Ask Crystal: Crate Training Troubleshooting Part 2

black and brown puppy sleeping

Welcome to “Ask Crystal,” where you can ask your pet behavior questions! You can submit your question for Crystal at the bottom of the page!

black and brown puppy sleeping

Dear Crystal, 

I rescued an 8 to 10-month-old female. She is very loving and we have bonded very well. I got her a crate to sleep in at night but she refuses to go into. I’ve put treats, her favorite toys and she won’t go in. Please help. 


Reluctant Puppy 


Dear Reluctant, 

Crate training is a valuable training tool and has really gained popularity recently. A lot of people are finding that their new dog is less than enthused about entering much less staying in the crate. How do you crate train a dog that won’t even go inside the crate? It’s a great question, let’s break some possibilities together! 

There are different types of crates, the two most popular being the hard-sided plastic airline crates and the wire fold down crates. What type your dog prefers will depend on the dog. Some dogs seem to like being able to see out of the wire crates. I usually cover the wire crates at night to keep from waking the dog up in the middle of the night.  Some dogs enjoy the cave like nature of the airlines crates and some seem to find them too enclosing.  

One technique for the airline crate is to take the top and door off and work on getting the dog used to going into the bottom half of the crate.  You can set up a comfy bed in the crate and toss treats in the bed to encourage her to go in. Let her come out as she chooses and keep working on her going in and out. Once she is comfortable laying in the bottom half, put the top on and follow the normal crate training procedure which I outline later.  

If you are using a metal wire crate, consider folding the crate down and placing it in the room to get the dog used to the crate without having to go in. For some dogs, the sheer real estate that the crate takes up in the room is intimidating. If we reinforce them for checking it out and just making it a positive and fun thing to be near is a great place to start changing their opinion on it. Mark with a “yes” and reward any investigation towards the crate. You can put a bed on top of it and work on a stay on top of the crate. Start to open one piece of the crate at a time, making sure that it is secure and won’t slam shut and repeat rewarding any movement towards it or investigating it.  

Once you are ready to try to work on her actually going inside the crate, bungee or tie the door open the first week or so. This will prevent the door from shutting accidentally and be a reminder to you that you don’t need to be shutting the door yet. If the door comes off, you may want to just take it off for now. 

Snaggy blonde puppy with a treatFind some really amazing high value treats. This is something your dog has never had before and will hopefully blow her mind. I really like roasting my own chicken breasts for this but some people like canned chicken, turkey hot dogs or string cheese for affordable options. 

You may start by feeding her a series of treats standing right in front of the cage, as close as she will come on her own. Mark the behavior of movement towards the kennel by saying “yes” and then tossing the treat away from the crate. This reinforces the dog in two ways, you are giving them a treat and giving them space away from the crate which relieves the pressure. The dog will most likely start to come closer and closer to the crate until you can toss a treat just inside the crate door and slowly work on tossing the treat further and further in. You want to always allow the dog to come out as soon as she wants to at this point. Add the cue word, “kennel” by saying it just before she steps inside the crate.  

Then you can work on the duration of her being inside the crate with the door open. I suggest working on it the same way that you train a stay except they don’t have to hold a position. Start with a low duration like 10 seconds, a treat delivery rate of every couple seconds. After 10 seconds, give your release word and let her out and rinse and repeat. Slowly increase the duration and then slow the delivery rate gradually. You might try to work up to a couple minutes duration with a treat every 10 seconds for an example before moving to the next step. 

When she is comfortable staying in the crate for a couple minutes, shut the door and feed a treat through the gate and then open the door and let her out. Slowly increase the amount of time the door is shut but also vary the routine so sometimes it closes and sometimes it doesn’t. 

Next, shut the crate door and stay in the room. Maybe you read a book or watch tv and occasionally feed her a treat. You can start to leave the room briefly and then come back. Slowly start working up the amount of time you leave the room. 

black and white puppy plays with kong toyOnce you can get to 30 minutes with her being in the crate with you in another room, start with brief errands where you leave the house to go get the mail or walk down the street. Give her a frozen Kong or special chew. You want the first few times you leave to be pretty brief and then increase the duration. Go to the store or read a book outside as you increase the amount of time the dog is crated.  But vary the amount of time you are gone. Keep your departures and arrivals low key and only let the dog out of the crate when she is calm. 

Feed your dog her meals only inside the crate. If you are at the stage where she won’t go in, feed her as close to the crate and she will go and still eat. Once she is going in, feed special chews or stuffed Kongs only in the crate. Give her something like this when you are starting to leave the room a little and then any time you leave the house. Have a favorite toy that she only gets in the crate or that you toss in and out of the crate. Put it away when she is not in the crate.  

Be sure that she is getting adequate exercise, play time and enrichment especially before crating. She will be much more likely to be calm in the kennel if she is tired.  

Don’t only practice crate training when you are going to bed or leaving the house. I suggest having routine times during the day where you are crating the dog. This is a good time to utilize a crate in a shared space so the dog doesn’t feel left out. We don’t want the dog to associate the crate with only being left alone because that is negative for most dogs.  

With hard work and patience on your part, most dogs can become comfortable and relaxed in their crate. It is also pretty important to be working on some alone time so that when we need to leave the house more frequently, the dog is not distressed.  

Until next time,