Dog Crate Anxiety

5 things to do if your dog suffers from dog crate anxiety


Properly used, the dog 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 regarding his dog crate anxiety:

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 have dog crate high anxiety 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.

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 your dog has dog crate high anxiety. 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.

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Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, grew up in a family that was blessed with lots of animal companions: dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, goats, and more, and has maintained that model ever since. She spent the first 20 years of her professional life working at the Marin Humane Society in Marin County, California, for most of that time as a humane officer and director of operations. She continually studied the art and science of dog training and behavior during that time, and in 1996, left MHS to start her own training and behavior business, Peaceable Paws. Pat has earned a number of titles from various training organizations, including Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA) and Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). She also founded Peaceable Paws Academies for teaching and credentialing dog training and behavior professionals, who can earn "Pat Miller Certified Trainer" certifications. She and her husband Paul and an ever-changing number of dogs, horses, and other animal companions live on their 80-acre farm in Fairplay, Maryland.


  1. I took my puppy from a dog foster home about a year ago. I love him to bits; he has a great personality, and I feel that he loves our family so much, but he barks A LOT… So, leaving home is always a challenge for us. My husband and I were thinking about taking him to ‘doggy school’, but then again, it’s extremely expensive, and the nearest ‘doggy school’ is far away from us. Maybe you have some advice? THANK YOU!!!

  2. Great article! So far so good with my pup (English Lab). We crate him only at night in our room. Made it a positive experience by providing treats upon entry and verbally saying “good crate!” After a couple weeks all we say is “crate” and he leads the way! He whines when he lets us know it’s time to use the bathroom and we’ve yet to have an accident in the crate, or in the house!

  3. According to an article in the Guardian, storing your your dog in a cage, while sadly popular in America, is frowned upon in Europe and the UK, and illegal in Finland. It’s never taken me more than a week to housetrain a new dog, and I never used a cage, which implicitly means, hold it forever or sit in your own waste. My heart breaks for these dogs that have to live like lab animals. I wish people who treat animals like this would stop acquiring living creatures for entertainment.

  4. Guys, with respect

    Some of the stuff in this article and others is unscientific and in some cases factually incorrect

    The first sentence under the heading find confinement alternatives flies directly in the face of much the modern research on exposure therapy and systematic desensitisation. Whilst it is possible that what you have suggested is true it is definitely not necessarily the case. Some of the comments and claims in your work are fundamentally folk psychology. On the surface they sound reasonable, and most people would accept them as reasonable, however it is not scientifically valid then we need to, at the very least, explain the context of nuance around the claim

    I suggest you review some expert opinion. Arguably the worlds leading expert on exposure therapy is Michelle Craske. Watch her presentations on YouTube: Exposure Strategies, State-Of-The-Art.

    Let’s get more science based

    Best regards

  5. Hi Pat, I am curious, what veterinary behaviorist does Vet to Vet phone consultations for free? We have only one locally and another about an hour away. Their waiting list is over 6 months and my vet cannot get them to call her back or take her call let alone for free. The veterinary behaviorists that do telehealth, also indicate a charge for vet to vet consultations. So I would love to have the information on who will, number one…take the vets call, and number two…offer it at no charge. Thanks in advance for your response.

  6. When my elderly Norwich could not be reliably in our and his playmates company, we had a good carpenter build and 2.5’x3.o’ “picket fence”…he loved it, could be right in the middle of the family, could see but not get out, and all loved having him there, without peepads and other necessities. Try it!