wherever you are. This will give them the opportunity to explore the crate without feeling lonely or isolated in another room.

Now time for the challenging part - getting your dog used to staying in there!

Step 1: Introductions

To begin, we want every interaction with the crate to be amazing. We want our dogs to see the crate and associate it with something positive every time. When they go into the crate they get a treat (amazing), when they lay down in the crate they get their favorite toy (amazing), when they sleep in the crate they get peace and quiet (amazing), you get the jist.

For the first couple days / week begin making your dogs interactions with the crate positive ones. Throughout the day, drop some yummy treats in your dog’s crate. Finding edible treasures in this new room will build a positive association and keep your dog coming back - and also I mean who doesn’t love finding hidden treats?

Step 2: The Crate Game

Once positive associations with the crate have been made it is time to make a game out of going in there on cue and staying in there. Let your dog see that you have yummy treats or their favorite toy and then toss them into the crate. Praise your dog when they run in there to retrieve them.

When your dog comes back to you, begin the game again. Repeat this several times in a row, a couple times a day. After several repetitions begin adding in a word or phrase such as “crate” when tossing in the toys or treats.

After a few days of this game you can begin asking your dog to “crate” and toss the treat/toy in when they go in all on their own. For this step begin standing a little closer to the crate to encourage them to go in on their own and then you can begin moving your way away from the crate.

Step 3: Closing the Door

Once your dog is going in and out of the crate on cue, it is time to close the door. Start with the crate game above and once your dog is in the crate close the door. Give them a treat or two with the door closed and then open it up. Repeat this about 5 times and then begin adding on a little bit of time. Start with 5 seconds, then 10 seconds, then 15, etc.

Once you feel comfortable that your dog is okay being in the crate with you standing right there then we can move on to the next step - walking away.

Step 4: Walking Away

Creating distance between our dogs can sometimes be a bit of a hurdle. Creating distance while being isolated is new territory and some dogs are unsure of how to react. The goal during this step is to reward calm behavior.

Once your dog is comfortable with being in the crate for 30+ seconds while you stand there and feed them, begin taking 1-2 steps away, pausing for 5 seconds, and then returning. If your dog is remaining calm - reinforce! Repeat this about 5 times and then add 1-2 steps and repeat again. Continue working your way away from your dog until you can get out of sight successfully without reactions.


With a little bit of time and planning, your dog will quickly adapt to their new crate. However, bumps in the road are common. Here are some extra tips to help keep you on track.

Crying in the crate:

It is perfectly normal for your dog to cry or whine a little for the first few days/nights in the crate. After that, if crying or whining is happening for extended periods of time, this means we went through the above steps too quickly. Try refreshing your steps and staying on each step 1-2 days longer.

If your dog is crying at nighttime, try moving the crate a little closer to you at night. Oftentimes just reaching out or being able to see you is the comfort they are looking for. If they are easily getting comfort and they are still awake that might be a signal to you that they need a potty break.

Crate Accidents:

Crate accidents can happen for a couple reasons. 1. Your dog has not eliminated prior to being put in the crate and 2. The crate has way too much free space for your dog.

Always make sure your dog has a potty break right before going into the crate and make sure your crate is appropriately sized for your dog.

And just like that crate training is done!

If you follow these tips, chances are that before long, your dog will begin to happily settle into their crate with ease—and that’s a big life improvement both for them and for you.

Crate training the right way will help your puppy feel safe and secure while their family is out for the day, so go slow and have some patience.

Remember to never use the crate as punishment and there is a difference between frustration barking and “I gotta go” barking.

If your dog is still having difficulty settling in the crate they may be experiencing anxiety or discomfort. Try reaching out to one of our certified trainers for a little bit more assistance!


Muddy Paws Training

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