Sleeping in a Crate. How Long is Too Long for Your Dog?

Introduction

Crate training is commonly used with dogs to provide a safe space and a place for containment or confinement. It involves teaching a dog to see a crate as their personal den and to feel comfortable spending time inside it. Crates are often used for house training purposes, to prevent destructive behaviors when a dog is alone, and to give dogs a sense of security in an unfamiliar place like a hotel or when traveling. Some owners also use crates to limit a dog’s access to certain areas for short periods of time (AKC).

However, crate training is controversial and opinions differ on whether it is humane. Critics argue that confining a dog for long periods can be cruel and stressful. They say dogs should not be confined to small spaces and crates should only be used sparingly, if at all. But proponents say when done properly, crate training can give dogs a place of refuge and it does not need to be restrictive. They emphasize crates should be seen as dens, not cages, and should never be used punitively (PAWS).

Benefits of Crate Training

Crate training provides many benefits for both puppies and adult dogs. According to the AKC, crates give dogs a sense of security by providing them with their own safe, enclosed space https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/why-crate-training-is-great-for-your-dog/. When introduced properly, most dogs will learn to view their crate as a comfortable retreat for sleeping or just relaxing.

a puppy relaxing in its crate

Additionally, crating prevents destructive behaviors by limiting access to objects and areas when unsupervised. By confining the dog to a crate, you can ensure your home and belongings stay intact while you are away https://www.paws.org/resources/the-benefits-of-crate-training/. Proper crate training teaches dogs to wait calmly until it is time for their next outdoor potty break or play/training session.

Crate training also assists greatly with house training puppies. Dogs have a natural instinct to keep their dens clean, so they will try to hold their bladder and bowels while in the crate. This allows you to establish a predictable routine for when they need to relieve themselves outside.

Finally, crates provide the dog with a familiar, cozy space when traveling. The crate helps reduce stress and gives them a secure place to rest during car rides, at hotels, or other novel environments.

Potential Drawbacks of Overusing a Crate

Although crate training provides many benefits, overusing a crate can lead to some potential drawbacks, including:

a dog exhibiting signs of separation anxiety

Separation Anxiety – Dogs are social animals that thrive on companionship. Keeping a dog crated for excessively long periods can increase separation anxiety and fears of being alone (https://www.3lostdogs.com/dog-crates-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/). This may result in whining, barking, howling or other distress behaviors.

Fear and Stress – Forcing a dog to spend too much time confined can cause fear, anxiety, and chronic stress. Dogs need environmental enrichment. Without sufficient physical and mental stimulation, they may develop boredom, frustration, and depression (https://petprosupplyco.com/blogs/blog/how-long-is-too-long-to-crate-your-dog).

Space Constraints – Crates should allow enough room for a dog to stand, turn around, and lie down comfortably. If the crate is too small for the dog’s size, it can create discomfort, cramping, and aggressive behaviors (https://moderndogmagazine.com/articles/do-we-crate-too-much/130853).

Ideal Duration for Crates

The ideal duration for crating a dog depends on the dog’s age and tolerance levels:

Puppies under 3 months should not be crated for more than 2-3 hours at a time, as they cannot control their bladder and bowels for longer periods. Puppies 3-6 months can handle 3-4 hours in a crate as they gain more control over their bodily functions.[1]

Older puppies 6-12 months have more energy and can be crated during the day for 3-6 hours at a time. However, they still need ample opportunity to exercise and play. [1]

Adult dogs over 1 year old can typically stay in a crate for up to 8 hours during the day, as long as they get proper exercise before and after. However, every dog has different needs – some may only tolerate 4-6 hours. Pay attention to signs of restlessness or distress.[2]

At night, puppies and dogs should not be crated for more than 6-7 hours, as they need consistent opportunities to relieve themselves outside. Adult dogs can hold their bladders longer at night.

Ultimately, crate duration depends on the individual dog’s age, bladder control, exercise needs, and tolerance. Exceeding their limits can lead to restlessness, anxiety, and accidents.

an adult dog resting comfortably in its crate

Transitioning Out of the Crate

The key to successfully transitioning your dog out of the crate is to take things slowly and make the process gradual. You don’t want to go from full-time crating to complete free roaming overnight. Instead, you’ll want to slowly increase your dog’s freedom and independence.

A good first step is to confine your dog to one room only while you’re gone, instead of crating them. Choose a safe room like the kitchen or hallway, that is easy to puppy-proof and doesn’t have anything too valuable your dog could destroy. Keep the crate open with the door removed so your dog still has the option to retreat to their safe space if needed. Only leave them for short periods at first, like 30 minutes, and slowly build up the time.

The next stage is to allow your dog some supervised exploration of other areas of your home, while you are present. Let them wander and get used to being out of the crate, but keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t get into trouble. This will help them learn what areas and items are off-limits.

Transitioning slowly while increasing freedom over time will set your dog up for success. The key is patience, supervision, and setting appropriate boundaries. Eventually your dog will earn free roaming privileges, but it’s a process. The American Kennel Club recommends waiting until your dog is past the chewing and destructive puppy stage, around 10-14 months old, before leaving them loose and unconfined.

