How to Crate Train Your Puppy with a Clicker. Now.

Minimum of one week, up to a month or two.  

Supplies Needed For This Training:

Check out my Pre-Puppy Checklist to see other essential supplies.

Why Crate Train?
Crate training your new best friend is one of the most important things you can do for a new puppy. When you crate train your pup, you’re giving her a home, a safe haven, a place she can hide while you’re singing Katy Perry’s Roar. It's also a safe place for the pup to be while you're at the bar getting hammered.

Most importantly, it teaches your pup how to be potty trained. Crate training doesn’t happen overnight, but you should be able to see some results relatively quickly with this method. I’ve seen amazing results from my own happy and well-trained aussie pup - Pippa

Step 1: The crate isn't a cage, it's her own space.
If you just got a new puppy, congratulations! Crate training starts now. First thing you need to understand is that the crate is a happy place. It’s not a cage, it’s not a jail and it’s NOT punishment. You should never use a crate as a form of time-out or as punishment. Were you ever sent to your room for punishment as a kid? Yeah it’s kind of like that. You’re sent to your room with no smartphone, no computer, no internet (gasp). It’s the four walls of hell and it’s the same for your pup - you'll never want to go back. Make it a happy and positive experience. The sky needs to rain Lucky Charms and puke rainbows and unicorns when your dog goes into the crate. Yeah, that good.  

Step 2: Put the crate somewhere good. 
The second thing you want to do is set up the crate in a space where it’s around people during the day time. Your dog is bred to be a social animal. They want to be around people and they want to hang out and be a bro. Setting up the crate around people makes it a less stressful place to be. I recommend getting a crate with two doors, so you have flexibility to move the crate around a bit to find the perfect spot for you pup. More on this later.

Step 3. Adjust the size of the crate.
This next step is important. With the crate I linked, it should come with a divider panel that allows you to adjust the size of the space within the crate. You want it just big enough for your pup to be able to turn around in it. A dog naturally never shits or pees in the same place it sleeps. I mean, you wouldn’t take a crap on your bed and then go to sleep in it right? Yeah dogs are pretty smart. Adjust the size of the space in the crate as your pup grows. Remember the Goldilocks rule, not too big and not too small.

Step 4: Make it comfortable.
Now throw in a soft blanket for her to get comfy and your unwashed t-shirt as well. Listen, it sounds gross, but your dog loves your smell and your unwashed t-shirt will put her to ease with your scent. Don’t have an unwashed t-shirt? Drop down and give me twenty and then run a couple of laps. Problem solved. If you’re getting your dog from a breeder, ask if the breeder can spare a blanket (or you can provide her one when you visit) that was used with her litter mates and her mom. Most breeders should be okay with helping out.

Step 5: Find out what treats motivate your dog.
Okay, now the real training begins. Find out what is considered a high value treat for your dog. A high value treat is often a treat that your dog LOVES over any other treat. With Pippa, we tried kibbles, hot dogs, chopped-up boiled eggs and etc. We found low-sodium turkey deli meat or roast beef to be her favorite. I mean, it’s mine too so like father like daughter right? The trick here is to find a protein for high value treat. You don’t want to dabble too much into things like freeze dried liver, string cheese and etc yet. A new pup will have a sensitive stomach, so food that is too rich, or not protein based will give her the runs. You don’t want the runs. I’ve seen the runs. The runs are baaaad.

Step 6: Loading the clicker. 
Once you’ve found a high value treat, begin associating the treat with the clicker. We call this loading the clicker. Sit down with your dog and get on eye level. I find Pippa to be more focused when I'm eye level with her, it might work with your pup. Next, start clicking and then give her a treat immediately after the click. Give her a small treat, just enough for her to get a taste. You don’t want her to get too full before the training is over. If your dog is a relatively small dog, try some peanut butter on the back of a spoon and let her give it a small lick as a treat. Do this about 20 times. You’ll know your dog “gets it” when you click and they start expecting a treat. If your dog is busy running or playing around, try to get her attention by tapping your fingers on the ground while calling her name in a friendly voice and make your self interesting. You can be interesting, so be interesting.

From now on, the click means “I like what you just did, here’s a treat.” Never use it to get the pup’s attention and use it only when your pup did something good. No free clicks. The pup has to work for her click, essentially working for her food. Nothing is free. 

Step 7: Make the crate interesting.
Now, lure her over to the crate. Use a treat, sing a song, do a silly dance, get your dog near the crate. We will progressively get your pup into the crate. This means, we are not going to shove her into the crate and then click to reward her. We are going to get her to figure out that going to the crate on her own is a reward. To start, give your pup a click and treat every time your pup looks at the crate. If she needs a head start, try holding the treat near the crate and give her a click when she turns her head towards the crate. If your dog approaches the crate to get the treat, that’s great because that’s the next action we want. We want the pup to look towards the crate and approach the crate. We will click for both of this actions and reward.

Side note: Start feeding your dog inside the crate as well by putting her food bowl inside of the crate. Food is awesome. Food in crate means crate is awesome.

