Crate training is a well-known, tried and true method of raising a puppy into an obedient, adult pet. First-time and experienced pup owners know that training a young dog can be incredibly nerve-wracking. Just like raising a child, every decision you make can have a long-term effect on the dog’s behavior. It can be incredibly frustrating! One of the biggest challenges of training a dog by using a crate is when the animal whines or cries from his or her crate. Of course, you’ll want to have empathy for the puppy and want it to be as comfortable as possible, but you also want to ensure that it will be raised with good behavioral habits. So what to do when you’re asking yourself how to get my dog to stop crying in his crate? First, let’s start with the basics of training, what crates are for, and why this type of training has been a successful method for so long.
Philosophy of Crating
The idea behind this method of training is to cater to the dog’s natural instinct, especially those that were developed from the dog being a natural den animal. It also has to do with the basic idea of prohibiting sensory overload as the dog learns about his new surroundings, along with keeping the pup contained in a smaller area as he learns the rules.
The habitat of many dog breeds is den-related, and they have an instinct to avoid soiling it. In this way, the crate becomes the dog’s den. The right size crate will not be too large (and of course not too small), to avoid allowing the dog enough room to snooze on one end, while leaving the other end for the bathroom. This habit-creating technique will ensure that the pup eventually learns when and where to use the bathroom – that is, when being let outside.
When a puppy is introduced to a new place, the crate will serve as his or her “home base.” He or she will ideally feel safe in the crate, and choose it as a place to hide from (real or imagined) danger, and to sleep. A puppy who is learning not to chew on furniture will likely spend a great deal of time in the crate while picking up on this and other rules; however, the crate should never be used as a punishment.
Before You Begin
With the basic philosophies in mind, there are certain guidelines to follow to ensure success. While it’s more common than not to have a dog whining in a crate, especially at night or in the beginning of training, there are important things to avoid doing, as they can train the dog improper habits or cause them discomfort.
- Avoid keeping your puppy in the crate more than 3-4 hours, as they will be unable to “hold it” for any longer period of time.
- Older dogs who are just learning housebreaking should be kept to the same time frame of 3-4 hours. While they can hold their bowels and bladders longer, they are still learning that they should.
- Strive to teach your dog that going into the crate can be voluntary, and can serve as a comfortable shelter. Forced crating should be in place just until a pup learns not to destroy his surroundings.
- Never, ever use the crate as a punishment!
- Let your dog or puppy out of the crate whenever possible. At any age, a dog needs human interaction and plenty of exercise; after all, dogs can get sad, apathetic, and even anxious just like humans!
No matter the dog’s age, the process of training him or her with a crate should be done gradually. You do not want your dog to associate you, or the crate, with something that is forced. Training can take days or months – it truly depends on the individual pet. The key is to associate the crate with pleasantness, and allow training to happen in a series of gradual steps.
Introduce your Dog or Puppy to the Crate
The best place to put the crate is in an area where you and anyone else in your house will be spending a lot of time. You do not want the pet to feel isolated from its new family! Begin with an open (or removed) crate door, with soft and inviting blankets inside. Many dogs will instinctively be drawn to it, and maybe curl up for a nap right away. If that’s not the case, simply bring your dog over to the crate and begin creating positive associations. Ensure that the door will not hit him, and encourage him to enter by placing treats and toys nearby, and then inside.
Don’t be discouraged if a full day passes and your dog still will not enter the crate! This is totally normal, and the process can often take days – or even a few weeks! The main goal is to teach the dog that the crate is a safe place, one that will not provoke crying or whining in the night as the dog adapts.
Associate the Crate with Food
After your dog is familiar with his or her crate, start associating it with meals, either within it or nearby it. A dog who is already entering the crate with ease can be fed meals in the crate, with the food dish placed in the back. Reluctant dogs may need their meals closer to the front of the crate, or even outside of it. Gradually move the food dish back until he becomes less anxious. Without scaring your dog, close the door while he or she eats – do this only after a few meals if you sense anxiety. Open it immediately after the meal is finished the first time, and gradually leave it closed a little longer each time.
This is an important step in training! Your dog may whine or cry a bit to be let out; however, it is important to teach the dog that whining is not the way to get out of the crate. It will be difficult, but you must leave the dog in until he calms down. In addition, the whining may be caused by a too-quick increase in time with the door shut. If that is the case, decrease it a bit next time. Remember, keep giving the dog treats and toys!
