Crate Training Tips: Problem-Shooting New-Pup Problems

Whether your dog is escaping the crate, screaming all night, or having other crate training challenges, I've collected some top crate training tips to help.

Published January 17, 2024
miniature dachshund that is laying down in a crate inside of a house

While we all hope that crate training your new dog will go smoothly, sometimes dog parents hit a few bumps in the road. If you're experiencing issues like excessive crying, your dog escaping from the crate, pooping in the crate, or other common issues, I've included some dog training hacks below to help. 

Helpful Hack

If, alternatively, your dog who previously loved their crate is suddenly having issues, check out these common reasons why dogs can suddenly hate their crate and how to help.  

Puppy Screaming in Crate

It's very normal for a puppy to whine and cry when put in the crate, and with most puppies, it will dissipate over time, much like a toddler crying themselves to sleep. However, some puppies become deeply panicked, and if they're feeling this way, you need to let them out of the crate and comfort them.

Observe Your Pup

The first thing to do is look at the puppy's body language. Are they crying, barking, and whining, but it seems otherwise okay? Or is their body language taut and tense, with frantic behavior, panting, and excessive drooling? If they're just barking and whining, but they seem fine, they may just need a little time to adjust. But if it's the latter, you may need to hold off on the training.

Once your puppy becomes more accustomed to their new living situation in general, you can try to reintroduce the crate. In the mean time, show them tons of love and affection, and leave the crate where it is with the door open so they can explore it if they wish to do so. Over time, they may learn to enjoy their crate as their personal safe space.

Barking for Hours

Spoodle puppy crate training

Normal barking should last around 5 to 15 minutes. Your dog may restart after they wake up if they take a nap, so be prepared for that. It's best to ignore them when they do this and praise them when they lie down and are quiet. If your dog does this constantly, work on giving them more exercise before they go into their crate so they're tired. 

If your dog's barking is frantic, they may be too anxious to handle the crate. This means you may have moved too quickly with the training, or they may have had previous negative experiences with the crate. For these puppies and adult dogs, you may want to try an alternate method that's less confining, like a puppy pen. If you're using an airline-type crate, you can also try switching to an open-wire crate.

Quick Tip

You may need to go back to pairing the crate with wonderful things while keeping the door open, and you might want to discuss calming meds or supplements with your veterinarian.

Peeing and Pooping in the Crate

Sometimes puppies will pee and poop in the crate, despite their natural inclination not to do this in a small, confined space. This is a very common problem with puppies purchased from pet shops and puppy mills. According to Cheri Lucas, canine behavior expert, "Dogs are naturally hardwired not to want to be near their own waste, but dogs kept in these conditions are forced to urinate and defecate in the small space they live in.  Lying in their own filth becomes the norm."

Do Not Punish

If you come home and find the puppy has gone in the crate, do not punish them. They don't naturally know the difference between going potty inside or outside yet. Plus, punishment can lead to a weaker bond and mistrust. Quietly clean the crate and bedding, and make sure you use a cleaner made specifically for removing pet urine.

Your Crate May Be Too Big

It's possible your crate may be too big. Most crates come with dividers you can insert to make them smaller and remove as the dog grows up. When house-training puppies, the crate should be big enough for them to stand up, turn around, and sleep, but not much bigger.

Consider Length of Time in Crate

It's possible you kept them in the crate too long and they were unable to physically hold their bowels. If you're not sure about how long they can hold their urine and feces, talk to your veterinarian. Three to four hours is the maximum for a puppy under six months, but some breeds may have different needs.

Need to Know

Regardless of the max amount of time they can hold it, your dog should be let out regularly to go potty. 

Crate Training Gone Wrong

If your puppy has learned before they moved in with you that the crate is an acceptable place to go, you may want to stop using it for house training and try a method where you baby gate them in an area, like a laundry room or bathroom, and slowly work on retraining. Don't keep putting your pup in the crate if they continue to eliminate. That will make their association between peeing and being in the crate worse.

Check With the Veterinarian

It's not unusual for puppies to have problems with house and crate training because they're suffering from a urinary infection, and once this clears up with some medical treatment, their crate training will go faster.

