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

ribbon-method-1
Effective
0 Votes
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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Effective
0 Votes
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

ribbon-method-3
Effective
0 Votes
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
Sol
Boston Terrier x Pug
2 Years
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Question
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Sol
Boston Terrier x Pug
2 Years

Thank you so much for your reply Caitlin. We have started the method and it is working well.

I have a follow up query i did post below but maybe you didnt see it. Unfortunately I do not have space to bring the crate near to my room at night as you suggest. I could bring it in my room but not nearby (at the moment she starts in her crate with door open downstairs and then she comes upsrairs to her other open bed in my room when she wants, usually after about an hour.) I did try to leave with door shut and she cried and howled and scraped at the door loads and loads. So as you say in your earlier post, If I leave her in the crate downstairs for now at night (she is only a few minute in the day so far with door shut and not yet alone) should I shut the door of the crate, and when I correct her what do I do? Do I come down when she is crying or wait for her to stop? Do I let her out for a bit or give her treat for being quiet?

Also, I have my housemates dog in the house who is crate trained. His crate is in her bedroom. During the day he is now looking in Sol crate for food and going in there in the day. And when she is in the crate looking for her treats he is standing outside the door of the scrate sniffing her. Should we keep him away from her crate while we do the Suprise method for her?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1126 Dog owners recommended

Hello Leila, I am so glad it's helping! So at night time I would not give treats while practicing, just during daytime practice. Since the other dog is going in looking for food, I would move onto the step where the crate door is closed with her inside and treats being sprinkled in, instead of leaving treats in there with it open for her to find. This is for daytime practice. I would teach the other dog the Out command and use Out to enforce him giving her space while in the crate. Out: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ When you are ready to leave her downstairs, I would close the door to the crate with her inside. When you correct, use a pet convincer (the kind with unscented plaid air, not citronella), and while she is still barking, go to her, then calmly tell her "Ah Ah" while spraying a brief puff of air from the pet convincer at her side through the crate wire, without letting her out of the crate. After correcting, leave to go back to bed again, so pup isn't being given any additional attention for barking. She will likely stop barking at soon as you enter the room. You may want to tell pup "Ah Ah" calmly when you first enter while pup is still barking, then quickly get over to the crate to correct - so the correction is better associated with pup's barking. If pup is quiet a good bit before you actually correct, then you might need to use something like a vibration collar or stimulation based collar to correct, so you can time it where the correction happens while pup is actually barking and not as delayed. Give treats for quietness during the day! You don't want to give treats at night, but the daytime practice will help pup understand why they are being corrected at night and how to be quiet instead. At night, give a treat for continued quietness and after a few minutes, you can let pup out of the crate also as a reward. At night, you will simply correct or ignore the crying unless it's time to go potty, but not let out of reward. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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SOLSTICE
Buggs
2 Years
1 found helpful
Question
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SOLSTICE
Buggs
2 Years

Hello. I am trying to train dog into crate to sleep downstairs at night . I have seen your other posts. She currently sleeps in her loose bed in room with me. Should I start her in the bedroom or downstairs. And when doing surprise method should I be in the room as we progress or leave her alone. She suffers from separation anxiety which is also why I'm doing this so she gets used to being alone more as I Start to go an work from the office more frequently.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1126 Dog owners recommended

Hello Leila, For the surprise method, I would start with you being in the room when you first sprinkle the treats in with the door open. When you get to the steps where it's time to close the door, after pup can handle five minutes with you in the room while you give treats for being quiet, then start walking away and coming back, so you are actually leaving. Since pup will just be in the crate about five minutes, at first, you will just be walking back and forth out of the room, then back in to treat if pup stays quiet or gets quiet, so not staying out of the room for long at all. As you increase the time pup is in the crate for then eventually space out your treat rewards too, that will automatically mean you are in the other room for longer and longer. The end goal is for you to be in the other room the whole time for the 1-2 hours while pup is crated and entertaining themselves with the dog food stuffed kong. When you start the surprise method, during daytime practice simply practice it with the crate in the area where you want the crate to live in the future, like if you want the crate in the den downstairs perhaps, start the daytime practice with the crate in the den downstairs (or whatever room downstairs you have in mind). So if pup will stay in the crate in the den when you are back at work, then practice in the den and go into another room like a kitchen or bedroom or office, where pup can't see you, so pup is practicing being alone in the den. You can either wait until pup is good with being alone during daytime practice before you start having pup sleep there at night too, and just go straight to pup being in the den. You will end up having to get up to correct some still at first most likely, but if pup is already used to being in the crate alone in the den from daytime practice, it shouldn't be all night you are having to get up, probably just at the beginning of the night at first, and maybe once in the middle of the night too. If you want to go straight to pup being in the crate at night, while you are still working up to longer periods alone during the day too, often it will be easier to have pup sleep in your room, or a room connected to your room, like master bath or walk in closet in the crate, so when you get up to correct pup you don't have to go all the way into the den, since the more abrupt transition will probably mean more correcting and noise at night at first. Personally, if you have a master bath or similar room that's connected to your room but where pup can't see you, I would choose that option opposed to actually in the room, because that will make the den transition later go easier. Once pup is good in the den alone during the day and in the crate near your room alone at night, then if your end goal is pup sleeping in the den in the crate, at that point, I would finish the transition to pup sleeping in the den, knowing you might have a couple of rough nights again but that transition will generally go pretty quickly if you stick to the training. Some dogs won't have issue transitioning at all since they will be used to being in there and in the crate during other practice at that point. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Thank you so much for your reply Caitlin. We have started the method and it is working well. I have a follow up query. Unfortunately I do not have space to bring the crate near to my room at night as you suggest. I could bring it in my room but not nearby (at the moment she starts in her crate with door open downstairs and then she comes upsrairs to her other bed when she wants, usually aftef r about an hour.) So as you say, If I leave her in the crate downstairs for now (she is only a few minute in the day so far with door shut and not yet alone) should I shut the door, and when I correct her what do I do? Do I come down when she is crying or wait for her to stop?

Also, I have my housemates dog in the house who is crate trained. His crate is in her bedroom. During the day he is now looking in Sol crate for food and going in there in the day. Should we keep him away from her crate while we do the Suprise method for her?

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Question
Milo
German Shepherd
13 Weeks
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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
1126 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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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
1126 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
Ozzie
miniature dachshund
12 Weeks
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
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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