What to Do When Your Puppy Won’t Stop Crying in His Crate
Your puppy won’t stop crying in his crate? Recently, I have had a few questions from those of you that have crate whiners! I HATE whining!
I can almost tolerate full out barking before I can tolerate the sound of whining. I guess it is the pitch and my tendency toward migraines but whining is one of my biggest pet peeves, so I completely understand! That’s why I ALWAYS train my dogs these 7 Brain RE-training Games to teach them how to keep this impulse under control.
But, it is important to understand crate training from your dog’s stand point before we go much further!
What it’s Like for Your Dog
Most whining and crying comes from our pups when we try to crate train them.
Understand that they come from a world where they lived with their mom and their littermates in a fairly confined space. They have never really experienced being all ALONE and it can be kind of scary, at first.
Dogs are den animals that is true, so acclimating to a crate is somewhat natural for dogs. However they are never “locked” in their dens. This inability to get out takes some acclimation and the understanding that nothing bad is going to happen to them in this new environment.
Most of our pets are spoiled. We take our dogs with us and spend lots of time with them, catering to their every need; so they can be taken aback when we lock them up and leave them alone.
Crates are CRITICAL
But, crates are essential to the safety of your dog and your “stuff”. Read more about why to use a crate and crate games here in my article The Joys of Crate Training. I will always crate train my dogs.
It makes them easier to travel with, because their home can travel with them, and it helps them with separation anxiety and anxiety at the groomer and the vet hospital. At some point almost ALL dogs will have to be crated or caged somewhere. Just last week I had to drop my dog off for x-rays and I know she was put in a kennel to await her turn!
So it is crucial not to give up! Remember it is normal for your dog to protest and how you deal with these protests will set you up for a lifetime of loud protests if you are not careful!
What Do You Do?
When you crate train a pup PROPERLY, you have to make sure you know…
— How to make your dog THINK his crate is his sanctuary… instead of a prison
— Your dog’s AGE appropriate bladder holding time limits
— The correct way handle excessive Crate Squawking, Barking or Whining
— Problem solving
— Plus a few other fun tricks and games that we’ll cover later.
So to make sure we get started off on the right foot crate training YOUR pup, here’s the first thing you have to know:
Getting Started, it’s Time to Purchase Your Crate
When you are thinking about crate training your pup and purchasing a crate I recommend getting a crate that will be big enough for your adult dog. Yes, your little guy is small now, but that won’t last forever. Unless you have oodles of money laying around, I would not necessarily get a crate the size of your pup and then continue to get bigger crates as he ages.
And, don’t think you aren’t going to need a crate when your dog is full grown, because crate training has its benefits throughout the lifetime of your dog! Instead I would recommend getting a crate big enough for your adult dog and partitioning it off to be smaller depending on the size of your pup. If the crate is TOOOO big, chances are your pup can have an accident at one end of the crate and lay at the other end, which mostly defeats the purpose of crate training.
For some specific guidelines checkout this resource
Next, determine which type of crate you would like to utilize. Crates come in all shapes and sizes, from plastic crates that are darker inside, to wire crates that allow the dog to see more, to steel or aluminum crates that are impossible to break out of and often used for police and working dogs.
Most often I have found that dogs prefer the darker environment of a plastic crate as opposed to their wire crate counterparts.
Plus, when you crate at night, darker crates offer a more inviting space for your dog to cozy up and relax compared to those big open ones.
Dogs go into their crates because it’s a space to chill out in and take naps and a darker crate is usually more conducive to leaving the cares of the world behind.
Fearful dogs often dislike wire crates because they feel trapped while being visually overstimulated by the outside world.
Puppies Are “Den” Based Animals Who Crave A Safe Place to Go
So when we do OUR job, as pet parents, and help our young puppies understand that their CRATE is a safe place that they can call their den, a WHOLE lot of wonderful behavior changes start to happen in your dog.
For starters, young puppies are taught by their mothers to NOT pee in their den. So when we create a den for them, it’s like we kick start a little evolutionary ingrained gene in their brains that tells them ‘NOT TO PEE in Their Crate’.