Continue to Lengthen Crate Time
Once your dog begins to eat meals regularly inside his crate without seeming fearful or anxious, then most of the hard part is over! At least in the beginning, you know that the dog is starting to understand the function of the crate, even if you do have to periodically deal with your dog barking in the crate all of a sudden, or for seemingly no reason.
At this point, the next step is to lengthen the periods of time your dog is in his crate gradually, and teach him to enter it on command. While this part of the process is a bit easier, it does take a great deal of patience. Encourage your dog to enter the crate on command by saying a chosen phrase such as “crate” or “kennel,” while pointing inside it with a treat in hand. When he or she enters, be sure to give plenty of praise and treats!
Once he is in, it’s best to sit quietly nearby for a few minutes at first, then leave the room for a few minutes, and alternate before letting him out. This teaches the dog that he is safe, and that you will come back. Repeat this a few times throughout the day, alternating and increasing the time periods that you spend away. Work your way up to thirty minutes out of his sight; at this point, you can hope to leave him away when you are not home or asleep.
Don’t be surprised if this process takes several weeks! Every dog is different, and it’s so important to avoid rushing it. In the meantime, it may be best to work from home, ask a friend or dog sitter over, utilize a doggie daycare, or any other options you have at hand. The important thing to remember is the endgame: when training is done right, you will have a well-trained and obedient dog, who will be just fine when left alone.
Begin Leaving your Dog Crated When you Leave
Again, wait until your dog sits comfortably in the crate for at least half an hour with you in the other room. At this point, your dog should be entering the crate on your command (with a treat, of course). Crate your dog anywhere from five to 15 minutes before you leave, and avoid departures that are too prolonged. Upon your return, try to avoid greeting the dog over-enthusiastically, as hard as that may be! Overly excited arrivals will actually make your dog more anxious for your return while you are gone. In addition, ensure that your dog doesn’t associate his crate with being left home alone by continuing to crate him periodically when you’re home.
Let Your Dog Sleep in the Crate
The goal is to have a dog who sleeps in his crate through the night, without having the dog or puppy crying in the crate. With puppies, of course, you will want to pay attention to any whines that may mean he or she needs let outside. To crate your dog before bed, use your same command, treat, and praise. The crate location will vary per household, but it is smart to keep it near where you sleep – especially young puppies that need let out more frequently. Dogs of any age will initially associate the crate with isolation and fear if the crate is too far away, but with practice, the crate can be gradually moved to any location.
How to Deal with Whining, Crying, and Barking
It’s no surprise that this can be one of the most difficult parts of training – and likely, many readers will move directly to this portion of the article. If you have done so, it may be valuable to scroll back up and understand exactly why and how training with a crate works against whining, and possibly reevaluate your methods so far. If you still have a dog barking or a puppy crying in the crate, there are a few reasons this can happen, even if you’ve done everything right.
To avoid having a dog whining in the crate, the most important step is to teach the pup from day one that whining and crying will not get them let out of the crate. If you have taught this from the beginning, then your dog will know that he or she will not be rewarded for whining. Your dog may push the boundaries from time to time, as a means of testing you, but it is important as ever to remain patient with your pet. Be sure to always avoid scaring the dog, such as banging on the crate or yelling at him, as this will reverse any training and trust you have gained so far.
If your dog continues to whine or cry even after a few minutes, use whatever phrase or gesture that your dog associates with going outside to use the bathroom. If your dog reacts positively, it is more than likely that this is the cause for the whining. At a certain point in training, you will ideally be able to understand what your dog is trying to signal to you; however, you may need to test it out with this phrase in the beginning to see how he or she reacts.
If it becomes clear that your dog does not need to be let outside, then it is quite likely that the pup is simply testing you for little reason. Do not give in to the whining, or he will learn that loudness will get him what he wants. It’s also important to test the dog as well, when letting him or her outside after whining – be sure that the trip is only to eliminate, and is not a play trip. After all, the training process is still ongoing. While this is the case, you’ll have to simply ignore the dog during whining if you deem that he or she does not actually need anything.
If you’ve gone through all of the training steps listed above with no positive results, and your dog still whines and cries, you may need to start from the beginning. On the other hand, your dog may be suffering from separation anxiety, which cannot be fully solved by crate training. A dog barking in a crate does not necessarily mean separation anxiety, but it could be an indicator if there are no other factors. The crate can be used for a portion of the dog’s training and to prevent the dog from destroying surroundings; however, the dog could hurt himself trying to escape. If nothing else seems to work for a dog’s separation anxiety, it is best to consult a professional.