My Dog Gets Aggressive Around His Crate – What Should I Do?

dog crate aggression

Making a call about what to do with an aggressive dog is not easy. I created a checklist for aggressive dogs that you can use to try to sort out your thoughts – but as I say in that article, the calculus is always different for different people.

For example, I’m a professional trainer with no kids (but lots of visitors). A dog who’s aggressive towards only children wouldn’t necessarily be a huge problem for me. But a dog who’s aggressive to adult strangers would be a big problem.

Your skill level and living situation are just as important to this decision-making process as the severity and frequency of the dog’s aggressive behavior.

I can’t really tell you what to do with your aggressive dog, even if we’ve been working together for months or years. I can give you my professional opinion, but I won’t order you around. That’s a personal decision.

It’s even harder when I get emails like the Ask a Behavior Consultant question below, which asks about what to do with a dog who displays crate aggression.

I’ll walk you through my decision-making process, but please remember that my opinion and assessment here are based on precious little information.

Your best course of action is to seek the professional opinion of a veterinary behaviorist, Ph.D. in animal behavior/ethology, or Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. They’ll help you make a decision that’s best for you, your family, and your dog.

Don’t hire a former police dog trainer or military trainer unless they’ve got specific credentials (not experience, they’re not the same thing) working with aggression cases.

Earlier this month, I got the following question:

“Medium sized dog has history of aggression and biting only when cornered or in his crate. Should I rehome, euthanize, or keep trying with him?”

Sincerely, Crate Aggression in Georgia

If you’re dealing with an aggressive dog, be sure to check out the following resources from Journey Dog Training:

I also have a bit more information from the rest of Crate Aggression’s intake form: the dog is a five year old terrier mix who’s been aggressive around his crate and when cornered for five years. The dog is mostly aggressive towards the husband and visiting nieces, not the wife of the family. There are no children in the home.

Crate Aggression didn’t specify how bad the bites were or how many times this dog had bitten. She also didn’t respond when I asked if the dog gave warning signs before biting. All of that is important information, but I didn’t get answers to those follow-up questions.

Should I Euthanize, Rehome, or Train My Crate Aggressive Dog?

I’ll tell you this: given what I know, I don’t think this dog needs to be euthanized right now.

I’d train this dog. If things aren’t getting better after a few months of honest work at the problem, we might re-assess.

Here’s why:

  1. Size of the dog. I’m assuming that this dog is small-ish. Most terrier mixes are. I could be wrong (Russian Black Terriers and Staffordshire Terriers are also technically terriers), but I’m assuming this dog is under 30 pounds. This logically means the risk of injury from this dog is far lower than if the dog was 100 pounds.
  2. Predictability of the aggression. The aggression is limited to specific, identifiable situations. That makes things much safer! It’s far more dangerous to be around a dog who could snap (literally or figuratively) at any moment.
  3. Lack of training so far. The only training attempted so far is management. The owners have tried to limit contact between the dog and people he’s aggressive towards. That’s great! An excellent start. But it’s barely the tip of the iceberg as far as options for this dog.
  4. Risk to the family. There are only two adults in the home. There are no small children at risk, and there aren’t myriad roommates that would make training and management difficult.
  5. Risk to the public. The dog’s aggression isn’t an immediate threat to “the general public.” He’s not trying to break out of the house to chase down strangers or lunging at people on walks. It’s pretty much just inside the home.
  6. Dog’s stability in the home. The dog is already (mostly) succeeding in this home. It sounds like his five years of life have been pretty good so far. Based on what I know, we technically could keep up the status quo without a huge risk to this pup’s owners or this pup’s mental welfare.
  7. Changes in the aggression. The owners reported that this dog’s behavior has been the same for five years. That’s actually good – it means we’re not getting worse over time.

If Crate Aggression’s dog were larger, less predictable, or around lots of people (especially kids), I might have a different assessment. I also might change my assessment if this dog is biting his owners frequently (more than a few times per year), the bites were seriously breaking skin, or if the dog wasn’t letting go when biting.

Fixing this problem will take time: the dog has been “practicing” his aggressive behavior for five years (his entire life).

On Rehoming Aggressive Dogs

I am generally reluctant to rehome aggressive dogs because I don’t like the idea of “passing the buck” to someone else. Of course, that doesn’t mean that rehoming an aggressive dog is always irresponsible.

If the reason the dog is “failing” is largely due to his environment and we can reasonably find him a new home where he’s likely to be safe, then we should try that! But if the list of what the dog needs to succeed is improbably long and complicated, that’s not a good sign.

For example, we sometimes had this sad, wry conversation at the shelter I used to work for: “If only Fido could go home with a female professional trainer who lives on a farm with no other dogs, no kids, and no visitors. Then maybe he’d be OK.”

The reality is, there aren’t many hermit-like female dog trainers-turned-farmer who are looking to take home the world’s aggressive dogs.

