Dog Pooping in Crate? – Crate Training 101: Back to Basics
Got a dog pooping in crate out of the blue? Normally when a previously crate and house trained dog suddenly starts pooping in his crate, it means that something has changed. A dog can sense changes in the home – whether that change is people moving in or out, a new baby, the furniture being rearranged or even new paint on the walls.
When this happens they start acting out in one of two ways. One they can poop or two they can pee. You'll need to first determine what has changed in the home.
Is there a new animal? (even the new hamster in billy’s room), did an animal die recently?, did a new person come to live there or did a person recently leave? All of this can affect your dog. Once you understand the change; that will be when you can start to fix the problem.
You'll need to retrain the dog to go outside all over again.
When Things go to Poop…
-- Provided that the crate you got for him is not too big, crates make going potty uncomfortable.
-- If you pee or poop in your crate; you are going to have to lay in it until someone comes along and lets you out.
-- And, let’s face it, as long as you keep your dog clean, chances are he is going to desire to be clean.
-- Almost no dog wants to sit in his own urine or excrement.
-- And, once he has an accident in his crate, he realizes this, and it gives him motivation and teaches him to hold his bladder etc.
-- Please note that he has to be old enough to hold his bladder. It is unfair to crate young puppies for long durations because they are incapable of being potty trained when they are little infants.
-- And, if you crate young puppies until they poop or pee on themselves… it simply desensitizes them to being clean. They learn that being dirty and stinky is just part of life!
-- Be sure to get puppies out often! And, it is recommended that puppies only be crated one hour for however many months of age they are plus one.
-- So if you have an 8 week old puppy (2 months old) he should only be crated a maximum of 3 hours.
This means you need to correct a destructive behavior STAT, before it gets out of hand.
Whatever the reason, this article will help you find out how to brush up on crate training an already crate trained dog.
Tough Love/Truth Bomb: Maybe you’ve slacked off on being consistent with your dog training efforts… Yes, once he’s gotten the grasp of crate training or housebreaking, you still have to do your part if you expect him to do his.
What is Crate Training?
I am so embarrassed! I have been a dog trainer for over 20 years and I recently got a phone call from my niece. She has acquired a long haired Chihuahua and she was in need of some potty training advice. Potty training is one of those subjects that I have written most, well not most, but MANY articles on so if you need help click here.
But along with regular potty training advice, I recommended crate training.
I think I almost had a stroke when she asked what crate training was, and how to do it… I guess I just take certain things for granted and assume they are common knowledge.
Leave it to family to take the wind out of your sails, knock you down a couple of rungs and teach you a little humility.
So, I figured if my niece didn’t know anything about crate training, there are probably others out there with some of the same questions!
As I said, we are going back to the basics here so you can hopefully pinpoint what needs to be improved in order for your dog to return to being a good canine citizen in your home.
Or if you’re new to this whole thing like my niece, you can follow the steps below and get off on the right paw!
Crates are essential tools for helping pet parents keep dogs safe and content. With proper and consistent crate training, your adult dog’s crate will become his home within his home, his safe haven, and his happy place.
The specifics of how to crate train an older dog may be slightly more difficult than crate training a puppy, but it is still fairly easy if you employ the right tactics.
Some adult dogs have had negative associations with crates in the past, and some have simply never seen a crate. Either way, most adult dogs are “crate-able” and benefit from crate training.
Choosing an Appropriately Sized Crate
The first step is to select a crate that is an appropriate size.
No matter what type of animal you want to crate, the one rule to follow is that the crate (aka kennel) needs to be large enough for the adult dog to comfortably stand up, turn around, and move freely.
Trying to crate your adult dog in a kennel that’s too small is going to make the process take much longer and is really not kind to the animal.
Don’t get a kennel that’s too big, either! Kennels that are too big make it harder for you to potty train your adult dog (but potty training is an article for another time).
For some specific guidelines checkout this resource or watch this video:
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 crates 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 in compared to those big open ones.
Dogs go into their crates because it’s a space to chill out 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.
Conditioning Your Dog to LOVE His Crate or Kennel
Next, it’s time to acclimate your adult dog to his crate using positive reinforcement.
The best way to do this is to make your dog’s crate the place where all his favorite things happen!
Start feeding your dog his meals from inside his crate, along with his water and all his treats.
POWER TIP: Don’t close the crate door during this phase of crate training.
If you have been feeding your dog treats (scraps) off your plate after meals, put that plate into his crate (this is actually the first step towards getting dogs to stop begging, which we’ll cover later).
Put a nice comfy bed or blanket inside so it’s the most comfortable place for him to sleep.
Basically, anything you can think of that is good should happen inside the crate (like a favorite toy and treats). This is about positively reinforcing your dog that good things happen in crates, so he won’t put up much of a fight when we get to the stage where we ask him to be in his crate for hours at a time. We want your dog to think of his crate as the ultimate “Happy Place”; where he goes when he wants to feel safe, is sleepy, or wants to relax.
POWER TIP: Give your adult dog what we call ‘Foraging Toys’ inside his crate. These Foraging toys turn up the value of treats giving, because, by hiding food inside, they take a dog a long period of time to consume. They’re like SUPER treats that keep on giving – sometimes for hours!
