I’ve crate trained nearly all of the dogs I’ve fostered. It’s not right for every dog, but in the vast majority of cases, crate training is a good idea for rescue dogs. Here’s how I crate train my rescue dogs, along with some tips on what to do if crate training isn’t going smoothly.

How do you crate train a rescue dog?

Get to know your rescue by contacting the shelter to learn about their history. Choose the right crate size and style and choose a good location for it based on their behavior. Introduce it to them gradually with lots of treats and positivity. Consistency, positivity, and patience are key when crate training a rescue dog.

How To Crate Train A Rescue Dog In 9 Steps
I don’t normally recommend crating rescue dogs together, but these pups are just too cute.

Some rescue dogs may have no problem being crated and may have even been crate trained before. However, some rescue dogs come with some extra baggage that may make crate training more difficult.

Whether your struggling to troubleshoot your rescue dog’s bad crate behavior or just getting started with your rescue puppy, our guide has tons of useful tips to help your shelter pup feel safe and comfortable in their crate.

If your dog has separation anxiety, that’s a whole different ball game. I actually wrote a tandem article just about how to crate train a rescue dog with separation anxiety. If your doggo has separation anxiety, you’ll want to take a look at that one when you’re done here.

Why Crate Train a Rescue Dog?

You should crate train your rescue dog to manage their behavior, give them a comfortable place of their own, and prepare them in case they need to be crated for medical intervention, transportation, or in the event of an emergency.

  • Behavior management: Accidents, destructive behavior, and even dangerous situations can arise while you’re getting to know your rescue dog. Crate training gives you time to get to know your rescue dog and any issues they may have safely.
  • Comfort: A crate provides a den-like space, which is instinctually comforting for dogs as it resembles where their wild ancestors slept. Many rescue dogs are accustomed to sleeping in similar sheltered spaces like lean-tos, dog houses, or under porches. 
  • Security: A crate offers a shelter dog privacy 1nd a feeling of ownership, which helps build their confidence. A crate is a place no one else is allowed to go. It’s very important that children and other pets are prevented from going into your rescue dog’s crate. 
  • There are times when crating may be the only way to keep your dog safe. Using any form of public transportation, going to the vet or groomer, or in an emergency situation requiring an evacuation, you may be required to crate your dog.
  • Medical intervention: Far too many dogs have heartworms or other diseases when they are rescued. Treatment demands strict crate rest for at least a month or more. Even if your rescue dog is healthy now, they may require bed rest at some point in their lives, and there are really no ways to enforce bed rest without a crate.

Crating is Essential During Heartworm Treatment

When I found out my foster dog, Jazzy, was heartworm positive, the crate was where she had to spend the majority of her time. I could take her for short, slow walks and tether her to me in the house, but if she started getting excited and jumping around on the end of the lead, back in the crate she had to go. 

How To Crate Train A Rescue Dog In 9 Steps
Jazzy spent most of her time in this crate with this Kong toy during her heartworm treatment.

When Not to Crate Train a Rescue Dog

  • Severe anxiety: Dogs suffering from severe anxiety, especially separation anxiety, may panic when restrained in a crate and their symptoms are likely to worsen.
  • Dementia: Older dogs can develop a psychological condition that closely resembles dementia in humans. They may not realize they are confined in a crate and may fight and hurt themselves to get out.
  • Self-harming behavior: Sadly, some rescue dogs may chronically lick themselves, resulting in rashes and hair loss, beat their tails against the edges of the crate, which can cause serious medical issues, and behave in other harmful ways when in a crate.
  • Adoption Requirements: Some rescues may include a clause in the adoption contract indicating that the dog must not be crated either due to the dog’s history or that shelter’s personal philosophy.

How To Crate Train Your Rescue Dog

1. Gather Information

Talk To The Shelter

What is your rescue dog’s history? Did the rescue or previous owners mention whether they had been crate trained in the past? If you don’t know, contact the rescue where you got your dog and see if they have any more information.

Get To Know Your Dog

Your dog’s personality is a good indication of how crate training may go if you don’t know their history. Is your shelter dog laid-back and easygoing, or are they tense and clingy? 

The crate you use at home is significantly different from the indoor-outdoor cages divided by a guillotine door typically used in shelters. Some dogs adapt well to these enclosures but they may struggle with crates, and vice versa. Finding out what your dog is used to is a great way to set yourself up for success.