Dog Destroys Stuff in Crate

Boston Terrier puppy inside a cage or crate with the door open

Puppies and adult dogs that destroy toys and bedding in their crate are usually bored. But it can also be a sign that a puppy is teething. If that's all they're doing is tearing stuff up in there, it's usually not a huge concern, but there are self-destructive behaviors that are.

Dogs that are anxious and stressed about being in the crate can engage in more serious destructive behavior that can even be self-injurious. If you notice your dog trying to break out of the crate and hurting themselves, move on to a method of confinement where you use gates and a small room. Speak to your veterinarian and a professional behavior consultant to discuss behavior modification for your dog going forward.

Dog Escapes the Crate

Cute puppy in wire dog crate at home

If your dog is an escape artist, you certainly have a problem. Most dogs try to escape their crate or successfully escape their crate due to feelings of separation anxiety. While we don't want our dogs to be scared, we do want them to be safe. They can easily be injured by escaping the crate, regardless of which type it is. 

If you have a wire crate, zip-tie all sides of the crate to hold them together. This means all four corners should have two zip-ties each. If your dog is a super escape artist or you're nervous they will still hurt themselves, check out military working dog crates. They're hard to escape and durable, but keep in mind that they're also more expensive.

Quick Tip

Exercising with your dog before they go in the crate could help tremendously.

Night Problems During Crate Training

Golden Retriever Sleeps on Her Stomach

There are a handful of problems that occur particularly at night, or more frequently at night, that can be resolved fairly easily. 

Avoid Giving Food or Water 

If you give your dog food or water directly before they go into the crate, the likelihood of finding a mess when you wake up is pretty high. How would you feel if you ate a big meal and slurped down a glass of water before bed? I can tell you I'd wake up in the middle of the night and rush, so I didn't pee my pants. Your dog feels the same way, except they don't have a bathroom to run to. 

Exercise Your Pooch

We know our dogs need exercise, but when we're exhausted from a long work day, you may not be feeling up to playing an hour-long game of fetch on the back lawn. It's still important to exercise your dog's mind and body before they are put into the crate, though. This can be through simple play, a walk, or even playing with a handful of puzzle toys if you're too tired to wander around the block. 

No Late-Night Wrestling

You may be making the issue worse by playing with them when you let them out of their crate to go potty. Their mind may wander off into la-la land while playing with you instead of fully emptying their bladder or going poop. Plus, by playing with them, you're staying out longer, and I'd imagine if they make you get up at night, you're going to want to go back to bed.

Don't Sleep in With a Puppy

With a puppy, you can't really sleep in. You can later when they're grown up, but for now, their little bodies can't hold in all that ick. As soon as they wake up, they're barking, "Gotta go potty! Gotta go, gotta go!" If you wake up early, you should be able to catch them before they relieve themselves in the crate. If you sleep in, don't be surprised if there's a mess waiting for you.

If You Have Long Work Days

One of the difficult parts of crate training is deciding what to do if you work an 8-hour day or longer. You have two options in this case.

1. A Confined Room

Use the confined room method and place an open crate in a small area that is puppy-proofed, and use a gate to keep the puppy in, such as in the doorway of a bathroom or laundry room. The puppy will use the crate to go in and out on their own, but if they need to pee or poop, they can go outside and do so in the room. 

Need to Know

This method can make house training take longer to accomplish.

2. A Dog Walker

Use either the first method or place the puppy in a crate when you leave, and hire a dog walker to come during the day to let your puppy or adult dog out to pee. While this is an added expense, the benefit is that you can housetrain the puppy faster as they will have far fewer opportunities to eliminate in the house.

Quick Tip

As a canine behaviorist, I often recommend a Petcube or similar item for the pet parents I work with so they can check in any time they'd like to.

Be Patient With Your Dog

While dogs are den animals, that doesn't mean they will automatically see the crate as their new favorite place. There are plenty of other cool places they can find around the house to make their own. It will take time for them to get used to all of this crate stuff, so be patient while you're troubleshooting. They want to make you happy, so just stay calm, positive, and focused in the process. 

Crate Training Tips: Problem-Shooting New-Pup Problems