But if your dog just needs a home without kids, or a home without other dogs, or a home with more exercise opportunities, then rehoming might be a great option.

On Euthanizing Aggressive Dogs

I’ve helped make the decision to euthanize a lot of dogs when I worked at Denver Dumb Friends League. It was the hardest part of that job.

It’s different to make that decision with a shelter dog, because so much of the equation is unknown: how dedicated is his family? He doesn’t have one. How much space does he have? No one can say, he doesn’t have a home. Does the family live near a playground? Not sure. And on and on.

With shelter dogs who don’t have families, we’re much more cautious than with dogs who already have a dedicated family.

I am yet to have a client’s dog euthanized for aggression. That’s not because I’m “that good.” It’s mostly luck, and the fact that I’ve only been working with aggression cases for a few years.

Based off of what I know about this particular dog, I think it’s too early in this dog’s training to euthanize him. If my assumptions are wrong or things change, that assessment might change.

Treating a Dog Who’s Crate Aggressive

If this dog were mine, or my client’s, here’s what I’d do:

  1. Continue managing this dog’s crate aggression. Leave him alone when he’s in the crate and avoid cornering him.
  2. Teach this dog a hand target. You can use this hand target to ask him to come to you, so you don’t have to corner him.
  3. Consider muzzle training the dog so we can train him safely. Check out my favorite muzzles here, and a muzzle training demo video here.
  4. Practice some treat-and-retreat with this dog. Put him in his crate, and toss a treat into the crate. Then back up. When he eats the treat and looks back up at you, pause. Then take a step forward, toss a treat, and retreat again. Repeat. This will help teach the dog that people approaching him in his crate is actually great!
  5. Practice Pat-Pet-Pause consent tests with the dog. This will help him feel more comfortable with people, especially people he’s currently unsure about. At first, do this in large open spaces where conflict is extremely unlikely.
  6. Cease any punishment, smacking, scaring, scolding, or “dominating” of the dog, if you’re doing any of that. This dog is aggressive when he’s cornered because he feels threatened. He feels like aggression is the only way to get the space he wants. If you scold, punish, or alpha roll him, he’s likely to get worse.

Of course, this is just an overview. I have an entire e-book about treating aggression in dogs. I also work with two other fabulous trainers to take aggression cases remotely through video chat, phone consultation, and/or email and text support for clients around the world.

If you can’t find a Vet Behaviorist, Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, or other aggression-credentialed professional near you, we’re here for you.

Ask a Behavior Consultant: should I euthanize, rehome or train my crate aggressive dog? https://journeydogtraining.com/crate-aggression/

Comments 19

  1. I have a large husky about 90lbs maybe bigger. He has not showed any aggressive behavior to us (minor food aggression to the other husky) but today he had some paper in the kennel and he was really aggressive when we was trying to take it. Used a broom to remove and he attacked the broom full out. He is still adjusting I guess since he is a new dog but I’m worried my son will get attacked if the dog happens to have one his toys and my son try’s to get it back. Wondering how to train this habit out thanks

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      Hi Norvel – that sounds quite scary. I would follow the suggestions here and would also recommend working with a behavior consultant – I’m happy to help if you need.

    2. Very good advice, I have tried the alpha role! Not working, so I shifted to the positive reinforcement of boundaries and the rules. the aggressive behavior has dwindled quite a bit in the past two days and it’s just getting better….. I’m glad you put in your suggestion to not be aggressive with aggressive dogs. They are in pain and need our help! We need to take their feelings into consideration…

  2. We just rescued a three year old terrier mix about 35 pounds. She is the sweetest dog I have ever been around and will just curl up in a ball with you on the couch or wherever you are and burrow into you to snuggle. She is house trained and walks well on a leash. The only problem we are having with her is that she hates her crate. She slept well in her crate the first night we brought her home but the last two nights she literally shook the crate so hard the door came off the hinges in less than ten minutes. We were listening in the other room hoping she would settle down and then she comes trotting in our bedroom and we realized what happened. It was midnight by this time and I ended up taking her into a guest bedroom and sleeping with her. My husband does not want her sleeping in our bed and preferably not in our room so I am not sure what to do. I am even worried about leaving the house for a few hours because I don’t know where to put her. She will scratch and ruin the doors of whatever room I put her in. Any suggestions?

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  3. Kayla,

    We have an almost 3 year old pit bull. Overall she is great. We have done in home training and she listens well and overall very obedient. she has a daily nap time in her crate where we give her a Kong filled with some of her dog food capped with either canned food or peanut butter. she has never had a problem with us near her in her crate and have trained her in giving her the treat and taking it away to ensure she has no food aggression. Lately that has changed, about 2 months now. typically what we do is tell her its nap time, she goes in her crate, we grab the empty kong from her crate and she is fine. we return with the filled kong, call her out and have her do basic commands to receive the kong, she completes them, we give her the kong and she goes into her crate and we close the door. recently when she comes out of the crate to receive the kong we get a little low growl out of her and its a little louder if we approach the crate while the kong is full. she does not do that when we return later to let her out and the kong has been emptied. Based on the information i have provided is this a food aggression or a crate issue? Thank you for your time and assistance.

