Labradors, like all dogs, are descendants of the wolf that have inherited the natural instinct to seek safety, comfort, and quiet in a den. As such, crating your Labrador puppy fits in a dog’s nature. However, because dogs have long been domesticated and have lost a lot of the wolf’s natural behavior, you’ll need to crate train your Lab puppy.
Labrador puppy crate training is the process of introducing a Lab pup to a crate or cage until he accepts it as his own space. Crate training is inspired by the common belief that dogs are originally den-dwellers, and teaching them to accept a crate as their safe and comfy space is good for them.
Despite this, many dog owners have doubts about whether they should crate train their Labrador puppy and how easy that will be. So, to resolve your doubts, I’ve put together this guide with crucial info on the benefits of crate training your Lab. Read on to find your answers, as well as an easy-to-implement step-by-step guide to training your Lab puppy.
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Should Labs Be Crate Trained?
Labs should be crate trained because it is associated with easier and faster housebreaking, and it facilitates safe and easy travel or evacuation during emergencies. Also, crating provides a safe and calm space for your dog during overwhelming moments and preempts destructive behavior.
Notwithstanding these benefits, it’s common to find dog owners apprehensive about crating their dogs. What’s more, animal rights organizations like the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) consider crating as cruelty towards dogs and a form of dog imprisonment.
From a different perspective, canine experts like Stanley Coren consider the approach that crating your dog is animal cruelty to be misguided, lacking scientific backing. Of course, there is a limit to how long you can cage your dog and under what conditions.
Even so, I like to give you a balanced view to forming your own opinion. I’m truly in favor of crating, hence why I’ve written this article. My dog loved her crate as a puppy. In fact, she was around 3 years old when she finally migrated full-time to her bed, and some dogs like to keep them for life.
Are Labradors Easy To Crate Train?
Labradors are easy to crate train because they are naturally eager-to-please and highly adaptable dogs. In addition, Labradors love their food and will readily comply with crate training when you use treats in positive reward-based crate training.
Nevertheless, crate training requires a bit of effort and patience for any dog. Your Labrador may take days or a few weeks to learn and get used to being in a cage.
If you want to make crate training your Labrador even easier, consider training at a young age, as soon as you bring home your puppy at 8 weeks.
Learn How To Crate Train a Puppy In This Video…
Benefits of Crate Training
Crating your lovely Labrador puppy can seem and feel cruel. But dogs love their cozy, dark corner where they can retreat when they need to rest, break from overwhelming family moments like parties, or simply find safety from children’s hyperactivity.
There are also other behavioral and safety-related benefits of crate training your puppy. Here are 7 benefits for crate training your Labrador puppy:
1. Crate Training Allows a Dog To Be Dog
Dogs are descendants of the wolf, and when wolf puppies are born, their first home is a den. They spend most of their time around or in the den until they are two months, then they can exit the cave.
Like their progenitors, dog puppies have inherited the behavioral tendency to live in a den.
They need a place of reference where they can find safety and a place to rest and relax. As such, the crate is an artificial den for dogs, and a Labrador growing up in a home needs his dog space.
2. Crate Training Supports Housebreaking
By instinct, dogs hate soiling their space and will not relieve themselves in their cage unless by accident. Crate training your Lab puppy helps your dog learn to hold it until the next potty break. Of course, this should not be more than 1-2 hours for young Labs. Check out this article about housebreaking your pup, How to Potty Train a Lab.
3. Crate Training Checks Destructive Behavior
If you’ve just brought home your Lab puppy, you might be surprised at how good he can be at chewing furniture or sofa cushions when you are out of sight. Crate training will keep your Labrador pup away from furniture and cushions while he is learning the house rules or while you are out for a while.
Besides, crate training your dog is also a way of keeping him safe from injuries, accidental poisoning or escaping when you are not around in the house to supervise him.
