Crate Training Your Labrador Puppy in Easy Stages


labrador puppy chewing

Welcome to your free, comprehensive and in-depth guide to crate training your Labrador puppy, by best selling author and Labrador expert Claire Austin. Scroll down to find step-by-step training instructions, and a simple crate training schedule chart.

The main purposes of a crate are to help a puppy with learning to be clean in the home. And to provide a place of safety when he needs to rest or when you cannot supervise him. This article shows you how a crate can help you raise a happy, and well adjusted puppy, and how you can avoid common crate training mistakes.

Products included in this article were carefully and independently selected by the Labrador Site team. If you decide to make a purchase from one of the links marked by an asterisk, we may earn a small commission on that sale. This is at no extra cost to you.

Crate training is a great way to speed up potty training if the puppy is crated for short periods of time at the right times during the day. You can find out how to do that in our potty training pages, and this article: 15 potty training problems solved, covers just about every possible aspect of potty training that you might need help with.

Crate Training Your Labrador Puppy

Properly used, a crate can also be a good place for a puppy to sleep. It is somewhere he can rest, chew on his toys and generally recharge his batteries. It is also a good place for a puppy to calm down if he has become over-excited or is getting too bitey.

A crate is especially important if you have a busy household with small children as it provides the puppy a peaceful haven where he can’t be stepped on or poked. And it gives your children a break from those needle sharp puppy teeth.

Using crates appropriately

A crate is of course simply a cage, and it really isn’t appropriate to keep a dog in a cage, and as dog guardians, I think we need to be aware of that. Like most training tools, and forms of restraint or confinement, there is scope for a puppy crate to be abuse.

You’ll need to be careful not to leave your puppy in there too long. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what is appropriate and what is not, so we talk about ‘how long is too long’ below.

How long will crate training take?

When they ask how long crate training will take, some puppy parents mean ‘when will their puppy stop crying’, others want to know when their puppies will be clean and dry in the house. These are obviously two very different issues.

Getting used to the crate

Most puppies take a from a few days to a few weeks to settle into their crate happily without whining every time you leave the room if you shut the door. Some puppies make no fuss at all from day one,  others will cry at night for the first week, and other will cry much more persistently but there is usually a reason for this.

We’ll look at coping with crying in more detail in a moment, but the key to success within a week or two is to keep crate times short and sweet. And to leave the puppy something nice in the crate to keep him occupied.

Potty training

Being able to take responsibility to get himself to his toilet area and to wait for a while if no-one is available to take him out is a process that takes a puppy several weeks. But, with careful management, and sensible use of a crate, many puppies will be effectively clean and dry quite quickly.

You should be seeing very few accidents by the end of week three after bringing your puppy home. And your puppy will probably manage seven hours a night by the time he is three months old. These are rough averages of course, don’t despair if your puppy is a little behind.

How to set up your crate

Crate training your Labrador puppy should not mean isolating him from the family. The crate should be placed in a room where people pass through or spend a lot of time.

Puppies need company and should not be banished to a back room or basement or isolated for long periods of time. The kitchen is ideal in most homes. But any busy family room will do. Place the crate away from draughts and direct heat – be careful to avoid places that are in direct sunlight at certain times of day.

Bedding for crates

It is tempting to shop for pretty padded beds to place in the crate, but stuffed beds are often ripped open by Labrador puppies so it’s a good idea to start with something that is a little more resistant to chewing.

Vetbed makes a cosy crate liner

It can be difficult with some Labrador puppies to find any bedding that they do not destroy.

Purpose made crate mats are a cosy and popular choice. These simple mats come in a great range of colours and sizes to fit most standards. Veterinary bedding is an ideal crate liner as it’s soft and washable and can be cut to size, but if your puppy chews it up and swallows bits of it, you may have to think again.

Water bottles for dog cages

It isn’t a good idea to leave a water bowl in a puppy crate.  He’ll just play in it and spill it everywhere.

He won’t need access to water in the crate to begin with because you will not be leaving him in there for longer than an hour or so,  except at night.

An eight week old puppy will be  fine without water during the night-time hours.

You can buy water bottles to attach to dog crates and cages, but if you are leaving the dog so long that he needs water, he should probably be in a puppy pen, or kennel and run, not in a crate.