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      Hi Chaz – does the growling occur without the Kong, or without the crate? That could help you figure it out. If it only occurs with BOTH present, then it’s probably a matter of trigger stacking – she’s more concerned about Kong PLUS crate than she would be about either on its own. Either way, basic counterconditioning done right away will help. Don’t wait for it to get worse!

      1. Kayla,
        Thank you for the advice. As far as we can tell it is only when both the Kong and crate are involved. We would appreciate any tips or advice on how to countercondition. Right now, we are approaching the crate with a spoonful of peanut butter. She tends to start growling or even barking when we get close and start opening the crate door. We gently scold her, open the door, and let her eat the peanut butter. We have been trying to do this on random days, although always while the Kong is still full of food. Are we doing it right?

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          Hi Chaz, I’d be happy to help you through a thorough training plan if you’d like to book a consult; unfortunately, I can’t create custom training plans in the comments section! In the meantime, try tossing treats from further away rather than approaching fully with the spoon. Basically, your approach must predict food in a way that helps her feel good – if your approach (even with food) makes her upset, it’s not working. You’ll have to be further away or move more slowly

  4. I have a husky who is 4 years old. I’ve had him since he was a puppy and he has never shown any signs of aggression up until this last year. His home life is good, he is loved, he’s around people all day, he plays, etc. He has growled at the two kids and then snapped on my boyfriend but has never bit. Today our son asked him to get in kennel so we could leave and he snarled at him and snapped. What do I need to do? He’s only in the kennel when we are gone which is rare. So he’s out all day and all night.. I can’t stand the thought of something happening to anyone because of this or the thought of rehoming him.

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      Hi Kelli, I can’t really speculate without conducting a full assessment – it would be irresponsible to try in the comments section of a blog, particularly with children involved. We’d be happy to schedule a video chat consultation if you’re interested.

  5. I have an American Staffordshire Terrier. He is 9 months old and has started intermediary flyball (no jumps… just training to the box and ball). During runs he has to go in his crate. He constantly yells and bites at the crate. The other night, he bit my hand when I opened his crate. He didn’t break the skin, but he is big enough he bruised me hand in a few places. I do not think he was being malicious, but VERY excited. This is really the only time I have a biting problem. I don’t know what to do at this point. He has started puppy classes but is a total crazy man. PLEASE HELP…!

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  6. I have a 4 year old labradoodle. We crate trained her. As of January, we took down the crate and she is doing great without it. We board her at a kennel when we go out of town. The owner of the kennel has asked us about 2 years ago if she has aggressive issues because she does not like to come out of her kennel after the first day there. I saw a video of them opening the kennel door for playtime and she backs up and growls. She did nip at one attendant. When I came to pick her up recently, I watched the owner open to door of the run and my dog would not come out until she heard me say her name and she came rushing out to me tail wagging. Could she have been mistreated on the first visit years ago or is this aggressive behavior. The owner said that it seems to be getting worse. Should I try a new boxer ding kennel or get a trainer? Thank you for your response.

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      Hi Mel, it sounds like your dog was quite scared of the attendants. I can’t say whether she’s just shy and scared in a new environment or if she was mistreated without knowing more about her and the situation. Either way, I wouldn’t recommend sending her back.

  7. Okay I have a puppy that was dumped at someone’s house on the front porch I adopted it. He is crate trained the thing is we put them in a kennel at night and he sleeps in the kennel but if anyone but me goes near that kennel he kind of nips at them I don’t know if that’s normal or if it’s because he’s saying you’re not my mama he plays well with everyone when he’s not in the kennel. But it’s only at night time when we put him up in the kennel he knows if it’s not me and he’ll nip it them and I don’t understand why can someone please explain this to me or shoot me an email why this happens thank you very much.

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  8. I have a one year old collie Aussie mix. We’ve had trouble with the kennel since the beginning but lately it’s gotten a lot worse. I’ve done a lot of reward work with the kennel. The results so far is that she runs in very quickly and will stay in very nicely. The issue is when she knows you are about to close the door. She barks, lunges, pushes against the door, bares her teeth. She’s on a schedule. Kennel for bed time, kennel when I’m at work. I’ve tried giving special long lasting treats only in the kennel. Giving treats while slowly working the door closed. She keeps getting worse and it scares me. She isn’t aggressive any other time.

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      Hi Arianna, I’m sorry you’re struggling with this. We’d be happy to help however we can. If you’ve tried the suggestions outlined in the article and aren’t seeing success, the next step would be to book a 1:1 consult with our team using the options in the menu bar above.

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