How Do You Crate Train a German Shepherd? The Ulitmate Guide by a Certified Dog Trainer

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Maybe you’ve tried to crate train your GSD before and it was a disaster.

Like your puppy crying and whining as they frantically search for places to exit their crate.

Or are you lying awake listening to your puppy whining all night and you don’t know what to do?

On top of that, you’re wondering…

“Is it cruel to crate train my dog?”
“Have I got the right type of crate?”
“Is the crate in the best position?”
“Should I cover it, or should I leave it open?”

When all you want is a safe space where your puppy can stay while you do the things humans need to do like, get sleep, take a shower, run errands, or go to the office.

Well, now you can relax!

This ultimate guide to crate training your German Shepherd is the exact and most up-to-date method that I’ve just used to crate train my now 6-month-old puppy.

In this blog post, I’m going to give you my 5-step process for fast, effective crate training. And answer all those questions and more.

And this method works just as well if you want to teach your GSD to enjoy a playpen.

The best part is these steps can be used to begin crate training whether you have a puppy, an adult, or even a senior dog.

How Do You Crate Train a German Shepherd?

This 5-step process with guide you to crate train your German Shepherd fast and effectively, no matter their age.

5 Steps to Crate Training a German Shepherd

Step One – Paw Targeting

In my opinion, most of the crate training advice out there focuses way too much on the crate. And focusing on the crate can be overwhelming for both you and your dog.

And that’s why I incorporated Paw Targeting as step one in my crate training process.

This step comes in two parts. And you’ll be focusing on building value for your GSD placing their paws on a target. The target can be a blanket, an old sheet, a towel, or a small rug.

Equipment for Paw Targeting

  • Food rewards your dog loves! They must be super high value.
  • A small bed, rug, towel, or blanket. Be sure to place it on a non-slip floor so that your target doesn’t slide around.
  • If your dog is new to this kind of training, use a bigger target that you can gradually fold into a smaller size.
  • A crate is needed only for part two of this training.

How to Train Paw Targeting – Part One

  1. Start training when your dog is alert and curious.
  2. Place your rug on the ground. Move around the area with your dog and every time they place a foot on the rug, say ‘yes’ and toss a piece of food for them to chase.
  3. Throwing the food away will set up another chance for your dog to come back and touch the mat.
  4. Once your dog shows you they find it valuable to touch the rug it’s time to load the value into them being on the mat.
  5. Instead of throwing a piece of food away when your dog is on the rug, feed them a piece of food to their mouth.
  6. Then release them with a word you’d like to use as a release cue and throw a piece of food away.
  7. Right now your dog won’t know the meaning of the word, but in the future, it’ll become their release cue from the crate.
  8. When your dog returns and gets onto the rug, feed them a piece of food to their mouth and repeat the step above.
  9. Once your dog shows you they “get it” and are confident, it’s time for you to start changing your position.

This will make the decision more difficult for your dog. Will they go to the rug or come to stand in front of you?

How to Train Paw Targeting – Part Two

  1. Start this training when your dog is alert and curious.
  2. Place the rug in front of the crate but make sure to leave space between them.
  3. Play a few rounds of part one of paw targeting and reward your dog for being on the rug.
  4. Then release your dog with the release cue you established in part one and throw a piece of food away from the rug.
  5. Gradually move the rug closer to the crate door. And it’s best to do this while your dog is chasing the piece of food you throw away from the rug.
  6. Next, move the rug so that it’s partly inside the crate. And do a happy dance when your dog goes onto the rug in that place. Then release them and throw a piece of food away from the rug.
  7. Finally, move the rug so that it’s all the way inside the crate. And continue to release your dog with your release cue and throw a piece of food.
  8. Once your dog is reliably and consistently going inside the crate it’s time to start rewarding them while inside by feeding them a piece of food to their mouth.

Now you have a dog who sees the value of going into their crate. And they also understand that they will be released from it.

This removes all the anxiety and fear around being inside the crate. And makes space for the next steps.

Step Two – Adding a Cue

I often see folks adding a cue to a behavior long before their dog is ready for it.

In my professional work, I prefer to add a cue only once I know a dog will reliably perform a behavior 95% of the time.

If you’ve followed the above steps, your dog should be ready for a cue now.

Throw a piece of food away from the crate and when your dog returns, say the cue you want to use as they move into their crate.

Reward them inside their crate and then give their release cue and throw another piece of food.

Rinse and repeat 10 times.

Step Three – Crate Enrichment

In this step, you’ll be “feeding two birds with one seed,” so to speak.

Firstly, you’ll be building on the value from step one for your dog being inside the crate.

And secondly, they’ll be learning to enjoy enrichment inside their crate. Which is a great tool when you need to keep your dog safe and occupied.

Equipment for Crate Enrichment

  • Your dog’s crate.
  • A food-filled toy like a Kong, Busy Squirrel, or something similar.

How to Set Up Crate Enrichment

If your dog is familiar with food-filled toys you can opt to freeze their meal inside it beforehand. Remove it from the freezer 10 minutes before your start crate enrichment to give it some time to thaw.

If your dog is new to food-filled toys, it’s best to fill the toy and offer it as is. Until they are more experienced in working for their food from this kind of toy.

By now your dog should be confident going into their crate. And the best time to practice this training is at your dog’s meal times.

Simply walk to the crate with your dog and cue them to go inside.

Then place the food-filled toy inside your dog’s crate and let them get to work on it.

Repeat this step for as many of your dog’s meals as you can over the next 3 to 5 days.

Of course, it might not always be possible to feed every meal this way over the next several days. But do as many as you have time for.

And it’s important to leave the crate door open at this point.

Step Four – Closing the Crate Door

My advice here is to only practice this step once you’ve practiced step two several times over a 3 to 5-day period.

Follow the process in step two and when your dog is engrossed in working to get the food out of the toy, shut the door for 3 seconds.

Then open the door again.

Start counting to 5 in your head before closing the door again, this time only for 1 second.

Rinse and repeat the above process and be mindful to vary the seconds you close the door.