One of the best is foraging toys is the KONG toys.
I like to get several Kong toys at a time and make my own treats with some fun meal recipes I have included below.
Now these aren’t recipes you or I would like but dogs love them.
Take something sticky, like peanut butter, and mix in a bunch of other tasty things, then stick them in the freezer. Then when you’re feeding them to your dog, he thinks it’s the best treats and you’re the Pet Parent of the Year!
Check out these awesome recipes:
Spend the little extra time it takes to make these treats, and it’ll turn the crate training process up a notch.
The fact that it’s both sticky and frozen adds to the length of time it takes the dog to get the goodies out of the middle… which has the side-effect of increasing the time of enjoyment for your dog while he eats these in his crate! It’s a little trick for helping condition him to stay in his crate longer and longer.
If you would like even more recipes, try these:
Now That Your Dog Loves His Crate, Get Him to Stay There Longer
Once your dog 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 dog 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.
How to Handle Crate Whining During This Phase
For more games that get your dog's impulses under control, check these out!
If your dog starts whining or barking at any point during this stage where we’re trying to get him to be capable of staying in his crate for over an hour, here’s a video that shows you a clever game to help handle this. We call it the Peek-a-Boo game.
It is crucial during this phase that you balance the length of time you need your dog to stay in his crate with the reality that your dog might need to work on not just barking every time he feels a little anxious or wants to get his way.
Pet parents often accidentally create a ‘Bad Barking or Whining Habit’ by trying to crate train their dog, but then letting their dog out every time he barks.
This is NOT allowed in my house.
Just like I don’t let my children get treats they want when they whine, I don’t let my dogs, either.
My dogs can’t bark to get ANYTHING they want in their life. And neither should yours.
You should teach your dog that barking for food, to go outside, to be let out of a crate, buys them another minute of NOT getting what they want.
But I get it…
Sometimes you feel bad for your dog, because he might be feeling anxious about how long he’ll be locked in his crate, especially in the beginning of this crate training process. That’s what the Peek-a-Boo game is all about. It’s a way to handle the balance of a dog wanting out of his crate and you not accidentally training your dog to run you over.
If you find yourself having a hard time getting your dog comfortable with the amount of time he needs to spend in his crate, I would strongly consider finding a local pet sitter that can help you. Pet sitters are an INCREDIBLY underutilized resource for raising well-adjusted dogs. The value they bring by giving your dog time to interact with other dogs is reason enough why you should consider them. Dog sitters are also a great tool you can use to prevent the overwhelming boredom some dogs feel when adjusting to longer periods in the crate.
POWER TIPS For Helping Your Dog be Less Bored
Tip #1: When crate training older dogs, you’ll have more success if you spend a little time exercising your dog before he goes in the crate. And when I say exercise, I don’t just mean a walk around the block; that’s not exercise.
I’m talking about sleep-inducing exercise!
This is what I mean by sleep-inducing:
Another good idea is to use something like a Chuck-it, which throws a ball way better than your arm (especially if you have an old baseball injury like I do):
For more tips on how to really exercise your dog, check out this post.
Dogs are athletes.
Athletes don’t walk.
If Chuck-its are not an option for your dog because he struggles to retrieve, read this article.
Tip #2: Mental games are often MORE tiring then physical exercise. That’s why one of the things we created here at the dog training secret is our Trick Training Guide. It’s a bunch of fun games like this Beer Retrieve trick that stimulates his mind while also being fun for posting on Facebook!
Also think about Puzzle Toys to give your dog outside of his crate, as they can give his brain a workout without you having to be involved.
Tip #3: Dealing with Nature Calls
In many ways, crate training older dogs is easier then crate training a puppy, because older dog’s bladders are stronger. But remember, asking your dog to hold their bladders too long is not comfortable for them. If you’ve ever been on a long road trip and had to hold it longer than you wanted, you know what I mean.
Asking a dog to hold his bladder longer than he wants is going to hinder your crate training progress.
Make sure that your dog does his business before his crating, and that you arrange to give him potty breaks on a schedule that makes sense.
Ideally, this would be at the same time every day, as dogs love consistency.
By teaching your dog to count on when he will be let out for play and exercise, you’ll have a much easier time getting him to like his routine of spending longer amounts of time in his crate.
Remember crate training is like any other kind of dog training, you must teach them through good experiences!
Practice makes perfect! So I crate train my dogs even when I am home.
I don’t want them to associate my leaving with crate training or spending time in their crate, or this can create fears or bad feelings with my leaving.
Instead, I crate my dogs before I train with them (so that crating is associated with something positive) and I also crate them periodically during the day.
This way I can hear what they are doing, and I can reward good quiet behavior and just get them used to it on a consistent basis.
Crate Training is Important
It keeps your dog safe, your things safe and it gives your dog (who is a den animal) a safe place when you travel or no matter where you go!
And, if you do it right, you will find your dog crating himself throughout the day and night!
For more on Potty Training click these articles
For indoor potty training, The Grass is Always Greener INSIDE the House
What Other Questions about Dog Training or Health do You Want Answered?
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.