How to crate train your German Shepherd

Training & Behaviour

Caring for a German Shepherd can be challenging, but we think the rewards far outweigh the time and effort you invest in such a beautiful animal, and this is applies to the training required to have a relaxed dog happy to be in a crate.

There are varying points of view on dog crate training and indeed it might not seem very appealing on first impressions, especially if you view it as “locking my dog, alone, in a metal cage”. It might even seem cruel, but with a considered approach you may change your thinking and understand it is beneficial, both for you and for your beloved German Shepherd. When crate dog training is misunderstood and misused, it will not give a positive experience for your dog but with correct training and a suitable crate  when you have the power to transform it into a positive and beneficial experience for your dog. 

Historically in one form or another, dogs have had crates in their lives – think back to wild dogs who made their “crates” or actually their dens in caves, a necessity to meet their need to feel safe and secure.


 Why should I crate train my German Shepherd?

Your goal is to make your dog’s crate the best place for your dog to be – somewhere they go willingly and of their own choice. A regular place to rest regardless of what is going on that day.

Dog crate training is a means to teach your dog to accept a cage or a crate and make them think of it as a safe and familiar place, and that create a positive experience for them. There are several reasons you might want to crate train your German Shepherd, but the reality is that it can be very useful to have a dog happy to pop into its crate for a number of reasons or occasions, such as

  • When you need to transport your dog to the vet.
  • If you have tradesmen visiting, both to keep you dog out of harm’s way if tools and nails etc are lying around, or if tradesmen are nervous of your dog.
  • Visitors, especially young children, who may be nervous of your dog, or indeed your dog is not overly happy with visitors to your house. This can also help if your dog is not used to being around small children.  It can allow both to get to know each other, or simply as a tool to keep them apart.
  • Visitors who insist on bringing their own dog to your house. As we know not all GSDs are sociable, and will of course be protective of their flock and domain.
  • You might be introducing your dog to a newborn and that can be quite stressful for both dog and parents.
  • It can provide a great safe, comfortable and familiar space if you’re lucky enough to be able to take you dog on vacation.
  • It’s much easier to travel with your dog in a crate – no bounding out of the back of the car when you open the back up.
  • A crate can provide your dog with ‘their’ safe and secure space – think of those thunder rumbles…
  • Crates can also help with separation anxiety training.
  • Dogs do need their own ‘me’ time and it can provide them with a space to gain some solitude – their own room in your house.
  • It can provide their sleep area – just not with the door shut…. we think 4 – 6 hours would be the maximum time in a shut crate. Less for a younger or much older dog – think of their bladder requirements.
  • Need a puppy time out zone – perfect – in they go! But so much that it becomes a pattern and thus a bad place to be.
  • A crate can be helpful in emergency medical situations or indeed for injury management where they need enforced rest to allow an injury to heal.


Once you’ve decided to crate train your dog, consider both

Crate selection

You will find a variety of dog crates available on the market with a wide range of options, such as crate size, color and styles.  On the whole the main crate types are made of wire, plastic and fabric (soft sided and probably not best suited to GSDs).  Wire and plastic crates typically can be folded down so are great for storage or travel. Escape artists might be better with a sturdy plastic crate or need a folded crate secured with zip ties.

The key aspect of choosing the right crate for your dog is space and crate size. No matter what material it is made of, the design or the color, your dog should have enough space to stand up without touching the roof, to turn around, lay on their side and easily stretch.  long the get! 

You should also consider the age of your dog when you buy your crate.  Clearly if you purchase a crate for a puppy it won’t be long before they simply do not fit in it anymore.  And having an overly large crate for a smaller sized GSD could make them feel insecure. Having a crate that is too big might also encourage a dog which is not house trained to soil inside the crate, so avoid this, but a well trained dog might like a slightly larger crate to enable them to really stretch out – it’s surprise how

You may find that you need two sizes, one for the puppy/younger dog size and then something a year or two later for their adult life. A puppy or younger dog can be made to feel more secure in a slightly larger crate with sufficient bedding and potentially covering three sides of the crate for a more contained and thus secure feeling – something that is not open to their back.  You could simply drape a blanket over to obtain this effect.  