How To Crate Train A Rescue Dog In 9 Steps
A collapsible crate was an emergency solution for this momma and singleton pup. We were very relieved that she was happy to go right in.

2. Choose The Right Crate For Your Rescue Dog

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to crates and not every shelter dog will benefit from the same kind of crate. 

Unless you need something very special for your rescue dog crate, there’s no reason not to save some money and buy it second-hand, which you can often do at the shelter you’re getting your dog from. Just sanitize it thoroughly with bleach and leave it out in the sun before using it.


One of the most common mistakes is choosing a crate that is too big. 

You want a crate that is small enough for your dog to feel that the entire space is their bed. Many rescue dogs struggle with potty training. Their instinctual desire not to soil their own bed will prevent them from having an accident in the crate. 

Furthermore, a crate that’s too large eliminates the sense of safety and den-like feel that is so beneficial for shelter dogs. 

You should choose a crate that is big enough for your dog to stand up comfortably and turn around without hitting the sides. 

If you have a puppy rescue dog or are using a crate you already had for a smaller dog, consider getting a crate partition to reduce the size to the appropriate fit.


Both plastic and wire crates are suitable options for rescue dogs. I’ve used both over the years for different reasons. 

Plastic vs. Metal Dog Crates: A Comparison Chart
CollapsibilityCollapses into two halves, one nesting into the otherCollapses completely flat
Visibility and breathabilityVents in a plastic shell offer less visibility and breathability, which may be better for shy dogs who benefit from more privacyExcellent breathability makes it easier to see the dog and offers better airflow to prevent disease
Noise levelVery quiet since there are no metal pieces to rub togetherSound can be muffled by putting a blanket under the crate pan, but you may still hear the wires rattle where they connect together
CleaningMust be taken apart and thoroughly sprayed, scrubbed, and sanitizedPretty simple to remove the crate pan and spray it and the wire cage down with the hose, spray it with disinfectant and leave it in the sun. Typically requires little or no scrubbing
SafetyThese are the crates typically required by airlines and are safer for car travelIt’s typically more difficult for dogs to break out of these crates

Metal Crate

I’ve used and liked this BestPet crate, but I’ve been happy with other brands too. Whether you buy new or used, look for a metal crate with two, not one, latch.

Dogs can push out from the bottom of crates with only one latch. The latches should be simple; complicated housing just makes them harder to clean.

Choose a crate with two doors. It makes it MUCH easier to position it in your house.

Plastic Crate

I like this Petmate plastic crate because the door is secure but easy to lock. The metal windows on the sides provide good airflow and are hard to get a tooth into.

This crate has secure screws holding it together, unlike some other plastic crates with flimsy clamps. This is VERY important for poweful dogs.

How To Crate Train A Rescue Dog In 9 Steps
Shelter dogs often spend 23 or even 24 hours a day in their cages.

3. Prepare Your Crate


A dog bed, towels, or blankets are all suitable options to make the crate comfortable. Many rescue dogs tend to chew on their bedding, so it might not be the best time to introduce expensive bedding.

If you know that your dog is destructive with bedding, you can try an indestructible bed available on Amazon and see if it works. 

With training and plenty of appropriate chew toys, they can overcome this habit.

Give them some time with an old blanket to see how they do first. It’s a good idea to place in the crate some clothes you’ve worn or a blanket you’ve slept with so that it carries your scent, which is comforting for your dog. 

If your rescue dog eats their bedding, you may have to use just the crate pan for now. It might not feel ideal to have your new rescue dog sleep without anything soft, but eating bedding can pose serious medical problems as the torn fabric can easily get caught in your dog’s throat or intestines, potentially causing choking or blockages that require surgery.


  • An attachable water bowl is a must to prevent your rescue dog from unintentionally knocking over the water and getting soaked.
  • Indestructible and food-releasing toys like the Kong or the Goughnuts are ideal for crate time. By stuffing them with treats or your dog’s regular food, you can turn crate time into one of your dog’s favorite activities.
  • Chew toys like Nylabones, natural materials like hooves or antlers, and soft plush toys may all be appropriate or not. Start with very tough toys and gradually introduce softer toys. 
  • Some dogs benefit from soothing music or television
  • If you cover the crate, don’t use fabric. They can rip fabric down, creating a choking or strangling hazard. I find that an extra crate pan on top of the crate works well.
  • Put a towel under the crate pan in metal crates. It buffers the sound dramatically for nervous shelter dogs.

