What To Do If Crate Training Isn’t Working – Problems & Solutions

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Many dog owners choose to crate-train their dogs. But even if you take a sympathetic, positive reinforcement approach to training your dog, problems can still arise.

So, what can you do if crate training is not working for you and your pet? Crate training aversion and crate training regression are not uncommon phenomena in puppies and older dogs. But we have your back!

Read this guide to learn how to fix the most common crate training problems you and your pooch are likely to encounter.

Is Crate Training Cruel?

Dogs in a crate Chinese Crested

Some people regard crate training as a cruel thing that restricts a dog’s freedom.

However, provided you carry out crate training sympathetically, using positive reinforcement methods and patience, crate training is not cruel.

That said, if you try to rush the process and make mistakes early on in your puppy’s training, you risk setting everything back considerably.

In extreme cases of crate abuse, crate aggression can result, and it becomes impossible to crate train a dog successfully. In that case, alternative confinement options, such as puppy pens or isolation rooms, can offer a solution.

What’s Good About Crate Training Your Dog?

Crate advocates find many benefits in crate training their dogs, including:

  • Dogs are naturally denning animals that enjoy spending some alone time in the enclosed, cozy, private space of a crate.
  • Spending time confined to a crate when left alone for a couple of hours can keep a dog safe.
  • Confining your dog to a crate at night or while you’re not around can prevent destructive behaviors and toileting accidents.
  • Crates are a useful training tool for potty-training puppies.
  • Traveling your dog in your car is much safer when confined to a crate.
  • Dogs that suffer from separation anxiety are often comforted and feel more secure when confined to a crate while their owner is not around.

A crate should be used for these reasons only. Your dog’s crate must never be used as a punishment for your pet. In addition, do not leave your dog shut in his crate for very long periods of time without sufficient bathroom breaks.

When To Start Crate Training

Crate training should begin from the moment you bring your new puppy home. Before you go to collect your new furry family member, the crate should be set up and properly equipped so that the little guy has somewhere he wants to go.

If you take the time to acclimate your puppy or adult rescue dog to their new crate patiently and thoughtfully, there’s no reason that the crate shouldn’t be a place your pet wants to go.

Common Mistakes That Can Make A Crate “Aversive”

There are various forms of abuse of crates that can make a dog aversive to his crate for life, including:

  • Forcing your dog to go into a crate when he doesn’t want to.
  • Using a crate that’s too small for a large dog makes the pup feel physically cramped and restricted.
  • Not making the crate floor comfortable with a mat, pad, or blanket.
  • Having a bleak, uninviting crate with no bed, high-value treats, or interactive toys.
  • Leaving the dog in the crate for long periods without adequate bathroom breaks.
  • Using the crate as a punishment, i.e., time-out in the crate

All the above are common errors that dog owners make, which are very easily avoided.

Signs of Crate Aversion

aggressive dog barks with foam around mouth behind bars

If your dog or puppy becomes resentful or resistant to being confined to his crate, various problems will arise, some of which can take a long time to overcome.

  • The pup might refuse to enter the crate at all.
  • Your dog will whine, cry, and bark when confined to the crate.
  • Your pup could injure himself in frantic attempts to get out of the crate.
  • Your pup might resort to relieving himself inside the crate if confined for too long. Once that happens, the crate might no longer be an effective toilet training tool.

Your dog can’t tell you if you’re getting it wrong, acting out their angst in various ways instead.

Typical crate aversion behaviors can include:

  • Crate aggression, such as when a pup bites or nips you if you try to force him to go into the crate.
  • Barking after the crate is closed.
  • Scratching around the door or crate floor in an attempt to escape.
  • Biting the crate door in anger and frustration.

Some shy, nervous dogs don’t act out. Instead, they internalize their frustrations by licking the inside of the crate or themselves or self-harming. The dog might constantly turn around inside the crate or defecate and eat his own feces.

What Causes Crate Aversion?

All these problems are caused because the dog was not properly acclimated to his crate or crate abuse occurred, making the puppy or dog averse to the crate.

Troubleshooting

German Shepherd puppy inside crate

As is the case with most dog training issues, prevention is much better than cure.

Here are a few tips for fixing crate training problems:

Comfort

Your puppy won’t want to spend time in his crate if the environment is not comfortable and cozy.

So, take the time to turn the crate into a comfortable, snug place for your pet. You can do that by adding a padded bed for your pup to snuggle down into, as well as placing bumpers around the sides of the crate for the dog to lean on.

It can help to cover the crate with a proper commercially made crate cover, which helps to create that dark, den-like experience dogs love.

Size Matters

The crate must be large enough for the dog to stand up, lie flat out, sit up, and turn around without colliding with the crate’s sides or roof.

If the crate is too small, the dog won’t be comfortable, but if the crate is too large, a puppy will likely use one end of the crate as a toilet spot. Once your puppy starts crate soiling, that can make potty training extremely difficult.

Be sure to take your dog outside for a bathroom break immediately before you put him into his crate for sleeping or if you’re going out. Never confine your dog for so long that he can’t hold it.

Feeding In The Crate

dog eating from a bowl inside his crate

You can encourage your puppy to love his crate by feeding him in it.

Start by putting the food bowl close to the open crate door. Once your puppy is confidently eating from the bowl, try moving the food further back into the crate.

Your puppy will begin to associate the crate with nice things, such as food, and going into the crate will quickly become an enjoyable thing for your pet.

Enrich The Crate

Hiding high-value treats under the bedding in the crate and enriching the interior with your dog’s favorite chew toys can help to resolve crate issues.

