Supporting Insanity – Crate Hater

This post is part of a series wherein struggling pet owners submit pleas for help to the expertise of blogland. Everyone’s experiences are unique. If you have any suggestions, please don’t hesitate to share them in the comments. What you think common sense may be revolutionary for someone else. You never know what may resonate and keep another animal out of a shelter. My hope is that together we can help good pet people feel a little less alone.

“To crate, or not to crate?” It’s a question most people face when living with a dog. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy one as every dog is so different. Some look upon the crate as a place of security and comfort and others see it as a terrifying trap. Today’s submitter has one of each.

Here is her story:

To preface, my husband and I have two dogs, both rescues, a cockapoo and a lab/great dane mix. My husband was raised to firmly believe that dogs should be crate-trained and that they are happier and better off for it. However, I was raised the opposite, and still really feel that unless the dog does damage to the house or actively seeks out refuge the crate, there is really no reason for them to be in there. (Not saying either is right or wrong, just how we were brought up.)

The lab mix ADORES his crate. Just the word “crate” sends him into an excited tizzy and he runs into the other room and promptly sits his butt down waiting for his treat. He won’t go to bed outside of his crate and usually begs for us to put him in there when it’s his bed time. Since he is destructive when not crated, this is a big win for us. And my husband especially, because it supports his notion that dogs want and need to be crated when their owners are not home.

Then there is my dog, the cockapoo. She HATES her crate. When I first got her 4 years ago, I tried to crate her at night and she would whine nonstop and scratch the door and my roommate at the time (and I) was driven insane. Since she is all of 20 lbs soaking wet and not destructive, I decided not to crate her. But my husband doesn’t agree. We’ve fought about it many a time and the end result is that she is crated during the day when we’re at work, but not at night.

However, her reaction to her crate is getting worse. She is an anxious dog as it is, but as soon as we even start to walk towards the room with her crate in it, she cowers, and starts shaking. We’ve tried everything we can think of – feeding her in there so maybe she’ll like it (door open and door closed attempts), giving her a peanut butter bone in there, enticing her with chicken or some other savory item, I even actually tried to climb in there the other day to show her it’s not so bad! (I’m a loser). I hate the feeling that I am punishing and also stressing out my dog, it kills me!

I guess I just don’t know what to do. Do we keep pushing her to see if we can get her to like her crate, or is it a lost cause? My husband thinks she is just being manipulative and knows how upset I get seeing her in distress and thinks I will cave if she hams it up and shows how sad she is to be crated. I dunno, I think that might be giving my dog a bit too much credit in the cognitive abilities department.

I guess my end question is: to crate or not to crate? And if the answer is to crate, how to I figure out what is causing her behavioral reaction and fix it? I can’t stand seeing her so upset and can’t continue trying to crate her if that’s her reaction – since she’s a 6-year-old rescue whose been through dog knows what, I just can’t impose any more discomfort on her. (I am a big baby, I know.)

If you have any tokens of advice, please share them below. Words encouragement or commiseration are also very welcome. I appreciate all of your support.

If you have a question you would like answered, fill out the contact form and I will post it up as soon as I can. All submissions will remain anonymous.

30 thoughts on “Supporting Insanity – Crate Hater

  1. Why not try a different kind of crate (soft sided, airline carrier, etc), since she only has negative feelings about her current one? Then, introduce it by putting something really exciting nearby, just inside the door, in the back. Make it seem as though this new crate is the place of all wonderful things?

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  2. I think crates work but I also think they are unnatural and contrary to a dog’s nature. Dog’s job is to protect and sound alert in his home, can’t do that confined in a crate.

    On the other hand, if a dog needs to be left alone for long hours every day, many will be destructive. If they can’t be kept in at least a part of the house, free range, then a crate can be the difference between having a home and being given to a shelter. I can’t imagine the rationale for making a dog who hates to be crated to be crated if they aren’t destructive.

    My dogs have always been free range. I do have a kitchen with a door and I do work at home, being a pet portrait artist. But I also know of so many dogs who are treated like hamsters by the people who love them. They are crated all day while at work, crated if they go out to dinner, crated at night to sleep. They are out of crate for very short periods of time and when they finally DO get out of the crate, get over excited and create mayhem.

    Overall, I do not support crating except in extreme cases. I support a dog proof room for when they have to be left alone and a bed next to their human at night.

