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More Crate Training Problems! 4.5 Month Black Labrador Retriever X

Was Okay In Crate But Anxious/Fearful And Hates It Now

A crate for high anxiety escapersOur dog crated very well after adoption (8 weeks) would voluntarily go to crate at night, would whine when he needed out for a “potty” break. Night time crate in the master bedroom. During the day (whole family home during Covid Quarantine) he never wanted to go into the crate we have placed in the family room, but a puppy kong filled with Peanut Butter would persuade him.

He would stay in the crate as long as there was PB to eat, we started with the door open & at least one person in the room with him, moving to door closed & someone in the room & then to door closed & people moving in & out of the room. He would start yipping & crying as soon as the PB was gone but we were working on adding time to how long we would let him cry before we let him out (only letting him out when he had stopped crying, we didn’t want him to learn that crying meant we would come get him!).

About 2 days ago he started refusing to go in the crate. He will run away when I show him his Kong full of peanut butter & switching treats to a bully stick didn’t work either. He went into the crate after the bully stick & my son quickly closed the door, unfortunately with the latch caught on the wrong side. When he cracked the door to grab the latch, the puppy (already 40lbs!) barreled out the door & now cuts through the opposite side of the room to avoid the crate. (He will happily take the kong filled with PB in a different location, so it isn’t the Kong or the treat, just that he associates them with the crate time!!)

As far as anyone knows, nothing traumatic happened the last time he was in the crate, just business as usual. He does go to a “doggie daycare” for a few hours a few times a week for socialization purposes & they crate for meals & say that he cries to get out as soon as he is done eating, but again, no overt issues recently to change his behavior. We trust the daycare, & know they would report any problems.

He is no longer crating at night, about 2 weeks ago when he had consistently been sleeping through the night with no need to go outside he started sleeping in my son’s room with a baby gate at the door.

Unfortunately our house is very much an open floor plan & there is really no safe place to leave him once we all return to work & school, so we have to figure out how to get him back into the crate, so any advice you may have is appreciated!



Dear Jenni

Nothing in what you’ve written indicates that there was any formal crate training attempted, either at the breeders (the people that are supposed to do this so you don’t have these problems) or when you became his trainer/owner. As a result, I suspect, because dogs recognize patterns you’ve likely unintentionally allowed him to let him teach himself to be crate aversive/anxious.

Here are the most common causes of this sort of problem.

  1. Lazy breeder (doesn’t introduce crates around mother and littermates during his imprint period.
  2. Owner doesn’t learn how to formerly and correctly crate train a puppy.
  3. Owner uses the internet or an amateur dog trainer or an unqualified veterinarian or vet tech’s advice.

When he whined (shows anxiety) you let him out. Understandable, but with little else for him to go on he learned that being anxious enough led to reward (release). Being in crate bad. Anxiety might be a natural enough reaction to begin with, but, for a smart dog, it then becomes a tool, then it becomes a habit (behavior loop). It often ends up causing other problems down the road.

The Kong and peanut butter is not in itself a bad idea but it’s one of the superficial ‘crate-training’ strategies recommended by the plethora of amateur dog trainers that people end up getting their guidance. It leave far too much to chance. Keep in mind, these amateurs sometimes profess to earn their living as trainers (rarely the truth, most are part timers and would starve if they had to rely on referrals to pay the rent). Equally guilty are the equally well meaning, but still completely unqualified veterinarians or a vet techs never hesitant to add their superficial two-cents.

Not all dogs need a ton of attention when it comes to crate training. But, most need some and as most people have no way of predicting whether they need to make the effort or not, I advise all my clients to make the effort to learn how to properly crate train their dogs.

Proper crate training requires lots of positive associations. However, a better one than the Kong is lots of early life positive and neutral exposures inside the crate to counter the inevitable negative associations. If the majority experience is negative . . .

Ideally pups should at first be exposed to crates in increments. For example, in proximity to their mothers, with litter mates. Use the bottom as a feeding station, nap area, toy storage etc. Add a lid later, a door later still. Once home with you; beside your bed at night and here and there throughout the day with you in sight (assuming the dog sees you as more than just a roommate.) These are just a few of the things I advise my clients so that their dogs end up seeing the crate as a sanctuary.

However, it also requires (in spite of what the aforementioned amateurs advise) learning to control anxiety via the supervision and guidance of a loving authority figure that occasionally tells them to, “Suck it up buttercup!”.

Due to this ‘All Positive/Purely Positive/Force-Free/Never Say No/R+…’, treat, treat, treat nonsense propagated by the amateurs very few dogs learn to exercise self-control and end up living under house-arrest and unnecessarily having issues such as you’re struggling.

Disney movies are not documentaries. Amateur dog trainers have companion dog owners afraid to convey ‘No’ out of fear they’ll wreck their puppy’s self-esteem and embrace the every puppy gets a trophy nonsense the amateur suggest.

Nothing the matter with ‘No’, if you learn how to convey it in a way that your dog comes away understanding, ‘You’re not bad. I’m not bad. It’s this piece of your behavior that is bad.” That’s not a correction. That’s teaching. ‘All Positive/Purely Positive/Force-Free/Never Say No/R+…’, treat, treat, treat or ‘Might Is Right’, Alpha, Pack Leader, Dominant (Yank and Crank) nonsense isn’t teaching, it’s pseudo-science.

You may find ways to work around his aversion to a crate but I would advise you see if you can turn this around and  for reasons beyond house training and destructive chewing concerns. I have found in many cases these sort of issues turn into other issues so I’d suggest at the very least doing a little reading.

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