You’re excited about your new puppy, but it’s been five hours and he’s still crying in the crate. You didn’t get any sleep last night and are at your wit’s end. If this is what dog ownership is like, you’re not sure if you’re up for it.
This is an all-too-common problem for new puppy owners. Dogs that cry in the crate at night are exhausting to deal with, and many of the solutions out there feel useless.
Don’t worry though – we’ll talk about how to get your pooch to settle down and stop whining in the crate without losing your mind.
Why Should I Crate My Dog?
If your dog has been crying in the crate a lot, you may be starting to wonder if crate training is worth all this agony. While it’s certainly not essential, crate training can really be very useful long term for you and your canine.
Some situations where crate training can come in handy includes:
- Reducing destruction when you can’t supervise your dog
- Help with potty training a pup
- Giving an adult dog time away from a new puppy when bringing home a 2nd dog
- Allowing a resource-guarding dog to safely eat in peace
- Keeping a nervous or questionable dog away from guests or small children
All dogs should be at least familiar with the crate to help reduce stress if they need to be put in a crate for travel or medical purposes. But crate training comes with some challenges – namely, lots of dogs cry or bark in the crate.
Crate Training Expectations: Crying is Normal At First
With young puppies, crate training generally takes several weeks.
Most puppies under the age of about 16 or 20 weeks (4-5 months) won’t be able to stand being in the crate for more than a short period of time — typically no more than a few hours. Really young puppies just don’t have the bladder control to be in the crate very long, and they instinctively cry when they’re left alone.
As a foster dog parent, I expect dogs to cry in the crate for their first few nights. I crate these untrained dogs because they can’t be trusted in the house yet.
However, I no longer recommend letting dogs just “cry it out.”
It’s pretty normal for dogs to cry when they’re first put in a plastic or wire crate – but the “cry it out” method of crate training is pretty outdated. We’ll discuss below what you can do to help your dog quiet down, rather than simply let them cry it out.
It’s important for you to have realistic expectations as you’re crate training a dog. Just like with a new baby, expect there to be some long nights.
Most dogs eventually settle down in the crate, but what can we do to help them learn to be quiet in the crate? Crying in the crate can be a very real issue, especially if you live in an apartment or are a light sleeper.
Why Do Dogs Cry In Their Crate?
The good news is, your dog is not actively trying to make you lose sleep or get you evicted!
That said, there are a variety of reasons that dogs bark or cry in the crate. Luckily, the treatment for most of these underlying reasons is the same.
Reasons why your dog might be crying in the crate include:
Your dog is lonely. If your dog is at your side whenever you’re home, then gets locked in a crate whenever you leave the house or go to bed, there’s a good chance he’s crying because your dog misses you. These dogs usually will settle eventually, but may start crying again whenever you move around.
Your dog is bored. Crates can be a pretty boring place. Dogs that give steady barks throughout the day are likely bored and need some stimulation.
Your dog is scared. Some dogs are ok being away from you but are scared of the crate. They might not like the feeling of being confined.
Your dog needs to get out of the crate. Almost all dogs that cry in the crate want to get out of the crate. But sometimes, a dog needs to get out of the crate. If a crate-trained dog that’s normally quiet starts whining, he may be sick to his stomach or might need to pee – he’s trying to tell you that he needs out. If your dog is normally quiet in the crate but suddenly starts to cry, look for a reason why.
All of the reasons above are perfectly normal crate-training problems that can be fairly easily overturned with a bit of training and management. This is very different from true separation anxiety.
Dogs with separation anxiety are thrown into a full-on panic when left alone. These dogs will need long-term management, training, and even medication to help with their condition.
Dogs with severe separation anxiety often will:
- Dig at the crate
- Bite the crate
- Chew the crate’s bars
- Ram into the crate and otherwise take great measures to escape the crate
You may want to consider an especially durable, strong dog crate to deal with your dog’s separation anxiety in order to keep them safe – but this alone is not a cure for a dog that is panicking. Dogs with separation anxiety need training and help.
Dogs with separation anxiety generally don’t feel better outside of the crate and often will have a hard time being left behind no matter where they’re left. They won’t eat, drink, or relax and may even hurt themselves trying to back to you.
Talk to a trainer or veterinary behaviorist if you think your dog has separation anxiety – and make sure to check out our Separation Anxiety Training Plan too!
Why You Shouldn’t Punish a Dog That’s Crying in the Crate
It’s tempting to scold your dog when he whines, barks, or howls in the crate. It’s best not to punish the dog for a few reasons:
- Your dog may already be anxious. If your dog is crying because he’s scared, yelling at him won’t help. You are your dog’s guardian, and he trusts you with his life. Yelling at him when he’s scared might hurt that trust. He might stop crying simply because he’s even more scared now – but you haven’t really fixed the problem.
