Features November 2011 Issue

What to Do When Your Dog Hates His Crate

5 things to do when your dog refuses to get in or stay in a crate.

[Updated October 7, 2016]

Properly used, the crate is a marvelous training and management tool. Improperly used, it can be a disaster. Overcrating, traumatic, or stimulating experiences while crated, improper introduction to the crate, and isolation or separation anxieties are the primary causes of crating disasters. If, for whatever reason, your dog is not a fan of the artificial den you’ve provided for him, and assuming he can’t be trusted home alone uncrated, here are some things you can do:

Crate-Hating Dog

The last thing you want is to make the crate an aversive environment for your dog.

1.) Find confinement alternatives

Every time your crate-hating dog has a bad experience in a crate, it increases his stress and anxiety and makes it harder to modify his crate aversion. Your dog may tolerate an exercise pen, a chain-link kennel set up in your garage, or even a room of his own. A recent Peaceable Paws client whose dog was injuring herself in the crate due to isolation anxiety found her dog did just fine when confined to the bedroom when she had to be left alone.

2.) Utilize doggy daycare

Many dogs who don’t crate well are delighted to spend the day at the home of a friend, neighbor, or relative who is home when you are not, or at a good doggie daycare facility – assuming your dog does well in the company of other dogs. This is not a good option for dogs with true separation anxiety, as they will be no happier with someone else when they are separated from you than they are in a crate. (See “Relieving a Dog's Separation Anxiety,” WDJ July 2008.)

3.) Teach him to love his crate.

Utilize a combination of counter-conditioning (changing his association with the crate from negative to positive) and operant conditioning/shaping (positively reinforcing him for gradually moving closer to, and eventually into, the crate) to convince him to go into his crate voluntarily. Then, very gradually, work your way up to closing the door with your dog inside, and eventually moving longer and longer distances away from your crated dog for longer and longer periods of time. (See “Dog Crating Difficulties,” WDJ May 2005). Note: If your dog has a separation/anxiety issue, you must address and modify that behavior before crate-training will work.

4.) Identify and remove aversives.

Figure out why the crate is aversive to your dog. If he was crate-trained at one time and then decided he didn’t like it, what changed? Perhaps you were overcrating, and he was forced to soil his den, and that was very stressful for him.
Maybe there are environmental aversives; is it too warm or too cold in his crate? Is there a draft blowing on him? Is it set near something that might expose him to an aversive sound, like the washing machine, buzzer on a clothes dryer, or an alarm of some kind? Perhaps his crate is near the door, and he becomes overstimulated when someone knocks, or rings the doorbell, or when mail and packages are delivered. Is someone threatening him when he’s crated – another dog, perhaps? Or a child who bangs on the top, front, or sides of the crate? Maybe he’s been angrily punished by someone who throws him into the crate and yells at him – or worse. All the remedial crate training in the world won’t help if the aversive thing is still happening. You have to make the bad stuff stop.

If he’s a victim of generalized anxiety or separation anxiety and the crate aversion is part of a larger syndrome, or his stress about crating is extreme, you may want to explore the use of behavior modification drugs with your behavior knowledgeable veterinarian, or a veterinary behaviorist, to help reduce stress enough that he can learn to love his crate. Note – if your vet is not behavior knowledgeable, tell her that many veterinary behaviorists will do free phone consults with other veterinarians.

5.) Take him with you.

Of course you can’t take him with you all the time, but whenever you can, it decreases the number of times you have to use another alternative. Some workplaces allow employees to bring their dogs to work with them; you don’t know until you ask. Of course you will never take him somewhere that he’d be left in a car, unattended, for an extended period of time, or at all, if the weather is even close to being dangerous. A surprising number of businesses allow well-behaved dogs to accompany their owners; if it doesn’t say “No Dogs” on the door, give it a try! Your dog will thank you.

Comments (8)

I am looking after my sisters dog bear he is not properly trained but when he came here at night we didn't trust him so we put him in his crate he was fine at first but when we put him in he attacked me l made a video of it and it was horrible and from then on we never put him in but it's getting close for him to go home now and he still hates his crate people say he hates his crate because he was traumatized during his flight but if that's true why did he go in with out any problems before I am training him now but if I throw a treat in he will go and in get it and I will lock the door and he will be fine but when I don't put a treat in and try to encourage him to go and he loses interest and walks away sometimes he will go in by himself but most times I have to put the treat in their if he learns to go in without the treat he will be fine but I don't think he will learn he has a lot of problems he attacks my cats and he killed two chickens and if you have something he wants but he can't get it he barks his most annoying Pearsing bark and is so annoying we can't take it anymore

Posted by: ANC | October 15, 2016 7:44 PM    Report this comment

I sell a pet house on Amazon that fits inside a crate easily. It works for small dogs to give them a cozy, warm place to be. No one has mentioned yet that the crates, whether wire or plastic are rather sterile and not comfortable for the pets. I suggest dog owners of small dogs should try this addition to the crate environment.

Posted by: vstarfire | August 2, 2016 8:32 PM    Report this comment

We have two GSDs, 6 months and 10 months. Both were crate trained the minute they came home and did really well getting in their crates. I came home one day after about 2 hours to find our oldest out of his crate! I was sure I secured it but thought maybe I didn't. Another day I put them in their crates and before I could get out of the house he broke out of the crate by pure force against the door! I was afraid he would hurt himself if he kept doing that. I started leaving him out in the family room and continued to crate the younger puppy. It has worked out fine. He doesn't bother anything while we are out. I am not sure why he started breaking out.

Posted by: M%26M | July 24, 2016 2:20 PM    Report this comment

I am really happy I don't have to crate my dog.My daughter does.But it seems so cruel to me.Not to be able to move freely in your home.

Posted by: Sweeti's mom | July 24, 2016 11:37 AM    Report this comment

I like this article, but as a service dog handler, I beg of you--don't go into businesses with your pet dog just to "give it a try." It makes it really hard for us, especially if your dog has issues with other dogs (as many anxious dogs do).

Posted by: dhrousseau | July 24, 2016 11:31 AM    Report this comment

We are having fun with a foster dog who was abused in her crate. She does not mind being in the crate. She will enter and exit it willing. She does not fuss while she is in the crate. However she goes ballistic when people approach the crate.

We are slowly making her comfortable with hands near the crate by using treats and by ignoring her frenzied attacks. All negative reinforcement, no matter how benign, with the exception of calmly ignoring bad behavior (violent attacks), only escalates her behavior.

It has certainly been a learning experience for us since most dogs are happy to have people approach a crate to release them.

Posted by: Furrykids | February 26, 2015 10:09 AM    Report this comment

My Dachshund was always happy in her wire crate and it was a valuable tool for us. But she got really sick in it once and then wasn't so happy. We moved into a smaller condo and got a fancy end table dog crate thing from www.denhaus.com in hopes of saving space. After literally just a few minutes of re-training, she fell in love. Now she uses and loves it WAY more than she originally liked her wire crate. It's way more solid and private and not "rickety" like a wire crate, so I think it must feel safer to her.

Posted by: Alex R | July 9, 2012 12:23 PM    Report this comment

My rescue dog did not like her crate when I adopted her, but not crating her wasn't really an option for me and my situation. For a very long time, she received all her meals in the crate and that changed her feelings about it considerably! Four years later both my dogs still get their breakfast in the crate as I'm leaving for work.

Posted by: thesmithgirl | July 9, 2012 7:32 AM    Report this comment

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