Many people see their pet as an extension of their immediate family. Which is why, as part of your loving family, Fido deserves a quiet, special place of his own. Luckily, your dog's crate can be this quiet haven for not only restful sleep, but also as an escape from the chaos that may occasionally exist in a family’s home. A crate can offer so much more than a place for your young dog to “hang out” (i.e. not destroy those new shoes!) while you’re out of the house. Read on to discover how to properly crate train your dog, and how to create healthy, lifelong habits for your lovable pooch.

Doggie Dos & Don’ts

It’s important to establish your puppy’s crate as a safe and welcoming place for him to spend time from day one. When you first bring home your puppy, familiarize him with the idea of the crate by encouraging him to spend time in there even when you are home. By hearing your voice, and even being within view, your pet will begin to understand that being in the crate doesn’t equate to being left alone.

When you leave your young puppy alone in a crate, it’s important to only do so for a few hours at a time. Young dogs need to eliminate frequently, but over time, your pup will be able to stay inside the crate a bit longer without as many potty breaks. A helpful formula is as follows: your puppy's age (in months) plus one is how often they will need to eliminate. For instance, a 3 month puppy needs to eliminate every 4 hours (3 months + 1), a 5 month old puppy needs to eliminated every 6 hours (5 months + 1).

It’s also important that they are getting enough exercise and interaction, or they’ll begin to feel anxious and dread their crate time. When leaving for the day or retiring for the evening, be sure to keep your goodbye brief. Lingering over a long goodbye can make your dog feel anxious and confused.

Maintaining Doggie Zen

If your pup does not take well to the crate, it may be helpful to note any stress-inducing situations. Is the crate the appropriate size for the size, age and breed of your pet? Your pup should be able to turn around inside the crate. Also, consider how big your dog will get—otherwise you'll need to invest in a bigger crate as they continue to grow to their full size.

Also consider the crate's placement. Is it located near any alarms, vents or in direct sunlight? Can they see out the front door or window, including approaching visitors, which could cause stress? It’s important to make sure your pet is comfortable within the immediate crate space.

If you have young children in the home, they should respect the crate as the dog’s personal space. Make sure they never bang on the crate or taunt your pet while inside. Your pet may also have had a bad crate experience prior to adoption, so make sure to take the time to ease your pup into the process.

A Pooch’s Palace

If your pet feels cozy, safe and happy, not only are they more likely to not soil their crate when left alone, but they’ll enjoy spending time in there. Make sure the crate is lined with something soft (and machine washable, for any unpredictable accidents!) and offer up a favorite (safe) toy, or even an occasional treat so that your pup won’t feel that going into the crate is a punishment for misbehavior.

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Many factors can lead to the need to crate train your adult or adolescent dog. Some common reasons include new environments, such as moving, new family members entering the home, bladder issues and anxiety. Perhaps you’ve adopted an adult dog and they have never been properly crate trained. Keeping your adult dog on a proper feeding and walking schedule, giving him enough exercise and providing adequate attention via playtime and family time will reduce anxiety and stress throughout the crate training process—for both you and your pet. Consistency is also important—be sure you make firm commands, stick to a plan, and are patient with your furry friend.

While it may take a bit longer to “undo” some bad habits, teaching an adult dog that a crate is a special space just for him will result in long term benefits. Ensuring his crate is the right size is key, as is slowly introducing them to it, little by little. You can also explore taking the door off which will emphasize the crate as a space they can come and go as they please. Don’t force them in, but instead, begin to associate the crate with their favorite treat or toy. If your dog doesn’t readily take to the crate, try putting their bed or blanket a little further back in the crate each day. Over time, they will begin to form a positive relationship with their space.

Hang in there!

It’s natural for your dog to whine a bit when they first enter the crate. Give him a few minutes to adjust. If it persists, they may need to go outside to use the bathroom, but be sure to keep the visit brief and “just for business.” Return him to the crate once you return inside.

Adjusting to the crate may take a few days, or even a few weeks, but it’s important to give your dog time to adjust and establish a routine. Reward them with a nice long walk, playtime, and lots of TLC when you return from work, if they’ve been left alone for the day. And if possible, only crate them for as long as needed (ideally, just as a puppy until they’re properly trained). If they’re cooped up all day, look to find a crate-alternative for evening sleep. When crate training for night time, be sure to establish good and consistent evening rituals to reduce their anxiety and to use up any remaining energy: an evening walk, time with the family, and a quiet, dark place to get a restful night sleep.

If problems persist beyond a few weeks, speak to your vet about other ways to reduce your pup’s crate-training anxiety. They also may be able to refer you to an in-home specialist who can identify any ongoing crate training pain-points.

What works for some dogs, may not work for others. The crate training process could take just a few days, or upwards of several weeks, depending on your dog’s age. Be patient yet firm, and in a matter of time that tail will be wagging when it’s time for the crate.