Short Confinement Periods

By now, your puppy should be associating the crate with nice things and will overcome his fear and aversion to spending time inside it.

Now, you can begin to expect your dog to spend short periods of five minutes or so confined to the crate. The best time to do that is immediately after a walk or energetic play when your puppy is ready to rest.

Stay close to the crate and reassure your pup so that he doesn’t feel alone and isolated.

Increase Confinement Periods

jack russell terrier dog posing in a crate

Gradually increase the confinement periods to 15 minutes, remaining with your puppy.

At all other times, leave the crate door open, and be sure to make the crate comfy and enriched, as described above. Your puppy should be free to come and go as he pleases and use his crate for rest when he wants to nap.

Overprotection

A more unusual form of crate training regression that’s encountered by some pet parents is that their puppy or adult dog becomes very overprotective of the crate.

Although it’s not one of the more common mistakes of crate training, overprotection often occurs if the dog owner has done a poor job of setting limits and establishing leadership.

An overprotective dog will effectively defend his territory, becoming aggressive when the owner tries to remove the dog from the crate or even just approaches it. The problem can often be solved by denying the dog access to the crate for a while or simply changing the crate’s location in the home.

FAQs

In this part of our guide, we answer some of the most frequently asked questions of dog owners about crate training.

Q: Are some dogs impossible to crate train?

Jack Russell Terrier dog inside a special plastic gray crate animal

A: In some cases, it can be almost impossible to crate-train a dog. Crate training can be extremely challenging if you have a dog that already has negative associations with being crated. Often, a dog that’s been traumatized by being left alone and confined to a small room, a crate, or a kennel will never be happy in a crate, even if the door is left open.

These dogs often suffer from separation anxiety and other stress-related conditions that have become associated with confinement. Dogs rescued from puppy mills and from former homes where they have suffered from crate abuse often fall into the category of pups that are impossible to crate train.

In those cases, alternative methods of confinement are often successful, such as puppy pens or using a baby gate to keep the dog away from certain areas in your home.

Q: Why is my dog getting worse at crate training?

A: There are several reasons for crate training regression:

  • The initial crate training process was carried out too quickly. In that case, you’ll need to go back a couple of weeks and restart the training process, allowing your dog more time to feel comfortable and confident in the crate.
  • The dog is testing your boundaries by objecting to his crate. Puppies typically start well and then begin objecting to being left in their crates. Be patient and persistent, use positive reinforcement training methods, and you’ll succeed eventually!
  • You are accidentally training the dog to reject his crate by letting him out each time he cries or barks. If your dog gets his own way each time he complains about being crated, he’s training you, not the other way around!
  • You are keeping your dog confined in his crate for too long. Healthy adult dogs should not be expected to spend more than 6 to 8 hours confined to their crate without at least one potty break. Puppy owners should know that potty breaks should be more frequent and confinement periods shorter, commensurate with the puppy’s age.
  • The crate is not a comfortable place to be. If crate time does not have positive associations for your dog, he won’t want to spend time there. Make sure you provide your dog with a comfortable bed to lie on, interactive toys to entertain him, and clean water in a crate bottle or bowl. 

Take your time when crate training your dog or puppy, and always be prepared to take a few steps back if things go wrong.

Q: How do you get rid of crate anxiety?

dog with toys inside a crate

A: If your dog becomes upset and anxious when confined to his crate, you have several options:

  • Use confinement alternatives, such as a puppy playpen or containing your dog in one dog-friendly room in your home while you’re not around to watch him.
  • Use doggy daycare facilities instead of leaving your anxious dog home alone.
  • Repeat the entire crate training process to eradicate negative associations with the crate by using reward-based, positive reinforcement techniques.
  • Try to figure out why your dog is anxious in his crate. Is he bored, lonely, too cold, too hot, etc.? Once you’ve worked out what the problem is, you can set about fixing it.

If possible, take your dog with you whenever you can to reduce the amount of time he spends alone at home in his crate.

Q: What to do if your puppy freaks out in the crate?

A: Puppies often freak out in their crate because they are lonely. After all, you became their surrogate parent when the pup was taken away from his siblings and mom.

The simple fix is to keep the crate near to you when you’re around at home. At night, put the crate close to your bed so that the puppy knows you’re still there.

For example, as an alternative to nighttime crating, you could try using a puppy pen in your bedroom. However, if you’re using a crate for housetraining your puppy, that approach might make matters worse.

Q: How do you crate train a dog who hates the crate?

puppy barking inside crate

A: Dogs usually develop crate aversion because the crate training process was too hurried. So, the best thing to do is go back to the beginning and start over.

Initially, remove the door from the crate or hold it open with a bungee cord. Feed your dog in the crate, and add plenty of your pet’s favorite treats and toys to the crate. Make sure you equip the crate with a comfy bed and place the crate in a spot where your dog can see you and your family.

Allow the dog the freedom to come and go from the crate as he pleases, only closing the door for very short periods when your pet is comfortable, confident, and shows no signs of anxiety.

Final Thoughts

Did you enjoy our guide on what to do if crate training is not working for you and your canine companion? If you did, please take a moment to share the article!

Crate training can be very beneficial to dogs and their owners. Dogs generally appreciate the cozy feeling of a den-like space that a crate provides. A wire crate can be a useful tool when potty training a puppy or adult rescue dog. And a closed crate can help treat dogs with separation anxiety.

Did our tips help to solve your crate training blues? Tell us in the comments box below.

Meet our writer

Alison Page was brought up with dogs and various other pets! For a few years, Alison worked as a Practice Manager in a small animal veterinary clinic. Alison is now a full-time writer, specializing in creating articles on the care and training of dogs, cats, and fish.

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