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  3. I think crate training is a necessity; REALLY important in the case of a catastrophic event, a move, traveling… so many reasons.
    Des your dog have a favorite bed? I’d move the crate within sight of the bed and gradually move the crate closer, until the bed can be placed in the crate, even just partially, at first. You couldn’t possibly go to slow!

    A new and different type of crate is a GREAT idea.

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  4. I don’t think you’re having a problem with your dog. I think you’re having a problem with your husband. Sorry to make that sound so harsh. Just take a deep breath and stay with me.

    I think the dog has already told you she cannot handle the crate. And it sounds like you’ve done a great job of trying to make it a comforting place for her. But, for whatever reason, it’s a scary place for her. And you, as her caregiver need to ensure her comfort and safety.

    Stumpy and Cyndi are right that in an emergency the crate may be necessary. But it doesn’t sound like you think it’s necessary for your dog at home.

    I’ve noticed that many men (my husband included) invest a lot of ego in making their dog do what they say. My husband is a very dear person who loves our dog very much. And I’m sure your husband loves your dogs and you too.

    But it sounds like he has an ideal in his head of what the dog should do that doesn’t match the real world. I suspect he wouldn’t force you to do something that terrified you just to prove you would listen to him.

    I think the key to your problem is figuring out how to kindly talk to your husband about this and find a compromise that will make your dog and him comfortable. Maybe a play pen instead of a crate. Or training her to go to a special bed (not in a crate) when you need her to be out of the way. That could offer him the control over her comings and goings without using the crate.

    Good luck. I hope you’ll check in with Kristine to let us know what you decide to do.

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    • And *this* is why I love you Pamela. You said exactly what I was thinking (in a much nicer and diplomatic way to boot!)

      If you must keep trying to crate her, consider trying a larger crate, of a different type than you have now and make it a really positive experience this time around. Sometimes changing the visual and the attitude around it can make all the difference. felix flips his wig if we put him in a wire crate, but has no problem with the airline carrier type.

      Don’t force her into it – ever! Try to lure her there with all her favourite treats and toys. When we crate trained our rescue, it was actually months before he was in it unsupervised, he ate all his meals there, got his longs in there and there only, basically anything he thought was good & he valued, we did *in* the crate. And make sure YOU’RE excited about it :0). Now that we have slowly built up his comfort level in his crate, Felix loves it. often, he’ll take himself there when he needs a quiet moment. It’s too cute! Good luck to you. Sounds like you have a good little dog, crate or no crate.

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  5. If she isn’t destructive, why crate her? We always crate our Chessies when we are not home because we don’t trust them alone in the house. Who knows what they will munch on. At night they sleep in our bedroom and are not in crates. They learned about crates as wee pups so it is just another place to them (they were never put in the crate as a punishment).

    But before we had the Chessies we had a Golden. He came to us as a 14 month old dog. He did not like to be confined. So we gave him run of the house and he was fine. In fact he only went in the rooms we used regularly and never ventured in say, the living room, that was just “for company”. However, one Christmas (I think he was 4 or 5), he ate glass ornaments off the Christmas tree which meant a trip to the ER vet. After that we tried crating him when we couldn’t watch him, but he was never comfortable. We tried all the tips, exercise, feeding in the crate, toys in the crate and he was still miserable. So we decided to only crate when “the tree” was up and we were not home. Still, those few weeks were tough on him. He would sit and pant in his crate. After a couple of years, we decided just to leave him in the bedroom and close the door when we weren’t home and “the tree” was up, (otherwise he had run of the house). He was happy to spend extra time in the bedroom. That was his place. It seemed to work for us. He lived to 13 spending very few hours in a crate.

    No two dogs are alike and what works for one may not work for another. The trick is to find what works best for each dog. Good luck.

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  6. My Lab also loves his crate, and still has a touch of destructiveness in him at eight years old. But my mix, Leah, has never liked the crate, and is not at all destructive….so I just don’t crate her. Why force her to do something, when it is not at all necessary for her? And, dogs are clever, but to feign anxiety just to not go into a crate is a little more manipulative than a dog is capable of.

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  7. I’m going to have to second what Pamela wrote.

    You’ve successfully crate trained one dog, and tried a number of techniques for crate training this dog, so it’s not like you don’t know how to do it. I think your girl is very clearly communicating that she’s NOT okay with the crate.

    If your husband still thinks she needs to be confined, even though she’s not destructive, why not try a compromise? Instead of giving her free range of the house, have her stay in the room where your other dog is crated, either by closing the door to that room or using a baby gate.

