Crate training takes advantage of your dog’s natural instincts as a den animal. A wild dog’s den is their home, a place to snuggle up and sleep, hide from danger and raise a family. Just like a wild dog’s den, the crate becomes your dog’s den; where they can find comfort and solitude while you know they’re safe and secure (and not shredding your house while you’re out running errands).

A crate is not a solution to common canine behavior or punishments, if not used correctly, a dog can feel trapped, anxious and frustrated. Your dog will come to fear the crate and refuse to enter. Puppies under six months of age shouldn’t stay in the crate for more than three hours at a time; they can’t control their bladders and bowels for that long, same goes for adult dogs. Crate your dog only until you can trust them not to destroy the house. After that, it should be a place they go voluntarily.

A crate may be your dog’s den, but just as you would not spend your entire life in one room of your home, your dog should not spend most of their time in their crate. | The Humane Society of the United States

The Guardian, a newspaper publication, states that your dog’s crate should be just large enough for them to stand up and turn around in. If your dog is still growing, choose a crate size that will accommodate their adult size so you can save some money – or see if your local animal shelter rents our crates for a more affordable route. Crate training can take days or weeks, depending on your dog’s age, temperament and past experiences.

It’s important to keep in mind while crate training, the best approach is non’t to go too fast – have patience. Place the crate in an area of your house where the family spends a lot of time, such as the family room! Put a soft blanket or towel in the crate (they love this) as well as taking the door off and letting the dog explore the crate at their leisure.

If yours isn’t one of them: encourage your dog to enter the crate by dropping some small food treats nearby, inside the door, and finally, all the way inside the crate. If they refuse to go all the way in at first, that’s OK, try tossing in a favorite toy or bits of their food in the crate if they lose interest in the treats.

After introducing your dog to the crate, feed them meals near the crate, this will create a pleasant association with the crate. Each time you feed them, place the dish a little further closer to the crate and eventually inside. Once your dog is standing comfortably in the crate to eat their meal, you can close the door while they’re eating. With each successive feeding, leave the door closed a few minutes longer.

After your dog is eating their regular meals in the crate with no sign of fear or anxiety, you can confine them there for short time periods while you’re home. Call them over to the crate and give them a treat. Encourage your dog to enter the crate with treats, toys or bits! Once your dog will stay quietly in the crate for about 30 minutes with you mostly out of sight, you can begin leaving them crated when you’re gone for short time periods and/or letting them sleep there at night!

Don’t make your departures emotional and prolonged—they should be matter-of-fact. Praise your dog briefly, give them a treat for entering the crate, and then leave. Keep arrivals low-key to avoid increasing their anxiety over when you will return! Continue to crate your dog for short periods from time to time when you’re home so they doesn’t associate crating with being left alone.

To crate train your dog at night, you can begin to gradually move it to the location you prefer, although time spent with your dog—even sleep time—is a chance to strengthen the bond between you and your pet.