How to Train Your Small Dog to Like a Crate

Medium
3-8 Weeks
General

Introduction

Have you watched a movie where a couple brings home an adorable new puppy. They settle that new puppy into his bed that first night, expecting him to fall peacefully to sleep, safe in his own little towel and pillow-lined crate. Do you remember the pitiful scene where the poor puppy cries its heart out until the new owners finally give in and bring the little puppy into the bed with them? Do you remember the scene that often followed that scene, where the dog--now a full grown adult--is still sleeping in the bed with them?

Nothing is more heart wrenching than listening to your lonely or bored puppy or dog cry inside of his crate. Having a dog that is crate trained is very important, but getting there can seem heart-wrenching. What if your dog could learn not only to tolerate his crate but perhaps even to like it?

Defining Tasks

The crate is an amazing tool. It can be used to teach your puppy not to go to the bathroom inside of your house, it can prevent years of destructive chewing, it can allow your dog to travel with you, it can be used to teach your dog how to handle being alone, and it can give your dog a safe and calm place to go to when it is storming outside, when there are guests in your home, or when he just needs a break from your children.

Crating your dog when you cannot supervise him, while he is still learning proper house manners, can drastically increase the chances of your dog being trustworthy enough to be left alone in your home, outside of the crate, later on.

It is important to remember while training your dog to love his crate that you must go as slowly as your dog needs you to, for him to feel comfortable. While you are training this, it would be helpful to set up another enclosed area that you can place your dog in when you cannot watch him, until he is accustomed to his crate. If you are home often with your dog, you can also attach your dog to yourself with a leash to keep him from getting into trouble.

For all three methods, you will need a hollow chew-toy that you can stuff with kibble or treats. Something such as a Kong will work well for this. There are a couple of different ways to stuff a Kong or similar toy.

First, you can place dry dog food inside the toy, then cover the majority of the toy's opening. Do this by wedging a large treat in the opening,  leaving just enough space in the opening for one to two pieces of kibble to fall out at a time.

Second, you can place your dog's food into a bowl and add water, then let the water absorb into the food over time. Once the water has absorbed into the food and the kibble is soft, loosely pack the food into the toy. When the food is packed inside, place the stuffed toy into a zipper bag and freeze the entire thing. Freezing the toy will create a time-released food dispenser that will keep your dog entertained for longer.

Getting Started

To get started, you will need lots of treats and a hollow chew toy that can be stuffed with food. Something like the Kong chew-toy mentioned above will work well for this. If you are using the 'Feeding' method, you will also need your dog's food bowl and his kibble. If you are using the 'Fun and Games' method, You will also need a toy that can be tossed for your dog.

The Feeding Method

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Step
1
Feed in front of the crate
To begin, open the door to your dog's crate and leave it open. Place your dog's food bowl in front of the crate's entrance and feed him there. If you dog will not eat his food at this location, move the bowl away from the crate until you have reached a location that your dog will eat at. Once you have found that location, gradually move the bowl closer to the crate every time that your dog becomes completely relaxed at the current distance. Do this until the bowl is once again in front of the crate's entrance.
Step
2
Place inside the crate
When your dog is comfortable eating by the crate's entrance, place the bowl of food right inside of the crate, so that your dog has to reach just his head inside to eat.
Step
3
Place the bowl deeper
When your dog is comfortable with reaching into the crate to eat, gradually place the bowl deeper and deeper into the crate. Do this until the bowl is located at the very back of the crate. Go slowly enough for your dog to remain relaxed
Step
4
Close the door
When your dog is comfortable with eating his entire meal in the back of the crate, begin to close the door behind him while he eats. Open the door again when he has finished his meal.
Step
5
Increase closed door time
When your dog is comfortable with the door being closed while he eats, gradually increase the amount of time that you leave the door closed for after he is finished eating. While you do this, drop a piece of kibble into his crate every twenty seconds. Do this until he will remain calm inside of the crate for ten minutes.
Step
6
Space out the treats
When your dog can remain calm in his crate for ten minutes, gradually increase the amount of time between food drops. Do this until you have reached ten minutes between drops.
Step
7
Increase crate time
When you have reached ten minutes between kibble drops, gradually increase the amount of time that your dog remains in his crate for, until you have reached one hour. Continue to drop in kibble every ten minutes while you do this.
Step
8
Replace treats
When you have reached one hour of crate time, replace the kibble drops with a kibble-stuffed toy, such as a stuffed Kong. Place the Kong into the crate at the beginning of the hour.
Step
9
Continue to make it fun!
Keep practicing until your dog can remain in his crate calmly for long periods of time. Continue to place food-stuffed toys and other interesting chew-toys into the crate with him. This will keep him from becoming bored. You can also continue to randomly drop treats into his crate anytime that he is lying down quietly inside. This will help him to continue to love his crate.
Recommend training method?