When choosing a crate for your dog, also pay attention to the ease of cleaning, sturdiness, and if you intend to travel if it is airline approved or not.

and crate location

In terms of where you place your crate in your house, consider the various elements you might find nearby and ensure you don’t position it too close to a fireplace or a radiator, nor in direct sunlight, avoid draughts and areas where low temperatures will be experienced. Really you are not putting your dog in a hidden area – it should still be within the main living areas within your house or deck area where spend your time.


How to crate train a German Shepherd?

Crate training for a puppy or an adult German Shepherd is pretty much the same process! 

The main steps are:

Introducing your dog to the crate

  • Encourage the dog to explore it by putting its favorite toy and/or blanket inside.  If you’re training a dog you already have and it’s a new crate then it can be a great idea to put a blanket and toys they are already familiar with, and has their scent on, close to the crate and then inside. Remember each dog will be different and it may be necessary to take small steps at first.  
  • Using the crate for meal-times is a great training tool – initially putting the food bowl close by or just inside, and them move it to the back of the crate as you progress and your dog is comfortable and happy to move inside. Another trick is to put something irresistible at the back of the crate – this may take hours or days – just take your time to make it an enjoyable and positive experience, it shouldn’t be stressful.

Great tip
ut a blanket in the tumble dryer first to give a cosy and warm place to curl up in – especially great for puppies!

puppy crying in crate

Shutting the crate door

  • Once you know they are comfortable in the crate – they lie down and are relaxed – you can take the next step of closing the door.
  • Start off by only having your dog it the crate for a few minutes when you are close by – going about some normal activities so the dog can see you, and both of you are relaxed.
  • Gradually extend the crate time and then try leaving the room or area, returning while the dog is inside the crate. Build this up over time until your dog is happy to be left.

    Your goal is to have your dog view the crate as a positive and short term place to be. You are reinforcing a positive behavior by returning and letting the dog out if they are well behaved.

What if you get a negative reaction in the crate?

If your dog demonstrates a negative behaviour such as digging or crying, distract them until they calm down. Once they are calm then you can let them out – but without fuss – otherwise you are simply confirming that it’s a bad place to be, and you don’t want to reinforce any negative behavior.


When to stop crate training?

Once your German Shepherd has become familiar with the crate, is happy to go in on their own initiative, whether for a moment of rest or to sleep, then your training is all but over.  Especially when your dog enters the shelter peacefully and eagerly when asked.  Well done – you have accomplished your crate training goals successfully. Training takes teamwork and always remember that you should never punish or scare your dog when he doesn’t want to get into the crate or force him to do it.


In summary:

Can I feed in a crate? Yes, it can greatly help with training.  Also try their favourite snacks or something like a Kong filled with a delicious treat they can’t resist.  Trying to get the treat out will also take their mind off the crate!

What can I put in a crate?  A comfortable bed or blanket to lie on and their favorite toys will make it feel like home.  An irresistible snack may entice them in when you begin training.

What is the maximum amount of time a dog can be in a crate?  We suggest that 4 – 6 hours is the maximum time in a crate.  Though you may extend this for puppy toilet training.

Can my dog be in a crate all day?  No, a crate is not a tool to house your dog whilst you are at work all day.

How long does it take to crate train a dog? This really depends on the individual dog and how much time and effort you put into it and your approach.  Take it slowly, don’t force your dog and you will soon have a dog happy to spend time in their special place.


And finally – be around your dog.
Don’t just crate your dog when it will be alone – they will quickly associate it with being on their own. 

Your job is to make him think it’s the very best place to be!

crate training pros and cons
Christmas for german shepherds

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We’ve grown up with many pets over the years including gold fish, tropical fish, gerbils and bunny rabbits home for the school holidays, two tortoises called Zaza and Fred, and Allana even had a crazy horse on loan for a while

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