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How to Crate Train Puppies & Kittens

by | Mar 9, 2015 | Cat Behavior & Care, Dog Training & Care | 33 comments

SQUEEE! It’s puppy & kitten season, and just in time for YOUR big adoption gotcha-day celebration, during March local PetSmart® stores will have crate, kennels, carriers, and accessories on sale. There are many kinds of crates and carriers, from soft sided to hard plastic to wire, and in a variety of shapes and sizes.

MagicPupCrate

Magic at 8 weeks old and 11 pounds. Can you see the “divider” in this crate making it puppy-size? Crate train pupies and kittens for life long benefits. Image copr. Amy Shojai, CABC

FCC noticeIS CRATE TRAINING CRUEL?

Why would you want to “cage” that new baby? The way Junior-Dawg howls and Kitty-Kins yowls you’d think they’re being hung up by their furry toes!

Actually, it’s not cruel, but without proper introduction, it can be a wee bit scary. In my Complete Kitten Care and Complete Puppy Care books, I call this LIBERATION TRAINING. Teaching your new pet to accept the kitty carrier or puppy crate is a pet safety issue, but also means they get a ticket to ride…and travel beyond the confines of your house and yard.

That doesn’t mean your new puppy or kitten automatically understands the concept, though, so this blog post not only explains the benefits of crate training to YOU, it also helps you purr-suade your kitten and convince your canine that the notion is a CRATE IDEA. (sorry, couldn’t resist…)

Shadow-Pup accepted the crate right away when he arrived! Of course, he only got fed inside. *s*

BENEFITS OF CARRIERS & CRATES

Most puppies and kittens–and even their adult counterparts–feel more secure in a small, enclosed den-like area. That’s not to say your new baby should be in the crate for outrageous lengths of time. A youngster should be gradually introduced to the crate or carrier and never left unattended longer than he’s able to “hold it” for potty training.

Prime Nap Spot. A crate works well as a bed. And when a pet claims the spot for naps, it’s no longer scary, but becomes a happy, familiar place he feels secure.

Private Retreat. Because it’s enclosed, the puppy crate or kitty carrier also serves as a safe retreat to get away from other pets or pestering children. Don’t you want a private place of your own where you won’t be bothered? Pets are no different.

Safe Confinement. A crate also can be the safest place to confine that rambunctious baby to keep him from pottying in the wrong spot or cat-climbing to dangerous heights when you can’t watch him.

Ideal Travel Buddy. All pets need to travel by car to the veterinarian from time to time. That’s a STRANGER DANGER moment especially for cats, so already feeling safe and comfy in a familiar carrier puts your kitten or puppy at ease at the vet.

Potty Training Tool. For pups, it’s one of the best tools available for potty training. They don’t want to mess where they sleep, so just turning it into a bed prompts Junior-Dawg to let you know when he needs a potty break. Here are more tips on puppy potty training.

You can go plain, or fancy as with this ecoFLEX Pet crate.

HOW TO CHOOSE THE BEST CRATE

The perfect crate or carrier should be just large enough for a pet to go inside, turn around, and lie down to sleep. It can be a solid hard plastic container, wire mesh cage or soft-sided duffle-type carrier (for cats). While soft-sided pet carriers work great for transport, they may be too small and prove too tempting for chew-aholic pups to work well for safe confinement.

This standard “plain Jane” crate has served us well for three dogs now. The Frisco Fold & Carry is available at Chewy and several other outlets.

Of course, puppies and kittens grow, so especially for larger dog breeds, consider your pup’s future adult size before investing in a pricy dog crate. Large crates are available with partitions for you to “shrink” to puppy size, and then enlarge the area as your puppy matures. You can also purchase an adult-size crate, and insert a barrier like a plastic storage box that shrinks the space to puppy proportions until your pet grows to full size. That’s what I did with Magical-Dawg. He arrived at our house weighing about 11 pounds, and grew up to be nearly 90 pounds. Our dogs don’t the crate at all, because it doubles as an enormous doggy toy box!

The key to training pets to accept the carrier or crate is creating familiarity. You do that by introducing him to this new situation in a series of non-threatening, gradual steps.

5 Tips to Crate Train Pets

Make It Familiar. While well-adjusted puppies and kittens tend to be curious, some tend toward shyness. Anything new prompts suspicion. So make the crate or carrier “part of the furniture” and set it out in the family room for your new pet to explore. Leave the door open or take it off, and let him sniff it inside and out. Don’t make a big deal out of it.

KarmaCrate2

Karma Kat decided on his own that sleeping among soft toys that smell like his best buddy Magic is a VERY-GOOD-THING! He also likes playing with lure-toys while inside. Image copr. Amy Shojai, CABC

Make It A Happy Place. Place a snuggly kitty blanket or dog bed inside. Or you can toss a toy inside, to create positive experiences with the crate. For kittens, Ping Pong balls are great fun inside the hard crates. Karma actually LOVES hanging out inside Magic’s crate because of all the fuzzy toys. Both Karma-Kat and Seren-Kitty have smaller duffle-style carriers (set on top of Magic’s crate), and take turns sleeping in them–they’re out all the time, with doors open.