The Fun and Games Method

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Step
1
Open the door
To begin, open the door of your dog's crate and leave it completely open.
Step
2
Show your dog the toy
Show your dog the toy and get your dog excited about the toy. Toss the toy to your dog, let your dog tug on the toy, and move the toy across the ground in front of your dog.
Step
3
Move in front of the crate
Now that your dog is excited, move to the area right in front of the crate's open door and continue your play. If your dog is nervous there, continue to play with him until he is relaxed in that area. If he is so nervous that he no longer wants to play, back away from the crate until he relaxes again. Gradually move slightly closer to the crate whenever your dog becomes relaxed at the current distance. Do this until you have reached the area in front of the crate's open door again.
Step
4
Toss against crate
Once your dog is comfortable playing in the area right in front of the crate, occasionally toss your dog's toy against the crate's open door frame, so that he has to approach the crate to retrieve the toy.
Step
5
Toss into the crate
If your dog remains relaxed and confident, occasionally toss the toy right inside of the crate's open door. Toss the toy deep enough that your dog has to reach his head inside to retrieve it, but shallow enough that he does not have to step all the way inside.
Step
6
Toss deeper
Once your dog is comfortable putting his head into the crate, toss the toy deeper. First, toss the toy deep enough that your dog must place his front feet inside also, then toss the toy deep enough that your dog must place his entire body into the crate. Continue to increase the depth as your dog is comfortable. Do this until your dog has reached the very back of the crate.
Step
7
Play only in the crate
Once your dog will retrieve the toy from the back of the crate, only play fetch into the crate. Do this until your dog really loves running into his crate.
Step
8
Close the door
Once your dog loves being inside the crate while retrieving his toy, occasionally toss the toy into the crate and close the door, with your dog inside, for two seconds. After two seconds, open the door and praise your dog enthusiastically, then resume your normal fetch game.
Step
9
Increase duration
As your dog becomes accustomed to having the door closed behind him, begin to toss a toy that is stuffed with food, such as a stuffed Kong, into the crate when you will be closing the door. Gradually close the door for longer and longer periods of time. Do this until you have reached thirty minutes. Only use the Kong during the times that you will be closing the door. Use another toy for the open door tosses.
Step
10
Practice
Continue to practice until you can toss a Kong into the crate and your dog will willingly go inside and remain calm for long periods of time.
Recommend training method?

