Crate training is a common and important part of owning a dog. There are a lot of misconceptions about crate training, but in almost all cases it is extremely beneficial for the dog to be crate trained.
For German Shepherds, who can be more anxious than some other breeds of dogs and prone to destructive behaviors, a crate can provide them with a safe space to relax and keep them from getting into things they shouldn’t. So how do you crate train a German Shepherd?
Crate training German Shepherds is done in the same way as for any breed of dog, but there may be a difference in how you approach the process if you have an adult German Shepherd or a German Shepherd puppy. In all cases, the training process requires a patient approach using positive reinforcement.
In the article below, I’ll discuss some of the reasons why you should crate your German Shepherd in the first place. I’ll discuss a step-by-step approach to crate training your German Shepherd, as well as discuss the differences between the crate training approaches for an adult German Shepherd versus a German Shepherd puppy.
3 Reasons Why Crate Training Is Good For German Shepherds
Crate training is good for any dog, but it’s especially good to crate train a German Shepherd for some of the following reasons.
1) Safe Space
German Shepherds tend to be anxious dogs (one of the biggest cons of the breed), and by crate training your German Shepherd you are helping give them a safe space where they can feel comfortable.
When properly crate trained, a German Shepherd will not only feel comfortable when placed in his crate while you are gone, but he’ll likely actively seek it out whenever he is feeling anxious or just needs a break.
Without a safe space to retreat to, a German Shepherd may continue to panic (or even escalate their panic to dangerous levels), or they may seek out a more unusual (and potentially dangerous) area to escape, such as a closet or under the bed.
While in some instances these unusual hiding locations can be a good option, in many other cases your pup may accidentally cause damage to either themselves or the hiding place as they are trying to get in.
With a crate as their safe space, you know they will be safe and protected and you don’t have to worry about them hurting themselves.
2) Prevents Damage
Often a part of their anxious nature, German Shepherds who are left out and about can get into quite a bit of trouble. As an active breed of dog, German Shepherds require a lot of physical and mental stimulation.
If their owner doesn’t provide it, they will absolutely locate some “fun” for themselves. Even the most attentive German Shepherd owner is likely not able to be with their beloved dog 24/7, and this is where a crate can come in handy.
If you must leave your German Shepherd home alone for a bit, placing them in a crate can ensure that your pup doesn’t cause any damage to your house while you are gone. This also makes sure they are kept safe from anything in your house that could accidentally injure them.
Depending on the age of your German Shepherd and how adept they are at destroying toys, you could also leave your pup with a stuffed Kong to keep them occupied while they are in the crate.
Just make sure the Kong is big enough that your pup can’t swallow it, and that your Shepherd does not have a history of tearing apart toys.
3) It May Be Required
Unfortunately, the German Shepherd is prone to certain breed-specific legislation. Many apartments and housing complexes have special requirements for breeds like the German Shepherd, including that they be kept crated when the owner is not home.
If you plan on traveling a lot with your German Shepherd, hotels and house rentals may also have stipulations that your German Shepherd be crated whenever they are in the room or home or else you may be liable for additional fees.
Speaking of traveling, crating your German Shepherd in a special crate designed for car travel, air travel, or via train or boat may also be needed. Crates provide a lot of safety features, so by spending the time to crate train your German Shepherd BEFORE the crate is needed, you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches and make it easier for your pup to acclimate to the crate and associate it with good things.
How Do I Crate Train My German Shepherd?
The process to crate train an adult or senior German Shepherd is similar to that of crate training a German Shepherd puppy (which I discuss below), but with the added challenge of the adult dog potentially having a negative association with the crate already.
If crate training is rushed or punishment is used during the training process, a dog will form a negative association with the crate.
Alternatively, if something happened in the crate previously that scared or traumatized the dog, then they will still form a negative association with the crate (even if they previously had a good association with it).
Before you begin the actual crate training process, you would first need to address that negative association and go about changing it into a positive one through a process called counter conditioning. How successful this process is depends on the cause of your German Shepherd’s negative association, how long they endured the trauma or punishment, and how receptive they are to the counter conditioning process.
In severe cases, a reputable dog trainer can help you create a plan to help your pup overcome his dislike or fear of the crate. In relatively mild cases, you may be able to begin the actual crate training process while you are working on counter conditioning your Shepherd’s negative association with the crate.