It should look something like this…

3 seconds, 1 second, 2 seconds, 4 seconds, 2 seconds, 5 seconds, 3 seconds, etc.

What you’re aiming for is to gradually increase the time that the door is shut, with much shorter times in between.

Practice this step until you’re able to close the door for at least 10 seconds without your dog showing any negative emotional responses.

Step Five – Increasing Distance

Until now, you’ve been right next to the crate with your dog.

And it’s time to start increasing the distance between you and the crate while your dog is inside with the door closed.

Once again, use a food-filled toy while your dog is inside the crate with the door closed.

While you’re standing near the crate, place one foot behind you, count one second, and bring it back.

Rinse and repeat this 5 times.

If your dog shows no negative emotional response, take one full step backward, count to 5, and return to where you were.

Rinse and repeat 5 times.

Continue along this process until you’re able to walk away and be out of sight while your dog remains calm with no negative emotional responses.

Crate Training a German Shepherd Puppy at Night

How to Crate Train a German Shepherd Puppy at Night

It is perfectly normal to feel anxious or unsure when you’re crate training your German Shepherd puppy for night-time crate use.

And in this section, I’ll share my step-by-step process from night one, including my puppy’s nightly potty schedule.

Close Crate Placement for Puppies

With all behaviors in dog training, the best place to start is with the end in mind. And asking yourself the question, “how do I want this to work long-term?” is vital.

It’s no different when it comes to crate training your puppy from the first night.

And crate placement can make or break your crate training efforts going forward.

My advice to my membership community and clients is to always start by placing your puppy’s crate right next to your bed.

You can always decide to move it to a more permanent place further away from your bed, but to start with you should have your puppy as close to you as possible.

And there are a few crucial reasons for this which I’ll share now…

3 Reasons for Close Crate Placement

You’ll be able to hear and see your puppy.

It helps to keep tabs on whether your puppy is awake, moving around, or chewing on something they shouldn’t, like their blanket.

You’ll be able to soothe your puppy.

Your GSD puppy has just been taken from their mom and litter mates. And to top that off, they are in a new environment with unusual sights, sounds, and scents.

Having your puppy close to you means you can soothe them with your voice, which in my experience is all they need.

During the first few nights your new puppy is home, every time you hear them rustle or become restless, say in a low, calm tone…

“You’re okay pup.”

This works well to calm and soothe them back to sleep. However, it doesn’t work if they are ready to go outside for a potty break.

This brings us to reason 3 for close crate placement…

You’ll know exactly when your puppy needs a potty break.

Puppies are really good at letting their humans know when they need to go outside to relieve themselves. But we humans often miss the cues puppies give.

So having your puppy’s crate in close quarters to you will be a huge help for you to know when they need to go outside during the night.

Something that works well is to soothe your puppy with your voice a minimum of 3 times. If they still won’t settle, it’s time to take them outside.

3 Steps to Get Your GSD Puppy Ready for a Good Night’s Sleep

Mental Enrichment

I often see people say, “a tired puppy is a sleepy puppy.” And it’s true to an extent.

But most people reach for physical exercise to tire their puppy out. But too much physical exercise is unhealthy for a puppy.

So my advice as a certified dog trainer is to reach for mental enrichment instead.

It’s easier than you think!

My puppy ate all his meals from enrichment items that were prefilled with his food. It was only when he turned 5 months old that I began offering him some of his food in a bowl.

You can use just about anything to fill with your puppy’s food. As long as it’s safe and your puppy is supervised throughout.

Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing…

  • Cow hoof.
  • Puzzle toys.
  • Cardboard box.
  • Kongs.
  • Topples.

Structure Your Puppy’s Water and Food Schedule

Ideally, you want your puppy to have their last meal roughly an hour before heading off their crate for the night.

When they have their last drink of water is much more flexible and depends a lot on how hot and humid your area is.

I live in Southern Africa where even our winter months are more than bearable.

So I never withhold water from my puppy before bed. But if you live in a cooler region, giving your puppy a drink of water an hour before bedtime is perfectly fine.

The way I see it, they’re going to wake you up anyway to go on a potty break, so let them have water if they need it.

And if they want to have a drink after their potty break that’s fine too.

Have a Potty Break Right Before Bed

Take your puppy out for their last potty break right before you are ready to go to bed.

And take them out with their leash clipped on. This way you’ll be able to control the environment and distractions.

Trust me on this!

Your puppy has a very short attention span and anything that attracts their attention will distract them from taking care of their business.

And a quick potty break could turn into a 30-minute jaunt around the yard chasing moths!

What to do During Midnight Potty Breaks

What to do During Midnight Potty Breaks During Crate Training

Accept that your sleep is going to be temporarily interrupted for a few weeks.

Your puppy has a teeny-tiny bladder and won’t be able to hold it for too long.

So prepare ahead of time so you’ve got everything within reach when it’s time to go outside. Think of things like:

  • A leash.
  • Your shoes.
  • A nightgown or jacket.
  • Your keys.
  • A torch.

When your puppy wakes you up, open the crate and clip their leash on. Then and pick them up and carry them outside.

This will prevent any midnight accidents from happening on the way to the door.

The goal of nighttime potty breaks is to get the job done and have both of you back in bed to sleep.

So keep things low-key when you go outside.

How to Structure Your GSD Puppy’s Nightly Potty Schedule

Your Puppy's Nightly Potty Schedule During Crate Training

In my experience, there are two ways you can approach this. And the method you decide on depends wholly on your puppy’s personality and communication.

But before we dive into each method, here’s a quick age-related breakdown of how long your puppy can hold their bladder…

8 to 10 weeks of age – 30-60 minutes.
11 to 14 weeks of age – 1-3 hours.
15 to 16 weeks of age – 3-4 hours.
17+ weeks of age – 4-5 hours.

Go by Your Alarm Clock

This method is ideal if your puppy is quiet and doesn’t whine when they need to go outside during the night.

Or if you’re a deep sleeper who won’t easily hear your puppy is awake and moving in their crate.

Both of my now older dogs were quiet puppies. They didn’t whine to go outside during the night.

