With each adorable puppy antic comes some strange ones - like digging while inside of their crate.
While crate training, this behavior can be pretty annoying and (in severe cases) cause injury to your puppy’s little paws.
Dogs dig in their crates because of their denning instinct. It’s not mandatory to stop this behavior unless it becomes dangerous, but if you want to stop it, focus on redirecting to something productive, keep the temperature comfortable, exercise and mental stimulation, or work with a professional dog trainer.
In this article, I will unveil the mystery behind why your puppy is digging their crate, whether or not this behavior should be stopped, and what you should do next!
Ready? Let’s dive in!
While this behavior may seem bizarre, it does have a significant root in your dog’s ancestral biology.
To take it back several thousands of years, wolves are den animals; they create an underground, enclosed, warm, and comfortable spot to sleep. Considering canines don’t have thumbs to hold tools, their paws do the work of creating a wolf’s sleeping quarters.
This instinct continued to pass down from generation to generation, eventually holding tight in our modern-day domestic dog. Although many wild behaviors became lost in the many years of domestication breeding, biological desires such as digging and being social will never go away.
Your puppy digs in their crate because the crate represents a den. The crate is a warm, dark, cozy spot explicitly made for sleeping and relaxing - mimicking all of the essential characteristics of a good den! Digging can be a way for your puppy to get themselves comfortable, kind of like a bedtime routine.
Paws clawing at the crate floor or bedding can be a way for them to disclose that they’re too warm or too cold, as the instinct to dig is to reshape and restructure their sleeping quarters.
Digging can also signify pent-up energy, adrenaline, or anxiety. Sometimes, digging is seen as an outlet for not getting enough physical or mental stimulation. If it’s an anxious behavior, this could be your puppy attempting to get out of their crate and come be with you.
Whether or not you should stop the digging itself is a bit of a contentious subject. Because digging for comfort or denning is such a natural instinct, some consider it a bit cruel to prevent your puppy from doing something that their ancestors instilled in them.
It would be a bit like telling you to stop sleeping on your side and only sleep on your back. Sure, you can do it, but your body will keep craving sleep in the position you’ve been barred from. Eventually, you will forget about sleeping on your side and only sleep on your back, so there is also that aspect of it.
Now, there can definitely come the point where the crate digging is problematic. If it’s incessant, rapid, fervent, it can be really annoying and not mentally healthy for your puppy.
At that point, it is no longer to make the “den” more comfortable; it’s because of something else. Equally so, certain types of crate digging can cause injury and distress in your pup (they could tear a claw or rub their paws raw). This is why stepping in when the behavior surpasses moderation is pretty important.
Now, if you’ve decided that you need to stop your puppy from digging in their crate, there are a few different methods of doing so.
Granted, a handful of them depend on why your puppy is digging, but these techniques are fairly universal for the most part!
Since the behavior is an instinct and not always a methodical choice, sometimes the best method for prevention is to redirect the digging instinct to something else. Similar to teaching a puppy not to bite, you can replace the digging with a toy to take your dog’s attention away.
You can shove a little stuffy, a puzzle toy, or a kong with something yummy inside to redirect the puppy’s attention to something more appropriate! If you do this often enough, your puppy’s body could even fully forget the digging and start choosing toys over that desire.
Another redirection option is to provide your dog with an appropriate place to dig rather than their crate.
This could be a pile of old towels or a napping bed outside of their crate. This could be a bit tricky, though, as your pup may have a hard time differentiating why a pile of towels is okay to dig, but their bedding in the crate is not - so I suggest leaning towards the first redirection method of using toys or puzzles.
Sometimes, the best method of stopping a behavior is to prevent it from happening in the first place.
If you notice your pup digging to be more comfortable sleeping (such as digging behavior that is immediately followed by spinning in slow circles and then settling down), an improper temperature may trigger the behavior. Going back to dogs digging to restructure their den, temperature is a leading cause of this wanting.
This is somewhat akin to us flipping our pillows over to the cold side when it’s hot or gathering layers of blankets when it’s cold.
Make sure your crate isn’t too hot or cold for your little one to be comfortable in!
If you’ve read several of my articles, you’ll see this piece of advice pop up frequently. Honestly, it’s one of the best ways to quell any disliked behavior!
If your dog has had enough physical exercise and/or mental stimulation, then they are less inclined to show behaviors that aren’t liked.
Each breed and individual dog needs their own amount of exercise. Once you figure out the perfect formula for your puppy, you should see a vast improvement in their overall well-being.
The same goes for mental stimulation, which can be as exhausting (if not moreso) as physical exercise. You can work their brain so easily with just a few minutes a day of trick training or give them puzzle toys with yummy treats inside!
Signing your puppy up for puppy school or sports competition training is another way to offer them both physical exercise and mental stimulation. Giving your dog something to do, similar to giving a child an extracurricular activity, will make them far too tired to do something as silly and trivial as digging in a crate! It also makes for a much happier dog.
Now, if the digging behavior is being triggered by anxiety, that’s a whole different story.
Dogs who suffer from a condition known as separation anxiety will become anxious and panicked when away from you. This can lead to your dog trying to frantically find a way out of their crate, with digging being one of the options. This can be so frantic and frazzled that your dog could seriously injure themselves in the pursuit of escaping.
It is best to consult with a certified dog trainer who has experience with this condition for separation anxiety cases.
Although separation anxiety is a fairly common ailment that plagues dogs worldwide, it can be tricky to overcome without proper knowledge, expertise, and support.
When looking for a trainer, be sure to ask questions about their methods of dealing with separation anxiety, their years of experience, any certifications that can be relevant, and references of past clients.