[Updated October 3, 2017]

Most puppies are crate-trained with relative ease. Remember that the crate should be just large enough for your pup to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably. If you want to get one large enough for your puppy to grow into, block off the back so he has just enough room, and increase the space as he grows. Cover the floor of the crate with a rug or soft pad to make it comfortable and inviting, and you’re ready to begin training.

Start with the crate door open, and toss some irresistibly yummy treats inside. If your pup hesitates to go in, toss them close enough to the doorway that he can stand outside and poke his nose into the crate to eat them. Each time your pup eats a treat, click your clicker (or say “Yes!” if you are using a verbal marker).

Gradually toss the treats farther into the crate until he’s stepping inside to get them. Continue to click each time he eats a treat. When your pup enters the crate easily to get the treats, click and offer him a treat while he is still inside. If he’s willing to stay inside, keep clicking and treating. If he comes out that’s okay too, just toss another treat inside and wait for him to re-enter. Don’t force him to stay in the crate.

When he’s entering the crate to get the treat without hesitation, start using a verbal cue such as “Go to bed!” as your pup goes in, so that you’ll eventually be able to send him into his crate on just a verbal cue.

When he’s happily staying in the crate in anticipation of a click and treat, gently swing the door closed. Don’t latch it! Click and treat, then open the door. Repeat this step, gradually increasing the length of time the door stays closed before you click. Sometimes click and reward without opening the door right away.

When your pup stays in the crate with the door closed for at least 10 seconds without any signs of anxiety, close the door, latch it, and take one step away from the crate. Click! Return to the crate, reward, and open the door. Repeat this step, varying the time and distance you leave the crate. Don’t always make it longer and farther; intersperse long ones with shorter ones, so it doesn’t always get harder and harder for him. Start increasing the number of times you click and treat without opening the door, but remember that a click or a “Yes!” always gets a treat.

Leave the crate open when you aren’t actively training.
Toss treats and favorite toys in the crate when your pup’s not looking, so he never knows what wonderful surprises he might find there. You can even feed him his meals in the crate – with the door open – to help him realize that his crate is a truly wonderful place.

Many puppies can do the whole crate-training program in one day. Some will take several days, and a few will take weeks or more. If at any time during the program your pup whines or fusses about being in the crate, don’t let him out until he stops crying! This is one of the biggest mistakes owners make when crate training. If you let him out when he fusses, you will teach him that fussing gets him free. (The exception to this is if you think your pup is panicking in the crate. If that’s the case, do let him out and seek the assistance of a qualified positive-behavior professional.)

Instead, wait for a few seconds of quiet, then click and reward, and let him out. Then back up a step or two in the training program. When your pup is doing well at that level again, increase the difficulty in smaller increments, and vary the times rather than making each repetition more difficult.

Once your pup is crate-trained, you have a valuable behavior-management tool for life. Respect it. If you abuse it by keeping him confined too much, for too long a period
of time, or by using it as punishment, he may learn to dislike it. Even though he goes to bed willingly and on cue, reward him often enough to keep the response happy and quick. Keep your verbal “Go to bed!” cue light and happy. Don’t ever let anyone tease or punish him in his crate. (Kids can be especially guilty of this. Watch them!)

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Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, grew up in a family that was blessed with lots of animal companions: dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, goats, and more, and has maintained that model ever since. She spent the first 20 years of her professional life working at the Marin Humane Society in Marin County, California, for most of that time as a humane officer and director of operations. She continually studied the art and science of dog training and behavior during that time, and in 1996, left MHS to start her own training and behavior business, Peaceable Paws. Pat has earned a number of titles from various training organizations, including Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA) and Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). She also founded Peaceable Paws Academies for teaching and credentialing dog training and behavior professionals, who can earn "Pat Miller Certified Trainer" certifications. She and her husband Paul and an ever-changing number of dogs, horses, and other animal companions live on their 80-acre farm in Fairplay, Maryland.