So I started by setting my alarm clock at 90-minute intervals. If they were awake, I’d take them out. If they were asleep I’d reset for another 90 minutes.

As the days went by the time increased. And within 2 weeks, they were letting me know when it was time to go outside.

Go by Your Puppy’s Communication

It was obvious from the first night that my newest puppy is a big communicator!

He was good at giving soft whines when he was ready to go outside for a potty break. And since his crate was right next to my bed, I quickly woke up.

On the first 2 nights, he woke me up hourly. But that quickly went to 90 minutes. And from there I just relied on him to wake me up when he was ready to go.

A Crate Training Schedule Guideline

So now you’ve got all the information you need, it’s time to start thinking about your puppy’s schedule.

You can use the schedule below and adjust it to fit in with your schedule. Swapping out one activity for another is perfectly fine.

The closer you can get this schedule to fit in with your own, the easier it will be to stick to it!

Also, consider your puppy’s age and the length of time they can be crated when making adjustments to this schedule.

5:00 am – Wake up and go out (bathroom break)
5:15 am – Back to sleep for your puppy while you do human things like drinking coffee.
7:00 am – A quick potty break and a short training session.
7:10 am – Breakfast time for puppy (this is where you can use crate enrichment).
7:30 am – Back into crate or tethered until next potty break.
8:00 am – Potty break.
9:30 am – Free play with you under supervision.
10:30 am – Nap time in a crate or playpen.
12:00 pm – Lunch time.
12:30 pm – Crate, tether, or playpen until the next potty break.
1:00 pm – Potty break.
1:15 pm – Training session.
1:30 pm – Potty break.
1:45 pm – Nap time.

Now that you are armed with the basics of crate training your GSD and a guideline for a schedule, it’s time to answer some of those burning questions you have!

Why it’s a Great Idea to Crate Train Your GSD

5 Reasons to Crate Train Your German Shepherd

Many folks think using a crate is a bad idea. Some think it’s a prison for a dog.

And crate training is banned in places like Finland and Sweden except for specific scenarios.

As a professional dog trainer, I understand the reasons. But I also know that this view of crates is not because they are bad.

It’s because they have been used in inhumane ways by people who don’t understand the needs of dogs.

So when their puppy gets mischievous, they shove the dog inside a crate and leave them there. Instead of training their dog to learn how to live in harmony in this human-centric world.

But there are a host of reasons why it’s a great idea to crate train your German Shepherd.

As long as it is never used:

  • For punishment.
  • As isolation.
  • A substitute for proper training.

Safety and House Training

Imagine this…

You bring your puppy home and let them loose.

The next thing you know plants are overturned, your shoes are all over the floor, and your pup lying in the corner happily munching on your television remote.

Such a young, curious, and untrained puppy bouncing with energy while running loose in your home is a bad idea. And potentially dangerous one too.

The reality is you can’t constantly supervise your puppy and it only takes a split second for their curious brains to get them into mischieve.

Having a crate handy where your puppy can keep themselves occupied with something safe while you do “human” things, is a great way to give you peace of mind.

Potty Training Tool

A crate is a great tool to help you potty train your GSD, whether they are puppies or adult rescue dogs.

If you’d like to get access to my Flawless Potty Training guide and direct support from me, sign up for Smart GSD Academy and join the community of other GSD guardians just like you!

Dogs are Den Animals

Dogs are den animals and are quite happy in a small (not too small) space.

It becomes a place of their own, a bolt hole when the hustle and bustle get to be too much, a sanctuary when it’s fireworks or thunderstorm season.

Traveling is Easier

A dog running loose in a car is an accident waiting to happen. And one way to prevent your dog from distracting you while you’re driving is to have them travel in a crate.

If you’ll be flying with your dog, the airlines will require that they be confined in a crate.

And it’s much easier to already have a dog who is super comfortable with a crate and then take them on a flight. Than to stress them out by both putting them in a crate for the first time and on a flight.

Crate Rest

Of course, you don’t want your dog to injure themselves in any way. But life happens, and dogs get hurt or they need surgery for some reason.

A crate is the perfect safe, place to recover from surgery, illness, or injury.

When Charley, my now departed female GSD had her FHO surgery to repair hip dysplasia, needed 6 weeks of crate rest before we could start with hydrotherapy.

Both she and I would have been worse for wear without her crate and playpen. we both would have been lost without a crate and a playpen.

How to Choose the Right Crate for Your German Shepherd

How to Choose the Right Crate for Your German Shepherd

There are so many options for crates these days it can be overwhelming. Especially if this is your first rodeo with crates.

Below you’ll find guidelines for choosing a crate that suits your needs and keep your puppy happy and safe.

Let’s Talk About Space

There is one important rule of thumb when picking the correct sized crate for your GSD.

There must be enough space for them to stand, sit, turn around, and lie down on their side.

And all this without being cramped.

But when your GSD is still a small puppy who is potty training, their crate shouldn’t be too big either.

Because this will cause them to use one end as their toilet and the other end as their bed.

I used an appropriately sized crate until my puppy is fully potty trained. Then I bought a crate that they can grow into and use for the rest of their lives.

How to Measure Your GSD for a Crate

While your dog is standing, measure them from the tip of their nose to the base of their tail. Then add 2 to 4 inches to the number.

Next, while your dog is sitting, measure them from the floor to the tip of their ears. Then add 2 to 4 inches to the number.

It’s not an exact science, but this way of measuring is a great place to start.

Time to do Some Legwork

If this is your first experience with crates, and aren’t familiar with how they work or even how they look, it would be helpful to visit some pet supply stores to get an idea.

If you already have your dog, bring them with you and let them try out a couple of crates in-store.

If you’re preparing before they come home, it’s still a good idea to have a look around.

Even if you ultimately make your purchase online, you’ll be more knowledgeable when making your selection.

But before you head out, keep reading to get the lowdown on the 6 different types of crates.

I’ll also share with you the one I prefer and use for my dogs.

Types of Dog Crates with Pros and Cons

Types of Crate with Their Pros and Cons

Have you begun your search for a dog crate?

Only to become overwhelmed by the large variety available?

