We’ve all heard stories about the dreaded “puppy stage”, the stressful rite of passage all new puppy parents must go through (and hopefully survive). I have a few horror stories of my own from Allie’s days as a youngster. Don’t get me wrong – Allie was an adorable little ball of wonderful when I brought her home. But goodness, German Shepherd puppies can get into a lot of trouble!
Crate training a German Shepherd puppy can help ease the stresses of puppyhood. Believe me, crate training is your best friend! (Well, after your German Shepherd, of course.)
This guide will teach you everything you need to know about crate training a German Shepherd puppy. Spend the time crate training now, and both you and your puppy will reap the benefits for the rest of your dog’s life.
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What is Crate Training?
Your first reaction to crate training may be wait, isn’t that cruel? There are a lot of people who feel this way, and the truth is – it can be cruel if the crate is misused. For example, the crate is not a “puppy prison” for bad behavior and should never be used as punishment. We’ll talk more about some of the “don’ts” when it comes to crate training later.
But for now, let’s talk about what good crate training means.
To put it simply, proper crate training means teaching your German Shepherd puppy to LOVE its crate! Think of your dog’s crate as its own little home sweet home where you want it to feel relaxed, secure, and cozy. To make this happen, your pup must think of its crate as a place where the good times roll! In other words, a puppy should associate its crate with only pleasant experiences.
Now be prepared – this is a process with a lot of training involved, and it can be long and frustrating at times. I’ll walk you through my entire training process step-by-step and give you tons of useful advice along the way.
But first, let’s talk about the benefits of crate training.
What are the Benefits of Crate Training?
There are so many great benefits to crate training a German Shepherd puppy. Let us count the ways…
- A way to feel secure:
A crate makes your puppy feel safe and secure. Remember, dogs evolved from den animals so they like having a small, protected place of their own. Your puppy’s crate should be a place to relax or even retreat if feeling anxious (like during thunderstorms or parties).
- A way to potty train:
One of the toughest things about raising a puppy is potty training, and a crate is a great tool to help take the headache out of housetraining. When Allie was a puppy, she would wake me up with a whine in the middle of the night to let me know she needed to potty. Had she not been crated, she would’ve snuck away to a prime spot – right in the middle of the carpet – to do her business instead of learning to wake me up.
Puppies don’t want to do their business in the same place they sleep, and they’ll do their best to hold it until you let them out of the crate. With a little time (and a lot of patience!), your puppy will learn to alert you when it needs out of its crate to potty.
- A way to transport:
Crates make travel much easier for both you and your German Shepherd! Riding in cars can be very stressful for your pup, but if your dog is comfortable being crated, it makes for a much easier ride. And once you arrive at your destination, be it a hotel room, vet office, or groomer, your dog can feel secure in its “home away from home”.
- A way to protect your puppy:
As a puppy, Allie would get into everything! She would eat or chew anything she could get her mouth on, and I worried about her eating something dangerous while I was out. Puppies are naturally inquisitive and usually mouthy – a dangerous combination if allowed to roam freely when they’re home alone. Many dogs are injured (or worse) from chewing electrical wires or eating toxic substances so crate training is essential to keep your active German Shepherd puppy safe from harm.
- A way to protect your stuff:
Did I mention that German Shepherd puppies love to chew!? This includes your furniture, shoes, and anything else you leave where your puppy can find it. If left loose in your house, your puppy will most likely search and destroy! Crate training helps protect all your belongings while you’re out.
- A way to keep your sanity:
Overall, crates offer you something priceless – peace of mind! Crate training saved me a lot of stress and energy while potty training Allie. And at times when I couldn’t give her my full attention, it was nice to have a place for Allie to hang out without worrying about what she was getting into. Crate training means a happier you and a better relationship with your furry friend so you can have fun being a puppy parent!
How Do I Choose a Crate?
So now let’s choose a crate for your German Shepherd puppy. Dog crates come in different materials and sizes and can be purchased online or at your local pet store. There are a lot of options available! This section will help you make the best buying decision for you and your four-legged family member.
-Types of Crates
There are three main types of dog crates to choose from: wire, plastic, or fabric. Personally, I would recommend a wire crate (more on my recommendations later), but let’s quickly go over the main pros and cons of each.
- Wire Crates
Pros: Wire crates are well-ventilated, and the pan slides out so they are easy to clean. They are also collapsible for storing or moving, and you can purchase a divider for this type of crate.
Cons: Wire crates aren’t as private as other types of crates and can leave your puppy feeling exposed. Larger sizes can also be heavy.