I do suggest reaching out to a local dog trainer to help you with crate training, but I’ve outlined some basic steps below:
Step 1: Let Your Pup Explore The Crate On Their Terms
Once you’ve chosen a good location for your German Shepherd’s new crate, allow them free access to the crate to sniff and explore it. Make sure to have lots of treats on hand and praise them and toss them a reward every time you see them interact with the crate.
If they go into the crate of their own free will, give a jackpot reward! At this stage, you do not want to shut them in the crate. This initial process may only take a day or two, or it could take longer depending on if you are also working on counter conditioning a negative association with the crate.
Step 2: Start Closing The Door
Once your German Shepherd appears to be comfortable around the crate and they are going in and out of their own free will, you can start closing the crate door for brief periods of time.
In some cases, you may only be able to shut the door halfway while your pup is in there and then immediately open it up and reward your dog.
In this part of the process, make sure you are paying close attention to your German Shepherd’s body language and that you stop if you notice them becoming stressed out, tense, or fearful.
If your German Shepherd is comfortable when you close the crate door, you can start increasing the length of time the door is closed. This should be done in very tiny increments, such as 1-2 seconds, and then increasing by a second or two at a time.
If at any point you notice your Shepherd start to tense up or become anxious, take a break and drop back down to the last time segment in which they appeared comfortable (so if you were working on 5 seconds and they started getting anxious, drop back down to 3-4 seconds and then try working your way up again).
During each point where you open the crate door to let them out, make sure you give lots of happy praise and treats.
At this stage of the process, you want to remain in the room with your pup. If your German Shepherd is doing well and appears comfortable in their crate, you can start leaving them in there for short periods while you do other things in the same room (such as watching TV or doing dishes).
Step 3: Leave The Room
Steps 2 and 3 of the crate training process can go VERY slowly or VERY quickly. It’s really dependent on the individual dog.
In some cases, you may be able to leave the room for very short periods (even just closing and opening the door repeatedly) and your German Shepherd may be fine. In other cases, you may only be able to go elsewhere in the room but still be within the eyesight of your pup.
In all cases, you should still only be leaving your dog in the crate for small periods of time while gradually working up to an extended period.
Again, if you notice your pup is beginning to show signs of stress (before the point of barking or crying) you should take a break and drop back down to the level of the process in which your pup was last comfortable.
If things are progressing well, you can leave the room for an extended period of time (but no more than a few minutes).
Step 4: Practice, Practice, Practice!
It is a normal part of the crate training process for dogs to have ups and downs, even if it appears that they are fully crate trained and you’ve gone a bit without any setbacks. Being patient and consistent about the process will help speed things along and prevent any serious issues down the road.
Once you are able to leave the room and your pup seems happy and comfortable, you can start leaving the house for short periods of time.
If you have a German Shepherd who is recovering from a negative association with the crate, it may be helpful to have a small pet camera set up so you can monitor their stress levels while you are working on this part of the process.
You can also start moving their crate to different parts of the house to help them generalize the behavior and feel comfortable no matter where the crate is located (just make sure you adjust your training process if you see a few setbacks during this phase).
The crate training process is often thought of being a stressful experience, but if you approach it with patience and understanding that you are working to create a positive association with the crate, you’ll have an easier time with it. German Shepherds are smart, so in most cases, crate training should go relatively quickly.
If your German Shepherd is a little more anxious, you can provide them with a tasty chew, their favorite toy, or a stuffed Kong to keep them occupied and help make that positive association (just make sure whatever you give them is safe to use without supervision).
Using calming sprays, plugins, or chews can also help with Shepherds who are having trouble with the process. Crate covers and playing calming music or using white noise machines can help create a more peaceful atmosphere.
It’s also important to remember that you should only reward your Shepherd when they do what you are asking and ignore any behaviors (including barking) that you do not want to reinforce. For some adult dogs, they may have gotten used to being let out of the crate whenever they barked or cried.
If your German Shepherd was previously starved of attention from their owner, they may have learned that barking and crying while in the crate got them attention in the form of yelling by their owner (which to us seems bad, but to a dog who thrives on attention it may actually be a positive thing to them).
If you let your German Shepherd out of the crate whenever they bark or cry, you are teaching them that those behaviors are what get them let out.
By being patient and following the steps I outlined above, you are teaching your Shepherd that not only is the crate a safe, happy place but that they will be let out only if they are quiet.
How Do I Crate Train My German Shepherd Puppy?
Like adult German Shepherds, German Shepherd puppies will follow a similar crate training process. The benefit of training a puppy, though, is that they often have a neutral association with the crate so you can work on creating a positive one right off the bat.