Signs Your Dog is Ready

There are a few key signs that indicate your dog is ready to stop using the crate regularly and transition to being left out unsupervised for periods of time. According to WikiHow, one major sign is that your dog is at least 1-2 years old. Puppies tend to be the most destructive during their first couple of years, so keeping them crated prevents issues. Additionally, Spirit Dog Training notes that if your dog has gone two months or more without having an accident in the house, that is a good indicator they are ready for more freedom.

Specifically, there are three main signs to look out for:

– Your dog is no longer destructive when left uncrated. They do not chew, scratch, or otherwise damage furniture, walls, floors, etc. This shows they can be trusted not to get into mischief.

– Your dog is house trained and not having accidents. If they can go several hours without needing to go potty, they likely don’t need the crate confinement anymore.

– Your dog seems comfortable being alone. They do not seem stressed out, anxious, or upset when you leave. They are confident in themselves and can self-soothe.

If your mature dog exhibits these behaviors consistently, it is a clear sign they are ready for you to start leaving them out of the crate for short periods. You can then gradually increase the time based on their progress.

Crating Alternatives

If your dog struggles with being crated or you would prefer not to crate them, there are some alternatives to try. Some options include using dog gates, confining your dog to a single room, or providing increased exercise and stimulation.

a dog standing next to a baby gate

Dog gates can allow you to restrict your dog’s access while still giving them some freedom. You can use gates to block off areas like the kitchen or living room. This allows them access to larger spaces in your home rather than being confined to a crate [1]. Make sure to fully dog-proof the area so they can’t get into anything dangerous.

You can also confine your dog to a single dog-proofed room like the kitchen, laundry room, or spare bedroom. This gives them more space to move around while keeping them safely contained. Be sure to remove anything they could destroy or that could harm them [2].

Increasing exercise and providing stimulating activities is another alternative. Dogs that get adequate physical and mental exercise are less likely to get into trouble when left uncrated. Make sure to meet their exercise needs with walks, play time, or obedience training before leaving them out [3].

Special Cases

Some dogs may need special considerations when it comes to crate training and determining the ideal duration of crating. This includes dogs with separation anxiety, adopted adult dogs, and high energy breeds.

Dogs with separation anxiety can become especially distressed when confined in a crate. It’s important to create positive associations with the crate through treats, toys, and your presence. Consider crating for shorter durations and provide plenty of exercise beforehand. Anti-anxiety products like pheromone diffusers or CBD oil may also help anxious dogs feel more comfortable in their crate.

Adopted adult dogs may not be accustomed to crates if they did not have previous crate training. Go slowly with crate introduction and make sure the crate is a place of comfort. Adopted dogs benefit from the security and den-like environment crates provide, but forcing a crate on an untrained adult dog can lead to fear and anxiety. Gauge each individual dog’s tolerance.

High energy breeds like border collies, jack russell terriers, and australian shepherds need sufficient physical and mental stimulation before crating. Without an outlet for their energy, they are more prone to boredom and destructive behavior in the crate. Make sure high energy dogs get adequate exercise and enrichment before any lengthy crating periods.

Setting Your Dog Up for Success

To help your dog get comfortable with the crate and create positive associations, it’s important to set them up for success by:

  • Making the crate comfortable – Provide a soft blanket or bedding that has your dog’s scent on it so they feel relaxed. You can include safe chew toys to occupy them. According to The Humane Society, the crate should allow room for your dog to stand, turn around, and lie down comfortably.
  • Providing toys/chews – Giving your dog a puzzle toy stuffed with treats or a long-lasting chew helps relieve boredom and anxiety in the crate. Rotate different toys to keep things interesting.
  • Creating positive associations – Feed your dog their meals in the crate with the door open so they associate it with good things. Give treats for voluntarily entering the crate. Never use the crate for punishment.

Making sure your dog has a comfortable crate filled with toys and treats will help them adjust to spending time confined while preventing anxiety or destructive behaviors.

Conclusion

The ideal time to stop crating your dog depends on the individual dog’s needs, abilities, and behaviors. Some key points to consider are:

  • Crates provide benefits like potty training, preventing destructive behaviors, and easing anxiety. However, they should not be used excessively as dogs need space and exercise.
  • Most puppies can stop being crated at night by 4-6 months old and can transition to free roaming of the home by 8-12 months old, once housetrained and past the destructive chewing phase.
  • Signs your puppy is ready to stop crating include being able to hold their bladder for over 4 hours, not having accidents in the house, and not chewing inappropriate items when briefly left alone.

For adult dogs, aim to crate for less than 8 hours per day. High energy breeds often need crating until 2 years old. If adopting an adult dog, crating can help them adjust but should be phased out once the dog is comfortable and well-behaved.

If crate training is not ideal for your dog’s wellbeing, consider confining them to a dog-proofed room or using baby gates instead. Be patient and keep trying shorter stints in the crate until your dog is happy and relaxed inside it.

With proper crate training and management, you can set your dog up for success and help them transition to free range of your home when the time is right.

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