And suddenly you realize you have no idea how to choose the right one.

To help you make sense of it all, I have listed the main crate types available, with the pros and cons of each.

Most crates will be made of one of these 4 types of material:

  1. Wire
  2. Plastic
  3. Fabric/Soft Sided
  4. Stylish to blend with your décor

Factor in the following when deciding…

  • Location of the crate – one spot or moving it around.
  • Airline approved.
  • Ease of cleaning.
  • Sturdiness
  • Blend into your decor.
  • What is the purpose of the crate?

Wire Crates

Foldable Wire Crates

These are my crates of choice and I’ve been happily using them for decades.

Pros and Cons of Wire Crates

ProsCons
Best VentilationFor some dogs the open view can be stressful but, as mentioned, the crate can be covered.
Models with one or two doors that swing outward or slide up – more flexibility for use in small spaces or corners.May don’t offer enough protection against the cold. Again, a cover thrown over should help, as well as putting a pillow on the bottom.
You can easily see your dog, and he can see what’s going on.Some dogs are able to pee or poop through the wire onto your floor.
Option of covering the crate if your puppy is too distracted.Can be heavy.
Divider panels for adjusting size to suit your growing puppy.Can be noisy when your dog moves around.
Removable floor tray for easy cleaning.Some escape artists can, well, escape!
Sturdy and chew proof.
Many can fold flat for transport or storage.

Plastic Crates

Although typically used for air travel, they can also be used for crate training.

Pros and Cons of Plastic Crates

ProsCons
Light and less awkward to move/carry than metal ones.For some dogs the open view can be stressful but, as mentioned, the crate can be covered.
Top can be removed and the bottom used as a dog bed.Not many openings to see through, can be stressful.
Insulated against cold.Harder to get odors out of plastic.
Harder for dogs to see out, so less distractions.Lack of air circulation can cause your puppy to overheat.
If you buy an airline approved crate, you can travel with it as well.Not the prettiest looking thing – if that matters.
Harder for Houdini to escape from.Some have thin plastic doors, dangerous for puppies to chew.
Wire doors are available to prevent chewing.If you have a large crate, it can be awkward to create a barrier he can’t climb over. Meaning you may end up buying more than a couple over the course of his lifetime.
Indentation around edge of floor allows pee to drain away from where your dog lies (theoretically).
Some color options available if that matters.
Easy to take apart for cleaning.
If you’re planning on replacing them as your puppy grows, reasonably priced ones are available, especially if they don’t have to be airline approved.

Fabric/Soft-Sided Crates

For people who don’t like the idea of keeping their dog “locked in a prison” (even though we know that’s not the case!) – a soft-sided crate may be easier to live with.

Pros and Cons of Fabric/Soft Sided Crates

ProsCons
Light and easy to carry.Easily damaged.
Doesn’t take up storage space.Not particularly long lasting.
Can be used for camping or travelling.Some dogs can unzip the door.
Lots of styles, colors and fabrics for the fashion conscious.Not secure, since puppies can easily chew through the fabric.
Difficult to clean.
Can be a good choice for certain dogs, in certain situations, but not puppies or for housebreaking.

Stylish

These include wood, rattan, and wicker… and are an alternative for those who prefer a nicer-looking unit.

Pros and Cons of Stylish Crates

ProsCons
Shouldn’t be difficult to find one that blends into your décor.Not suitable for destructive dogs who can easily damage the material.
Top can be used as a table, so no extra space needed.Not recommended for house training because material stains, and odors are very difficult to get out.
Fine for use as a dog bed or hidey hole.Can be expensive compared to other options.

My Crate Recommendation for House Training

Professional Dog Trainer Recommendation for the Best Crate

Of course, I don’t know your situation, so you have to make the best decision for yourself.  Having said that, if you don’t mind, I’ll leave you with my thoughts on this issue.

The most sensible and practical crate for training is a wire one.

Here’s why…

  • They are easy to clean.
  • Have doors that pull up as well as swing out.
  • They often have multiple door options making them great for any kind of space.
  • They are durable.
  • Can easily adjust to the size of your puppy.
  • They have great airflow.
  • They allow your puppy to be part of the action with the option of covering it.
  • Easily fold flat for transport or storage.
  • Economical because you really only need one.

Check out my recommendations for wire crates on Amazon.

Where is the Best Place to Position a Crate?

Where is the Best Position and Place for a Crate

I’ll preface this section with the ideal scenario…

That is, ideally you want to have a crate (or some kind of confinement area) for daytime use and nighttime use.

What I do is have a crate for nighttime use in my bedroom and a playpen for daytime use in the living room.

But you can opt to use a crate for both daytime and nighttime.

Daytime Use

At some point during the day, you will use the crate for training. Whether it’s just getting your puppy used to it, or keeping him safe while you’re out for a bit.

You want him near the hub of the home where he can see and hear what’s going on, which is typically in high-traffic areas.

Your puppy is a new member of your household, so putting them in a crate hidden away somewhere is not fair. They are social creatures, just like humans are and they’ll want to feel included.

Nighttime Use

As I mentioned before, starting with a crate right next to your bed is the best way to make your puppy feel secure.

It’s also an effective way to have a great potty training experience and tune your puppy’s sleep schedule in.

As the weeks go by you can gradually move the crate to the place you’d like it to be long-term.

For example, my puppy’s crate is now neatly placed in the corner of my bedroom. But we started right next to my bed when he was 9 weeks old.

Location, Location, Location

There are some vital things to keep in mind when you’re choosing the location inside the room you’ve decided to use.

And it’s all about keeping a steady temperature! So…

  • Avoid placing the crate in a direct draft.
  • Never place your dog’s crate near a fireplace, heater, or radiator.
  • Always place your dog’s crate away from direct sunlight.
  • Avoid any areas with extreme temperatures.

As a side note, I have my puppy’s crate in the corner of my bedroom which has a window nearby.

But I have blackout curtains which I keep drawn in that corner and a fan to keep the room at a stead temperature.

So wherever you decide to place your dogs crate, find ways to keep the room at a steady temperature.

