There are very few things sadder than a crying dog. When my Boxers cry, it practically rips my heart out; somehow, to me, it’s that much worse when a big dog cries! I don’t know why I feel that way, but I do. And for me, even when the dog in question just has the potential for becoming a big dog, it seems more heart wrenching than hearing a small dog cry (which, don’t get me wrong, is bad enough).
When Janice and Leroy were puppies, I worked hard at crate training them. Not because I wanted to keep them crated all that much – I like the idea of the whole house being the dog’s crate – but because I was looking ahead to a time when I might have to crate them for travel, or for some other reason that had not yet made itself apparent. It broke my heart every time they’d start crying in the crate.
What I can tell you, from my experience, is that it will eventually stop as your dog adjusts to the crate. It’s really all in how you approach crate training your dog.
How Does Crate Training Work?
I’ve talked about crate training before in House Training an Older Dog. Basically, crate training works because the crate mimics the den that wild dogs would have occupied, and your dog has a sort of “genetic memory” when it comes to this. The crate is the modern den, where the dog can feel safe and comfortable.
Most people use the crate for house training, and it works because dogs do not typically like to deposit waste where they sleep. Dogs usually accept “crate time” quite willingly, except when their people don’t understand what the crate should be used for.
No dog should ever be crated for long periods of time, and the crate should never be used for punishment. Either course of action is going to lead to a dog feeling stressed, trapped and miserable. If you have to be away from your dog for long periods of time, a doggie day care or a pet sitter is a far better solution than extended crating.
Even puppies are quite receptive to crate time, but if a puppy is crying in his crate, it’s probably because he’s been there for too long. You shouldn’t leave a puppy in a crate for more than a few hours; left for too long, his bowels and bladder are going to let go, he’s going to make a mess, and he’s going to be crying in the crate.
For that matter, even with an adult dog, this can be a problem. An adult dog can “hold it in” for longer than a puppy, but you shouldn’t put him in the position of having to do it.
A lot of the time, people will crate their dogs to stop destructiveness. I know, because I’ve done it. And I’m not proud of it.
When Janice was in her puppy stage (under a year old, or as I not-so-fondly refer to it “the dog equivalent of the terrible twos”), she developed a real affinity for my shoes. Okay, so I don’t buy expensive shoes like Jimmy Choos or whatever those “ugly ass” shoes O.J. Simpson claimed not to wear, but just the same, I didn’t want them destroyed. And Janice would never destroy a pair of shoes. Oh, no! She’d chew up one shoe out of a pair, and then another shoe out of another pair, and then… well, you get the idea.
So, any time I left the house and didn’t take Janice with me, I’d put her in the crate. And when I came back, she’d be crying in the crate, not knowing why I’d put her there. Probably thinking that I didn’t love her any more.
I know you’re saying “Bad Ash!” and you’re right. I crated Janice for my convenience.
I should never have done that. I should have worked harder on training Janice not to be destructive, and her crate should have been a place that she would go willingly.
Think of It This Way
You probably have a room in your house that is more pleasing to you than other rooms. Maybe you call it your “man cave” or your “bitch den.” It’s yours, and you love spending time in it.
But what if that was the only room in the house that you were ever allowed to occupy? You’d probably get tired of it pretty quickly. You’d start to think of it as a cage.
When you think of it that way, you can understand why a dog might be crying in his crate. So don’t use the crate for your convenience. Instead, train your dog not to be destructive.
Choosing and Using the Right Crate
If your dog is crying in his crate, maybe it’s the wrong type of crate. Maybe it’s too small, or it doesn’t allow him to see what’s going on around him.
The right crate for your dog should be big enough that he can stand and turn around in it. It should also allow him to see what’s happening outside the crate.
For indoor use, I think a wire crate is best. Now, what you need to do is introduce your dog to the crate. Put it in an area where you and the rest of your family typically hang out; the kitchen or the family room are good choices. Put a blanket on the floor, and put some toys in the crate. Speake to your dog in a happy tone so that he gets the idea that being in the crate will be a good experience. Make sure that the door is opened wide so that it doesn’t hit your dog on the butt as he tries to enter the crate.
Now, throw in some treats. When your dog is inside the crate, quietly close the door.
Your dog needs to see you, to know that you are still there.
Okay, that’s half the battle. You have your dog inside the crate. Now, you want to make sure that he feels comfortable staying there. Hang out with your dog. Sit next to the crate and read a book, or use your laptop to catch up on your emails. If your dog is crying in the crate, speak softly and reassuringly to him.
Now, take it up a notch. Put your dog in the crate close to feeding time, and follow the steps I’ve already outlined. When it’s time for dinner, though, put the meal in the crate. This is another way of showing your dog that good things are going to happen in the crate.
If your dog seems a bit skittish at first, you can leave the door open while you feed. As he becomes more at ease, close the door. And finally, leave the door closed for a while after he’s done eating.
Don’t Give In
Some dogs are very crate-resistant, and will whine and cry until they’re let out. I know this sounds harsh, but the best thing you can do if you want to get your dog accustomed to the crate is to let him cry. Eventually, he’ll tire himself out and go to sleep. Then when he wakes up, he’ll probably start whining again. You can let him out, but let him cry for a bit first. You don’t want him to get the idea that whining means that he gets out of the crate.
Once your dog is eating in the crate and not whining to get out, you can feel safe in leaving him there for longer periods.
One of the biggest problems with having a young dog is potty training, and usually if a dog is un-crated, accidents will happen during the night.
What you need to do here is keep the crate close to you for the first little while so that you can hear your dog crying in the crate. He wants to go out to do his business, and you don’t want him to think that he’s somehow being punished by being confined to a crate. So sleep with one ear open, and if you hear your dog crying in the crate, take him outside. Whatever you do, don’t ignore him; if you do, he’s going to connect the crate with isolation and the fear of eliminating where he would really prefer not to.
Once your puppy or dog is sleeping through the night without crying in the crate, you can, if you like, move the crate farther away – out of your bedroom. I would point out, though, that there’s really no reason for you to do that, because any time spent with your dog – even if you’re both asleep – facilitates bonding.
Other Possible Problems
Most of the time, if your dog is crying in his crate, he’s lonely or he needs to go out and do his business. Sometimes, though, dogs will be a bit manipulative – you might have a dog that just wants attention, doesn’t really need to go out, but knows that if he is crying in his crate, you’ll pay attention to him.
Try ignoring the behavior, and if you’re really confident that he doesn’t have to go out, don’t give in to your dog. If you do, you’ll just be teaching him that if he whines, he’ll get what he wants, and then you might have to start crate training all over again.
As a footnote, we should talk about separation anxiety. This is very different from a dog trying to manipulate, or a dog that genuinely needs to go potty. Some dogs are so afraid of being apart from their humans that even a wire crate that allows full view of the human isn’t enough to make the dog feel safe. Your dog isn’t trying to be perverse; he’s genuinely terrified of being separated from you. You might need to get help from an animal behaviorist that specializes in separation anxiety, because if you don’t, your dog could actually hurt himself trying to get out of the crate when you’re not around.
With separation anxiety, a crate is not a good idea. In fact, it’s just going to make matters worse. So if your dog is not just crying in his crate, if he’s actually hysterical, please don’t crate him. Get help.
The Final Word
Some dogs react very well to being in a crate. Others need a bit of an introduction. Most of the time, dogs will come to enjoy having a place to call their own. Crate training is generally easy, but when it comes to dogs that have separation anxiety, it can be very nearly impossible and might require professional intervention.
If you take the time, though, and have the patience, most dogs will be very happy to spend time in a crate.