- Plastic Crates
Pros: Plastic crates are good for travel. Because the sides are mostly solid, your puppy may feel more secure.
Cons: Plastic crates are harder to get clean and less ventilated. They’re also harder to store because they aren’t collapsible.
- Fabric Crates
Pros: Fabric crates are very lightweight and great for travel. They’re also easy to store.
Cons: Fabric crates are not very durable and are easily destroyed by a mouthy puppy. They’re also hard to clean.
-Choosing the best-sized crate for a German Shepherd puppy
Choosing the best size crate for a German Shepherd puppy is really important! If the crate is too big, your puppy will potty on one end and sleep on the other, defeating the purpose of using the crate for potty training. At the same time, you want a crate that will “grow” with your German Shepherd (instead of purchasing a new crate every few months).
So what is the best size crate for a German Shepherd puppy? Go with a 42- or 48-inch metal crate with a divider – the divider is key! Use it to partition the crate, giving your GSD pup just enough room to stand up, lie down, and turn around. GSD puppies grow fast! So just move the divider back to give your pup more room as it grows.
-My Crate Recommendations
As I said before, there are a lot of options out there when it comes to dog crates – it can be a bit overwhelming. But I’ve done the research for you!
Check out my full guide to the best crates for German Shepherds if you want to learn more, but here are three of my top recommendations.
- Best Overall – MidWest Life Stages
This is the crate I ultimately chose for Allie when she was a puppy, and I highly recommend it! Collapsible wire crate that includes a divider panel so it can “grow” with your dog. There are several sizes available, and you can choose either a single or double door. I went with the 42-inch size, and 8-year-old Chyna still fits inside perfectly. Very durable and sturdy but still folds easily. Plus, the price makes it a great value!
- Best for Travel – EliteField Folding Soft Dog Crate
This soft-sided crate is perfect for travel if you don’t want to lug around a hard-sided crate, and comes in a German Shepherd approved size (42-inch). Includes a fleece bed, which is removable and washable for easy cleaning. Very easy to set-up and fold-down, making it a great option for dogs on the go!
- Best for Hard-Sided – Petmate Ultra Vari Kennel
If you prefer a plastic crate, this is one of the best. Allie uses this one for long traveling long distances in the truck. Petmate offers several variations on this hard-sided plastic kennel, including several sizes to choose from. Easy to assemble and very sturdy, making it the safest crate for airline travel. If your dog gets overly anxious or nervous in new situations, this crate might be the best choice.
What Else Do I Need for Crate Training?
Ok, new crate for your puppy – check! But what else do you need?
When I first started crate training Allie, I bought a nice, fluffy bed for her to sleep on while in her crate – bad idea! I came home to a “snowstorm” of stuffing and a destroyed doggy bed. For a puppy, I recommend buying something a bit more durable and a bit less fluffy. A thinner crate mat is a great option – it’s still soft but has less stuffing to entice a young puppy to chew. It’s also machine washable and easy to clean.
Toys are great for a puppy learning to love its crate. It gives your pup something to do (other than chew up the bedding) and teaches it that crate time is fun! Just remember, eventually, your puppy will be left unsupervised in its crate for extended periods of time. So any toys you choose for its crate must be safe!
Kong toys are perfect for crate training – they’re super durable and can outlast even the most destructive pup.
Allie loved gnawing on her Kong while in her crate. I would stuff it with frozen peanut butter – the perfect toy/treat combo to keep her happily occupied!
Speaking of treats, make sure to keep plenty of treats on hand to use as rewards. In our step-by-step crate training section, we’ll talk about using food and treats as a tasty enticement during training.
- Crate Cover
It’s a good idea to cover your dog’s crate, especially if you decide to go with a wire crate. A crate cover will help your dog feel safe and keep it from being disturbed by its humans walking by. You can purchase a crate cover or even use a towel or bedsheet. Keep in mind, never cover all sides of the crate – your dog needs plenty of ventilation.
How Do I Crate Train a German Shepherd Puppy?
As I mentioned before, the most important part of crate training is teaching your puppy to LOVE its crate! How do you do this? The crate needs to be a “happy place” and your dog should always associate it with positive experiences. Use lots of treats, patience, and praise to show your dog that learning is fun.
Also, don’t expect too much too fast – be patient and don’t pressure your puppy into anything.
So let’s dive into this step-by-step breakdown of crate training a German Shepherd puppy!
-Crate Training Instructions
- Make the introduction
- First impressions are everything, and you want your puppy to have a positive association with its new crate.