A Second Crate? Or Moving One Crate?

Now that you know all about how you might want to use the crate and placement for temperature control, we come back to the ideal scenario I sketched earlier.

Will you be moving your dog’s crate for daytime or nighttime use?

Or will you invest in two crates, or perhaps a crate and a playpen?

Your situation might be very different from mine, but here are some things to consider…

  • Is your crate portable enough to move back and forth?
  • Where will your dog sleep long-term?
  • Are you willing/able to invest the money in a second crate or a playpen?

What to Put in a Dog Crate: Besides Your Dog

So you’ve decided on where now we have to decide on what to put in a dog crate.

You didn’t think your dog was going to have to sit in a barren cage, did you? I hope not!

There’s definitely a lot we can do to make his crate nice and cozy. After all, we want him to look forward to spending time in it.

Here’s what you need…

Bedding

Puppies = destruction. Some puppies do chew more than others, but for now, we’re going to assume your puppy is a big chewer until we learn otherwise.

You may instinctively want to put one of those nice plush soft beds in there, but it would be a mistake.

Even towels and blankets are fair game for the little guy or girl. If he manages to tear small pieces off, he could choke.

Two options to consider are Kuranda, or Amazon’s own padded pet bolster bed. They’re very popular, comfortable, great quality products. They are not 100% chew-proof when up against a very determined puppy, but they are durable.

Once you see your dog can be trusted to not chew up his bedding, you can put any type you want in there.

Check out my recommendations for dog crate bedding on Amazon.

Bowls

Water in bowls can be played with, and you don’t want him lying on a wet bed. A crate-mounted bowl like the Kennel Gear bowl is a better option for now.

Toys

Definitely leave a couple of toys, but what kind?

Soft toys and squeaky toys are best avoided when your puppy is unsupervised. They can be destroyed easily and become a choking hazard.

Why not look into heavy-duty rubber toys like a Kong? They’re tough and long-lasting and can be stuffed with treats, chicken, or anything else your GSD puppy enjoys, to keep him busy.

Throw it in the freezer to make the treats last longer.

Toys also help stave off boredom and provide mental stimulation.

Check out my reviews of the best chew toys for German Shepherds.

Your dog will quickly learn that crate time is a fun time because he gets the really cool stuff when he’s in there.

Crate Cover

Plastic or soft-sided crates are not very see-through, so you’re probably fine as is. Given how open a metal crate is, you may consider buying a cover, but see how your dog is getting on first, before spending the money.

Does he seem nervous or anxious with crowds of people around? Is he itching to get out to join in the fun?

If you answered yes to one or both, a cover may give him that added sense of security, and help him relax. You may only end up covering it at night, it’s a case of experimenting.

If you keep the crate in the corner, two sides are already covered, you may not have to do any more than that.

The next step is to find something to cover it with. Many people use sheets or blankets which, in theory, would be fine.

The reality is you just provided your dog with something else to entertain himself with.

He can easily get a piece of that through the bars and have a field day, shredding it to pieces. And what happens with little pieces? That’s right, a possible choking hazard.

It’s best to get a cover, specifically made to fit snugly around the crate.

Check out my recommendations for dog crate covers on Amazon.

The Ultimate Guide to Crate Training – Conclusion

Wow!! That was a long guide! But it’s not called the ultimate guide for no reason!

I know there is a huge amount of information here, but as I said at the beginning, take it easy. It’s new and anything new takes time to digest.

Read it through a few times, to get the gist of what the crate is all about, then read each section and it will all become clear.

I’ve done my best to provide you with as much information as I could, and to leave no question unanswered.

I do hope this ultimate guide to crate training will help you as you welcome your new pup into your life.

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About the author: Gabriella is a certified professional dog trainer with a special passion for teaching GSD guardians to train their dogs with kindness and clarity using positive reinforcement methods without force, pain, or fear. Join “Dog Speak” for free dog training tips and advice from a professional dog trainer.

  • Stephanie

    Hi Gabriella, we are 4 weeks away from getting our very first puppy (hope it is easier than raising kids😂)
    After reading the positive reviews of crate training we definitely want to go that road.
    My question, while you are teaching the pup to get used to the crate using the steps set out above, do you put him in the crate at night or only after he has gotten used to it, using a dog bed instead?🤔
    Await you valuable response
    Stephanie all the way from sunny SA

    • Hi Stephanie,

      What I like to do is place the crate right next to my bed for at least the first week. This is so that my puppy can see me and I am able to reassure him with my voice if he does begin to whine and cry.

      This post was originally written by a guest poster, but I have changed the way I crate train since then, so I’ll be sharing that inside my membership community.

  • Sunay Usta

    Hello,

    Thank you for all the great info on how to crate train. We have our 8 weeks old GSD for 4 days now and she seems to learn things quickly. She takes a lot of naps during the day and tries to nibble on everything she sees fit. We tell her no when she nibbles on thing which includes our hands and feet so we distract her by giving her toys to bite on. She doesn’t go into her crate when she wants to nap so we usually pick her up and put her in there. She falls a sleep on the carpet. Is it a good idea to put her in the crate after she falls a sleep elsewhere to get her use to sleeping in it?
    Also at night training hasn’t been going so well as she needs to use wee wee pads and she doesn’t wanna be in there at night. Is that normal to happen? Should I work on getting her taking naps in the crate during the day hoping that will help with night crate training?
    Thank you in advance!
    Sunay

    • Hi Sunay!

      Thanks for your questions, they are all excellent and have simple solutions but will take some time and likely back and forth questions to be able to implement with success.

      I’d be really happy to jump on a quick free call with you and run you through the things that have worked for me as a professional dog trainer.

      Just reach out to me via email and we can set something up for a time that suits you. I’ve got some spots open on Sunday, so let’s chat. And as I said, there’s no charge! 🙂

      Gabriella

  • Daniel samuel

    Wow, thank you very much it has been helpful to me from Nigeria.