4. Crate Training Helps With Separation Anxiety
A Labrador puppy that builds a positive association with a cage considers it safe and a place of comfort. This can help your Lab to stay calm when you are away from home and prevent separation anxiety.
In other words, your absence is replaced by a cozy little space that gives a sense of safety and calm.
5. Crate Training Makes Your Lab Puppy Safer for Children
It is always recommended that you teach children to stay away from the family dog when he is in the crate seeking some calm or rest. This is not just useful for the dog, but it also keeps your children safe from possible dog aggression when your furry friend is tired or stressed out and needs some alone time.
6. Crate Training Makes Travelling and Vet Visits Easier
Crate training your Labrador puppy is a way of making crating your dog easier when traveling. This ensures safety for your dog in the vehicle. It is also a requirement when traveling by air, in which case the crate should follow the IATA guidelines for pet travel.
Crate training also prepares your Labrador puppy to be in a crate when in a hotel or a hosting home.
In addition, if your dog has to go to the vet or spend some time there to heal, being in a crate reduces your pup’s movement and facilitates healing. Besides, a dog with a positive crate experience can feel less anxious spending time in an unfamiliar environment at the vets.
7. Crate Training Can Save Your Dog
Crate training could be the difference between losing your dog and saving his life during a natural emergency such as a tornado. If a tornado warning is issued, a dog who’s ok with crating and gets into a crate fast can be saved from disaster.
Generally, Labradors that have learned to associate the crate with positive experiences will readily go into a cage when asked to and move to safety on time with the family.
However, to help your Lab enjoy being in a crate, your Lab’s crate must be the correct size.
What Size Crate Is Best for a Lab Puppy?
The best crate size for a Lab puppy is 42” (107 cm). Of course, this size is too large for your 8-week old Lab puppy. So, the idea is to buy a crate that your pup can use as an adult Labrador together with a divider to reduce the size and increase it as your puppy grows.
I usually go for the MidWest Homes for Pets iCrate from Amazon as it’s all-inclusive, so you’ve nothing else to buy. This 42” (107-cm) crate comes with a divider, and you can choose between a single and a double door. It has a durable dog tray and four roller feet to protect the floor.
If a 42” (107-cm) crate is left entirely to the puppy, your furry friend can readily create a bathroom at a corner of the crate as long as he has enough clean space to lie and move around.
On the other hand, buying a smaller cage for your Lab puppy is an unnecessary extra expense as you’ll have to replace it when your Lab outgrows the cage. As a rule of thumb, a dog’s crate should give your pup enough space to stand, move around, sit erect, lie down, and stretch without any impediments.
If you have the right size crate for your Labrador puppy, you are now ready to bring your pet home and start crate training.
How To Crate Train a Labrador Puppy (Step-by-Step)
Here’s how to crate train a Labrador puppy:
- Introduce your Labrador puppy to the crate.
- Associate the crate with feeding.
- Increase your Labrador puppy’s crating time.
- Crate your Labrador puppy when you leave the house.
- Crate your Labrador puppy at night.
Let’s give you the details for achieving each of these steps.
1. Introduce Your Labrador Puppy to the Crate
If you just brought home your Lab puppy, he’ll need to familiarize himself with the new environment, including the crate.
Follow these 6 simple steps to introduce your Labrador puppy to his crate:
- Put your Lab puppy’s crate in an area of the house where you and your family spend time. Some people may go for the kitchen, but the family room is preferable.
- Prepare the crate for your pup. Placing a soft bed, blanket, or crate pad inside. You can also drape a dark colored blanket over the top making it more den-like.
- Leave the crate door open so your Lab puppy can explore the crate spontaneously. Ensure the door is secured, and there’s no risk it could flip and hit your pup.
- If your pup does not show interest in the crate, bring him over and encourage him to go in with a lively tone of voice. If that does not work, place some treats close to the door, so your pup tries to get them.
- Drop more treats inside the crate and encourage your pup. Do not force your puppy to go into the crate.