- Punishment gives a bored dog attention. If your dog is barking because he’s bored, you might be entertaining him by scolding him! He might temporarily quiet down because he’s interested in the ruckus going on.
- Even negative attention could be a reward for the dog. Many dogs cry in the crate for attention, just like kids do. If you come over to the crate and scold them, you’ve just given them the attention they crave. They’ll stop barking in the moment, but this is a surefire way to guarantee that the dog will continue barking in the future.
Even though it’s hard, try not to get frustrated with a dog that’s crying in the crate. There are some better options for teaching your dog not to cry in the crate.
How to Teach a Dog Not to Cry in the Crate
Luckily, there are lots of things to work on to help stop your dog from crying in the crate. Many of these fixes are small things to change that can make a big difference for your crying, crated fur-baby.
Step One: Make the Crate a Great Place to Be!
Crate training works best when you set up the crate properly. Before trying to convince your dog to sleep in the crate, you’ve got to make sure it’s actually a decent place to hang out.
- Leave treats in the crate. You can distract your dog by giving him stuffed, frozen Kongs in his plastic or wire crate. This easy fix will really help! I have four or five stuffed Kongs in my freezer at all times. That way I can just chuck a Kong in the crate with Barley whenever I run out for errands! Freezing them makes them last a lot longer.
- Feed dinner in the crate. I like to feed dogs dinner in the crate. Instead of putting their bowl on the kitchen floor, I just feed dinner in the crate. You can either feed the dogs their dinner when you leave in the crate, or you can let the dog out after dinner. Either way, this is an easy way to start building a good association between your dog and the crate!
- Put toys in the crate. My dog is a total squeaky toy nut, so at first, I kept his toys in the crate. He was rewarded for going into the crate by a quick bout of play. It was great to see him start to actually want to go into the crate on his own!
- Make the crate comfy. Make sure the crate is comfy with a comfortable crate mat, a safe chew toy, and something that smells like you!
- Ensure the crate is the right size. The crate has to fit the dog correctly. Your dog should have room to turn around and stand up comfortably, but not much more than that!
- Place the crate in a common area. Many dogs cry in the crate because they’re lonely. A simple fix for these dogs is to put the crate in your bedroom at night, near the bed. If the crate doesn’t fit in your bedroom, you can sleep on the floor or the couch near the crate and gradually move towards your final sleeping arrangement. This is similar to what many parents do with young babies – they don’t start with the baby sleeping in his own room upstairs and across the house! They build up to that level of independence.
Some trainers recommend playing crate training games to help your dog learn that the crate is a great place to be. I no longer recommend this because it may teach your dog that being in the crate is exciting, and we want the crate to be a relaxing place instead.
Step Two: Exercise Your Pup Before Crate Time
The next step to successful crate training puppies is – drumroll please – exercise. If your dog is still full of energy when you put him in the crate, he’s going to have a very hard time settling down. This is especially true for teenage dogs (around 6 to 18 months old). B
e sure to give your dog an age- and breed-appropriate amount of exercise before even attempting to put him in the crate.
For a young puppy, this might just mean running around the backyard for a few minutes. But for an adolescent Labrador retriever (or other working breeds), you might need to spend an hour or more exercising your pup before it’s time for the crate.
As a benchmark, my five-year-old border collie generally gets a three to ten-mile run or a twenty-minute nosework session before I leave for work. No wonder I lost weight when I adopted him!
Most adult dogs will need at least a 20 to 30-minute walk before being left in the crate.
Check out our list of games to play with your dog and suggestions for activity walks to get ideas for how to properly tire out your pup.
Step Three: Teach Your Dog That Crying Gets them Potty Breaks
Conventional wisdom in dog training is changing regarding whether or not to let your dog “cry it out.” The fact is, this method does not work for some dogs. If we can’t punish them, and ignoring them doesn’t work, what can we do?
We can teach our dogs that crying in the crate gets them a potty break – and nothing else.
But wait, you might be saying – doesn’t that reward my dog for crying in the crate?
In a way, yes.
And that’s not the end of the world. Ultimately, I’d rather have a dog that whines in the crate when he truly needs to go to the bathroom than have a dog that knows that crying doesn’t get him anything. That’s called learned helplessness, and it’s no good!
So rather than attempting to ignore your crying puppy for five hours, I want you to take your puppy out when he cries in the crate. Here’s how it goes:
- Carry him outside or put him on leash.
- Stand outside in one place for two minutes, tops. Don’t talk to him, play with him or look at him. Just wait.
- If he potties, give him a treat and go inside and put him back in the crate. If he doesn’t potty, put him back in the crate. No talking, no playing. Just a quiet, quick potty break.