How to crate train your puppy –  in stages

Here are my four stages to crate training. I call them

  • Stage 1 – Introduction
  • Stage 2 – Happy place
  • Stage 3 – Crate on command
  • Stage 4 – Growing up

You can find a summary of these in my crate training schedule chart below

#Stage 1 Introduction to crate training for puppies from 8 weeks old

This stage covers the first week that you bring your puppy home.

Your objective at stage 1 is simply to get the puppy used to being in and around the crate with the door open.

Leave the door open

Start by placing puppy in his crate frequently and each time you place him in there drop several little edible treats through the roof for him.

Don’t shut the door on him during the day to start with if you can  avoid it. Just let him come straight out again when he has finished his treats.

This introduces the crate as a fun and enjoyable place to be.

Sometimes, drop treats in there when he isn’t looking, so he gets a nice surprise when he goes in there to explore.

Each time you pop the puppy into the crate say “in your crate” in a cheerful and upbeat way.   He will soon come to associate this phrase with going into his crate for a treat

Closing the door briefly

The next step is to close the crate door momentarily and then open it again.

Leave it shut only long enough for the puppy to finish his treat and notice that the door is closed.  Then let him out.

Do not wait until he gets upset or cries.

Repeat many, many times during the course of the next day or two.

Crate training at night

During the night,  for the first two or three nights,  it will be helpful if you can have the puppy sleep in a sturdy deep sided cardboard box or a portable carry crate* by your bed.

If he is left alone at night whilst he is still homesick he is likely to howl, and howling in his new crate is not a habit we want to establish.

Tending to your puppy during the night

If the box is right up against the side of your bed, you can put your hand in and comfort him if he cries. You’ll also hear him becoming restless if he needs a wee.

If he doesn’t lie down again and go back to sleep when you put your hand in the box, he probably needs a trip to his outside toilet area.

Moving your puppy downstairs at night

After the first three or four nights, or by the end of the first week, your puppy can be placed in his crate in the kitchen before you go up to bed at night.

He’ll probably cry for a little while, set your alarm for a little earlier than the time he has been waking for a wee and get him up and take him outside.

Don’t leave him more than five or six hours at night to start with.

So if you put him to bed at midnight, you will probably need to get up around 5am to let him out for a wee to begin with.

If a puppy has fallen asleep in his crate and slept for more than a couple of hours then you will need to let him out  if he wakes up crying.

Getting more sleep!

If all goes well, you can stretch this five hours out by 15 minutes or so a night until you are getting  seven hours sleep.

Feel your puppy’s bedding when you get him up in the morning. If he wets the bed you will need to get up earlier the next night.

I wouldn’t leave a puppy more than seven hours at night until he is around ten- twelve weeks old.

And some puppies will be 12 to 14 weeks before they can cope this long.

You can find lot more information on teaching your puppy to be clean and dry in our potty training sections.

Crate training during the day

There is no immediate need to crate your new puppy during the day for more than a few minutes at a time.

The main purpose of crating a puppy during the day is to

  • Help the puppy learn to hold onto the contents of his bladder for a bit longer.
  • To keep him safe when you are busy for short periods, or if you need to leave the house for a while.
  • To give him chance to calm down or a break from small children.

However, you do need to get the puppy used to spending longer periods in the crate in preparation for being left alone from time to time when he is older.

So gradually, you will accustom the puppy to a few longer spells in his crate.

The reason some ‘training’ is involved is simply that the puppy need to learn to accept being in the crate without making a fuss.

And the next step in this process, or what I call ‘Stage 2’ in crate training,  is making the crate his ‘happy place’

#Stage 2  Making the crate a happy place

For this stage, you are going to need at least three puppy Kongs*. These are tough hollow rubber toys that you fill with mushy food and freeze.

You can freeze several Kongs at once by standing them on a baking tray in the freezer.

Each time you put the puppy in his crate for more than a couple of minutes, you will leave a frozen food filled Kong in there to keep him company.

Puppies love these and will soon grow to associate the crate with the pleasure of the frozen Kong.

Here’s how you get the puppy used to being in the crate with the door shut.

How to get the puppy used to longer crate times

Once you have got to the end of the first week and the puppy has accepted the crate as a nice place to be, the next task is to get the puppy to accept the closed door for longer periods of time.