Offer A Treat. For puppies, find a puzzle toy that can be stuffed with a smelly, tasty treat. This should be a treat your puppy loves, but he ONLY gets the treat when inside the crate. Show it to him, let him smell and taste the treat, and then toss it inside the crate and shut the door—with the puppy outside the crate and the treat on the inside. And after he’s begged to get inside, open the door and allow him to chew and enjoy it for five minutes but only with the door shut. Catnip can work well with cats, but youngsters won’t react until they’re 6 months old, so getting kitty tipsy only works for more mature cats.

Teach Him Tolerance. If your puppy fusses let him out—but lock the treat back inside. You’re teaching him that wonderful things can be found inside the crate. Most pups learn to tolerate the door shut at least as long as they have something to munch. Praise the dickens out of him! He should know that staying calmly inside the crate earns him good things. Do the same with your kitten, using healthy treats or fun toys like chase-the-flashlight beam, but only inside the crate. Repeat several times over the next few days, each time letting the kitten out after five minutes.

Extend Crate Time. By the end of the week, you can begin increasing the time the pet spends in the crate. For small pups and kittens, pick up the carrier while he’s in it and carry him around, and then let him out. Take him in the carrier out to the car, sit there and talk to him, then bring him back into the house and release him—don’t forget to offer the treat. Soon, you should be able to take him for car rides in his carrier, without him throwing a fit. He’ll learn that most times, the carrier means good things for him—and the vet visit isn’t the only association it has.

Cat Crate Training, Too!

For older cats, it can take several weeks to teach crate acceptance. Check out this PAW-some video from Catalyst Council on how to help your cats accept carriers. You–and your cats–will be glad you did.

So now it’s your turn. How are you teaching Junior Dog and Killer-Diller-Kitten to accept their carriers or crates? What about older pets–are they already crate trained? What worked best for your furry wonders? Please share tips to help out other pet lovers in the comments section!

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33 Comments

  1. Robin

    My kitties aren’t exactly crate trained, but they do use their carrier whenever they leave our home. During excursions, Cinco finds the carrier to be a place of great comfort.

    Reply
  2. Amy Shojai

    It’s funny, we have three duffle-type carriers (all open) that sit on top of Magic’s wire crate. The cats take turns sleeping in these. And Karma likes to sleep in Magic’s “toy chest.” It helps a lot to give them the freedom to choose, too.

    Reply
  3. Tripawds

    What great tips! I know that way back when, we used to think crate training was unnecessary and kinda mean but thanks to the spread of good information like this, we were able to see that crates are so useful for both the animal and the human. Thanks for spreading the word. P.S. Magic is SO adorable!

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Thanks so much! I think Magic is adorable, too. *s* He now has one single white whisker…so cute!

      Reply
  4. Cathy Keisha

    TW has a PTU out for me. When we play it’s one of my safe spots. Wait till she tried taking me to the v-e-t though.

    Reply
  5. Carma Allen

    I used to be terrified of crates. Just the sight of one would cause me to puke. After I became a spokesdog for a no kill shelter I would notice that the shelter pets enjoyed their crates at adoption events. Too many kids – get in the crate, need a nap- get in the crate. One day ma turned around and i was laying in a crate taking a nap. From then on I was never afraid of them again. I like taking naps in crates and we know tell people about the benefits of getting your pet used to them.

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Carma Poodale, you are a very wise spokes-dog. I hope lots of other pets and pet parents listen to your advice!

      Reply
  6. Kia

    Great tips! We crate trained Simba 🙂

    Reply
  7. Carol Bryant

    Very humane, very caring and very dedicated way to train your pooch! TY as always, Amy!

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Thanks a bunch Cathy, Kia and Carol for the kind words. Hope it helps some pups and kitties.

      Reply
  8. Jana Rade

    Aah, we tried crate-training Jasmine when she was little. Thought we should. She liked the crate until we closed the door LOL So that lasted about a second. She never really needed to be crated so we dropped that idea all together.

    Reply
  9. Val Silver

    Hi Amy, I don’t keep my dog in a crate as he is perfect in the house and perfectly content to perch on top of the couch and sleep with me. However, I’m wondering what your opinion is about foster dogs. Do you recommend a wire crate or more enclosed plastic crate? I have only had two foster dogs (including our foster failure, Teddy) and had them in a wire crate with a towel draped on it for sleeping or when quiet time was needed. I hope to have more fosters in the future.