The Surprise Method

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Step
1
Open the door
To begin, open the door of your dog's crate and leave it completely open.
Step
2
Sprinkle treats
Using your dog's kibble or tiny treats, sprinkle lots of treats around the outside of your dog's crate with him watching you. Do this until he begins to sniff the area around the crate even when there are no treats.
Step
3
Hide treats around the crate
Once he knows to expect treats when you approach the crate, begin to sprinkle lots of treats around the crate when your dog is not present. Do this until he begins to go to his crate often, in search of treats.
Step
4
Hide treats in the crate
When your dog to going to his crate frequently to check for treats, begin to sprinkle the treats inside of the crate. Be sure to place treats right inside the door as well.
Step
5
Close the door
When your dog is comfortable with being inside of his crate while he is eating the treats, begin to close the door behind him while he eats the treats. After he finishes eating, open the door again.
Step
6
Increase closed door time
When your dog is comfortable with being inside of the closed crate while he eats his treats, gradually increase the amount of time that the door is left closed for. As you do this, sprinkle treats into the crate every ten seconds, until it is time for the door to be opened again.
Step
7
Spread out the treats
When your dog is comfortable with being left in a closed crate for several minutes, gradually increase the amount of time between treat sprinkles. Do this until you have reached ten minutes between treats.
Step
8
Increase crate time
When you have reached ten minutes between treat sprinkles, gradually increase the amount of time that your dog remains in his crate for, until you have reached one hour. Continue to add treats every ten minutes while you do this.
Step
9
Replace the treats
When you have reached one hour of crate time, replace the treat sprinkles with a food-stuffed toy, such as a stuffed Kong. Place the Kong into the crate at the beginning of the hour.
Step
10
Practice and continue
Keep practicing until your dog can remain in his crate calmly for long periods of time. Continue to place food-stuffed toys and other interesting chew-toys into the crate with him. This is to keep him from becoming bored. You can also continue to randomly drop treats into the crate anytime that he is lying down quietly inside. This will help him to continue to love his crate.
Recommend training method?
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Written by Caitlin Crittenden

Published: 01/15/2018, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Ariel
Maltipoo
8 Years
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Ariel
Maltipoo
8 Years

We just started crate training our dog last week and started at 5 minutes of leaving her alone in the house and now we are at 12 minutes and 30 seconds. She is barking a lot today and we wanted to know if we can move the time we leave her alone back or should we continue adding time?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
878 Dog owners recommended

Hello Farheen, You can move the time back. I suggest something in between like 8-10 minutes, instead of all the way back to five minutes. Also, know that if you continue at 12 minutes and are firm not to let her out until she is quiet, she should adjust too. The most important part of all of this is not to let her out while she is still barking (wait for a few quiet seconds - even if that means you go past 8-12 minutes). If you let her out while she is barking, you are teaching her that barking gets her out and she will bark even more. If you reward and let her out when she is quiet, she learns that being quiet is a good thing, and should do more of that. Either way, it takes most puppies a couple of weeks to adjust, so don't get discouraged if the barking continues some for a little while. You should see very gradual improvement along the way. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Luna
German Shorthaired Pointer
9 Weeks
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Question
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Luna
German Shorthaired Pointer
9 Weeks

We have had our puppy home for about a week now. She continues to cry for hours at night and it progresses to barking. Even when let out potty and put back in she immediately starts crying. What should we do? Also is it bad to place a blanket over her kennel?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
878 Dog owners recommended

Hello Shakira, First, know its still normal for a puppy to cry for the first two weeks. Some puppies adjust within 3 days, others take 14 easily. You can certainly help her adjust though! Follow the Surprise method from the article linked below. https://wagwalking.com/training/like-a-crate Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Granite
husky/german shepherd
8 Months
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Question
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Granite
husky/german shepherd
8 Months

We brought her home two days ago. Unfortunately we did not have a crate the first night. She got in fine last night but would not stop barking. She ate her food in the crate this morning but continues to pull the bone and treats out to eat somewhere else. Should we leave her in the crate all night even when she barks? Will she become more comfortable as we follow the steps? Should we make her eat the treats in the crate?

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
104 Dog owners recommended

Hello, the guide you have read and are referring to is exactly what I would recommend. Keep doing what you are doing, and yes leave Granite there even when she barks. She will eventually learn that this is her sleeping place at night. Continue to feed her there but don't worry about making her eat the treats in the crate. Keep placing them there, though as it gets her going in and out. Try giving her a frozen kong toy - take a kong and add softened kibble and a smear of peanut butter (natural only - no xylitol as it is toxic to dogs!). Freeze the kong and give it to her in the crate during the day as a way to show her the crate is good. You can extend the time in there during the day and this may help her adjust. But, you can also follow the steps you are doing already and she will eventually get used to it. Patience and consistency like you are doing is great. This guide may have advice, too: https://wagwalking.com/training/not-cry-at-night Good luck!