    Whatever you decide to do, good luck!

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  8. I hardly crate Rugby any more (except to eat… his food is messy) because he is finally mature and trained and I can trust him not to destroy anything or potty in the house while I am gone, or sleeping. (I can not imagine raising a puppy without a crate)

    My question to you is do you want her only experience being confined to be when she is boarding because you had to go out of town. Or that time could be when she has to stay at the vets office because she hurt herself. Or that time could be when she injures herself and needs long term recovery. Those situations are stressful enough without her being scared of the crate they will put her in.

    You may not need to crate her during the day or night because she behaves herself. You are doing her a disservice by fostering/encouraging that fear of the crate, however.

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  9. After Stan’s health issues we decided it was safer for him to sleep in his crate at night. Additionally, he had taken to wandering around the room at night, which kept us up. Trying to get him to sleep in his crate was BRUTAL at first. He’d quietly bark at us, whine-you name it. We didn’t sleep for months. One night he got so scared of the the crate he had an absolute freak out and it took hours to console him and calm him down.

    But we just kept at it, with kindness. We made his crate extra comfy. Now he puts himself to bed at night. Our ROUTINE is much better. He doesn’t get punished in the crate, and I think he sees it as a refuge now. I’m not a dog trainer, but I just wanted to share our story to let you know there’s hope and that having the crate be a safe place can be a very good thing. I know it’s helped us tremendously.

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  10. Personally i think teaching a dog to be comfortable in a crate is crazy important. For all the reasons someone else mentioned… medical emergency, traveling, injury recovery, etc. So, for that reason alone, I would do some low-pressure work on getting her comfortable in a crate BUT I would absolutely take my time, not push her (since you dont NEED her to be crated at this point), and do everything to make it fun.

    I would actually reduce the pressure from making her go into the crate for dinner/kongs etc. I would start playing games with the crate… if she likes to do training, teach her to go around the crate, teach her to open the crate, teach her to close the crate…. have fun OUTSIDE the crate but still with the crate. Change the role of the crate from a confinement/scary object to an object to be manipulated to earn rewards. Then I’d see if I could shape her to get in the crate once she liked playing with the crate. This would be a long-ish process but it would be all positive and since she doesn’t NEED to be in the crate now, you have the luxury of taking your time and really going at her pace.

    Dogs don’t need to LOVE their crate if they don’t need to be left in it but i think all dogs should have some level of comfort in crates.

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  11. I totally agree with Pamela, 2BrownDawgs, Ashley, Donna and Sam.

    For me the issue is more about how stressed and freaked out the dog becomes. A lot of dogs like the den-like atmosphere of the crate; other dogs have issues. The fight (for me) would be with my hubby and not the dog.

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  12. I agree with Pamela, too. While being able to crate your dog in case of emergency is important, what is your husband’s goal for having your pup in the crate more often? It sounds like he thinks they should like it, but since your dog doesn’t – and isn’t destructive – then I don’t think it should be forced on her. My view of crate training is that it’s a management strategy. It keeps your dog from destroying the house or having accidents until he’s learned not to do those things, then you can phase it out. We have a crate available for our dogs to go in if they want, but none of them do. Ever. And I’m not going to force them because I feel like that would be undermine their trust in me. Good luck!!

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  13. My dog is very similar to this – he will go into the crate but he doesn’t like it. He’s not destructive and he’s housetrained, so he has free run of a portion of the house when I’m not at home.

    He also has a series of “places” in the house that he needs to go to when certain things happen – door bell rings, he needs to sit in his spot in the front hallway until released, I’m cooking in the kitchen, he has a spot near the kitchen entry way to sit, when people are eating, he needs to be on his bed in the living room and at night he has a dog bed in the bedroom.

    We still work with him on being comfortable in the crate (for visits to the vet, groomers, emergencies, etc) and he travels in the car in a crate, but crating him during the day or the night for the sake of crating him, just isn’t worth it to me.

    I’d keep working on getting her somewhat comfortable in the crate, but if she’s miserable in there, don’t force it. Work on an alternate safe place for her – the dog bed in the living room is Charley’s spot – most of the time he’ll stay on the dog bed, but he does occasionally get tethered there as well.

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  14. We’ve crate trained all of our dogs – a matter of not trusting them alone in the house at first. Now, with the new puppy, our older dogs get a little “crate jealous” – we took apart the plastic crate to make 2 crate-ish beds for them and they are constantly wanting to stay in the puppy’s wire crate any time we leave. So obviously my dogs love crates.

