What To Do When My Puppy Hates The Crate?
Crate training is a common first step for new puppy owners in the United States. But what if your puppy truly hates the crate and doesn’t seem to get into trouble outside the crate? Is it worth the hassle of crate training?
The Great Crate Debate
Outside of the US, crate training is a lot less common. In fact, there are laws regulating crate training in some Scandinavian countries that make crate training outside of sport and working dog contexts almost obsolete.
I think that’s probably a move in the right direction – while crates are incredibly useful, some Americans really overuse them. It’s pretty common for dogs to spend 8+ hour workdays in the crate, then go back in at night – that’s 16 hours in a cage that’s just barely big enough to turn around and stand up in! Yikes.
Again, that’s fine as a temporary management or training tool. I think that in the United States, we’re far too used to leaving our dogs inside of crates for more than half the day.
First, we have to take a look at the Top 5 Reasons Your Dog Won’t Crate Train.
You Only Crate Him When You Leave
You only crate your dog when you leave.
Think about this, crating becomes a precursor to what he hates the most… being separated from you.
Even if you crate him at night and then again only when you leave he begins to associate the two things… Plus chances are he is spending large amounts of time in his crate.
He needs to understand that he may only be in his crate for 15 minutes or less if he is good and quiet and you can’t always offer that to him when you leave.
In order to have successful crate training you must do it occasionally during the day while you are home.
And, in the beginning you need to do it several times a day in order to teach him and play with him appropriately in the crate.
The crate isn’t some kind of torture to be dealt when you leave, it needs to be his safe place and his house; but in order for him to think his house is cool he needs you to be around, needs to know he can be let out after short durations and needs to know you are not always going to leave him alone in his crate.
You Let Him Out When He Screams
You let him out when he screams, it is pretty simple if you think about it.
Trust me I understand; it is hard to listen to your puppy or your favorite furry family member scream or throw a fit. No one likes it!
But by letting him out when he screams or barks you are teaching him to scream and bark in his crate and this is counter intuitive to having a well behaved and crate trained dog.
Like many parents believe older babies (not tiny babies) need to get used to crying themselves to sleep and soothing themselves; so does your puppy or your dog.
He needs to understand he isn’t going to die when you put him in his crate and if you let him out when he squawks he is never going to overcome his fear or dislike of his crate.
And, in order to be let out, he needs to learn that being quiet in his kennel is what you want.
So if you are in the beginning stages of crate training then remember to let him out a few seconds after he is quiet.
HINT: If you tire him out by playing with him before you leave put him in his crate, he won’t scream as long, he will be tired so he will learn to nap in his crate.
I always exhaust my puppies before I put them in their crates so they learn to sleep when they are in there. They are way too tired to scream for more than a minute or two. Even if you have to get up an hour early or stay up a little later, make sure you put a tired puppy in the crate.
For more on crate barking click here.
You Locked Him in it With No Training
You locked him in his crate with no training or as mentioned earlier, no crate games.
Dogs need to learn how to control their environment to be successful and to be happy and for them to do that or feel like they can do that you need to teach them what you want or trick them into doing what YOU want them to do (otherwise they are training you).
For example, if you want your dog to enjoy his crate and learn to control when he is in it you must teach him that when he is quiet he can get out of his crate. If you only close him in his crate when you leave and let him out when you come home you aren’t teaching him anything but to dislike his confined space when you are gone.
Training requires you to be home and for him to be in his crate for short durations as long as he is quiet.
As with anything, crate training takes time and effort. In order to set your dog up for success, you must spend time training.
Spend time working on it several times during the day so you can change the way he feels about his crate and he learns to be quiet and take peaceful naps in there.
You Never Played Games with His Crate
You never played games in his crate with him, don’t worry most people don’t know this trick.
In order for your dog or your puppy to learn the true “gift” and “joy” of a crate he needs to have happy moments in there, not just barking and screaming himself to sleep.