Crate training your labrador puppy

This may take a day or two.

Place him in the crate with his frozen kong and close the door for 30 seconds.

The idea is to leave the door closed for a few seconds longer each time you crate the puppy. But it is very important only to open the door when the puppy has been silent for several seconds.

What to do if the puppy cries in his crate

If the puppy starts to whimper or howl you will need to turn away from the crate and ignore him.

Busy yourself in the room but don’t look at him and don’t be tempted to open the door.

Wait for the silence as he stops crying and gets to work on his puppy kong.

Tell him what a good dog he is.  Let him out immediately and go back to much briefer periods of closed door for a while.

Try ten seconds or five.

Build up again gradually,  but do not be tempted to avoid crating him because it upsets him.

Once the puppy is happy in his crate, you can use it to help with his potty training.

Until then, make sure that you crate him for very short periods when you know his bladder is empty.  Otherwise he will wet himself when he gets upset.

Puppies that cry need crating more often!

If your puppy whines in the crate, you need to crate him more often not less, and for shorter periods. Check out our in-depth article on coping with a crying puppy for more information

Just make sure that each time he is crated is very, very brief to begin with.   That way he will learn that being crated is not a big deal

Warning: if you open the crate door whilst your puppy is howling,  he will howl longer and harder next time!

Build up slowly to a minute,  then two minutes,  then three, five, seven, ten, fifteen minutes and so on.

How long can a puppy be left in a crate

People often ask how long a puppy can be left alone in his crate.  If you ask ten experts this question you’ll get ten different answers, from “never leave a puppy in a crate” to “four hours or more”

My own personal rule is never to leave a dog over six months old in a crate for more than four hours at a stretch.

I personally wouldn’t do this on a regular daily basis either, though I know that many working puppy parents do.

For puppies three to six months old I think two hours is a maximum, and for puppies under three months, one hour.

If you need to leave your puppy for longer than this, then you need to consider a puppy proof room or pen where water and puppy pads are always available, or even a weatherproof outdoor kennel and run.

Crating your puppy while you work

It isn’t appropriate to leave puppies in crates for long periods of time, so if you are returning to work while your puppy is still small.

And don’t have anyone to help with his care, you’ll need to use a different system of potty training.

This involves putting puppy pads down in a large puppy pen or puppy proofed room so that your puppy always has access to a toilet area.

You can find out much more about overcoming the problems of being a working puppy parent in this article: combining a puppy with full time work.

#Stage 3 Training your puppy to go into his crate on command!

As your puppy grows bigger, picking him up and putting him in his crate becomes more of a physical event!

You don’t want to get into a situation where you have to chase your puppy around the kitchen and physically push him into his crate each time you go out.

So it’s a great idea to teach a puppy to go into his crate on your command or cue.

Provided you are not leaving your puppy alone for too long, he should be happy to go willingly into his crate.

This can be achieved through training.

Choosing a cue or command

It doesn’t matter what cue you choose.  If you have been saying ‘into your crate’ each time you place the puppy in there, and he is happy to be there, then stick to that.

If you have got yourself into a situation where your puppy doesn’t want to go in his crate then choose a new cue, like ‘bed’ or ‘kennel’

It can be any word you like as long as it is not one he associates with anything unpleasant.

Advance crating

Until you finish the training, you’ll still need to physically put your puppy in his crate before you go out.

To avoid your puppy associating the crate with anything he doesn’t like (you leaving home for example), from now on and until you finish your training, crate the puppy at least ten minutes in advance of your departure, and don’t forget to make sure that there is always a nice kong full of frozen food waiting in there for him.

Training the ‘crate’ cue – or crate on command

You can now teach your puppy or older dog to go into the crate on command or cue.

This will probably take a couple of weeks.  Maybe more if your puppy really does not like his crate at the moment.

Have several training sessions each day  –  at least three.  And do 20 or 30 repetitions of the following exercise in each session.

This will take you about five minutes.

You will need a ‘clicker’ or other event marker.

If you are have never used one before,  check out this article before you begin: Charging your clicker. You can use a word instead of a clicker, but you still need to ‘charge’ it

EXERCISE 1  approaching the crate

Have a pot of treats ready to hand on the table or in a treat bag attached to your waist.