- Keep tossing treats or enticing toys into the crate. Pretty soon your Lab puppy will naturally walk into the crate to get his rewards.
Introducing your Lab puppy to the crate may take a few minutes or even a couple of days. Once he’s familiar with the crate, proceed to the next Labrador puppy crate training step.
2. Associate the Crate With Feeding
To help your Labrador puppy associate the crate with good experiences, feed your pup his meals near or inside the crate.
If your Lab puppy is already going in and out of the cage with ease, you can place an interactive puzzle toy with food or some tasty treats inside the crate to entice your pup. You can’t go wrong with the Outward Hound Interactive Puzzle Game from Amazon. This brightly-colored small treat-dispensing ball is a great fun way to introduce him to interactive toys.
Act according to your pup’s behavior.
If he willingly goes into the crate, you’ll want to push the food or toy right to the end. If he’s still reluctant, place the food or toy as far inside as your pup goes without getting anxious and increase the distance gradually.
Once your Lab puppy is calmly eating his meals in the cage, begin to close the door while he eats. Open the door as soon as the pup is done eating for the first time, and gradually increase the amount of time you leave the door closed until your dog can comfortably stay in the closed crate for a while after eating.
Keep an eye out for any whining, as this could be a sign you’ve extended the time you close the cage door too soon and need to reduce it.
3. Increase Your Labrador Puppy’s Crating Time
When your Lab puppy is comfortable spending a few minutes in the crate after meals, gradually increase the amount of time he spends in the crate while you are home, even out of mealtime, by following these steps:
- Call your Lab puppy to you while you are next to the crate.
- Give the pup a treat and use a word and gesture cue (“CRATE!” while pointing inside the crate) to encourage the pup to go inside. Make sure you use the same word and gesture cues always and say the word only once at a time.
- Praise your pup if he goes into the crate and reward him with a treat.
- Close the crate door and hang around quietly for 5-10 minutes. If your pup is calm, go to another room for a few minutes, so your dog does not see you for a while. Then return and spend a few more quiet minutes around the crate. Then let out the pup.
- Repeat this process a few times in the day, each time increasing the number of minutes your dog stays in the cage until your pup can spend half an hour inside with a closed door and without whining. This may take a few days or even weeks.
Once your Labrador puppy can calmly stay for longer periods in the cage without whining, you can begin leaving him crated when you go out of the house for short periods.
4. Crate Your Labrador Puppy When You Leave the House
When your Lab puppy begins to stay in the crate overnight or for 30-minute sessions during the day while you are away, it is now time to cage your pup when you leave the house for longer periods. Note that your puppy should already be over 10 weeks before you begin to do this.
You’ll need to establish a routine for crating your pup before leaving:
- Call your Lab pup to the crate using the usual command and treat. You might want to leave an interactive toy with some treats or food in it. Ensure the toy is safe and cannot be ingested. Check out the KONG Puppy Toy from Amazon which you can stuff with treats or peanut butter. It also doubles up as a great teething chew toy and fetch toy due to its unpredictable bounce.
- Reward your pup for getting into the crate and leave quietly without making the departure emotional, as your Lab puppy could pick this routine too. Five to ten minutes is a suitable interval between crating your pup and leaving home.
- Keep the arrivals calm and low-key when you return to avoid building anxiety in your dog over your return time. If your dog gets excited on your return, do not reward this behavior by talking to your dog in an excited tone. Give a few minutes before releasing your pup.
- Continue crating your pup for 30 minute periods when you are home. This prevents crating not being exclusively associated with your departure and absence from home.
5. Crate Your Labrador Puppy at Night
You might be wondering if you should let your Lab puppy sleep with you on your bed. Although it might be very tempting, you should wait until he’s potty trained and preferably 6 months old.
You’ll need to follow the same crating routine at night that you do in the daytime. This involves calling your dog to the crate and giving a treat when he gets inside.
