Crate training your Lab puppy, why you should and a guide on how
Labrador puppies are so cute and cuddly, it almost seems wrong to put them in a crate. But crate training is one of the best things you can do for your new puppy and for yourself. There are many benefits to crate training your retriever puppy, but it is a process. Learn how to properly crate train a Labrador puppy and why you should start crate training as soon as possible.
Why should I crate train my Labrador?
While some people think putting a dog in a crate is cruel, experts disagree. Most veterinarians, trainers, and breeders recommend crate training dogs from a young age. Here are some reasons why:
Relieves stress and improves mental health
Crate training can be important for your puppy’s (dog’s) mental health. Dogs are den animals and often feel most safe when they are in a tight, confined area. A crate can represent this den-like experience for your puppy and give them a place to retreat when they feel stressed, confused, or just need some time alone. Dogs that are crate trained properly do not fear the crate, in fact, they often love it and will seek it out for a nap.
Easy and safe transport
Crates are the safest way to transport dogs. A dog contained in a crate cannot move around within your vehicle, get in your way while driving or create distractions. In addition, you can even buy crates that are 5-star crash tested, possibly giving your dog superior protection if you are involved in an accident. If a dog is comfortable and content in his/her crate, travel is much less stressful for everyone involved.
Crates help with housebreaking
As discussed in our post on housebreaking your Labrador puppy, crate training can make housebreaking easier and quicker. Crates allow you, as owner, some off-time – time when you do not have to be constantly watching your puppy for accidents. In addition, crates help encourage your puppy to hold it, to wait a little longer before going potty, since most puppies hate to mess their bed.
Can help hunting dogs with blind manners and patience
Hunting dogs often need to sit still and quiet for hours on end. Crates can help hunting dogs by teaching them there is a place that they should simply lay down, rest and keep quiet.
Better dog to family relationships and more control
Crate training your puppy can provide many benefits for your entire family. No one likes to fight with their dog to get them into a crate when/if the need arises. Crate training your puppy at a young age means that when you need to put them in a crate they will go in willingly and without a fight. If someone comes to the door and your dog is being a problem, simply send him/her to their crate.
As professional retriever trainers, we crate train all the puppies we raise as custom trained dogs. We also crate train all our own dogs. We find that it makes for a better adjusted puppy all around.
Choosing the right crate for crate training Lab puppy
Getting ready to crate train your puppy means you need to buy a crate. And the size and type of crate do matter.
Note: My husband and I are professional retriever trainers, so any products listed here are items we use on an almost daily basis. We only recommend products we know are good quality and will stand the test of time. When possible, I include links to the product. Some of these links may be affiliate links in which I am paid a small commission, but all opinions and recommendations are my own. Learn more.
Size of crate for crate training retrievers
You want the crate to be large enough that your puppy is comfortable laying in the crate, but not so big that your puppy can walk around. The puppy should feel snug and protected, but not uncomfortable. The unfortunate thing about crate training this way, is that it means that as your puppy grows, you will need progressively larger crates. While inconvenient and bit more costly, this really is the best way to crate train your puppy.
But if you do not wish to buy multiple crates, there are other methods. Some people buy a large crate, the size their dog will need as an adult and then section off some of the crate. Blocking off a portion of the crate will give the puppy that tighter, den-like, experience and ensure that the puppy cannot walk around inside the crate. While this can work, be careful what you use to section the crate off. You would not want to use a material that can be chewed or ingested by your puppy. Puppies are naturally chewers, so keep this in mind.
Type of crate for crate training retriever
Technically, any kind of crate will work for crate training. But over the years we have found that some crates just simply work better. Wire crates, the kind that you can see right through do not seem to work as well as plastic crates. Wire crates are wide open, they do not provide dogs the opportunity to get away and relax. The wire offers little protection and privacy, and many dogs do not like them as dens.
Plastic crates seem to be the best option. They can be found easily at a local pet store, superstore, or even bought online. There are some inexpensive options that provide the protection and privacy of a den-like experience for the dogs. In addition, they have a solid bottom so should your dog get sick, or if you are in the process of housebreaking, cleanup is rather easy.