    I think that by putting your dog in the crate only when you are gone during the day that the crate is now associated with being alone without you all day long – a negative association. In order to foster a sense of security (which is what should be the basis of every dog’s crate training), the crate needs to become a place where good things happen. My suggestion, since destruction is not an issue, is to NOT crate her during the day until you can foster that sense of security with the crate. Because even if you work on crate training during the evenings or mornings, you erase the good you created by enforcing that negative association as soon as you crate her and walk out the door. Go slow and maybe try a new type of crate.

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  15. I have a 5 month old lab, and she HATED her crate for the first couple months. Every time we put her in there, she would start yapping and whining, and eventually learned how to escape. It was awful. After doing some research, I decided (and then had to convince my husband) to move her crate into our bedroom. I kid you not, the first night we tried the crate in the bedroom, she went straight in the first time I asked, laid down, and went to sleep. No whining, nothing. Since then, she has been SO much more accepting of her crate, both at night and during the day when we leave her at home by herself.

    All that to say, if crating is something you feel like you need to keep trying to do, try moving it to the bedroom if it’s not already there. It definitely worked for us!

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  16. Tena (Success Just Clicks) and Sara (Married with Dawgs) have really, really good points. 1. You don’t need her to be crated asap, so take things extremely slow, foster a sense of security in her about the crate and don’t crate her during the day unless you are able to make it a positive thing for her every second she is inside. 2. Make the crate a positive thing whether she is inside of it or not.

    3. Shaping is a great way to go about crate-training. If she won’t even go into the room where her crate is, start there. She gets chicken if she goes into the room — even 1 paw into the room, or looking at the threshold of the room. Start really small — break it down really far and go from there.

    I’m of the belief that crate training is incredibly important — you really have no clue how much good it is until you truly need it, so being prepared for that possibility is better than not.

    Good luck!

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  17. Ryker used a crate as a young pup for a few days but we changed that out to a gated area beside the bed for nighttime containment and enlarged the area as he grew and became more potty trained. So we never really used the crate except for the first week.
    He has no been a destructive dog with the exception of some of my prescription glasses. He learned to use the cat door to access the back yard and do his business and is still able to fit through it! We are not against using crate, just did not have the need in his case and prefer not to use one if not necessary.

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  18. Hmm … I see others have already made a lot of good points for both sides of the issue. Here is my take on it. In my adult life I’ve had three dogs. One was absolutely crate phobic, (and had I known then what I know now I might have been able to make some strides in that area but too late now.) The other two were perfectly fine and happy in their crates (and in fact will even go in there to sleep sometimes, both piling into one crate to cuddle up and snooze) but were no longer confined in them after a certain point (ie when they became reliable in the house and would not potty in the house or tear things up). For me, a crate has always been a training tool – one that I utilized when the dogs were younger and phased out as they matured and became more reliable. No matter the age of the dog, any dog that comes into this house has been and will be started out in a crate. I feel it’s the best thing I can do for them for their own safety and the safety of my home and belongings, which are secondary to the well-being of the animals themselves, but still important.

    In the case of the issue at hand, I happen to agree with Pamela. This sounds like a power struggle between a husband and wife that may seem like it’s about the dogs but is probably symptomatic of a larger issue. Particularly if this dog was with the wife prior to the marriage, it seems pretty irrational and unreasonable to me for the husband to insist that a dog who is not destructive in any way that we know about to be confined to a crate despite the fact that she apparently feels very uncomfortable being in one.

    I see nothing wrong with trying out some different crate styles and working with the dog to see whether with positive reinforcement she can learn to be comfortable being crated, just in the unlikely event that she ever really NEEDED to be confined in one, but I see absolutely no reason why she should have to be crated if she’s housebroken and non-destructive. It makes no sense to me. Having said this, it’s clear that the wife has some very strong feelings about not putting her “baby” through any more hardship, as she’s a rescue dog and has already seen hard times, but this is a human view of this situation, not the dog’s. No one will ever know what this dog may or may not have endured prior to being adopted into her current home, but there is nothing to gain and everything to lose by projecting who knows what horrible things into her past that may or may not have ever occurred. Our job with all dogs, rescue or not, is to help them find a way to live successfully in a human world, and in that human world, it may sometimes be necessary or advantageous for the dog to be crated. Therefore, don’t insist that the dog be crated if she is stressed in it, as that is only going to intensify her feelings of being uncomfortable in the crate. Instead, work on making the crate have positive associations for the dog, not with the goal of ever crating her on a routine basis, but rather with the goal of eradicating her fear of something that she is currently fearful of and making her a happier, more secure dog overall.