Then close the crate and wait a few minutes before leaving.
If your Lab is just a puppy, you may need to place the crate in your bedroom or an adjacent hallway in the beginning. Puppies will need bathroom breaks during the night, and you have to hear them when they whine about being let out to relieve themselves.
Once your Lab puppy can sleep through the night without needing a bathroom break, usually around 4 months of age, you can gradually move the cage to its usual location in the family room.
Note, though, that crating your Labrador close to you during the night even in his adult age, can be a way of strengthening the bond between you and your furry friend.
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How Long Can You Leave a Lab Puppy in a Crate?
How long you can leave a Lab puppy in a crate depends on the puppy’s age and whether it is day or night. Puppies younger than 10 weeks should not be crated for more than 1 hour during the day and 3 hours at night. Puppies older than 20 weeks can crate for 4 hours during the day and 8 hours at night.
Here’s a breakdown of how long you can leave your Labrador puppy in a crate according to the puppy’s age:
|Lab Puppy’s Age||Recommended Crate Time (Daytime)||Recommended Crate Time (Nighttime)|
|8-10 weeks||30min – 1 hour (not more than 3 times a day)||3 hours, a potty break, then back to bed.|
|11-12 weeks||Maximum 2 hours (not more than 2 times a day)||5 hours, a potty break, then back to bed.|
|13-16 weeks||Maximum 3 hours (not more than once a day)||6 hours, a potty break, then back to bed.|
|17-20+ weeks||Maximum 4 hours (not more than once a day)||8 hours then a potty break, first thing in the morning.|
Although you may find advice to confine dogs for up to 6-8 hours in a crate during the day, canine experts discourage leaving your dog caged for extended periods as this could cause behavioral, emotional, and physical health problems.
Of course, this rule excludes night times, and the occasional one-off times when leaving your Labrador caged for longer is unavoidable. But that should not become a routine. I have a more in-depth article on this subject that you can check out here, How Long Can You Leave a Lab in a Crate?
If you have to restrict your Labrador long-term, consider a confinement area like the kitchen instead of the cage. To be on the safe side, always consult your Lab’s vet for specific guidelines about crating your puppy.
Labrador Puppy Crate Training Schedule
After all we’ve said so far, it’s important to know that establishing a crate training schedule is crucial, because it helps your puppy pick a routine and develop a positive feeling and attitude towards crating.
This is especially true of puppies that don’t familiarize themselves with the crate immediately and require days or even weeks of crate training.
A probable Labrador puppy crate training schedule could look like the one below.
|TIME||PUPPY CRATE TRAINING ACTIVITY|
|6:00 am||Waking up: Take your Lab puppy for his first potty break. Puppies need to empty their bladder as soon as they awake.|
|7:00 am||First Meal of the Day: Offer your Lab puppy his first meal of the day and a bowl of fresh water in or close to the crate.|
|7:30 am||Walk and Potty Break: Puppies need to relieve themselves half an hour or so after eating. Take your Lab puppy for a short walk so he can spend some energy and go to the toilet.|
|8:00 am||Morning Crate Play and Training: Invite your pup to the crate after the walk. You can play a bit with your dog while you do some crate training. |
Allow your pup to rest in the cage if he’s comfortable with it, but leave the door open. However, if your puppy falls asleep, close the crate and watch him closely till he awakes.
|10:00 am||Bonding Time: Take your Lab puppy for his next bathroom break and spend some time playing indoors upon return. Do some crate training during playtime using toys and some treats in the cage. |
Involve other members of the family, if that is your case, then allow your pup to rest in the cage for a while.