How to crate train a Lab puppy?
Crate training is easiest when done with young puppies. We recommend starting crate training the day you bring the pup home from the breeder. Often this is at around 7-8 weeks old. The sooner you start, the easier the process will be.
Crate training can be done with older dogs, but it may take more effort and patience on your part.
Step 1 – Let puppy explore the crate
The first step is to place the crate in an area that is frequented by the puppy. Prop the door open in some way, (a small bungee works well) and let your puppy explore the crate on his own. Puppies are naturally curious, so often they will walk right into the crate on their own. If they do, don’t make a big deal of this. You can say “good dog” as they walk in and out, but otherwise do not react.
It is best if you do not move the crate around the house a lot. Instead, find a place for the crate where the dog will spend a majority of their time and leave it there.
Step 2- Establish a routine
Develop a routine of putting your puppy down to nap inside the crate. After your puppy has been playing for a while and you can tell he/she is getting tired, and after you have taken your pup outside to go potty, place him or her in the crate and close and lock the door.
You can put one or two small toys in the crate if you wish and a small towel that you do not care if it gets ruined. Don’t stuff the crate full of toys and blankets and then try and fit the puppy in. I know this sounds self-explanatory, but I have seen it. Also, do not put a dog bed in the crate. A dog bed is too big and bulky to fit into crates well and your puppy will simply chew it to pieces or accidently have a potty accident on it. Once that happens, the bed will have the scent of potty and will work against your housebreaking efforts.
The first few times you put your puppy in the crate, he/she may cry, whine or bark for a while. That is natural and nothing to be worried about. Simply walk away from the crate and allow the puppy to settle down. Depending on the nature of your puppy this may take a few minutes to an hour or more.
It is vital that you stay away from the crate during this time. Each time the puppy sees you or hears you, he/she will likely start crying and whining again. Do not let your puppy out or pet him/her while your puppy is carrying on with noise inside the crate. The puppy must learn that noise will not get him/her out of the crate.
If you follow this advice, your puppy will quickly learn to be content in the crate and over time the noise will become less and less until they finally understand they must stay in the crate.
Step 3 – Watch the clock
While I suggest you do not take your puppy out of the crate while they are making noise, you do need to keep an eye on how long your puppy has been in the crate. If you puppy is young, he/she cannot hold her bladder much over 1-2 hours. You do not want your puppy to have an accident in the crate if you can help it. Sometimes it will happen but be smart about it and don’t leave a young puppy more than a couple hours without a potty break.
As the puppy gets older, they can naturally hold their bladder longer. You can then increase the time that your puppy spends inside his/her crate accordingly.
This should go without saying, but you should never leave your dog in a crate 24 hours a day every day. Your puppy needs time to run around and explore his/her surroundings. Socialization of young puppies is vital.
Step 4 – Encouraging continued exploration
After you take your puppy out of the crate and out to go potty, it is time to allow him/her to play again. Block the crate door open again. The door should be blocked open anytime the puppy has not been placed in the crate for some quiet time.
You can encourage your puppy’s exploration of the crate by putting toys inside the crate. The puppy will see or smell the toys and go inside the crate to get them. Some people play crate games. They will throw a toy inside the crate so that the puppy must go inside the crate to retrieve it. These games can help your dog become extremely comfortable with their crate.
Over time you will notice that your puppy is not afraid to go inside their crate while the door is open. Sometimes, they will even go inside the crate and lay down when they are tired. This is the reaction you are seeking. It means your puppy is loving his/her crate and feels safe and comfortable inside it.
The process takes time and lots of patience, but if you continue to place your puppy inside the crate on a routine basis and make the crate available to your puppy at all times, you will reap the benefits of having successfully crate trained your puppy.
Final thoughts on how to crate train a Labrador puppy
Crate training is a greatly beneficial thing for Labrador puppies and other retriever breeds. It can mimic a den for these beautiful animals and give them a safe and secure place where they can rest without stress or fear. This helps them with emotional stability and can curb behavior issues. It also makes for a more enjoyable home life with less dog induced strife.