4. Pick A Crate Location

Different shelter dogs will benefit from having the crate in different locations, depending on your household and the other pets and people in the house. 

For example, a single person living alone who has just adopted a very friendly young shelter dog may choose to put the crate in the living area. This way, the dog can be near them, and they can observe any signs that the dog needs to go out or has other needs.

On the other hand, if you have a nervous dog who seems anxious around other pets in the home, it’s best to have their crate in its own room where the other pets can’t access it.

Think about how your new shelter dog behaves and responds to situations to help you decide. Even if you don’t know the dog well yet, you can tell a lot from what you do observe.

  • Does your dog seek out sheltered places in other rooms, under the dining room table, or behind a couch? If so, their crate should be somewhere they can have some privacy to adjust.
  • Are you struggling to get a minute to yourself because your rescue dog is so affectionate and clingy? In that case, a crate near you is probably a better option. 

Don’t be afraid to experiment a little bit with crate placement, but try not to move it around too much after the first day or so. Shelter dogs benefit greatly from consistency and stability, especially when they first arrive at your home.

Protect your home

Wherever you decide to put the crate, make sure you take steps to protect the surrounding area from any damage your shelter dog may cause. 

I can’t emphasize enough the consequences I’ve faced due to thoughtless crate placement. An episode of explosive diarrhea can ruin your walls, carpet, furniture, husband’s laptop…

Also, some dogs will try to escape the crates by digging and chewing, which can easily carry over to your floors and walls. To mitigate this, lay down a protective cover on the floor under the crate that extends out a few feet.

How To Crate Train A Rescue Dog In 9 Steps
Animal shelters usually use kennels with guillotine doors like these that allow dogs to go in and out as they please.

5. How To Introduce The Crate To Your Rescue Dog

The crate should be one of the first things your dog encounters in your home. This way, your dog will naturally accept the crate as part of their experience with you. 

Before introducing your rescue dog to their crate, wear them out with a long walk or anything else that you think will get them good and tired. Your dog should be in the mood to relax when they are first introduced to the crate.

Prop the crate door open securely so there is no risk of it slamming shut. The last thing you want is to frighten your shelter dog with the crate. 

Make sure the crate is comfortable with plenty of bedding and attractive toys inside. You want your rescue dog to be drawn to it. It’s a good idea to cover the top to make it feel more like a den. This will naturally encourage your dog to go inside and check it out. 

Spend time near the crate to help them feel comfortable around it. Don’t encourage them to go in, just hang out near the crate. Use an engaging tone to gently talk to your shelter dog while they are near the crate to help them relax.

Choose a Command Word and Use it Consistently

If your dog goes into the crate, gently use the command word you want to associate with the crate. Crate, place, or kennel all work. Then, toss them a treat. 

The word you use should be simple and easy for you to remember. Patrica McConnell’s fantastic book, The Other End Of The Leash, expounds on communicating with your dog, if you want to go down the rabbit hole like I did, but it basically boils down to this quote: “…pick simple commands and use them consistently.” 

When it comes to dog treats, I’ve found that dogs seem to prefer liver treats. These ones have become my go-to over the years when I don’t have the time to make my own homemade dog training treats.

Let your shelter dog go in and out of the crate several times on their own before you close the door. 

Close the door while they enjoy their toys or treats. Open it again while they are still comfortable and relaxed.

It’s best to go through repetitions like this several times if possible before it’s time to settle down for the night.

6. How To Crate Your Rescue Dog At Night

The vast majority of my fosters have had absolutely no problem with going in the crate at the end of the night. Exhausted from socializing and playing, and with a couple of stuffed food-dispensing toys, they’re typically more than happy to retire to a quiet space of their own.

Be sure to remove any collars or harnesses that your shelter dog is wearing before they go in the crate. These could get caught on the wire.

Don’t make a big fuss about leaving the room for the night if the crate is in a different room than your bedroom. Just quietly close the door, and turn off the lights.

How To Crate Train A Rescue Dog In 9 Steps
When shelters are overcrowded or don’t have sufficient resources, dogs may stay in collapsible crates for weeks or months at a time. Not surprisingly, some of these dogs may be resistant to crate training in your home.

7. How To Let Your Rescue Dog Out Of The Crate

Keep things low-key when you let your dog out of the crate in the morning.