|12:00 pm||Midday Meal: Feed your Lab puppy his meal in or close to the cage, depending on crate training progress. Take a walk 30 minutes after feeding so your puppy can take his next potty break.|
|2:00 pm||Afternoon Crate Training Session: Bring your Lab puppy out for another bathroom break. Upon return, give your pup a considerable amount of playtime and invite him to the crate once tired. Reward him if he willingly goes into the cage and give your dog some nap time.|
|5:00 pm||Bonding and Evening Meal: Feed your Lab puppy his evening meal and offer a fresh bowl of water. You can use this moment to train your pup to sit calmly and wait for his dinner and try teaching him to eat in the crate if he hasn’t learned that yet. |
Take the pup for a walk and potty break after half an hour and have some play and bonding time upon return. Be sure to involve other family members if there are any.
|7:00 pm||Evening Crate Training: Take your Lab puppy for an evening walk and spend plenty of energy. You can run around and play some outdoor games like fetch using his favorite toys. This vigorous exercise will help your pup settle in the crate for the evening and night. |
Upon return to the house, call your pup to the crate and spend time with him until he’s calm. If your puppy still needs to get used to the cage, use treats and word cues to entice him. Once in the cage, your pup should fall asleep if you exercised him enough.
|9:00 pm||Potty Break and Bedtime: Bring your Lab puppy for the last potty break of the day, and then invite him to the crate for bedtime. Depending on what you’ve achieved so far with previous crate training sessions, you may need a bit of training and luring. |
Once your pup is calmly settled in the cage, close the door, hang around for a few minutes, then leave quietly. If your pup starts to whine, do not reward or let him out. Instead, use a cue word like “Stop!” or “No!” Be sure to always use the same cue word.
|10:00 pm – 6:00 am||Nighttime Potty Breaks: Provide potty breaks during the night as required. Remember your young Lab cannot hold it the entire night and will need potty breaks every 2-3 hours.|
Note that the schedule can vary depending on your own wake time and day schedule and your Labrador puppy’s age. Every dog is different, and you have to see what works best for your pup. You may like to tie this in with my Labrador puppy training schedule, covering what to teach month by month.
Crate Training Tips
If you’ve followed from the beginning of the article, you have all you need to make crate training your Labrador puppy a success. However, these training tips can make crate training more pleasant and efficient for you and your Lab furry friend:
- Your dog’s crate should be set in a comfortable area in the family room where he does not feel isolated.
- Make your puppy’s crate enticing with treats, toys, and a comfortable bed or crate pad.
- Crating sessions should be short in the beginning and be prolonged gradually. Remember, 30 minutes once your 8-week-old Lab puppy is used to the crate a few times in the day is good enough. No puppy or adult dog should spend entire days in a crate, as this negatively affects their emotional, psychological, and muscle development.
- Do not force your Labrador puppy into the crate at any time. Instead, take a slow pace and use a positive reward approach until your pup can willingly get inside and stay in the cage.
- Never use crating as a punishment. Your Lab should always associate the crate with pleasant and calm experiences.
- Do not reward your puppy if he is whining or scratching on the crate to calm him down, as this will reinforce the behavior. Ignore the pup until he can calm down and immediately reward calm behavior to reinforce it. If whining is persistent, use familiar word cues to direct the puppy to stop.
- A crate should never be used for anxiety management. If your Lab puppy is showing signs of anxiety, crating may make the situation worse, and your puppy may even hurt himself trying to get out. Resolve the anxiety issue with a vet and canine behaviorist first.
- Always ensure your Lab puppy has gone to the toilet before putting him in his crate. If your pup is having frequent accidents, you are probably caging him for longer hours than he can hold it. You could also be using wrong bathroom break timings in your crate training schedule.
The following takeaways will give you peace of mind:
- Crating is natural for dogs, as they have inherited an instinct to seek safety and comfort in a cage and will enjoy some quiet time in their own space.
- Your puppy should be crate trained early.
- Crate training should be done gradually using positive reward-based training.
- Your Lab puppy should not be forced into the cage and should, instead, associate the crate with pleasant experiences.
- As a general rule, puppies below 10 weeks should not be crated for more than 1 hour at any given time.
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