That being said, it can take a longer period of time to crate train a German Shepherd puppy versus an adult, and there are likely to be more setbacks throughout the process as your pup ages (especially during the adolescent stage).
If you are newer to the crate training process or if you’ve previously only crate trained using outdated methods, it’s probably best to reach out to a local dog trainer who can help you with crate training your puppy. If you feel comfortable, though, you can follow the steps below:
Step 1: Create A Positive Association
During this initial stage, allow your puppy free access to the crate. Even German Shepherd puppies tend to get into things, so it’s also a good idea to have the crate in a secure room or attached to a playpen or exercise pen so that your pup is still safe even if you can’t leave them in the crate yet.
Every time you see your pup investigate or go into the crate, use lots of praise and rewards. You could also put a comfy bed or even a T-shirt with your scent on it in the crate to help make it more appealing to your puppy.
At this stage, you do not want to shut the door.
Step 2: Create A Crate Training Schedule
Once your pup appears unbothered by the general presence of the crate, you should start coming up with a crate training schedule. This schedule should be part of your potty-training process, too!
Crate training and potty training often go hand in hand, and by creating a schedule that covers both processes you are less likely to make mistakes. Having a schedule also allows you to see what progress your puppy is making and gives you an idea of when you can start increasing the difficulty of what your puppy is being asked to do.
You may also need to adjust your schedule based on your puppy’s changing needs or adapt it to their level of the crate training process.
Step 3: Start Closing The Door
If you’ve decided on a good crate training schedule, you can start working up to closing the door of the crate while your pup is inside.
Providing toys, chews, or something fun within the crate will help maintain that positive association and make your pup want to go into the crate without a fuss.
At this point, you only want to briefly shut the crate door and then immediately open it (as long as your puppy is quiet) and praise and reward with treats.
Depending on your puppy and how consistent you are, you may be able to progress fairly quickly through this phase and start closing the door for extended periods of time (while remaining in the room with your puppy).
If at any point you notice your German Shepherd puppy start to become tense or anxious (before the point of barking or crying), take a break and drop back down to the last point in which your pup was comfortable.
At no point during this stage should you leave the puppy confined in the crate for an extended period or leave the room.
Step 4: Start Leaving The Room
Again, how long this step in the crate training process takes depends on your individual pup. This is also where you might start to see some setbacks and you may need to adjust your crate training schedule.
If your pup is calm and comfortable in the crate with the door closed, you can start exiting the room and then immediately re-enter, praise, and reward your pup by opening the crate door and letting them.
Then you would repeat and gradually work up to being outside of the room for extended periods of time.
Step 5: Practice, Practice, Practice!
You’ll likely have to go back to the basics a few times as your German Shepherd puppy ages and begins to enter the adolescent “teenager” years. Being patient and rewarding your pup heavily while they are in the crate will help keep that positive momentum going.
Being mindful of how much you are asking of your pup is also important, and you want to keep your expectations realistic.
Puppies are always learning and if at any point during the crate training process they learn an unwanted behavior gets them something good (like barking and being let out of the crate) or if they experience any form of fear, trauma, or anxiety within the crate, they’ll be at risk for developing a negative or incorrect association with the crate.
If you become frustrated with this process (and it can be quite demanding at times, especially overnight), a local dog trainer can help assist you with the process.
With patience, consistency, and perseverance, you’ll be able to work up to leaving your puppy in the crate while you are away from home.
Similar to adult German Shepherds, there are a few things you can do to help keep your puppy calm in the crate while going through the training process.
If you are leaving a food stuffed Kong, make sure it’s big enough that your pup can’t swallow it, and if your puppy is teething it’s best not to leave them with one unless you are nearby to supervise and check in on them.
You can also talk to your vet about calming sprays, chews, and plugins that are safe for young puppies.
If you must leave your pup alone for the day while you are still within the training process, it’s a good idea to hire a pet sitter who can check in on your puppy frequently, or even see about puppy daycare.
Whether you are working with an adult German Shepherd or a brand-new German Shepherd puppy, the overall crate training process follows a similar path.
It’s important to go through the training at your dog’s pace as pushing them too quickly before they are ready can lead to a negative association with the crate and will throw off all of your progress up to that point.
If you are having a tough time or want to make sure that you’re following the correct process, a local dog trainer who specializes in positive reinforcement and reward-based training methods can help you.
Crate training is beneficial for any dog, and for German Shepherds in particular it can save you a lot of headaches!