Imagine a zone around the crate.

Visualise the boundaries of the ‘zone’.  It should not be so small that the dog avoids it altogether.  A couple of feet in each direction is fine.

The object is to get your puppy to choose to enter this zone.

  1. Have the dog in the room with you
  2. Make sure the crate door is wide open
  3. Click and treat (C&T) each time the dog enters the crate zone
  4. Immediately after your click, throw the treat outside the zone so that he has to re-enter to get the next reward.
  5. Repeat 20-30 times or for about five minutes

Note that this is different from ‘luring’ the puppy into the crate by putting treats inside it.  You are teaching him to chose to approach the crate.

EXERCISE 2  entering the crate doorway

In this exercise, you are going to click and treat the dog for putting a nose, or a paw through the opening into a crate.

For some dogs this is too big a jump and you will need to work on a smaller crate zone first.

We are moving the goalposts and the dog will be surprised when you do not reward him for entering the zone.

He will quickly try something different.

To begin with we will do a few repetitions of the exercise he knows, just to get him ‘into the game’.

  1. Have the dog in the room with you
  2. Make sure the crate door is wide open
  3. Click and treat each time the dog enters the crate zone
  4. Repeat five times
  5. Throw the treat outside the zone so that he has to re-enter to get the next reward.
  6. The next time he enters the zone, wait for him to go closer to the crate and put his nose in the opening

What if he fails to do this?

If the dog wanders off without putting his nose into the crate entrance,  start to C&T for entering the zone again.

Repeat from step 3 until the dog repeatedly puts his nose through the crate door.

Now you can stop rewarding him for simply entering the zone.

Intermediary steps for dogs that don’t want to go near the crate are rewarding him for

  • Putting his nose within one foot of any part of the crate
  • Placing his nose within two inches of the crate
  • Putting his nose within two inches of the crate doorway

And so on.

You can’t fail at this.  It just takes longer with some dogs than others.  Use his entire food ration if necessary.

Don’t give in, he’ll do what you reward him for as soon as he is hungry.

Remember, if you have to go out, scoop him up without a word, and place him in there bodily.

Do not use the clicker or any other part of this process, or attempt to lure him in.

You going out is a punishment in his mind.  Behavior that is punished will diminish.

EXERCISE 3 inside the crate

In this exercise the puppy walks right inside the crate.  When you click, he will come dashing out again for his treat.

Again, we begin the exercise with something we know he can already do

  1. Have the dog in the room with you
  2. Make sure the crate door is wide open
  3. Click and treat each time the dog puts his nose through the crate doorway
  4. Repeat five times
  5. Throw each treat outside the zone so that he has to re-enter to get the next reward.
  6. The next time he puts his nose through the doorway, withold the click.  Wait for him to go further in
  7. Repeat and gradually raise the criteria you are setting so that more and more of the dog must be through the doorway to get a reward.

The exercise is done when the dog repeatedly goes right  inside his crate.   With a dog that is not crate-shy,  you can often work through these three Exercises in a day or two.

EXERCISE 4 spending time in the crate

  1. Have the dog in the room with you
  2. Make sure the crate door is wide open
  3. Click and treat each time the dog goes inside the crate
  4. Repeat five times
  5. The next time he enters the crate withold the click and treat for two seconds
  6. If he remains in the crate click and treat
  7. If he leaves the crate wait for him to re-enter
  8. Repeat from step five until he can wait 2 seconds in the crate and then increase to 3 seconds
  9. Work your way up to ten seconds

When the dog can cope with ten seconds waiting in the crate, you are ready to close the door.  To begin with this will be momentary

EXERCISE 5 closing the door

  1. Have the dog in the room with you
  2. Make sure the crate door is wide open
  3. Click and treat after 10 seconds,  each time the dog goes inside the crate
  4. Repeat five times
  5. The next time he enters the crate close the door and immediately open it again
  6. Wait a few seconds then
  7. If he remains in the crate click and treat
  8. If he leaves the crate wait for him to re-enter

Repeat from step five until he will go into the crate,  watch you open and close the door, and remain in the crate for a few more seconds after you have opened the door.

We are nearly there!

EXERCISE 6 adding a cue

Now we are going to give this behavior a name.  My crate command is ‘In Your Crate’.  Use the cue you have chosen.