Of course, there are limits to how long a pup can hold their bladder at different stages of life, that you have to abide by to make this happen; but as long as you follow the guidelines we’ll share with you later for how long to keep your pup in his crate. If your dog loves his crate, he’ll hold it for as long as he physically can.
But therein lies the trick…
How Do You Get Your Pup to LOVE Going To His Crate?
Introducing “Den Training”!
Den Training is the process for how to get your pup to learn to LOVE his crate, and to treat it like his Mother’s Den. Here’s a quick summary of how to teach Phase I:
Fun and Games
First You Will Need to Make the Crate Inviting
- A soft bed
- Some new toys.
You DO NOT have to leave these in the crate when you are not training (this may not be safe, because the dog or puppy may shred or potentially ingest them). But it certainly makes a crate less scary and more inviting.
- Hot Dogs
- Your Clicker
Exploring the Crate
Click and treat for any interaction with the crate from looking at the crate to putting a body part inside. Remember to work at your dog’s pace and slowly raise the criteria. If you move too quickly he may become overwhelmed or lose interest. Yes, treat him for looking at the crate!
Next slowly change the criteria and click and treats him for:
- Putting his full body in the crate
- Sitting in the crate
- Laying down in the crate
- Choosing to stay in the crate
Close door and latch (click and treats)
Close door latch walk away (click and treats)
Release and reward the dog at intermittent times
If your puppy dog tries to lunge through the door, latch and wait. Only staying inside receives reward. Reward can come from back of crate to keep dog from wanting to forge through. For example if my dog wants to race out when I open the door, I simply refuse to reward.
Instead I hold the reward near the end of the crate, while I open the door. If the dog stays inside he will get a jackpot.
Other Crate Training Games
“Race to Your Crate”
My dogs and I have this game, after I have shaped crate training, where I teach them to race into their crates on command. At my house, I say “Let’s go to bed!” and we have a race for them to get in their crates. As mentioned earlier, I don’t often even shut the door.
Sometimes I simply throw a treats or toy into their crate and then carry on about my day. Again in order for the dog to find this behavior rewarding, he must not always be locked in after he plays!
I also making tossing toys into the crate a game.
My dogs love nothing more than toys and any game that revolves around toys, so by integrating their crate into games, I help to endear their crates to them. I toss toys inside for them to go and gather, and I also hide toys in their crates so that they can make fun discoveries inside.
In my opinion, there is no better way to help your dog enjoy his crate, than to hide a brand new toy inside!
It is all about finding fun in your dog’s crate training.
But I’ve Gotta WARN YOU!
Getting your puppy to think of his crate like his den is only the first step!
Once your puppy is feeling great about his crate it is time to get him comfortable with staying there for longer and longer periods of time without having separation anxiety. We will turn his crate into his “Happy Place” using a schedule.
A schedule like this can work well to get you started:
— Once your dog is comfortable going into his crate to eat, close the crate door while he eats. Then, as soon as he’s done, open the crate door and let him out.
— Next, throw a Kong toy in your dog’s crate and close the door. These can take longer to consume, so grab a magazine or just dedicate some time to checking out Facebook and sit within eyesight of your puppy while he eats his Kong in his crate (at least 5 minutes). Then open the door and let him out.
— When your dog is okay eating his Kong for five minutes, with you in sight, for a day or two in a row, give him his Kong and leave for a minute or two. See if your dog can eat his Kong for 5 minutes with you out of sight (again, being sure to open the door and let him out after 5 minutes). Don’t try to push him to be in there too long, too fast, that can lead to isolation distress or separation anxiety. Once your dog is okay with a Kong for 5 minutes at a time without being able to see you, you’ve done a great thing! You’ve taught your dog to understand that he’s not being abandoned, and that you always come back to let him out. Once your dog is comfortable in his crate, we need to train him how to handle hours at a time.