    • Gabriella

      Happy to help, Daniel! 🙂

  • Andy

    Hello,

    We are approximately 9 weeks away from bringing home a new GSD puppy home and I like the idea of crate training. I do have one question though. Once the dog is crate trained, can you leave the door of the crate open to allow the dog to go in and out as he/she pleases? I know that will kind of defeat the purpose of a crate. But leaving the crate locked defeats the purpose of having a watchdog. I am thinking of scenario where someone breaks into your home at night and your dog is helplessly locked in a crate.

    Thanks in advance for any advice.

    • Gabriella

      Hi Andy,

      Thanks for your question.

      Yes, you absolutely can aim for leaving the crate open. Although I’d wait until your puppy is through their puppy stage, teething stage, and fully potty trained. Dogs are den animals and plenty of dogs choose to go to their crates when they sleep, nap, or need to chill.

  • Zeff

    Hi,

    Thanks for the great information. We have a 7 week GSD/Husky female pup and I’m wondering what we should do with her at night until she is comfortable in her crate. We have just started crate training and she doesn’t seem to mine being in there, until it’s bedtime. Her first night she cried, yelped, barked, and howled for 30-40 min when she went in there, and after each potty break. So should we continue to let her cry it out until she is comfortable, or find other sleeping arrangements until she gets more comfortable with her crate? Any information would be helpful. Thank you!

    • Hi Zeff,

      Thanks for reaching out with your question.

      Most crate training guides will recommend letting a puppy cry it out (and Hindi recommends it in this guide too). However, as my personal knowledge of training practices develops through my studies I often find that my viewpoints on best practices change. Since this guide was not written by me, I can’t go in and change the opinion but I will update it with a note about how I personally would handle a puppy crying in a crate.

      The way I view this situation now is, I wouldn’t let a human baby cry it out. The first thing I’d work on is spending more time making the crate the most fun and positive experience. Play games in and around it, feed her food and treats in and around it. Place her inside her crate and immediately let her out to a fun experience like a snuffle mat or another type of enrichment toy.

      Next, I’d experiment with the crate in different areas, perhaps even in your bedroom or just outside your bedroom door for bedtime. Often a puppy just wants to know they are close to their humans and something like moving the crate can help with this. Although my dogs are crate trained, I prefer the practice of tethering at night. This allows the puppy a sense of closeness and freedom while still ensuring they can’t go off and get up to mischief during the night or have potty accidents. My pups wear a harness and I use a leash to tether them to a solid piece of furniture. They have access to their bed or their crate so they can choose where to sleep within the range that their leash allows. In my experience, this is a less stressful way but of course, the final decision lies with you in how you want to handle this.

      Hope this helps! 🙂

  • Jacob Crosby

    Hello,

    I recently adopted a year and a half old GSD, were are now beginning to crate train due to destructive tendencies when we leave the house. It seems to be an issue more related to separation anxiety more than being in the crate itself because he is able to sleep through the night in his crate with no issues. My grandmother is actually living with us as well and is able to keep our puppy company throughout the day but even with that he still runs around the house tearing things up seemingly looking for myself or my fiance. how to you think we should proceed?

    Jacob Crosby

    • Hi Jacob,

      Thanks for your comment.

      There is a type of separation anxiety where the dog becomes anxious where a person or certain people are not around. As opposed to the kind of separation anxiety that’s calmed if another warm body is around.

      I would most definitely get to a holistic vet to help you manage your boy’s separation anxiety in conjunction with working on ways to teach him it’s safe and okay to be without you for a while. Check out my article on separation anxiety for ways you can help calm symptoms and train him to feel comfortable alone.

      But your first step should definitely be getting to a holistic vet who can help with natural remedies or conventional drugs in the interim. Holistic vets are far more inclined to use a mix of both instead of just conventional drugs.

  • george

    our german shepherd is 11 weeks old and we have had him for about a week. we didnt want to bring him into our room as its 2 floors away from the garden so difficult to take him out at night ( also we have a cat in the room). for the first 3 nights i stayed close, sleeping in the living room so i can take him out and didnt respond to his cries if i knew he was safe and didnt need the toilet. from then i went upto the bedroom and he was sleeping 12-6am with about 15 mins whinning when he first went in. since then we are now going to bed at 11 but he seems to whine and bark constatly for 30 mins- 1 hour every time we put him in the crate. it seems to be he doesnt like the door closing. we are worried obviously due to the neighbous but we dont really know what to do. we are followign the bedtime routine etc he isnt able to go for walks yet as hasnt had his 2nd jabs. any suggestions we are desperate

    • Hi George,

      Thanks for leaving a comment sharing your situation.

      The first thing you can do is to spend more time getting your boy used to having the door closed and then opened again and slowly building up to having the door closed for longer. Keep it like a training session for 5 minutes and then let him get back to whatever he likes doing. If he’s whining for that long when you close the door for sleep time, it means he’s not quite comfortable yet.

      I know it’s tough when they are still too young to take out in public but you can do a lot with him indoors to help burn excess energy so he’s more likely to sleep right away at night.

      Training is a great way to do this. You can try playing games with him that are designed to teach bite inhibition. He’s got to learn that anyway, so playing these games will teach him and burn energy. Check out this article on biting to learn about these games. I recommend only the build-a-bridge game and the nose touch game because they suit his age the best.

      Also, you can play puzzle games with him. All you need are some treats and you can use items you have around your home like muffin pans, plastic cups, and other plastic containers. Check out this article on puzzle games and watch the video to see how you can teach him how to play a puzzle game.

      If you’re keen on games, check out Brain Training for Dogs here. I use this for all my dogs whether they are pups or adults. It’s a great way to tap into their natural intelligence and teach them how to live alongside us in a fun and positive way.

      Let me know how you get along with these tips. 🙂

  • Deborah Wolfe

    My husband (retired) and myself are getting our first GSD in 6-7 weeks. The information in this article will be invaluable. We have purchased a large metal crate with dividers, an attachable water bowl, a Goughnut TuG Interactive dog toy and dog stick, and a padded pet bolster bed, all from Hindy’s recommendations.
    I have read every single word and I am extremely grateful for all the information.

    Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

  • Ross

    Hi!

