Hopefully, you’re reading this article before you’ve brought your new puppy home. Having a pup when everyone works outside the home full time is very possible — as long as you’ve planned ahead. One important consideration is what your dog will do all day while you are at work. In order to keep your them safe while they’re home alone, you might want to use a crate. You can’t just plop the puppy in and leave, so we’ve created a complete guide to crate training to set you up for success. If you’re concerned about leaving your dog in a crate all day, there are some alternative solutions that we'll also outline below so that you can make the best decision for your puppy and your family.
What is crate training?
Crate training is simply the process you’ll use to teach your pup the crate is a good, safe space. The theory is that dogs don’t like to soil their dens, so by extension, they won’t go to the bathroom in their crate. You want to pick a comfortable crate for your dog. When you purchase it, try to do so in the size your dog will need when they're fully grown. You can also get a partition that will fit in the crate that you can adjust as they grow.
You don’t want your pup’s crate to be too big or they may soil it. You also don’t want the crate to be too small. The ideal-sized crate is big enough for your dog to stand up and turn around comfortably. If you are using the partition, you’ll adjust it as they grow. When turning around gets challenging for your dog, you'll move it back to give them more space until they're full-sized. Remember that some dogs continue to grow until they’re almost two years old so you may need to adjust the crate size or invest in a larger crate.
Steps to train your puppy.
1. Get the crate ready.
You want to make the crate an inviting place for your puppy. You can get a comfortable mat or use a blanket to line the bottom so your puppy isn’t lying on hard plastic. Make sure whatever you use is safe for dogs and easy to clean. This way, if your pup has an accident, it's easy to clean up. You can put toys in the crate, but you need to choose them carefully. You don’t want anything they could chew through or eat the stuffing out of when you’re not home. A kong toy is ideal as it can be filled with a delicious treat and will keep your pup busy for a while.
2. Invite your puppy to check out the crate and reward them.
Sit by the crate with a treat your puppy will really enjoy. This could be some peanut butter, cheese or training treats your pup loves. Let them check out the crate. Reward them for looking at it and toss some of your treats inside the crate to see if your puppy will go in. If you’re using something messy like peanut butter, put it on a spatula. Let your puppy go in the crate and lick the peanut butter off the spatula.
3. Once the puppy is going in the crate comfortably, start closing the door.
Once your puppy is comfortable, add this next step and start to close the door. Continue to stay with your puppy and offer rewards for time in the crate. You can also leave the TV or a white noise machine on while working with your puppy in the crate. You want to make this a fun experience so they equate the crate with safety and relaxation.
4. Leave the puppy alone in the crate for short periods of time.
Once your puppy has decided crate time is fun, you can start to leave the room while they're in it. Start with just a minute or so — maybe just enough time to run to the restroom or wash your hands. If your puppy starts to cry, give them a minute and let them fuss a little, but come back and let them out of the crate. Repeat this process until your puppy is consistently staying in the crate for a few minutes quietly. Offer rewards when you come back and let them out, as well as give them lots of praise.
5. Start to increase the time in the crate
Once you can leave the room confidently, you can also start to leave the house. Remember that puppies can hold their bladders for about one hour for every month old they are. For a 3-month-old puppy, that means you have around three hours before they need a walk again. Make sure you are putting your puppy in the crate with a treat and offering praise. Do not ever use crate time as a punishment. If your puppy is nipping, biting or playing too roughly it could be a sign they are overtired or overstimulated. Calm your puppy down with soothing pats. Once they are relaxed, you can then put them in the crate for a nap.
How long can a puppy be left in a crate?
The answer to this will vary based on your dogs’ size breed and any underlying medical conditions they have. With a younger puppy, you can leave them about one hour in the crate for every month of age. Use the chart below as a very general reference:
Time in Crate
8 - 12 Months
Over 1 Year
The real answer is even though an adult dog will be physically fine in a crate for 6-8 hours a day, you need to think carefully about the quality of life you’re giving them. Some dogs will make due just fine with daily extended time in their crates, but for others, it can cause anxiety and depression.
If your dog has a medical condition or is taking medication, they may need more frequent bathroom breaks. Discuss your dog’s needs with your vet and adjust their time in the crate accordingly. Senior dogs may also not be able to hold their bladders as long as younger, healthy adult dogs.
Alternatives to crate training.
While using a crate can be a good, safe tool for your pup, there are some alternatives to crating that can also be used in conjunction with the crate.
• Use an X Pen to section off an area of your home.
If you have a larger or more active dog, you can use an X pen to section off a space in your home. In the larger space, you can leave some interactive toys, food, water and even a pee pad so your dog can have a space to go to the bathroom. While this solves for your pup’s need to relieve themself and burn off some energy during the day, it does not solve for the need to socialize.
• Hire a dog walker.
This is a great way to address your dog being alone all day. It is less expensive than doggie daycare and will give your pup a break from the crate all day. Dog walkers also offer 1:1 attention. Most dog walkers offer 30, 45 and 60 minute walks to allow your dog a break to go to the bathroom, stretch their legs and get a drink or something to eat as needed. Depending on the age of your dog, you may only need one midday walk. For young puppies, some walkers will offer a puppy package of three shorter walks throughout the day. Be sure to ask your walker if your dog will be walked with other dogs, and if you don’t want that, make sure you're very clear about it.
• Try doggie daycare.
This is the most expensive option on our list. It's also not an option for all dogs. Doggie daycare offers supervision, socialization and full care when you can’t be with your pups. Some daycares offer naptime as well. For social dogs, it can be a great option, but some dogs don’t get along with others or prefer a quieter environment. Daycare can also be overstimulating for some pups. If this is your dog, you have a few options, such as partial days at daycare or only attending a few times a week. Some dogs do 1-2 days a week at daycare or only go a few times a month.
You might want to visit a few doggie daycares to see what might work best for your dog. Some daycares may allow you to bring your dog in for a shorter trial period to get a feel for what daycare might be like. Know that your pup may come home from a day at daycare with his friends very sleepy.
• Work remotely.
If your company will allow you to work remotely, that's a wonderful alternative to a dog walker or sending your pup to daycare. As an added bonus, you don’t have to spend time commuting or getting dressed in an office-appropriate outfit with your hair and/or makeup done! If you work from home and are on the phone a lot you may need to find a bone or puzzle for your dog to work on so they aren’t squeaking toys, barking or otherwise interrupting your calls.
• Bring your dog to the office.
One of the newest office perks is to be able to bring your dog to work with you. While this sounds absolutely awesome in theory, in practice it can be quite distracting. If your office is dog-friendly, it's good to institute a few rules. These include that dogs need to be leashed at all times, dogs need access to a safe and quiet place and others, such as whether free feeding is permissible in the office. Some dogs are free feed (have access to food at all times), but others eat at set mealtimes. You don’t want your dog or someone else to eat too much (or something they’re allergic to) and get sick. Also, if you're bringing your dog to work and there will be other dogs, make sure your pup isn’t aggressive and will be able to coexist with other furry friends peacefully in the office.
Now that you have a complete picture of how to train your puppy to use a crate and how long they can stay in one safely, as well as some alternatives, you can make the best decision about what you want to do. You may want to try a few of these options to see what will work best for your dog, your budget and your lifestyle. If you or your dog are struggling and you need some help you can speak with a trainer or behaviorist. When looking for a trainer, seek a one who uses positive reinforcement and fear-free methods.
Remember that having a dog is a 10-15-year commitment (or more if you’re really lucky) . You want to make sure your dog feels happy, healthy and safe. They will give you years of comfort and love in return.