How Kennel Training Helps a Puppy Get Over Fear of the Crate

By: David Codr

Published Date: January 1, 2017


Duke is a nine-week-old Weimaraner puppy who was brought to his Omaha home at seven weeks (Which is one week too early – NEVER remove a puppy from his mother and litter mates before 8 weeks unless there is no other option). His guardians set up a puppy training session with me to do some kennel training, help with potty training, nipping and basic commands.

Duke met me at the door along with his new roommate Lexi, an adult Weimaraner who has been with the family for years. Duke showed a confident personality, coming over to investigate me and give me a good sniff. Lexi on the other hand showed a little bit of hesitancy and cautiousness and barked in an alarming fashion.

After giving both dogs an opportunity to give me a good sniff and move away, I grabbed a seat in the living room with the dog’s guardians to discuss what they wanted to accomplish in our session.

I had already covered a lot of puppy socialization tips during the phone call where we booked our session. I wanted to make sure that the family had downloaded the critical socialization checklist from the post on the Quest Ed section of our website.

The Critical Socialization Period is the most important developmental stage that a puppy goes through. It is during this period of time that the pup learns about the world and those experiences determine what kind of a dog it grows up to be.

I wasn’t present or familiar with Lexi during her puppy stage, but based on her anxiety and cautiousness, I would guess that she was not socialized sufficiently as a puppy. When a dog does not get a lot of socialization experience around new people, animals, places and things, they are naturally wary of them for the rest of their life.

One of the drawbacks to getting a puppy in the winter in the midwest is a lack of socialization options outside due to the cold weather. There are still options like dog friendly stores like Lowes and Home Depot, but nowhere near the options you have in the spring, summer or fall. So if you are planning on getting a puppy and live in a cold weather state, I’d strongly recommend you get a pup in the spring or summer instead.

I recommended that the family set a goal of trying to knock out a good 10 to 15 socialization experiences every day for the next three weeks. Because it will be difficult for them to get through everything on the list, I recommended that they create a new column in the Excel version of the list (you can download it from this page) and prioritize activities and experiences that the pup is most likely to be exposed to for the rest of his life.

The Critical Socialization Period ends somewhere between 12 and 14 weeks. Since you don’t get an indicator, I put all my efforts into getting through all the most common experiences on the list until the puppy is 12 weeks and consider weeks 13 & 14 as a bonus.

I also recommended that they make use of the Quest Ed section of my website as there are a number of puppy training tips and puppy training secrets in detailed videos that walk you through how to make sure that your puppy grows up to be a well mannered and confident adult.

Next we addressed a number of common puppy training issues; potty training, jumping up, petting the dog to reward desired behaviors, play between the dogs and nipping / mouthing.

Some of these issues are best handled by other dogs and puppies. For that reason I strongly suggested that the guardians enroll Duke in our puppy socialization class so that we can help with some basic puppy obedience and ensure that Duke is exposed to new puppies so that he can develop his own social skills and experience.

One of the behaviors that was causing his guardians a lot of distress was his aggressive mouthing and nipping. One of the things that I learned while researching puppy behavior is that many puppies will get extra mouthy or nippy when they are overtired and in need of a nap.

This led the conversation to something we had started discussing over the phone when we booked to the session; setting up a puppy playpen.

Many people believe that the best way to kennel train a puppy is to simply put it inside and then wait for it to stop whimpering and learn to deal with it. While this technique can be successful with a small number of dogs, for most puppies it will result in them developing a negative perception of the kennel. That was absolutely the case here with Duke.

Making matters worse, after an evening of listing to Duke cry and whimper throughout the night, the guardians finally caved in and let him out of the kennel to sleep in their bedroom with them.

While this is a short term solution to the immediate problem, it creates others that are more challenging to solve. Not only does the puppy not learn to relax in the kennel, it is taught that the best way to get your way is to whimper, cry and make a fuss until the humans give in. This is a very dangerous precedent to set with a puppy.

A few years ago I developed a technique to help dogs and puppies learn to be calm and relax in a kennel. I spent the next few minutes demonstrating this technique for Duke’s guardians.

In this crate training exercise, the only way that the puppy can exit the kennel is by laying down. Of course the puppy doesn’t know this when you first start. This is why Duke protested so much, well that and the fact that his guardians had let him out of the kennel for whimpering before.

But by leaving the kennel door open, and blocking it with my legs, it was a different situation and scenario that what Duke had previously experienced. It wasn’t easy. Prior to today’s session the longest that her dog had held out before laying down was 45 minutes.

Well Duke broke that record and then some. I had to outlast him for nearly an hour and 15 minutes. That was quite a battle but in the end, Duke laid down in the kennel completely calm and stopped whimpering. As soon as he did, I immediately dropped to a knee and gave him the come command and let him exit the kennel. Consistently letting the puppy out the instant it stops protesting is how we teach it that being calm in the kennel is how it can get out.

I recommend that his guardians practice the same exercise a few times until Duke starts laying down in the kennel within about 15-30 seconds. Once this is the case, then you need to start increasing the amount of time you wait before calling the puppy or dog out of the kennel. The idea is to help them gradually progress into staying in the kennel in a completely calm state of mind for longer and longer periods of time.

However, in this situation, Duke’s guardians will likely not have to go through that process. They had decided to take my advice and set up a puppy playpen in a low traffic area of their home. Duke will likely whimper a bit the first few times they leave him in there but eventually he will understand that they are not going to let him exit by whimpering which will cause the crying to stop. Because he is not confined to such a small area, Duke will learn that the puppy play area is really just his bedroom.

I really can’t understate how beneficial setting up a puppy playpen is. I’ve raised a number of pups over the years and can tell you without a doubt that I will never raise another puppy without having a puppy playpen.


  • Each family member helps expose Duke to 5 items on Critical Socialization checklist every day until he is 14 weeks.
  • Set up puppy play pen with kennel inside and door to kennel always open.
  • Start feeding Duke out of treat or toy dispensing toys (List of toys can be found here)
  • Do not pet puppy when it jumps up or engages in any unwanted action or behavior.
  • Say command word when puppy starts to eliminate and immediately after finishing.
  • Pet / reward after pup does any desired behavior while saying the command word (Here, sit, crash, up).
  • Interrupt dogs when playing gets too intense or rough.
  • Get a variety of appropriate chew toys for Duke.
  • Make sure dogs are monitored if they have any high value items (bully sticks, Himalayan chew, etc) to ensure no conflicts pop up.
  • Yelp loudly and freeze whenever Duke’s teeth tough a human’s skin.
  • Consider how long its been since Duke had a nap when overly mouthy or nippy.
  • All humans should have a chew item in their pocket at all times so they can offer it to Duke if he gets mouthy.
  • Introduce Carrots to help redirect Duke from chewing the wrong things.
  • Practice tossing treats into kennel and say command word when Duke gets it.
  • Leave treats or toys inside the kennel when puppy is away.
  • Tie a marrow bone or other high value item to back of kennel.
  • Enroll in the Dog Gone Problems puppy socialization class.


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This post was written by: David Codr