    Great advice, I am currently looking for my first German Shephard puppy and wish to create train him like you explained however I fear my work schedule might not be the greatest for the methodology you have described. I plan on taking a few days off when I get my puppy however, when work resumes days after bringing the puppy to my house I will need to leave him at home alone possibly for the 7am-330pm work day. How might I incorporate this into my training?

    • Hey Ross,

      Thanks for your question.

      8+ hours is a long time for a young pup to be alone. And not ideal because he won’t be able to hold his bladder or bowels that long. You can still crate train, which I highly recommend, not just for potty training or keeping him safe from chewing unsafe things. Crate training is great to give your pooch a den where he can just go and chill. Dogs are den animals so then need a chill-out place.

      Is there a way you can get a trusted neighbor, friend or family member to pop in every few hours to let your pup out for a potty run, play and some human interaction? Or perhaps you can find a doggy daycare in your area? Another option is hiring a dog walker. Or find someone you trust where he can spend the day while you’re at work.

      I hope you’ll be able to find a solution with one of these options. This way your pup will be happy and you’ll have the peace of mind you need when leaving for work.

  • William Stone

    I have a 13 month old German Shepherd. I am having a problem with him always nibbling on me. He does not break the skin. I bought a crate. I can not get him to come near it. Help.

    • Hi William,

      Thanks for your comment.

      This guide that Hindy wrote is the best way to teach a GSD of any age how to enjoy being in their crate. In conjunction with crate training you can try out these fun game for teaching bite inhibition. Since he’s older I recommend the nose touch game as a starting point. You can also try the build-a-bridge game but then I suggest sitting on a chair instead of on the floor since he’s already bigger in size.

  • Nina

    Thank you for such useful advice! My husband and I have just gotten a sweet 12 week old girl and are going through the process of crate training her. I am new to this whole “dog thing,” but Pyrrha has picked me as her person! We have been following a typical schedule as the one above, but she is still peeing a bit in her crate. What do you do when this happens, as a deterrent? I do not agree with physically punishing her (swatting her, rubbing her nose in it, etc.)–motivational training seems much more effective. Do you clean it up and just go on? Any help would be appreciated. 🙂

    • Hi Nina!

      Congrats on the pup!

      Try to figure out if you’re missing signs that she’s ready for a potty break and that’s why she’s having an accident. Like for example when do these accidents occur? After a nap or sleeping? After a meal? Or after a play session? These are all times that pups will need to have a potty break urgently. Check out my article on potty training, I share some signs to look for and essential times when your pup is ready to go potty.

      I totally agree with you on not punishing pups for mistakes. So cleaning it up with something like Icky Poo which is an odor remover especially for doggy accidents, you can find it here on Amazon. It’s important to use something like this because it gets rid of the scent. And it’s the scent that keeps them going back to the same spot.

      Something else to consider is, if Pyrrha is doing really well with potty training but she’s still having accidents you might want to visit her vet to make sure she doesn’t have a UTI. Usually when pups do really well and then have unexplained accidents it could be something medical like a UTI.

      I hope this helps. Let me know if you have other questions.

      Chat soon,
      Gabriella

  • Janie Hastings

    We have had our 3 year German Shepherd for 7 weeks. We have purchased 3 heavy duty metal kennels. She breaks out on each one when we leave. Suggestions???

    • Hi Janie,

      Thanks for reaching out.

      From what you’ve described it sounds like she was a rescue or you adopted her from somewhere. Is that correct?

      If she came from a shelter it’s especially likely that she has separation anxiety and that’s why she’s breaking out of her crates. And if she’s not used to a crate that could make matters worse.

      I definitely recommend getting her crate trained using this guide. But also to work on curbing her anxiety. In a nutshell this entails you pretending to leave home by going out the door and then coming back in immediately. And then slowly raising the criteria until she’s calm. Once she’s calm with you being outside the house for an extended period, you then move to starting the engine of your car and then turning it off again. And eventually being able to back out of your driveway all while she stays calm.

      This is going to take time because you’re dealing with a fear. So be read to take baby steps and to work on this for weeks or even months, depending on how quickly she feels more secure.

      While you’re working on this, you might have to make arrangements for her to be in a daycare or with someone who will take care of her during the day while you’re at work or running errands. You really want to make sure she’s not reinforcing the behavior by doing it and also to keep her safe from hurting herself.

      The other option you have, is to get the help of a positive dog trainer to help you work through this. If you let me know where you are I’m happy to make a few recommendations.

      Let me know,
      Gabriella

  • Jason Rogers

    Thank you so much for such a comprehensive training article. Really enjoyed reading this and learned so much.

  • Patrick

    Hi
    We have an adult rescued GSD who has been slow to bond with us. Four months in, and we still don’t have a predictable pattern for elimination. We are trying to use crate training. She goes into her crate in the daytime, sometimes as a quiet space. When she comes in from outside, she goes right in. But when we must leave her alone for a few hours, she paws at the crate, has bent it, and has escaped. So now we use carabiners.
    This dog can hold her pee for over 24 hours, so that is not the issue in the night. She might be bored or might want to be with us. We would love to have her crated in our bedroom, sleeping with her people, but she won’t go up the stairs. She weighs about 65 pounds, so carrying her up is not a good idea.
    She has been quiet in the crate, through the night, more than once, but is not consistent.
    Usually, when she is in the crate and we’re home, she is quiet. It’s only nighttime (or perhaps when we’re gone) that she paws at the crate in order to escape.
    Very frustrating!

    • Hi Patrick,

      Thanks for your comment.

      You’ve got a lot going on there, so I’ll try to address things one at a time.

      The first thing that comes to my mind is that your dog suffers from separation anxiety. This is not uncommon for dogs that come from shelters or even bad backgrounds.

      To curb this you’re going to have to take baby steps and work with her to get comfortable with you leaving and her being alone. In a nut shell your steps will be to put her in her crate and ‘pretend’ to leave. So basically open the door, go out and then come back inside.

      This is usually a long process and you’ll probably have to work at it for a few weeks. Each time you ‘leave’ you should take just a little longer to come back inside again. If she starts whining, pawing, howling or anything like that it means you’re moving too fast. So take a step back to where you were ‘leaving’ and she was quiet. Then practice with her there for a while before increasing the time again.