- Put the crate in a room where your puppy spends a lot of time and prop the door open (or remove the door altogether). You can add a crate mat and toy, but then back off and let the puppy investigate the crate casually – no pressure!
- Your puppy may explore immediately, going in and out of the crate to sniff around. But if not, you can encourage it with a few treats or toys near the front of the crate.
- Be patient until your puppy is bold enough to go all the way inside its crate without any nervousness.
- Use during mealtime
- Once your pup is comfortable with wandering in and out of its crate, pair mealtime with crate time.
- Adding a food reward reinforces those positive associations you want to build between your puppy and its crate.
- Start by regularly feeding your puppy next to the crate, then slowly work the food dish into the crate (at the front, then further back).
- Close the crate
- Once your pup is happily chowing down while standing all the way inside the crate, start closing the door during mealtime – but just until dinner is over! Open the door again as soon as your pup is finished eating.
- Once you’ve done this a few times, you can start leaving your pup inside a big longer with each meal (just a few extra minutes each time).
- If your puppy whines (a sign you may be moving a bit too fast) don’t leave the door closed quite as long next time. But don’t let your puppy out until it stops whining! You don’t want it to think whining is the key to getting let out of its crate.
- Increase crate time
- Before continuing to this step, it’s important to make sure your pup is completely comfortable with its crate and shows no signs of fear or anxiety.
- If you think your pup is ready, it’s time to lengthen its stay in the crate. Encourage your puppy into the crate by using a toy or treat (introduce a command here like “bedtime” or “place”) and use plenty of praise and a reward once it enters. Then, close the door.
- Stay near the crate for several minutes, then go into another room for a few minutes. When you return, sit near the crate again for a few more minutes before opening the door.
- Repeat this step until your puppy is comfortable in its crate for at least 30 minutes without you in sight. This may take several days or even weeks so be patient!
- Crating when you leave
- Now your puppy is ready to try crating while home alone (for short periods of time at first).
- Make sure to give your puppy a potty break before crating for an extended period of time.
- When it’s time to leave, try not to create too much excitement.
- Stick to your normal routine for crating – use a command to get your dog to enter the crate, praise your dog briefly, give them a treat, and then leave quietly.
- Keep it low-key when you return as well. Wait a few minutes before letting your puppy out of its crate and try to ignore any excited behavior.
- Crating overnight
- Before attempting an overnight stay in the crate, make sure your puppy is tired and ready for sleep. Lots of exercise and playtime before bed will help.
- Give your puppy a chance to potty immediately before bedtime.
- It’s a good idea to keep your crate near your bed – puppies will need out to go potty during the night.
- Again, use your normal routine for crating (command, praise, treat).
- Once your puppy is happily snoozing through the night, you can move the crate wherever you prefer.
-The Don’ts of Crate Training
- Don’t use the crate as punishment.
- Don’t leave your dog in the crate too long (puppies shouldn’t be crated for more than 4 hours at a time).
- Don’t scold your puppy when it’s in the crate.
- Don’t lose your patience (have you noticed this comes up a lot?).
- Don’t reward whining – always wait until your pup stops crying before letting it out of its crate.
How Do I Create a Crate Training Schedule?
A regular daily routine is important in training your puppy, and consistency is key! Puppies learn best through repetition so create a puppy crate training schedule and stick to it.
Here is a super simple German Shepherd crate training schedule that you can easily modify to fit your needs.
- Wake up!
- Out for potty
- Mealtime and playtime
- One more potty break
- Crate time
- Out for potty
- One more potty break
- Crate time
- Out for potty
- Mealtime and playtime
- One more potty break
- Crate time
Keep in mind that each playtime should be at least 15-20 minutes. And don’t forget, crate time for a puppy shouldn’t last more than 4 hours at a time.
How Long Do I Use a Crate?
Another great thing about crating your puppy – it doesn’t last forever! Crate training is a learning and management tool that helps you and your puppy form a happier, more positive relationship.
Once you have properly trained your puppy, you can leave the crate door open at all times or even remove the crate altogether. Put the crate bedding in the same spot as the crate, and your furry friend will know that is its special place for rest and relaxation.
And remember, crating is not a way of life. In fact, the ultimate goal is LESS crate time for your German Shepherd and MORE family fun time.
And Now… You’ve Got This!
Before you read this guide, crate training may have seemed like a daunting task – but now, you’ve got this! Just follow the rules and steps I’ve laid out for you (don’t forget to be patient), and you’ll be well on your way to stress-free puppy parenting.