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?
In today’s Ask a Behavior Consultant, we tackle the case of the well-behaved but crate-hating puppy:
My puppy does not like being in her crate and often finds ways to escape; however, when outside crate doesn’t destroy anything and often just plays with toys or sleep. I have tried treats, slowly increasing times in crates. Should I force the issue?
– Sincerely, Crate Hate
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.
This article from The Guardian outlines the “Great Crate Debate” – a fascinating read!
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?
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!
Kayla is from Ashland, Wisconsin but lives in Missoula Montana. She holds a degree in biology from Colorado College and has spent years working in zoos, animal shelters, and as a private dog trainer. When not working on Journey Dog Training, Kayla works at Working Dogs for Conservation. She is a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. She shares her life with her dog Barley.