Updated: Jun 30
You bring home the sweetest, fluffiest doodle puppy in the world. Everything is sunshine and roses until the moment you put your newest buddy into his kennel and close the door. Most puppies have strong objections to being separated from their people and voice these opinions quite loudly!
But as an owner you want to be able to securely confine your puppy when you are not able to watch him/her for his own safety. So what are you supposed to do about all that whining and yelping coming from the crate?
First of all, let’s start by understanding what is likely going through your puppy’s little mind as they bark wildly in their kennel. Your puppy has spent his entire life so far always with his siblings. In a typical litter, puppies play together, eat together, and then pile up to sleep together in a cozy pile of warmth! So as you can imagine, when your new puppy comes home, the changes can be shocking!
Why Puppies Sometimes Cry in Their Crates
The crate certainly seems like a cold, lonely place when you are used to sleeping with (or under or on top of!) all your friends. From day one, puppies use their voice to communicate with their mothers. If the newborn puppy has gotten wedged in an uncomfortable spot or has accidentally gotten separated from the rest of his littermates, he will whine loudly, often resulting in the mother dog nudging him back to the correct spot.
So while your puppy’s cries can be obnoxious, he/she is simply reacting to his basic pack instincts of seeking to be near his pack.
After really contemplating it from your puppy’s perspective, you may be tempted to do away with crate training all together just to make the little guy feel better in the moment. While it may seem tempting to cuddle your puppy to sleep in your own bed, unless you plan to always be by your puppy’s side, we do recommend crate training as at some point he will have to figure out how to be alone when you are at work or away from home.
So when it comes to dealing with your puppy’s crying in the crate, we recommend focusing on building a positive association. One thing to note is whether or not your puppy has been exposed to any type of kennel training during his first 8 weeks with his breeder. Please note that early introduction to crate training is critical. Finding a breeder who exposes a puppy to crates and individual time before they go home definitely puts your pup one step ahead with crate training. If, however, you are starting at square one, not to worry- you will just want to start off gradually.
Without a proper introduction, the crate can automatically be an object of anxiety. It is large, and typically metal so can make loud, unfamiliar noises when bumped or when opening/closing the door. You want to make sure that your pup is relaxed around the crate in general before placing him inside of it.
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So just having the crate in the room and opening and closing the door near your pup to desensitize him to the sound is a good first step. As he approaches to sniff the crate, offer treats to slowly start building a positive association.
On day one, you may simply want to feed your pup in the crate and initially let him sniff the place out without even closing the door. Once he is familiar with the crate, you can start closing him for short periods of time and always reward him with treats upon entering the crate.
Now comes the hard part. Once your pup is comfortable with the sight, sounds, and smells of the crate, it’s time to get serious and ready to hear some whining! Most puppies will object quite loudly, but should settle in under half an hour. Make sure your puppy has had a potty break just before entering the crate as puppies do not like to soil their crates and will protest loudly if they need to potty as well.
If you know your puppy has recently gone potty and is overall comfortable being near the crate, then it is okay to let him bark and whine. He is simply learning how to settle without being with his pack. Your puppy may bark for a while, settle for a minute and then begin barking again. As time goes on, his periods of quiet should lengthen a bit and he will eventually fall asleep.
The key when it comes to whether or not to ignore or respond to your pup’s cries is all in the timing. Consider this example: you put your pup in the crate with a chew treat and they are happily chewing for a few minutes. But then they finish their treat and without the distraction of the treat, they begin to cry. You feel bad for the little guy, and after all he was quiet for at least a few minutes, so you go to let him out. After all, you want to be your puppy's favorite person.
But if you let your pup out immediately upon hearing his cries, he will make the connection that crying in his crate leads to getting out, which is not an ideal lesson for long-term positive results with crate training.
Most of the time we recommend that your pup be settled for 5 or more minutes before being let out of their crate. The most ideal scenario is that your pup cries for a bit, but settles in under 30 minutes and falls asleep. Then you as the owner decide when to get your pup out — it’s okay to wake them after a while and take them out of their crate. This way your pup is learning that you as the owner set the boundaries about crate time, not the other way around.
However, it’s not always so simple, and there are times that we do recommend responding to your puppy’s cries in their crate. If your puppy has been barking with no signs of settling for over thirty minutes, it may be time to reevaluate. Some puppies with a higher degree of separation anxiety may just continue escalating rather than slowly settling. In this case, you do want to eventually respond to their cries to avoid them developing a strong negative association with the crate.
If your puppy is showing no signs of slowing down, it is okay to get them out to reset and try again later. (You can learn more about what age puppies are most difficult here.) You may need to work backwards and gradually work your way to longer crate times.
This may look like feeding treats in the crate with the door open while petting the puppy and simply timing crate sessions for the length of time you feel comfortable with (we recommend starting with 30 minutes) and letting the puppy out after this duration each time. This way the puppy does not become too stressed in his crate, but should also slowly recognize that you are still determining when he comes out of his crate, and that his barking is not the determining factor.
There is some trial and error involved. Some puppies settle more quickly if they are near their humans and can still see and hear them. This helps them know they are not totally alone and helps them get used to separation in smaller degrees.
Other puppies seem to have quite the opposite reaction and bark all the louder when they can see their people as it seems to frustrate them that they are missing out on activity in the household! If this is the case with your doodle, you can try covering his crate with a blanket to see if he settles more quickly without being visually stimulated. In general, we do find that puppies settle more easily at night if they are in the same room as their owners.
Regardless of whether your pup seems to be catching on easily to crate-training or not, continue working on building positive associations whenever possible. We recommend always feeding your puppy meals in his crate as one reliable, daily positive association. Also, if you have certain high-value treats that your pup seems to especially enjoy, save those just for crate time. Longer lasting chews or puzzle toys filled with treats are a good option for giving your pup something to do in his crate.
Keeping busy with food will help build a positive association and distract him from his separation woes. We came up with a handy new puppy owner checklist you can use.
Ignore Your Puppy's Crate Crying for at Least a Few Hours
Finally, as your puppy starts to be able to stay in his crate for longer periods of time, it is okay to respond to his cries after a nap time or being asleep for a few hours at night. At 8 weeks of age, your puppy’s bladder is quite small and the vast majority of puppies cannot make it through the night without needing a potty break.
So while you want your puppy to initially settle and not be let out immediately upon whining, it is important that you do respond if your puppy wakes a couple hours later. If your puppy wakes after a few hours at night, take him out for a potty break, and immediately put him back in the crate. Keep nighttime potty breaks quiet, dark and boring so that your pup learns to only alert you when he really needs to go.
Crate training is not for the faint of heart, but with consistency, your puppy will learn that the crate is a safe spot for resting. Your hard work and consistency (ignoring their cries) will pay off when your dog is able to be at ease while separated from you. This skill is of great benefit for both of you in the long run.
Once your puppy has fully adapted to his crate, you will often find him choosing to rest or nap in his crate of his own accord. When you have to leave your pup at home, he will know his crate is for resting quietly and be able to remain calm and safe while you are gone.
Jenna and the JLDD Team