The Dog Charmer: Making a crate into a den

The Dog Charmer

Making a crate into a den

Hi Tom,

I have a 15-week-old mini aussie doodle whom I adopted at 13 weeks. The first two weeks were fairly smooth until he developed what seems like a sudden fear of his crate.

He won’t go in at bedtime he cries and screams like it’s the end of the world (he has a soft bed, puppy chew toys, a snuggle puppy in the crate, I’ve added a t-shirt with my scent, covered the crate with a blanket, and tried playing soothing music). Nothing seems to help even though his crate is next to my bed.

Any suggestions to help him get over his fear of what should be one of the happiest places on earth?

Thank you!

Anjali & Pharaoh

Tom Shelby,
The Dog Charmer
Cooperstown author answers pet owners questions on training their dogs. E-mail your questions to

Dear Anjali,

You’re absolutely right, his crate should be one of the “happiest places on earth!”

The crate should represent a den to accommodate a dog’s den instinct. It will be the first place for him to develop holding power to avoid soiling his den. The expression “dirty dog” comes from a dog that soils his den and still lies in it. Dogs can be made dirty by careless owners, but few dogs do this on their own.

It’s not worth the effort to try to figure out what turned his 15-week mind off to the crate. It’s already a done deal. The thing to do now is change his attitude.

If he’s still being fed three times a day, please give him two of his meals in the crate. First with the crate door open and the bowl right at the entrance to the crate.

Then feed with the bowl just inside the crate with Pharaoh standing outside but leaning in to eat.

With success building on success you’re moving the bowl further into the crate until he’s enjoying his meal fully inside his den. Crate door stays open while eating unless he’s ok with it closed at this point.

If the only time on planet earth he gets pieces of chicken or steak is when little pieces are thrown into the crate, it’s likely to give him a more positive attitude toward being there.

If possible, make the crate floor the most comfortable spot in the room. The doodle in him will appreciate it!

The moment you see him go in there on his own, I suggest you exclaim how overwhelmed you are with gratitude and love by giving him some of those “special” treats (in the crate of course). Give him vocabulary by saying, “Go to your house,” or whatever you choose. Then toss some of those special treats in and watch him charge inside.

Whenever you close the door to confine him, the moment after the door closes a special treat gets tossed into each of the four sides of the crate and you walk away. The toy ball that dispenses treats (not meat) as it gets knocked around is ideal for confinement, plus a good chew toy.

Socializing him to the real world will vastly increase his confidence with everything, and this crate fear blip should become just that, a past blip.

Good luck and please keep me abreast of your progress.

Dog Charmer

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