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I have a 5-month-old puppy that we brought home at 8 weeks. I can’t seem to get her to nap in her crate during the day. We brought her home during covid, so we were always home to watch her, but with plans to go back to work, we have been trying to crate train her during the day. She has no problems walking in and out of her crate on her own and runs in for meals. We have always fed her meals in her crate, play games and do basic obedience with her in her crate to create a positive association with the crate. She goes into her crate at night and sleeps in her crate without fussing, but during the day, she would rather sleep everywhere but her crate. I ask her to go to her crate when I see her napping, but once I close the door she is fully awake and barking and whining to be let out. I’ve tried rewarding her for quiet and calm behavior in the crate once she settles down, but if I approach her crate she’ll get up and start to bark again. She also paws at the floor and door of the crate to get out and I’m afraid she’ll hurt herself. I’ve tried slowly increasing the time I leave the crate door closed, sitting by her crate, but nothing seems to work. I’ve even tried just leaving the room entirely in hopes that if she doesn’t see me, she won’t fuss anymore. She knows how to be alone, since we leave her for naps in the kitchen by herself. The kitchen is blocked off with baby gates. The crate is also in the kitchen, just off to a corner. I know the easy way out is just to let her sleep in the closed off kitchen and not force her into her crate, but I want her to be able to tolerate the crate for emergency purposes if we ever had to crate her during the day. What can I do to help her love her crate during the day???
Wow! It sounds like you are really doing a lot of things right here to try to create a positive association with the crate for your puppy. It is really frustrating when we are trying to do everything that the experts tell us to do and it still isn’t working!
When thinking through a behavior problem, I always like to think about what function the behavior serves and what is the environmental cue for the behavior. Trainers refer to this problem solving as the ABC’s of training. We have the “antecedent” which is the A. That is the cue for the B which is “behavior.” The behavior produces the “consequence” which is the C. The consequence drives the behavior. In this situation, the antecedent is putting her in her crate in the daytime. The behavior is her fussing and carrying on. The consequence is that she gets let out of the crate? You didn’t say whether you let her out or not when she fusses but you did say you are worried that she will hurt herself, so I am thinking you are letting her out. The other thing to think about is that the behavior continues because it is working to get her something that she finds reinforcing. If you aren’t letting her out, then what might that be? It could be some form of attention like looking at or talking to her.
The general recommendation is to wait for a few seconds of the puppy being quiet before you let them out. Dogs have an association period of about 1 second so you just need to make sure you are waiting a couple seconds after the behavior stops to let her out. I think the caveat for me is a dog that is panicking. There is a difference between some whining and barking to be let out and a dog that is having a panic attack. I obviously can’t know which your dog is having without seeing it. If a dog is panicking, there is a lot more work that needs to be done prior to leaving them alone.
If she throws a fit as you approach, immediately turn and walk away. Wait for calm and approach. Continue to repeat. The idea with this is that the dog’s behavior of barking makes you go away instead of letting them out. The only behavior that gets her let out is quiet. That way letting her out is the reward for now rather than food as it seems like that is a more valuable reinforcer to her than food. Again, work on gradually increasing the required time of quiet before releasing.
If you think food is really reinforcing at this point, a creative solution for rewarding from a distance is a tool that remotely feeds treats like a Manners Minder in the crate or try to get good with tossing food in from a distance. Keep the delivery rate up to keep it fun and interesting for the dog and then slowing decrease the rate of delivery.
If you feel like she is panicking and not just barking to be let out, then you really need to start completely over with your crate training. For now, avoid the situations that cause the panicking behavior. I know leaving her loose in the kitchen is not the end goal but for now while you work on changing her crate association, I would use that if you need to leave.
The next question, is why does she not fuss at night? My best guess is that nothing is happening at night so she doesn’t have the same FOMO. Honestly, I am surprised she doesn’t fuss at night with the crate being in the kitchen. Most puppies will cry if they are in a room alone. Dogs are social creatures. I usually recommend the nighttime crate be in a bedroom if the dog is fussing at night.
So that brings me to social isolation, which I am wondering is at the heart of the issue. It could be that your puppy associates the crate with being alone. I don’t know where you spend your days but I am guessing it isn’t spent all day in the kitchen. When we are first crate training, I recommend that the crate be in a location where people are spending their time. You can have multiple crates or move the crate around during the day. If you work in a home office, have it in the corner of the home office. In the evening, have it in the living room or wherever your family spends the evening. After the dog has been well trained, it is usually ok to have the crate more isolated but we don’t want the first lesson to be that the crate means isolation.
Once you move the crate into a more social location, start over with some of your exercises of going in and out with the door open. Before moving to the next step, we should always make sure the dog is 100% comfortable and happy with the current step. Maybe feed the meals with the door open at first and work up to the door being closed. At this point stay in the room with her while she is in the crate and keep the time short in the beginning. Sometimes changing the location can help to reset the dog so we can start over with our training.
Once she seems ok for short periods with the door closed in the new location, I suggest always giving her a special toy like a stuffed bone when putting her in the crate during this training period. I like to stuff hollow toys and bones with canned food and freeze them. It gives them something pleasurable to do and licking is soothing for dogs. If she is too stressed to eat, then I would go back to the exercises with the door open and work on that until she can be in there with the door closed.
Move on to briefly leaving the room and coming back in. Maybe start at 30 seconds and build on that. Maybe sometimes you leave the room and come back in and sit down. Vary it up so that you aren’t always coming back in and just letting her right out.
Try to exercise her with a game or a walk immediately prior to crating her. Sometimes if a dog is tired, they have less energy to protest and will just fall asleep and nap. day. Rather than waking the dog up from a nap to put them in the crate, we put them in the crate to nap.
It may also be that your puppy despite your efforts just doesn’t like the crate very much. That could be why she is ok being alone in the kitchen. While it’s not a hard and fast rule, dogs that really love their crate, often sleep in it when the door is left open. If your puppy is choosing to nap elsewhere and the crate is made up to be very cozy, she might not have the warm fuzzies about her crate. Another reason to consider starting over with your training.
Otherwise, when you are not training, keep the crate door open. You can hide treats in the blankets for her to find. Maybe there are special treats or toys that she only gets when she goes inside. Make the inside of the crate super soft and cozy.
A game to try build drive to go in the crate is to put a very high value item like a bone inside with the door shut. Let the dog see it and try to get it from the outside. When she is very excited about trying to get in, give her crate cue and let her in to get it.
Another possibility is that her routine up to recently did not involve going into her crate at various times during the day, so she is not used to having to be in there during the day. Dogs are very contextual so they can get used to something at certain times and not others. We have to work very hard to help them generalize behavior to a variety of times, environments, etc.
Routine is really critical for dogs. Have specific times that the dog goes in the crate. You are feeding meals so that is a perfect example. Breakfast in the crate, let her out after she finishes and calms down. Later in the day have playtime and potty time and then a bone in the crate. Come out for a couple hours and repeat. I also like to crate the puppy at times when I can’t watch them like when working out, showering, eating so I build crate time into those times of day.
If you try starting over with these tips and it is still not working, I suggest setting up a session with a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. It is really hard to help someone via email or on the phone as we really need a lot more details to know what might be going on so a session with a trainer in person is going to go a long way. To locate a trainer click here.
You really are doing so many things right so I have faith you will be able to figure out what the issue is and get your dog feeling much better about her crate very soon. Good luck!
Until next time,