— To teach your dog to be in his crate when you have to leave him at home for hours, start by randomizing how long you leave him in his crate. For example, leave him for 5 min, 10 min, 3 min, 12 min, 15 min, 1 min, 16 min, etc. Do you see what I’m doing? I’m slowly increasing the periods of time that I ask the dog to go into his crate two times in a row, but on the third time, I let him out really quickly. This strategy for increasing the length of time your dog waits to be let out, which we call “Random Rewarding”, keeps the dog guessing as to when he’ll be let out. And, it is much better than simply increasing the time your dog has to be in the crate each day. Do this until you can leave your dog in his crate up to an hour at a time.
When you see your dog sleeping through the night in his crate, you know he is totally comfortable with his crate. Sleeping takes up nearly half of an older dog’s daily activities, so it’s a perfect thing to condition your dog to do in his crate.
Crate Training Puppies Overnight
This process is usually fairly simple. I recommend putting the crate next to the side of your bed so that you can hear him if he gets restless and needs to go outside. Being right next to your bed also allows him to hear you breathe, which can help him adjust quicker and will curb the crying at night.
Remember that your pup just came from sleeping with his mother and a whole litter of other pups, he is used to hearing the other pups heartbeat and breath throughout the night, although sleeping in a crate might be difficult and foreign at first being by your side will help him adapt faster.
Puppies sleep longer at night, so he can be left in his crate for longer than the standard 3 hours that are recommended, but you must keep an ear out for his fidgeting. To make this process easier on both of you, I suggest taking water up 2 hours prior to bedtime and going out for a potty break with your pup last thing before you go to bed at night. Stay on a schedule! Dogs adapt more readily to situations that are predictable and they like being on a normalized schedule.
Once your puppy is trained to go into his crate WILLINGLY, now you start to teach your puppy to “HOLD IT” while in his crate for longer and longer periods of time. Thais becomes HUGE when it comes time to teaching our puppy how to warn us that he has to go later on this in the potty training process.
But for now…
We want to use the power of a dog’s UNWILLINGNESS to pee in his den to our advantage by containing a puppy in one spot for a period of time.
But here’s the trick…
We need to teach the puppy how to hold it a little longer than he wants to, but not so long that we’re becoming abusive. So what we’ve created for you is a chart that helps show you how long your dog should be left in his crate at a time. This chart shows you not only how to tell how long your dog can currently be left in his crate, but how to adapt those time lengths to your puppy as he ages.
Plus by following this schedule you will INCREASE the amount of time your dog is willing to be in his crate without soiling it by 30 minutes every week.
Feel free to print off this chart and attach it to your fridge so the whole family can be on the same crate training schedule.
Problem solving… or Ways Your Crate Training Efforts May Have Failed
I get a lot of questions either asked of me in person, online, via email etc. And one of my biggest fixes for many things is utilizing a crate. Crates help with potty training, they help with chewing, they help give your dog a haven when he needs to get away and they help to give you some sanity when you need a break from watching your puppy or dog.
They also keep you safe in your car, and allow you to stay in motels that otherwise don’t allow dogs. In addition, they can keep friends and family happy when you visit; since they know your dog will be taken care of and well behaved at their home. But one of the most common responses after I suggest crate training is:
“My dog won’t crate train” or “My dog hates the crate”
And, most likely either way; you are simply doing it wrong. And if you’d like to see how I’d do that RIGHT, I made these videos.
And, by doing it wrong you are allowing your dog to choose whether or not he wants to be in a crate; and let me tell you that in the beginning 96% of dogs would choose to skip the crate training even though they will also be happier in the end if they learn to love a crate.
You Only Crate Him 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.
Puppies Should Love their Crates!
You Let Him out When He Throws a Fit
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 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 whining 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.
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.
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 Locked Him in it With No Training
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.
Your Dog’s Crate Should be his Favorite Spot!
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.
But overall make it as positive and fun as you possibly can! There are going to be some fits, that is normal but how you deal with them is the most important! Remember you are the stronger smarter animal 😉
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.