      In terms of the potty training, the first thing I’d do is take her to the vet for a checkup. Dogs have unique communication skills and I find that even a fully potty trained dog will urinate randomly if they have something like a UTI. So just to rule that out, maybe get her checked out.

      Things like stairs can often ‘freak’ dogs out. But you can work with her to help her get used to them. So as a first step, I recommend feeding her on the bottom step. So place her bowl there and let her eat all her meals there.

      Then move up one step and let her eat there. And so on and so forth. If you’re not comfortable with her eating her meals there, then you could always place some high value treats on the bottom step. And so over the next days move the treats up step by step.

      I hope these steps are helpful. If you have other questions while you’re working on these things just drop them in the comments.

      Chat soon,
      Gabriella

  • Erica Sam

    Hi,
    We have an 8 week old puppy and M-F he is in the crate from 7:40 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. I come home for a half hour, then he is back in the crate from 11:45 until 3:00 when my daughter comes home. So far he has not gone potty in the crate bit I can tell when I leave he doesn’t want to be in there. We have been letting him sleep on the bed the last several nights and no accidents and he sleeps through the night. We have gotten him to go in the crate for treats and meals but he doesn’t stay in there. What would you advise? I was thinking maybe a puppy play pen/excercise pen but his owner before said he is an escape artist and he tries to chew any little thing he see’s! When in the crate he has some water, a towel and a kong. I just don’t want him to get that bad anxiety but I have to keep him safe! It worked perfect for my last dog and my other small dog I have. He just seems different, not sure if it’s just because he’s so young and or is higher energy? We play with him, walk him in the backyard, he knows sit and almost down! He’s really good about going potty outside.

    • Hi Erica,

      Thanks for your question.

      I think you’re so right in using the crate to keep him safe. If he’s an escape artist the last thing you want is a Houdini stunt that could land him in trouble while you’re not there to protect him. So stick to the crate.

      You’re already on the right track by getting him into the crate for treats and meals. As a next step I’d suggest getting him used to being in there longer and longer.

      Any kind of training is best done is small steps…

      In short what I suggest is shutting the crate door while he’s eating or enjoying a treat. Hang around so he can see you. Then once he’s used to having the door closed for a short while, raise the criteria by extending the period the door is shut. And so keep extending the time until he’s happy to have door shut for an extended period of time.

      Then you can start removing yourself from his view for short periods and then increase the time you’re away from the crate and not in his view.

      Also, until he’s totally comfortable staying in his crate I’d suggest not allowing him to sleep on the bed. Of course he’d much rather snuggle with you than sleep in his crate. So allowing him to sleep on the bed and then leaving him in his crate will only make it more difficult for him. You can always introduce him sleeping on the bed at a later stage.

      Hope this helps.

  • Melvin

    Hey Hindy!

    Thank you so much for the great tips so far it has been working very well with my new pup, Rosie (almost 4 1/2 months old) so far! I do have a question as we are 3 days into the crate training as we could finally find the right size crate for her but she’s been sleeping in our bed for about 2 weeks beforehand. She has been fairly good with the crate throughout the day but at night after a good 4 hours of silence she starts to whine. We live in an apartment and I’m worried about causing noise complaints, is there anything I can do to help her get used to sleeping alone?

    Thanks again!
    Melvin, Evelyn and Rosie

    • Hi Melvin,

      It’s Gabriella here. I’m sure Hindy will chime in at some point but I’ll answer your question.

      The only way to get her used to sleeping alone is to ignore her. It’s touch and I understand your concern about the noise complaints but it won’t last too long. She’ll quickly learn that her whining is not giving her the reward she wants and she’ll stop.

      Just be aware that there’s something called an extinction burst in dog training so the whining might get worse before it goes way. The reason for this is because she’ll try harder to get her reward of you responding before she learns it’s not working.

      This burst doesn’t always happen but just be aware of it.

      People are usually very understanding if you tell them she’s in training to be happy in her crate. So if you do get complaints tell your neighbors what’s going on and let them know it won’t continue indefinitely.

      And one last thing. Have you eliminated the possibility that her waking you after 4 hours is not her way of asking to go to the toilet? Take her out tonight when she starts whining. If she doesn’t do her business then it’s not about her bladder. Then stick to ignoring her. If it’s to go potty, you’ll have some broken sleep until she can hold it.

      All the best! And remember this is not forever!

      Gabriella

  • David & Tammy

    Hi
    Great website!
    Question for you with regards to crate training
    My wife and I both work from 7:30 – 3:30pm weekdays. So Zen our 10 week old long hair GSD is in his crate throughout this time. I feed him before leaving each morning and he has to relieve himself during the time we are away… any suggestions?
    Thanks

    • Hi David and Tammy,

      I think 6 hours is too long for Zen to be inside his crate hence the reason he’s eliminating. Is there anyone close by like a neighbor or a friend who can pop in to take him outside for a quick potty run?

      Or you could get a dog walker for one walk a day say half way through your time away.

      Remember, this won’t be a permanent arrangement. When Zen is old enough his bladder will be big enough to keep it in. Of course as long as he hasn’t had a huge amount of water just before you leave.

      Hope this answers your question. 🙂

  • John

    I can’t thank you enough for this!!!

    I’m new to having a puppy and so also any kind of training. I didn’t quite know what I was letting myself in for. But my GSD puppy, Tommy, is the most amazingly smart dog. I think he quickly figured out that I was new to all this and he had me running up and down for the first week cos when he cried in his crate I’d go check on him.

    Now I’m going to follow your advice and move the crate to my room for now.

    Thanks again!
    John and Tommy.

    • Hindy Pearson

      Hi John,
      I see Tommy has you well trained!! Dogs are very clever, and it doesn’t take them long to figure out who they can wrap around their paw. Don’t worry you’re not alone. I’m so glad you found this incredibly helpful website, and I wish you a long and happy life with your new pal. If you have any questions please let me know, I’ll be happy to help. Cheers, Hindy

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