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Whiskey
Mixed
14 Weeks
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Question
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Whiskey
Mixed
14 Weeks

Our puppy's crate is in the bedroom. Should the crate be moved to where she can see us (that is in the open space between the kitchen and dining room) or is it ok for her to have her quiet time crated alone

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
229 Dog owners recommended

Hello! If she isn't barking or whining excessively or showing signs of destructive behavior which can indicate separation anxiety, I would leave her where she is at. Some dogs do better being secluded in their kennels. When they can see everyone moving around, they become anxious.

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Annie
Chihuahua
3 Years
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Question
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Annie
Chihuahua
3 Years

My dog has always hated her crate and I don’t know why, as I’ve always tried to make it a comfortable environment for her. Recently she has been attacking my cat at night so I want to transition her from sleeping in my bed to sleeping in her crate again. She literally will run and hide under my bed and then will cry for hours at a time and does not stop. I have ended up letting her out just to get some sleep and I don’t know what to do.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
878 Dog owners recommended

Hello Emily, First, since pup already has such a bad association with the crate, you might want to try a different type of crate or an exercise pen and durable dog bed. If you are using a vari-kennel plastic crate for example, maybe start the training with a wire crate instead. Second, check out the article I have linked below, especially the Surprise method. https://wagwalking.com/training/like-a-crate/ Pup may also need their barking interrupted, if ignoring it doesn't work after 2 weeks. The goal is for the interruption to stop pup from barking long enough to give you an opportunity to reward the quiet, then gradually increase how long pup has to stay quiet for before rewarding, so that pup learns that staying quiet equals rewards. I would start the first two weeks without using an interrupter though, to help pup just get used to the idea of the crate again if you can. If an interrupter is needed, First, work on teaching the Quiet command during the day using the Quiet method from the article linked below. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Second, during the day practice the Surprise method from the article linked below. Whenever pup stays quiet in the crate for 5 minutes, sprinkle some treats into the crate without opening it, then leave the room again. As she improves, only give the treats every 10 minutes, then 15 minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 1 hour, 1.5 hour, 2, hour, 3 hour. Practice crating her during the day for 1-3 hours each day that you can. Whenever she cries in the crate, tell him "Quiet". If she gets quiet - Great! Sprinkle treats in after five minutes if she stays quiet. If she continues barking or stops and starts again, spray a quick puff of air from a pet convincer at her side through the crate while calmly saying "Ah Ah", then leave again. Only use unscented air canisters, DON'T use citronella! And avoid spraying in the face. Repeat the rewards when quiet and the corrections whenever she cries. Practice for a few days until she is doing well during the day. Continue what you are currently doing at night during this process. Once she is doing well during the day, crate her at night too. When she cries at night before it has been 8 hours, tell her Quiet, and correct with the pet convincer if she doesn't become quiet and stay quiet. Since pup tends to run and hide, you may need to keep a drag leash on pup while home as well (don't leave on when you aren't there and it could get caught on something. When its time to go into the crate, use treats as an incentive, but you can also calmly pick up the end of the leash to keep pup from trying to hide under the bed. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Ozzie
miniature dachshund
12 Weeks
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Question
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Ozzie
miniature dachshund
12 Weeks

Barking and howling non stop if left alone and in his pen during the day and crate at night - sleeps if we are in the room with him but gets very distressed if we leave.

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
104 Dog owners recommended

Hello, Ozzie is young and attached - this is common and a lot of Dachshunds have a tendency to have trouble being left alone. But it is good that he likes the pen and crate in general when you are around, so now to have him relaxed and calm when you are not there. Start with intervals of leaving him for 10 minutes, then 15, then 20 to get him used to you going out and knowing you'll be back. I recommend a toy that is hard to resist: the kong. Prep it this way - fill the kong with moistened kibble and a smear of peanut butter (no xylitol as it is toxic to dogs!). Freeze the kong in a zip lock bag. Give Ozzie the treat before you leave. Keep one always prepared in the freezer so that when you go out you can give it to her. I once had an anxious dog who destroyed things so he had to be crated every time I left. Once I started giving him the kong, he would run for the crate as soon as he saw the kong being taken out of the freezer. Then, when he got older, I would just give him a couple of biscuits in the crate when I left and that was just fine. Good luck and happy training with Ozzie!