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      The type of crate for me depends more on the size of the pet and the function for which you use the crate. The wire seems more economical for the really big dogs. But when a pooch suffers from separation behaviors and/or anxiety, a solid crate might make more sense as there’s less to grab hold of to chew. Dogs can break teeth or get paws caught in wire if fear shuts of their brain during these episodes.

      I have a big wire crate for Magic and drape it with a blanket. That works for him. I think if you plan to have more fosters, then having options for safe separation is a very good idea.

      Reply
  10. Cathy Armato

    Great post! I especially like the tip about having a special treat that you ONLY give your pet when s/he is inside the crate. I use that tactic for my dogs’ emergency recall, it’s the only time they get bacon. I’ve used crates for many reasons for both my own dogs and my foster dogs. I’ve also purchased crates & carriers as donation items to for shelter, they always need crates for foster, transport, even temporary isolation kennels for animals who become ill.

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Cathy, that’s a terrific idea re: donations to shelters and fosters!

      Reply
  11. It's Dog or Nothing

    I have no idea how I would have handled puppy potty training without a crate. You’re absolutely right – slow, positive introductions are key to successful crate training. The crate should be a comfortable place to retreat 🙂

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      We were fortunate that Magic was already potty trained when we got him (at 8 weeks…God bless great breeders!). But even though he “knew” what to do (and what not to do), he needed help remembering. Since we also had Seren-Kitty who had never been around cats, we needed options for keeping him contained. It’s a great tool. In my puppy book, I do offer some other options (clipping leash to your belt, for example) but nothing is easier or works as well IMO as the crate.

      Reply
  12. Anna Coffin

    These are great tips! Crate training is important to start during the socialization period of puppies and kittens (7-16 weeks of age). I find it a bit more difficult to get them acclimated after this age, but not impossible.

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Hi Dr. Anna! Thanks so much for visiting and commenting! The kitties especially are a toughie since their socialization window closes so much earlier than with the pups. But yep, it can be done. Gotta go check out your post now!

      Reply
  13. Sadie

    Great information. We didn’t go the crate training route because of Reese’s background – she spent the first 18 months of her life in a suspended cage with no blanket (stood on wires) and had a ‘drop pan’ to do her business. We do HAVE a crate and I do ‘reward’ Henry and Reese when they lay quietly inside while I take or make a phone call. The calls during which I would prefer not to have barking in the background. As you suggest, it may be comforting; I was surprised that Reese is better than Henry at going in the crate.

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Awwwww….poor Reese. Surprising she’s so well adjusted after such a traumatic upbringing. In those cases, yes, I’d go with something that is as different as possible from the “bad” cage experience she had. IF that’s all she ever knew, though, it may be her “normal” so not as objectionable as it might be for Henry? *shrug* It sounds like your set up works very well. Reese is lucky to have you! (Henry, too!)

      Reply
  14. MattieDog

    Very helpful post – lots of times people feel like it’s a bit cruel to crate train. But in reality, us dogs ‘lub’ it! We learn to build our confidence, where to go to chill, to create a safe transport process – a crate becomes our space! Thank you for writing about crate training – it’s super important information for nearly every animal loving human to know!

    Reply
  15. Michelle Wolff

    We leave crates out for naps and I really think it helps when we have to take a trip somewhere that they see the crate as a safe zone not a punishment

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Yep, all my crates are out all the time. they truly are “part of the furniture.” That also takes away the fear-stress factor of having the crate ONLY appear when a vet visit or other trip is imminent.

      Reply
  16. MyDogLikes

    This is a great post! Often I hear how “cruel” it is to leave your dog created..the reality is that for some dogs it is the most humane and safe thing you can do for them. Just like all us human dogs and cats are unique and might need that extra security!

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Exactly! Especially in the case of fearful or shy dogs, that safe-place retreat often is their choice.

      Reply
  17. Pawesome Cats

    Interesting post. We’d never thought to crate train our cats, only ever the dogs!

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Crate training cats is such a big help for them! One of the top reasons cats DON’T get to the vet often enough is because they’re terrified of the trip there and back…so if the crate feels safe, and they don’t throw a fit, and WE don’t feel “evil” by putting ’em through it…win win win for everyone!

      Reply
  18. Golden Daily Scoop

    Great post! Crate training was the best decision we made for our puppies. Now it’s a place where they go when they want some quiet, private time!

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      For Magic, too. He’s very protective of our house so the crate helps him to calm down when we have workmen in the house–and it keeps THEM calm knowing he won’t try to “help” them, LOL!

      Reply
  19. Stacey Werner

    “Liberation Training” <<< love that!

    We got our crate at PetSmart… Honey, our beagle, loves it!

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Hi Stacy! Thanks for visiting and reading–I love Beagles, they’re such fun, smart (and friendly!) dogs. My cousins had several beagles growing up, and used to say their dogs would show the burglar where they hid the silver, LOL!

      Reply
  20. Robyn Wright

    Great post! We love having a crate for our dog!

    Reply

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