Make sure it isn’t too long a phrase and that it doesn’t sound too much like any of your other commands.

You know the procedure now.  Here are the standards and criteria for exercise 6

  • Click and treat the dog for entering the crate as in the previous exercise
  • Don’t close the door every time
  • Vary the number of seconds you expect him to wait in there for
  • Start saying ‘in your crate’ quietly as he enters the crate
  • To begin with he may start rushing out when he hears your voice and before he is properly in the crate
  • He is just curious, be patient
  • Click and treat without the cue a couple of times and then try again.

You are done with exercise 6 when you have done several sessions over more than one day, adding the ‘in your crate’ cue as the dog enters the crate.

We want him to have absorbed the association between this cue and the act of entering the crate.   Now it is time to use the cue in advance of the behavior.

EXERCISE 7 responding to the cue

Have your treats to hand,  but wait until the dog has lost interest, and decided you do not want to play the ‘crate game’

  1. Have the dog in the room with you
  2. Make sure the crate door is wide open
  3. Wait until the dog is away from the crate
  4. Give the cue ‘in your crate’  Do not repeat it
  5. If the dog goes into the crate click and treat
  6. If he doesn’t immediately go to the crate, walk towards the crate with him, and point to it
  7. Make encouraging noises and C&T immediately he pushes his nose through the door
  8. Then click and treat him a few times for entering the crate WITHOUT the cue
  9. Now do something else with the dog for a moment,  stroke him, ask him to sit a few times, and then try again from step 4.

Once the dog is repeatedly racing into the crate on your cue, we need to make sure he can distinguish this command from other commands.

It is very common for a dog that has had intensive training like this to respond by ‘crating’ himself every time you get your treats out.

In this case the dog is not discriminating between different cues, but rather making assumptions about what game you are going to play.

So the next step in training is to mix in another cue.

The simplest is to alternate crating with ‘sit’.

EXERCISE 8 mixing cues

Using exactly the same principles as above, click and treat your dog several time for sitting to the command ‘SIT’.

Then use the cue ‘IN YOUR CRATE’  At this point many dogs will SIT.

If he is confused, and he may be, show him what you want, just like before. Follow this with several ‘In Your Crate’ cues and then mix in a few ‘SITs’ again.

Repeat until the dog can respond appropriately to either ‘In Your Crate’ or ‘Sit’  no matter what order they are given in, nor how many of each you ask for in turn.

You now have a dog that actually understands the meaning of In Your Crate and happily complies with your command.

It is time for him to adapt to being confined after being told to go in there.

Start slowly and build up

EXERCISE 9 adding duration

  1. Place a Kong with food in it, or some treats on a slow feed bowl into the crate without your dog spotting you
  2. Cue the dog into the crate (call him into the room first)
  3. Shut the door and leave it closed for one minute
  4. Open the door again and ignore the dog. It is up to him if he stays in the crate or comes out
  5. Repeat from step 1 gradually increasing the time you wait before opening the door

Vary the length of time you keep the door closed.  Sometimes two minutes,  sometimes as much as fifteen minutes. Keep repeating this exercise with lots of short crate times and the occasional longer one until you are occasionally leaving the dog  in the closed crate for up to half an hour without any decrease in his enthusiasm for responding to the ‘crate’ command. Now you can begin to send the dog into his crate for longer periods,  such as when you go out for an hour or so.

Maintenance tips

  • Send the puppy into his crate often, not just when you need to.
  • Make sure there is always a tasty treat or a Kong in there waiting for him
  • Sometimes when you send him in,  close the door
  • If you know you are going to go out shut him in at least ten minutes before you start getting ready to leave
  • If you know you are going to go out always leave him with a Kong full of frozen food
  • When you are not going out, vary the times he is shut in from two to thirty minutes
  • Send him in from time to time without closing the door

Provided your dog is not left overly long in a crate on a regular basis, this should overcome any shyness he has about going in there. Don’t forget that other than during the night, dogs should not be left in crates for long periods of time.

Dogs of any age can be trained to crate on cue using this system. For more information on using a clicker check out : Ten great reasons to start clicker training

#Stage 4 Growing up

By twelve weeks or three months old, many puppies will be sleeping 7 hours or more at night and going happily into their crates on cue, if they have been taught to do this. You probably won’t be able to have a ‘lie-in’ on a Sunday morning yet, but things should start to get easier for you.