Your dog will likely have a very full bladder and be very excited to see you, which makes this the most likely time that they would have accidents.

If you say anything at all, speak quietly and softly. Open the crate door, slip on your dog’s leash or harness while they are still in the crate, and quickly get outside so your dog can pee. 

It’s not a bad idea to do it at a bit of a run or carry your dog to make accidents even less likely.

8. Make Crate Training A Part Of Your Rescue Dog’s Life

One of the most common problems that I see rescue dog parents make is letting crate training fall into the backdrop. Crate training must be constant; otherwise, new problem behaviors around the crate may develop. 

The crate must never be used as punishment. I know I’ve said that before, but I just can’t say it enough. 

Reward your dog randomly for going in the crate and being in the crate. When you notice your dog quietly sitting in the crate of their own accord, toss them a treat or a good food-distributing toy. 

You don’t need to reward them every time they enter the crate; in fact, you shouldn’t. Periodic reinforcement is ideal.

Don’t overuse the crate just because your dog tolerates it. Many rescue dogs have pretty low expectations for what they can expect from life, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay. 

Just because your rescue dog will tolerate being in the crate 10 hours a day and 8 hours a night, 5 days a week, doesn’t mean it’s okay.

How To Crate Train A Rescue Dog In 9 Steps
He may look cute, but this foster was pure mayhem. The crate was our lifeline to keep him from destroying our home and pestering our grown-up dogs to no end. He cried a bit at night at the beginning, but was sleeping through with a potty break within days.

9. Phase Out The Crate

You may choose to consistently use the crate throughout your rescue dog’s life. Many people find that their homes are just a little calmer and more harmonious when dogs have designated crates.

However, you may decide that you would rather your dog stop using the crate at some point. Most dogs can be trained to stop using the crate entirely when they are around a year old or have been with you for around 6 months to a year. 

In general, you’ll know that your rescue dog is ready to stop using the crate when:

  • They no longer have accidents in the house or crate.
  • They don’t cry or whine in the crate.
  • They’re sleeping through the night in the crate without problems.
  • They no longer chew on things in the house other than their designated toys.
  • They have spent time in the house without being crated without issues.
  • Your house is sufficiently dog-proofed.

When you’re ready to make the transition, take it slow. You don’t want to shock your dog by suddenly removing the crate.

Keep the crate available for them, but offer them an upgraded and improved bed in the location where you want them to sleep.

Eventually, they’ll no longer use the crate and you can remove it.

Alternatives to Crate Training

Crate training is recommended for rescues for all the reasons I listed above, some dogs simply can’t be crate trained. Thankfully, there are alternatives:

If you’re looking for more info about any of these, I go into each of these in-depth in my article on alternatives to crate training rescue dogs.

Pet SitterSomeone comes to your house or your dog goes to theirs for one-on-one supervisionProvides careful supervision during the transition period in your homeExpensive 
Dog PenYour dog is confined to a large, roofless enclosure.Older, smaller, or well-behaved dogs or those with anxiety or fear may feel more comfortableLess secure compared to a crate. Takes up a lot of room in the house.
Dog-Proof RoomYou lock your dog up in a safe room in your house like a bathroom or hallway.Allows more space and freedom for the dog. Cheapest alternative.Potential damage to windowsills and flooring. You’ll need to make the room extremely dog-proof.
Dog DaycareYour dog goes to a group environment to socialize with other dogs under professional supervision.Socialization and enrichment opportunities for sociable dogsCostly, not suitable for all dogs
TetheringYou physically tether the dog to yourself with a leash while you go about your business instead of cratingProvides close supervision and control over the dog. Great opportunity for bonding.Requires constant attention and may not be suitable for all families
How To Crate Train A Rescue Dog In 9 Steps
Twix was afraid to go in the crate, so our time together was spent with him tied to me.


What do I do when my rescue dog whines in the crate at night?

If your rescue dog whines in the crate at night, quickly and quietly take them outside to go potty without engaging with your dog. When they’re done, give them a high-value reward that doesn’t encourage excitement, and put them back in the crate. If they keep whining, ignore it. Eventually, the unnecessary whining will stop.

What do I do when my rescue dog has accidents in the crate? 

If your rescue dog is having accidents in the crate, ensure they have an appropriately sized crate. Put them on a food and water schedule, teach them to go potty on command before they go in the crate, and give them plenty of breaks from the crate to go potty outside.

