Crate training is arguably one of the top contentious subjects in dog husbandry and care, primarily revolving around the ability to misuse this otherwise useful tool.
Some might find their dog’s crate to be a cozy den for your beloved pup, while others see crate training as a prison. But really, it’s only a prison if you crate your dog for too long!
During daytime, puppies that are less than 6 months old shouldn’t be crated for longer than four hours at a time, while healthy adult dogs (that are comfortable with a crate) can be crated for up to 8 hours. Overnight, both adult dogs and puppies can be crated for 10 - 12 hours.
In this article, I’ll explain exactly why the recommended time in the crate is the way it is. I’ll also go over whether it is cruel to crate your dog while at work or during the night, as well as whether or not you should put a water bowl in there.
Ready? Let’s start.
How long is considered too long to leave your furry friend in a crate depends on a few key factors.
Let’s start with puppies and work our way up!
Puppies can’t hold their bladder very well because they’re, well, puppies!
Puppies haven’t yet developed the capability of holding it until you let them out. As such, it’s best to irk on the side of caution regarding crate time and leave them in there for less time if possible.
This is especially prevalent if you are still potty training your puppy. You don’t want them having accidents in their crate.
Although the amount of time it is a good idea to leave your puppy in a crate will differ with every person you ask, the general consensus (as established by the Humane Society) is that a puppy should not be left in a crate for longer than four hours.
Now, a puppy can usually only hold their bladder for about one hour per month of age. For example, if your puppy is three months old, they can only go three hours before having an accident. This is a great reference point in determining how long your puppy can stay crated.
Adult dogs are a bit of a different story.
Most healthy adult dogs are great at controlling their bladders and can “hold it” for much longer than puppies. This opens the door pretty wide to various crating hours but can also lead to misuse of the crate.
As a general statement, adult dogs can stay in a crate for up to eight hours (or half a day).
However, dogs that end up crated for eight hours need to be provided with ample exercise and opportunity to engage in good physical activity, as too much sedentary time can lead to health implications and behavioral implications.
Now, just because a dog can stay in a crate for eight hours doesn’t mean it necessarily should on a regular basis, but this depends heavily on the dog and the answers to the above questions in this section.
If you have a rather lazy dog, your pup will likely sleep and not even notice that the crate door has been closed. But if you have an active breed such as a border collie, an every-day eight-hour crating session during daytime hours may not be such a great idea.
Every action has a reaction, and crating time is no different; leaving your dog in a crate for too long can lead to some unfortunate consequences.
To start, the crate will be undermined as a training tool if your dog begins to resent it, and the fastest way to cause a dog to resent their crate is by leaving them trapped in there for way too long. If the clock reaches eight hours on your adult dog, you definitely need to let them out!
Secondly, puppies can have a tough time with housebreaking if you leave them in the crate long enough to have an accident. The premise of potty training is to teach the dog the appropriate place to relieve themselves when they feel the urge to go!
If a dog is crated for too long without sufficient exercise or ability to, well, be a dog, this can lead to behavioral issues in your pup.
Dogs can develop anxiety at being left alone locked up, which can manifest in behaviors none of us want to see - chewing, panicking, barking, and more.
With survival mode on, a dog can survive about two to three days without water - but as loving dog owners, we would never inflict that kind of suffering upon your pups! For health and comfort, dogs should have an ounce of water for every pound of body weight throughout the day.
Puppies and young dogs should be drinking approximately every few hours. In contrast, healthy adult dogs can go six to ten hours without facing dehydration effects.
If your dog has medical conditions, this time period changes (typically needing water more frequently).
How does this factor in with crating your dog? Well, you shouldn’t crate your dog for longer than your dog is comfortable, and drinking water is a massive part of that. With a dog’s body being made up of 70% water, your four-legged friend must be adequately hydrated.
So, should you just stick water in the crate and be done with it? Not exactly.
It is discouraged to leave water in a crate for puppies because of their lack of bladder control; taking sips of water can quickly turn into needing to pee, and they may relieve themselves in their crate.
This can make housebreaking very difficult! But on that same token, puppies should not be left in a crate for a very long time, so they’ll be okay without water for the few hours they are in there.
Adult housebroken dogs can be given water in their crate, especially if you live in a hotter climate. They should have regular access to water.
However, if your dog has a medical condition that causes them to over-drink water, then you should probably either limit the amount of water given in the crate or remove the water from the crate.
The cruelty aspect of crating a dog typically comes from our own human emotions and less of the dog’s emotions. We humanize our best friends naturally, so locking them away may feel like we’re doing a disservice to our companions - when, in fact, they may not mind it all that much.
The crate is to mimic a den, something for the dog to feel secure and comfortable in. When properly acclimated to a crate, and assuming you had chosen the right size crate, your dog should feel very secure and content in there!
As such, locking your dog up in a crate while at work isn’t cruel at all.
However, if your dog feels anxious, stressed, or uncomfortable in a crate, that’s a different story. Putting your dog in a situation that causes immense stress can be cruel, and as such, you should work on crate training before leaving your dog locked up for a full workday.
If your dog can’t handle being crated for a full workday, book a pet sitter to come care for your pup mid-day!
Much like crating a dog while at work, it’s not cruel to crate a dog all night - unless you abuse the privilege.
Dogs have a very similar physiological response as humans to nighttime endeavors, their bladders don’t need to be relieved as frequently. As such, you can safely keep your dog crated at night while you both get some much-needed sleep.
However, if your dog is crated all night and you don’t let the dog out when you wake up and start doing your morning routine… that can start bordering on misuse depending on how long you “forget” your pup in the crate.
Your dog shouldn’t be stuck in a crate consistently all night, and well through the day, they need time to be free of the crate and stretch their legs!