Step 8: Make being inside the crate even more interesting.
Once your dog comes near the entrance of the crate, try to hold your treat inside of the crate to lure her in, and click if your dog steps into the crate. You can also throw a treat into the crate in attempt to lure her in. Once your dog is in there, click and treat non-stop. Do it about 10 times in a row so the dog realizes that you like this behavior (her being in the crate) and she will continue to get a reward for it. Then start adding duration into the mix. Hold off on the treats and wait 10 seconds. If she stays in there after 10 seconds, click and reward (if not, go back one step). Do this several times. Slowly increase the duration up to 20 seconds, 30 seconds and even a minute. If your dog looks like a happy fella inside the crate with treats, you can start associating the word “crate” with this behavior. If your dog is sitting in the crate, say the word “crate”, click and reward. If not, take a step back, rinse and repeat. Be patient and don’t get frustrated. If you start to get annoyed or frustrated at any point, go take a breather. Sing the Hakuna Matata song from The Lion King. Just like how you don’t drive while drunk, you don’t train while angry.  

Take your time training, it’s not instant. 

Step 9: Staying in the crate with the door locked is the best thing ever.
When your pup is contempt with hanging out in the crate while you’re clicking away, it’s time to move on to the second phase of crate training - closing the door. We are going to use the same method here, progressively getting your dog to perform the action you want, little by little. First you touch the door, click and give her a treat. Even though you are rewarding without a reaction from your dog, what you’re doing here is conditioning how it’s ok for you to touch the door. Do that several times and start closing the door on her little by little until it’s closed and locked. Once it’s fully closed and locked, click away and treat if your dog is calmly in her crate. If she whines, ignore her and wait till she settles down. Click and reward her calm behavior or as soon as she becomes calm. We are training her that calm is good. To add duration to this, stuff a kong full of yummy treats and put that in the crate. Lock the door and the kong should have her focus for a bit. That teaches her that being in the crate is awesome and it also teaches her that the crate is a pretty cool place to be and being in there means she gets yummy food.

Hell, if you stuck me in a room and gave me an all-you-can-eat buffet, I’d stay and do backflips too.

Step 10: Rinse and repeat. 
Practice steps 6 to 9 everyday. If your pup starts regressing the current step you’re one, move back one step and start over from there. Practice makes perfect they say. Actually, practice makes a well trained puppy in this case.

The pup sleeps in the crate at night starting on day 1.
Something to consider while you’re crate training is that your puppy should sleep in her crate at night time from the first day she comes home. Even if she’s not fully crate trained yet, she should start associating the crate as her space and the place she needs to be during sleepy time. I’m not going to sugarcoat this but your pup will cry when you’re trying to sleep. Some pups cry for days, some pup cry for weeks and some for up to a couple months. It is now your job to be more stubborn and ignore it. Ignore it even if it means you won’t get a good nights rest. Kiss the sandman goodbye, you won’t be seeing that guy for a while. 

Why do puppies cry?
Your puppy will cry for a lot of reasons. She is crying because it's a brand new place. She’s crying because there’s brand new people. She’s crying because she’s not sleeping with her mother, brothers and sisters for the first time. She may also be crying because she has to go pee (I recommend a strict regiment of taking out your puppy every 1.5 hours, even at night when you sleep - check back for a potty training article). Crying sounds the worst. It sounds like baby satan trying to punch through your ear drums. But let’s be real. They are puppies, so they will cry and that’s ok.

What to do when they cry?
Ignore the crying. Trust me, if you give her any attention while she’s crying, you’re going to make it worse. Let’s look at it from the puppy’s perspective. I want attention, I’m going to cry. When I start crying, this guy shows up and pets me and gives me attention. Oh shit, he’s walking away, better cry again to get him to come back. Don’t give the the cry baby what she wants. You’ll only end up reinforcing that behavior and delay crate training. 

Tips for the crybaby. 

  • Tire the pup out. Go for a walk. Play some fetch. Pull on a tug toy. A tired pup will likely sleep through the entire night. Remember from the last article? A tired pup is a good pup.
  • Get a crate cover if you haven’t already. As mentioned earlier, it keeps it nice and dark so they puppy won’t see anything that may arouse them and are will usually be calmer.
  • Throw in your unwashed t-shirt and, if you have one, a blanket with the scent of her brothers and sisters. The scent will remind them of her bros. 
  • Get a clock that ticks and leave it next to the crate. The sound of a ticking clock reminds puppies of their mom’s heartbeat.
  • This one worked for me, I used a Bose Bluetooth speaker and played soft music on the lowest possible volume to keep her attention away from the fact that she’s not in her normal home.

If all else fails...
Yes, all of this failed for me. Even for my smarty pants of a dog Pippa. If all else fails, move her crate next to your bed and allow the pup to see where you are while you’re sleeping. Dogs are a social animal, so the fact that they see where you are should also calm them down. This is different from giving her attention. This is simply being in view so your puppy knows she is not alone. 

If you dog settles down with you in site, great… for now. Eventually, we want the crate back in the living room. Unless you want to leave it in your bedroom, that’s cool too. But for those who want their crate out of the bedroom, there is a trick for that. Every night, we will slowly move the crate a bit further from the bed. Maybe a foot a day. We will also slowly start to cover the entire crate with a blanket, little by little. The key here is to see how much you can get away with while she will still calmly go to sleep. For Pippa, this took about two weeks to get from the bedroom, out to the ball and into the living room. This is a game, and we are out to win it. 

Anyways, that’s crate training 101. It’s one of the most important things I think you can teach your dog. Crate training is very helpful with potty training which we will cover in our next article. 

What do you think? Am I missing anything? Any questions for me? Leave me a comment and please share if you think this was helpful. If it was total crap… well… shit. I'll be in my crate.