What do I do when my rescue dog chews on the bars and bedding in their crate?

Dogs chewing on their crate or foreign objects in their crate is very serious. You may need to remove their bedding and upgrade to a tougher crate. Bitter apple spray can help in the short term. However, you’ll need to exercise and mentally stimulate your dog and provide them with safe chew toys to occupy them in the crate.

I’ve seen many dogs rushed to the emergency room for serious surgery because they consumed part of their bedding. If your dog chews on their bedding, it’s imperative that you remove it until you have the situation under control. 

Does my dog need more than one crate in the house?

If you have a large house, you’ll be bringing your dog with you to work, or you need to crate and rotate with your other dogs, multiple crates might be a good idea. However, your dog does not need more than one crate and will likely have a preferred one if you provide multiples.

How do you crate train a rescue dog with separation anxiety?

To crate train a dog with separation anxiety, first determine their degree of anxiety. Not all dogs with separation anxiety should be crate trained. Then, desensitize them to the crate, get them comfortable with it, and very slowly work towards leaving them locked in it. Eventually, you can leave them in the crate while you leave the house.

Enlisting the help of a good trainer is often the best way to go. Contact the shelter or rescue where you got the dog. See if they have any training resources available to help you. 

And you’ll definitely want to read my article on crate training rescue dogs with separation anxiety, too.

How do you crate train a scared rescue dog? 

If your rescue dog seems scared or anxious, you can successfully crate train them by building their confidence. Provide them with a space of their own where they won’t feel trapped.  Place the crate somewhere quiet where your family and other pets do not go often. Consider a crate cover to help provide privacy. 

How do you crate train an aggressive rescue dog?

Unless you have extensive experience working with aggressive dogs, it’s not wise to take on crate training an aggressive dog. 
– Use careful leash techniques
– Feed them in the crate
– Open the crate when they are calm
– Be conscious of their behavior
– Reach out for professional help if you’re overwhelmed.
– Force the dog in or out of the crate
Disturb them while they eat in the crate
– Open the door while they are being aggressive
– Keep working with an aggressive rescue dog if you don’t feel confident.

What if my rescue dog won’t go in their crate at night?

If your rescue dog won’t go in their crate at night, take them for a walk to tire them out. Don’t feed them while out of the crate. Be attentive but not overly affectionate so as not to rile them up. After the break, offer high-value treats again while asking them to go back in the crate. If they still refuse after multiple attempts, you may need to skip the benefits of crate training and work on alternatives.

How long does it take to crate train a dog?

Most dogs are finished training by the time they are a year old. Depending on your rescue dog’s prior experience, they may finish crate training within a couple of months or around a year of being adopted. Some rescue dogs are never able to entirely stop using the crate.

How long does it take to crate train a puppy?

Most puppies are crate trained by the time they are a year old. However, if you have rescued a puppy who experienced neglect, like being stuck in the crate for long periods, they may take much longer to learn not to go potty in their crate.

Can I crate train an older dog?

A healthy older dog can absolutely be crate trained. Depending on the dog, your older rescue dog may already have been crate trained in the past. This can make crate training easier. On the other hand, if your older dog has never been crate trained before, you may have some additional challenges. It depends on the dog and their prior situation.

Do dogs need a bed in their crate?

Unless your dog is destructive, you should provide a bed in their crate. Rescue dogs enjoy a comfy bed as much as anybody else. Furthermore, a bed with appropriate padding may delay the onset of arthritis. It also prevents problems like sores on the elbows and knees. If your dog isn’t destructive, a memory foam bed that is exactly the same size as the crate pan is ideal.

What’s the best dog crate?

The best dog crate for your dog depends on your needs. Most people find that either a standard wire or plastic travel dog crate works well for them. However, some people may find that they need a heavy-duty welded steel crate. These crates are appropriate for dogs who are prone to destroying or escaping their crate.

Is it bad to crate train a dog?

No, it absolutely isn’t bad to crate train a dog, whether they are a rescue dog or not. The only exception is in cases of separation anxiety, dementia, self-harming behavior, and other conditions that make it dangerous or inhumane. 

Do I have to crate train my dog?

Most professionals recommend crate training, but is not necessary or advisable in every situation. Crate training can provide safety as you’re getting to know your rescue dog. Hiring a pet sitter, taking your dog to daycare, tethering, or using another designated place for your dog, such as a pen or room, are all good alternatives to crate training.

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