You need to teach him that being in his crate is fun and that comes with crate interaction.
To learn more about crate games read The Joys of Crate Training
95% of the time I give my dog a big, magnificent cookie when they go in their crates, plus I often feed them in their crates so they run into their crates at least twice a day thinking they are going to get a great reward.
This helps to change the association with the crate from bad to good.
Heck I might consider going into a crate if someone gave me a brownie or a bag of Cheetos every time 😉
You Rarely Use It
The other reason that a lot of dogs are not successful with crate training is because many people rarely use it.
People stay home with their dogs during the day or they put them in baby gated rooms because they think the dog likes that better (but dogs are den animals) and rarely get crated.
Or as the dog gets older the people move from using a crate to leaving the dog out in the house during the day; and so the crate is rarely used.
In order for a dog to stay current with his crate training, you have to do it periodically.
Even though 2 out of 3 of my dogs are able to stay loose in the house when I leave, I still occasionally put them in their crates.
I never know when I might need to train or go somewhere that they will need to be crated, so it is in my best interests and theirs to keep them up to date with their crates and their crate training.
If My Puppy Hates the Crate, Should I Make it a Priority?
Here’s my “hot take” on this problem:
If your puppy truly is well-behaved outside of the crate and you’re not planning on a crate being part of her regular adult life (like being crated at agility trials), why force the issue?
I personally prefer to use baby gates or exercise pens to contain dogs whenever possible, rather than putting them inside a crate.
Most people use crate training as “a means to an end.” The point of the crate is to be a management tool. Crates help keep puppies from chewing on cords, chasing the cat, or peeing on the floor.
But if your puppy (or adult dog) already doesn’t chew, chase, or have accidents, you might not really need the crate!
That said, there are some benefits to teaching your dog to be comfortable in the crate.
For example, teaching your dog to be comfy in the crate means that travel or vet visits that require a crate will be a bit less stressful – because your pup is already used to the crate.
How To Teach Your Puppy to Love His Crate
Good crate training can take a long time. So if you really want your puppy to love the crate, be prepared to be patient.
I don’t recommend using the “cry-it-out” training method. That just strengthens your pup’s lungs, so to speak. It also teaches your puppy that you won’t come rescue him when he needs you!
Instead, I recommend taking your puppy outside for a quiet, boring bathroom break if he fusses. Puppy whining = 2 minutes on leash outdoors, no playtime, no treats, no baby talk. Then back in the crate.
Ideally, though, you’re only going to leave your puppy in the crate for as long as he can handle. Here’s an example of how that would look:
- Hide treats and toys inside the crate with the door open throughout the day.
- Intermittently call your puppy to the crate. Gently lure him inside.
- Feed him a few pieces of his breakfast or dinner while he’s in the crate with the door open.
- Once he’s great at that, start feeding him through a closed door. Practice latching and unlatching the door.
- Once he’s succeeding with that, start using puzzle toys and long-lasting chews (the link shows off some of our favorites). Leave him in the crate for longer and longer, adding mere seconds to each practice round.
Once your puppy is able to calmly tolerate being in the crate for a few minutes while you’re next to the crate, you can start some of the exercises below.
These are not in a specific order – one may be easy for one dog, and hard for the next!
- Start standing up and walking away while your pup is in the crate.
- Practice crate training while your puppy is sleepy and while you’d like him out from underfoot anyway, like while you’re cleaning the house. Drop treats into the crate every few minutes while you work.
- Leave your pup in the crate while you watch TV. Drop treats into the crate every so often to preempt fussing and crying.
- The goal is NOT to reward the crying – but to avoid it by keeping your pup comfy. If your pup starts to fuss, do the 2-minute bathroom break!
- Leave your puppy in the crate while you shower or go get the mail.
If you know you have to leave your puppy for longer than he can handle, use the exercise pen, baby gate, or other setup. Leaving your puppy alone to panic in the crate just teaches him that the crate is a scary place!