Your dog will quickly learn that crying in the crate doesn’t get affection, comfort, playtime, or anything except for an ultra-boring potty break. This will teach your puppy how to ask for a potty break when he needs one, but not to carry on for hours just because he’s bored.
This method generally only requires a couple of repetitions for your dog to “get it.” You don’t have to wait for your dog to be quiet before you let him out – just take him out if he fusses.
This method has several major benefits for teaching dogs not to cry in the crate:
It teaches your dog what to do and how to get what he needs.
It teaches your dog that you can provide potty access, and you won’t ignore his needs.
Your dog doesn’t practice crying for hours in the crate, effectively strengthening the behavior.
You avoid the stress of trying to ignore a crying dog, and your dog avoids the stress of not knowing why you’re ignoring him.
You avoid the risk of breaking down and letting your dog out after hours of crying (which teaches your dog to cry for hours).
You’re doing something to help your dog, rather than trying to just ignore a dog that’s upset and crying for help.
Letting Dogs “Cry It Out” Just Doesn’t Work
I used to recommend letting dogs cry it out, but I can say with certainty that that does not work for some dogs. Some dogs cry it out for hours, every night, for weeks. That’s unsustainable for the human and terribly stressful for the dog.
This method is far more humane for you and your dog.
It can take several repetitions to teach your dog that crying in the crate doesn’t get them anything but a super-boring potty break. But if your dog keeps on crying the second you close him in the crate, don’t keep repeating something that’s not working! He needs something you’re not providing.
For constant criers who aren’t getting better with repeat potty breaks, go back to basics. Are you giving your pup enough exercise? Does he have a frozen Kong to chew on? Are you leaving him for too long?
When working with dogs that have a really bad time in the crate, you may have a long road ahead of you. Go back to the basics of step one and two. If you’re really stuck, try changing to a different crate, using an ex-pen, or hiring a trainer to troubleshoot your crate training.
Step Four: Avoid These Common Dog Crate Training Mistakes
With so much conflicting information out there, it’s easy to get tripped up when working on crate training puppies or adult dogs. Should you squirt your dog with water when he cries? Should you ignore him? Or should you take him out on a potty break?
It’s confusing – but it’s easier if you focus on following the instructions in step three and avoid these common crate training mistakes:
Being inconsistent. Whatever method you choose, stick with it. I recommend teaching your puppy that crying gets him a boring potty break. That said, if the cry-it-out method is working for you, be consistent with it. If you mix the cry-it-out method with the boring-potty method, you’re going to confuse your dog and slow progress.
Please avoid using punishment regardless – we’ve already covered why that’s not the best approach for this problem.
Leaving your pup for longer than he can handle. If your Chihuahua or Australian Cattle Dog puppy can only hold his bladder for four hours, don’t try to leave him in the crate for a full eight-hour workday. This means that you might need to get help with crate training at first to let your puppy out often enough.
If you can’t get help with crate training, leave your puppy in an ex-pen with potty pads while you’re gone for longer than his training and bladder can withstand.
Teaching your puppy that crying gets attention. If you skip the “boring” part of the boring-potty method, you can create a huge problem. Ensure that you stick to the plan of taking your puppy directly outside, totally ignoring him for two minutes, and taking him directly back to the crate. Anything extra might teach your puppy that crying in the crate gets him playtime, affection, or attention! We don’t want that.
Crate Training Alternatives: Is a Crate Necessary?
While crate training is a great way to help with potty training or destruction issues, ideally you won’t be leaving your dog in a crate every day for the rest of his life.
If you and your dog are struggling, think about why you’re using the dog crate. Could you be using something else for the same goal? If you don’t have any travel plans, upcoming medical procedures, or situations where a crate specifically will be required, consider other options.
Some fantastic alternatives to crate training include:
- Exercise Pens. My favorite solution for dogs that don’t like the crate but can’t be trusted outside of the crate is an exercise pen (aka an ex-pen). Most dogs do better with a bit more space, and they can’t get into quite as much trouble.
- Gates. Indoor dog gates can be used to safely confine your dog to a small subsection of the house, like a laundry room or bathroom. Opt for a room with easy-to-clean flooring that still gives your pup more space to feel comfortable. This provides all the safety and contaiment benefits of a crate, but without a bulky cage!
If you need to stick it out through crate training but are really struggling, consider a dog walker or doggie daycare. These options are best for dogs that cry during the day, but won’t help nighttime criers who bark all night.
Getting your dog out of the crate and keeping sessions short will help as you’re training him to love the crate!
You might just have to crate your dog a few times a year, or maybe you crate your dog every day while you’re at work. Regardless of how often you crate your dog, you certainly don’t want them to be miserable the entire time!
Having problems with a dog that cries in the crate? Let us know if this article helped! We love feedback!