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Question
Brooks
Cavachon
9 Weeks
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Question
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Brooks
Cavachon
9 Weeks

I'm not sure that I understand the gradual method of crate training, when one obviously has to put their puppy in the crate overnight starting day 1. Is this a way of reducing stress? The puppy no doubt sees the crate initially as a scary nigh-time prison. will these gradual measures overcome this initial trauma?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
878 Dog owners recommended

Hello Evan, Often pup will have to cry it out during the night in most situations, with the exception of potty trips outside at night. With gradual practice during the day with food rewards also though, like the Surprise method, pup tends to adjust to the nights, as well as the days, and learns more quickly how to calm themselves and entertain themselves with a toy in the crate; overcoming the initial dislike of the crate. Essentially sleepiness can help pup eventually calm down at night, and practice with treats can help pup calm themselves when less tired still during the day too. Almost all puppies will cry for the first two weeks though. It is normal and most dogs adjust when you are consistent. Very few people have the luxury of actually starting the crate out completely gradually - that is something a breeder has to begin for you before you bring pup home in most cases, which is why it may seem confusing in your case. Although you weren't able to start out that gradually, the method is still beneficial and pup should still adjust. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Milo
German Shepherd
13 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
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Milo
German Shepherd
13 Weeks

Hi. Few days ago I also emailed here to have some help. Now, I'm here again hoping for another advice. Before I read about this crate training, we started to crate train our dog on our own. We found some videos suggesting that we should do this: put our puppy on a crate on the first night. Clearly, he will start to whine but we just have to ignore him. On the morning get him out for his potty training, get back inside our house, play with him then potty then put him on the crate again. To make the dog comfortable to his crate, it is suggested to feed him inside then potty again outside and put him again to his crate to sleep. And that's what we did. So basically, most of our puppy's time is inside his crate. He will really whine at first but as we ignore him, I thought he understood that he needs to accept that the crate is his home so he becomes calm then minutes later he will play with his toys and fall asleep. I thought we did a right thing since his crying is starting to lessen once we put him in crate but after reading this post, I think we made a mistake again. What should we do with our crate and potty training schedule? Please help us. Thank you

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
878 Dog owners recommended

Hello Lui Lui, For those who don't have time to gradually ease into the crate, how you are doing things is often how its done and pups tend to adjust just fine. As long as pup is being given enough potty breaks so they aren't being forced to have accidents in the crate, there isn't anything unsafe pup can tear apart and choke on, and pup is being given times to play and train to provide mental and physical stimulation, pups do tend to adjust well, and most puppies learn this way just fine. I would just make sure of a few things... 1. make sure pup is being taken potty frequently (a puppy probably can't hold its bladder overnight consistently and you don't want to force pup to have an accident in the crate. Check out the potty schedule from the Crate Training article I have linked below. Skipping to the steps where pup is in the crate with the door closed. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-puppy-to-poop-outside 2. Make sure pup is getting a lot of breaks playing or training after going potty before returning to the crate, even if pup is sleeping and chewing a lot in the crate between. Young puppies will sleep a lot so many don't mind being crated more when really little once they adjust as long as you wear them out between with some play and/or training. 3. When you catch pup being quiet in the crate, sprinkle treats in occasionally to encourage that quietness. You can also feed pup part of their daily kibble in the crate via a dog food stuffed kong with a larger treat biscuit covering half of the opening - so only a couple pieces of kibble fall out at a time. Or make frozen kongs for more determined puppies. Place pup's food in a bowl with water the night before. Let the food turn to mush, poke a straw through the Kong's holes, loosely stuff the mush around the straw, freeze the entire thing, then remove the straw and give it to him. Add a bit of peanut butter or liver paste to the mush if he needs help being interested in it - don't pack it tightly or he won't be able to get it out. You can make several of these ahead of time to have on hand. Just subtract the food in the kong from his dinner kibble amount, to avoid overfeeding. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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