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  19. I agree with Pamela (and I don’t think that dogs are manipulative . .sorry hubby!) Good luck, it looks like you’ve gotten lots of great advice!!

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  20. My dog, Riley, is currently having to be crated for 8 weeks after having knee surgery. She is crate trained (from when she was a puppy), but not crated on a regular basis. In fact, the last time she was crated was probably over a year and a half ago. She is trustworthy alone in the house, so I haven’t needed to crate her. So, just keep in mind that crates are life savers after surgeries for immobilizing otherwise very mobile dogs.

    I agree with other people who have commented–crates are necessary in some instances, but not necessarily at home all the time. If the dog is fine out of the crate, then leave it out of the crate.

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  21. I have to say as well that you have effectively crate educated 1 dog, and attempted a quantity of techniques for crate coaching this canine, so it is not like you do not know how to do it. I believe your woman is very obviously communicating that she’s NOT okay with the crate.

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  22. Does it have to be a crate? I have two highly anxious dogs that are terrified of crates (due to past abuse from previous owners) and we confine them in a room we built for them. There is a window to see us come and go, a couch, and the wall is a half wall, while the rest is fencing, so that they can still see us, if we are home. Could it be the confined space she doesn’t like? Maybe an open constructed box of some sort might be helpful to start with and build from there.

    I agree also with others and that the conflict between your husband and you isn’t helping matters. Since the anxiety over a crate for your girl is already so strong, I think it would be important for you and your husband to make a compromise of some sort. Like others have suggested a different or larger crate may work better. If the crate you are using is more enclosed, maybe an open one would entice her more. My best suggestion is to experiment and take it slow.

    Thanks you for being so brave and sharing your concerns. Best of luck.

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  23. We went thru something similar. Our first dog was super easy and we didn’t know it. We never had to crate her. After she died, we decided to adopt 2 dogs this time. They were not to e trusted, destructive, so we got 2 crates…and i hated them. One, Daisy, would cry when i put her in it – she’d howl and I was completely freaked out by it. The other was fine. I put one crate facing the other, about 6 feet away so they could see each other. We started small. Always a little water and a kong with treats inside and we would leave them for a minute, then 5 minutes, then 10 minutes and so on. Make sure there is always a nice treat in there and they only get those kinds of special treats in the crate. Now, I am amazed. I pull out the kongs and they are both in there before I am finished filling them. I use a little kibble, small cookies, and top with peanut butter. Good luck! I know how hard it is. We only crate them when we go out, not at night. And we keep it at 5 hours max. Usually less.

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  24. I think Pamela and Jodi have the right thoughts on this. Not all men, but certainly many I have encountered, see their dog to be a reflection of themselves and thus, want the dog to be obedient and do what they want to do.

    The truth is that most dogs prefer the kennel. It’s their safety spot. Their refuge. Their OWN space. But, not all dogs do.

    However, if you must crate, you need to introduce it gradually again, and a new soft sided crate might not be a bad idea. Fresh crate+new memories+new approach = success. So once you have the new crate, you want to introduce it gradually. Put her in there for two minutes at a time with a treat or bone to chew on. After two minutes, take her out and go about your day. Later in the day, do another two minutes. The idea is to disassociate the crate with a bad thing – you leaving. Gradually over the next few days or weekend, increase the time. This may help to alleviate your dog’s fears of the crate.
    It may also be that your little one hates being alone. If this is the case, can you crate the dogs together? Or, is there a crate big enough for both of them? Are they best buddies? Or, can you have the crates face one another or be near one another? Just some thoughts anyways.
    Good luck!

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  25. Anybody tried Susan Garrett’s Crate Games? That is an excellent way to build value for the dog to spend time in the crate. I have multiple terriers and I foster. Crating is a great management tool. It also is good for a dog to become accustomed to spending time in a crate should it ever have to be on crate rest (I have a dachshund who was paralyzed and spent four months on crate rest following surgery) or simply staying at the vet or for travel should you show or have to evacuate (let’s hope not!). My dogs are not all crated while I am gone, but some are for their own safety.

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