One thing to watch out for at this point is a sudden increase in ‘accidents’. This tends to happen at the three or four month old mark as we ‘take our eye off the ball’ and stop supervising the puppy so much, or start leaving them in the crate a little too long.

When to let your puppy out of the crate at night 

If all goes well, by about six months of age, your Labrador puppy should be clean and dry in the house, and sleeping soundly through the night in his crate. At this point, many puppy owners breath a big sigh of relief and start to look forward to the prospect of removing this massive and annoying crate from their kitchen for good.

Let’s face it, a cute dog basket with a nice cosy liner looks a lot more attractive in your home, than a great metal cage. So, at what age is it OK to start leaving a puppy loose in the kitchen overnight?  And how do you get your dog used to a basket or dog bed, rather than sleeping in his crate?

Which size and type of crate for a Labrador?

There are several different ranges of crate on the market. And what you are looking for is a sturdy wire crate that cannot be destroyed by chewing or scratching. It is tempting to buy a crate that will fit him when he is fully grown. But ideally a crate for a puppy should be relatively small or your puppy may decide to use one end as a toilet.

Puppy crates

Your puppy should be able to stand up without bumping his head and to turn around easily in his crate, and not much more. A 24” crate will usually be ideal for the first few weeks.

The Petmate puppy retreat crate is quite a fun option* as it comes in a bright blue colour.

We are also big fans of the popular Mid-West range of folding crates*, which come in a wide variety of sizes.

When you pick a brand getting one which folds is generally a good idea. As it means they can be kept out of the way and stored easily when you aren’t using them, or if you need the extra space temporarily.

Another option is to buy an adult sized crate straight away, but get one with a crate divider to give the puppy the appropriate amount of room when they are small.

Grown up Labrador crates

Your puppy will soon grow out of his little crate and you will need a full sized Labrador crate for the rest of his first year of life and possibly beyond. So it is worth getting a sturdy one.

It is helpful if a crate can be opened from more than one direction, especially with the larger crates. You never know when you might need to place it in a different position.

Crates have come down in price over the last few years. The type I use for a larger pup a 36″ crate, similar to the Mid-West one.

This size is right for the puppy from about four or five months of age. A few Labs, may be large enough when full grown to need the next size up – a 42″ crate.

The very cheap crates tend to be rather flimsy and plastic travel style ones* are only suitable for very small puppies in cool climates as they are easily chewed and can get rather hot.

De-crating your dog

The answer to ‘when should I de-crate my dog’ depends very much on the dog, but I really do urge caution in this respect.  Especially with Labradors. This is because de-crating a Labrador under a year old, may result in a ‘chewing’ problem. These are very ‘mouthy’ dogs and some Labradors will destroy furnishings and even furniture, if left out of the crate all night when they are still in the chewing phase.

You’ll find a complete guide to ‘de-crating’ your puppy in this article: help my puppy is destructive when left out of his crate.  And I recommend you read this before taking the plunge.

Age related crate training schedules

Most people are reluctant to give out information on how long a puppy should be crated, or what to expect at different stages, because puppies are so different from one another.


But I know how important it is for you to have some idea whether or not your puppy’s behavior and progress is normal.  So, I have included a rough guide or puppy crate training chart above.

Please don’t feel your puppy must fit the profile for his age accurately.

It really is just a rough guide.

Your best approach is to simply follow the four stages outlined above, from start to finish, and not worry too much about where your dog is at the moment.

In the meantime, if you are worried about your puppy’s progress with crate training or are having problems, do drop into our support forum and ask for help!

More information on puppies

For a complete guide to raising a healthy and happy puppy don’t miss The Happy Puppy Handbook*.

Published in April 2014, the Happy Puppy Handbook covers every aspect of life with a small puppy.

It will help you prepare your home for the new arrival, and get your puppy off to a great start with potty training, socialization and early obedience.

Related Articles

  • Potty Training
  • 15 Potty Training Problems
  • How to cope with a crying puppy

Affiliate link disclosure: Links in this article marked with an * are affiliate links, and we may receive a small commission if you purchase these products. However, we selected them for inclusion independently, and all of the views expressed in this article are our own.


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