Crate Training Basics

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Why Crate Train Your Dog?

Used properly, a crate is an effective short-term tool for managing and training your dog. If you train your dog to be content in a crate, you’ll provide a safe, cozy place that she can call her own and sleep in at night. It also gives you a safe way to:

  • transport your dog and travel with her to motels, to friends’ homes, when on vacation
  • introduce your dog to other pets in the household
  • efficiently house train your dog and prevent her from being destructive

Crates can be easily misused, however. They’re best used as a relatively short-term management tool, not as a lifetime pattern of housing. Your goal should be to work on any behavior problems and train your dog so that it’s not necessary to crate her 8 to 10 hours every weekday throughout her life. Please see our crate guidelines below, under How Long to Crate Your Dog, to avoid over-confinement and inadvertently causing behavior problems from a lack of exercise, training, socialization, and companionship. 

Some dogs are never happy in crates but can tolerate them when necessary. Others panic when closed in a crate (please see more information below under When NOT to Use a Crate). However, most dogs readily adjust to their crates, preferring to sleep or take refuge in them when they’re tired or things get too hectic. 

Using a Crate to House Train Your Dog

You can use a crate to safely contain your dog during the night and whenever you can’t monitor her behavior closely. Dogs don’t like to soil their sleeping areas, so your dog will naturally avoid eliminating in her crate. If used for house training purposes, the crate should be sized so that your dog can lie down comfortably, stand up without having to crouch and easily turn around in a circle. If the crate is any larger, she might learn to soil one end of it and sleep at the other. If the crate is any smaller, she might be uncomfortable and unable to rest. (When you no longer need to use the crate for house training, you can purchase a larger one for your dog if you like.) 

Using a crate will help you predict when your dog needs to eliminate and control where she eliminates. If she’s been crated overnight or for a few hours during the day, the chances are extremely high that she’ll eliminate as soon as you release her from the crate and take her outside. So, with the crate’s help, you can prevent your dog from eliminating indoors and have a chance to reward her for going in the right place—outside. 

Using a Crate to Prevent Destructive Behavior

In addition to acting as a house-training tool, your dog’s crate can prevent her from being destructive. Dogs and puppies need to learn to refrain from doing a lot of things in their homes, like digging on furniture or rugs, chewing table legs, cushions or other household items, and stealing from garbage cans or counters. To teach your dog not to do things you don’t like, you must be able to observe and monitor her behavior. Confining her in a crate can prevent unwanted behavior when you can’t supervise her or have to leave her home alone. 

How Long to Crate Your Dog

At night when dogs sleep, their body systems and elimination slow down. This is why they can go all night without eliminating once they’re old enough to have sufficient bladder and bowel control. But during the day, neither puppies nor adult dogs should be crated for more than four hours at a time. When crating a puppy for more than two hours, it’s best to provide water by attaching a water bottle dispenser to the crate. (Using a bowl can create a mess.) Follow these daytime duration guidelines to avoid compromising your dog’s well-being or causing behavior problems:

Age Maximum time in crate

8–10 weeks 30–60 minutes

11–14 weeks 1–3 hours

15–16 weeks 3–4 hours

17+ weeks 4–5 hours

If you have a puppy and you work all day, it’s essential that you give your puppy a midday break from the crate every day for at least her first eight months. Even with a break, though, your puppy will still have to tolerate two four-hour periods of confinement. That’s a long time, so make sure she gets a good romp in the morning before you leave for work, during lunch and after work. If you can’t go home during your lunch break, you can hire a dog walker to visit your puppy midday, but keep in mind that she still needs quality time with you. She should get to enjoy some playtime in the morning and another play and training session when you come home from work. 

If you’re using the crate for house training, remember that it’s a temporary tool. Your goal is to create a dog who can be trusted to have freedom in at least part of your house while you’re gone. When you’ve accomplished this, you can still keep the crate for your dog to sleep or hang out in. Just remove the door or leave it open. 

Daily crating of an adult dog for 8 hours or more will likely compromise your dog’s mental and physical well-being. Be sure that she’s received adequate exercise before any multiple-hour stay in the crate—at least 30 to 60 minutes. If your dog is crated overnight as well, she should receive at least 60 to 90 minutes of outdoor exercise in the morning and before being put back in the crate at night. 

When NOT to Use a Crate

Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety should not be confined in a crate. Signs of separation anxiety are:

  • Destructiveness, vocalizing or house soiling during the first 30 minutes after you leave your dog alone in the house 
  • Destructive behaviors that consistently occur only when she’s left by herself in the house 
  • Destructive behavior directed at windows, doors, flooring in front of doors or items with your scent, like seat cushions or the TV remote

Some dogs don’t tolerate crating well due to other types of fears or anxieties, like thunder phobia. Don’t crate your dog if you see signs of anxiety when she’s crated, such as:

  • Damage to the crate from your dog’s attempts to escape 
  • Damage to surrounding objects that she’s been able to reach while inside the crate 
  • Wet chest fur or a lot of wetness in the bottom of the crate from drooling 
  • Urination or defection in the crate 
  • Your dog moves the crate while she’s inside 
  • Excessive barking or howling during your absence 

In addition, don’t crate your puppy or dog if:

  • She’s too young to have sufficient bladder or bowel control 
  • She has diarrhea 
  • She’s vomiting 
  • You must leave her alone for longer than the time indicated in the crate duration guidelines above 
  • She hasn’t eliminated shortly before going in the crate 
  • The temperature is uncomfortably high 
  • She has not had sufficient exercise, companionship and socialization

Having Trouble? 

Crate training can be challenging for some dogs, so don’t hesitate to enlist the help of a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) in your area. A professional trainer will offer group or private classes that can provide lots of help with crate training. Please see our article, Finding Professional Help, to locate a trainer or behaviorist near you.