Your crate training days are over - Fido loves their crate!
You can leave your pup in it for hours with no worries. But you might feel you did your job a little too well. Because now your dog stays in their crate most of the time!
If you ever wondered why that is, here it is in a nutshell:
A crate mimics a den, which is why dogs like them so much. Dogs that like relaxing rest their minds, avoid interaction, get old, have nothing better to do, find themselves afraid of something, or don’t feel well will spend most of their time inside a crate.
In this article, I will explore the various reasons your dog may be spending their days in a crate by choice and whether or not you should let sleeping dogs lie or be concerned!
Ready? Let’s dive in.
The biggest reason your dog prefers to stay in their crate is that the crate mimics a den - which is what every crate behavior stems from (assuming you have successfully crate trained your pup).
What is a den? A den is kind of burrow; it’s dark, has a comfortable temperature, and is cozy.
Since the dawn of canid kind, dens have served as a place to hide, sleep, and raise puppies. To this day, you can see wolves, wild dogs, and other members of the Canidae family using dens.
Although our furry friends have been removed from their wild ancestors for thousands of years, this love of dens was an instinct that never did quite go away.
A dog crate does a great job of mimicking a den, albeit in a very domestic sense. A crate cover makes it nice and dark. Our homes tend to be very comfortable temperature-wise (therefore keeping the crate comfortable). We usually throw in some nice bedding to make the crate floor soft if we feel like it.
Although our dog crates aren’t underground, they still offer our four-legged friends the same kind of privacy (especially if we follow the rule of not disturbing our dogs when they lie in the crate).
As such, our dogs will choose their crate over and over again if we properly get them to like their crate.
If you have a lazy pup or one that values relaxation above all, this could be a big reason why your dog prefers the crate to doing literally anything else.
The crate is their zen-space, and if you threw in some blankets, pillows, and/or toys, then you’ve officially made it heaven.
As such, your pup’s absence from the living room to hang out in the crate may be nothing more than them enjoying a good place to relax. Take it as a compliment; you’ve done a great crate training job!
Life is exhausting, especially for a dog’s brain.
If your household is very stimulating, whether it be from children running around noisily or other pets, Scruffy might be retreating to the crate to rest their mind.
You can especially guess this is why your dog goes to the crate of their own choice after a training or puzzle toy session. Mental fatigue is a real thing!
You see, mental stimulation for a dog can be just as, if not more so, exhausting than physical exercise. When they use their brain muscles to analyze, understand, and respond to the world around them, it can be overwhelming, and the muscles need a detox.
Going into the crate where the dog has some quiet time is a very positive choice your dog has made. This allows them to rest their minds and come back out for more playtime when ready.
If you did crate training the right way, then you probably know the fundamental rule of “don’t forcefully drag the dog out of their crate” (excluding emergency situations, of course).
Your dog needs a space that is all their own, and invading that space is a violation of that rule. As such, your pup may be spending time in their crate to avoid disturbances - such as you!
Don’t take that offensively; some dogs just really do prefer their peaceful alone time.
Your dog learns by the actions you set - when your pup understands that they won’t be pestered in their crate, they may be going in there to not be disturbed. It may not even be your disturbance they are avoiding. If you live in a multiple dog household, they might just be getting some alone time away from the other dogs.
The older the dog, the more they sleep, lounge, and get cranky. Sounds a lot like people, doesn’t it?
If your dog is a senior, they may just really appreciate the alone time paired with the strong desire to sleep for more hours than ever before. This isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm; it’s just a senior dog doing their senior thing.
It’s a good idea, however, to keep a little journal of your old dog’s daily behavior - so that you can immediately pick up on any signs of something being out-of-the-normal.
A break in a routine is a sign that something could be aching for old dogs, and it is best to have that checked out right away.
Some dogs choose destruction when they’re bored; others choose sleep!
If your pup isn’t the chewing type and would rather nap to get out of their lack-of-stuff-to-do, then they might opt for spending excessive amounts of time in their crate. This is especially true for younger dogs that should have a lot more energy than sleeping in a crate all day long!
To keep them from stowing away in the crate for tremendous hours, organize your schedule to spend quality time with your pup and give them something beneficial to do. Playtime, training sessions, good ol’ fashioned walks, and some puzzle toys should do the trick nicely.
Sometimes, spending hours in the crate isn’t good for some of the above reasons.
If your dog had never done this before and suddenly started, this might be because they are afraid of something. Start looking back at what changed in your home before this new behavior.
When dogs are afraid of something, they tap into a biological instinct that all animal life on earth has: fight or flight.
We have it, too, just not in the same exact way. Fight or flight refers to the decision an animal makes when frightened, which is to either fight the threat or run away from it. If you have a more submissive or not-very-confident dog, they may choose to run.
By nature, animals run to the place they feel the safest, and for your dog, this is going to be a crate. If whatever is scaring them is somewhere in the home and they continuously bump into it, this may cause your dog to hide in their crate for prolonged periods.
This fear can also cause them to forfeit eating, drinking, or going to the bathroom to stay in the crate. If you notice any of these signs, that is cause for concern. Try to pinpoint what it is that could be disturbing your four-legged friend!
Another not-so-good reason your dog could be spending their days in a crate is that they aren’t feeling well.
Much like hiding from something scary, if your dog began spending more time in the crate than they ever have before, rule out any medical reason. This advice rings true for any sort of behavior that is out-of-the-ordinary for your dog.
Also, just like hiding out of fear, another biological instinct that our domestic dogs still carry from their wild ancestors is retreating and hiding when ill. When an animal is injured or unwell, they immediately desire to hide from predators. So even though there may not be any predators in our homes, this internal need continues forth!
Give your veterinarian a call!