If you’re around a dog long enough, you no doubt have seen that so much of what they do is instinctual, whether they are aware of it or not… We believe that pawing and spinning before lying down come from their ancestors having to flatten underbrush in order to make a comfortable bed. Scent marking is an innate territorial behavior, believed to “stake a claim” to an area to keep other dogs away. Burying a bone in the yard is a survival instinct, indicative of burying food years ago when dogs had to hide their food for later consumption.
Dogs Instinctively Seek Crates
Have you ever noticed how a pup likes to seek out smaller, secure areas in which to lie down? Does your adult dog sometimes prefer to nap under your desk or other furniture, or maybe burrow under blankets? These actions could all be interpreted as instinctively seeking out a den. A dog’s desire to make a den is a very strong instinct. A den was a place of comfort and safety for our dog’s ancestors. It was a place to hide from predators. More often, a den was dug by a pregnant female dog in order to have a safe place to have her pups and shelter them while they are growing. So, the very first exposure to a puppy’s new world was in a warm, secure, cozy, little “den” with Mom’s protection.
Isn’t it logical, therefore, that a puppy instinctively seeks out a warm and cozy “cubby”? A “den”, so to speak, to escape to and unwind… or rather, a comfy little crate? Providing your crying puppy a crate could be one of the nicest things you ever do for her. It’s a brand-new world for these tiny pups… and a little scary for sure. As she grows and becomes more confident and secure, she will tend to spend more time outside the crate, rather than inside, but will always be aware that when she’s tired, or the world feels a little crazy (the holidays, for example), she has a comforting place to retreat to. Dogs actually seek the closure a crate provides, as it helps them unload or slow down their sensory responses.
Why is My Dog Crying in Her Crate?
So, she’s in her crate and all is right with the world…. except that she is still whimpering. Make sure your crying puppy is not doing so because she has to go potty. In fact, it’s a good idea to take her outside right before she goes in her crate and immediately when she comes out. This way you know if she’s crying, it’s not because she needs to go outside to potty. As she becomes used to the routine, she will begin to understand when and “where” to relieve herself. Crates are great for potty training puppies as they naturally prefer to potty away from where they are sleeping and eating.
Sometimes a crying puppy means that it just wants to be with its owner. Making sure that you encourage your puppy to feel okay by herself in her crate is super important. Engaging in a fun treat game, practicing tricks or a game of fetch before putting your puppy in its crate will help to drain her energy so that she will be more inclined to relax and sleep when put in her crate. Young puppies should be sleeping about 18 hours a day, so “crating” a puppy for “nap times” each day is an easy way to ensure your puppy is getting enough sleep. As they mature, the amount of sleep they require will decrease.
It is important to allow a crying puppy to self-soothe a bit to ensure that they do not whine and cry every time they are confined to receive your attention. If you respond too much to a crying puppy, they will learn to train you!
Too often people look at a crate as being the equivalent of jail time for their dog. They are appalled at the idea of confining their dog to a cage. When properly introduced and used correctly, a crate is far from the prison we imagine.
To Help make Your Dog Comfortable in Their Crate
- Place a comfy blanket and some of your pups favorite toys in her crate.
- Cover, or partially cover the top so she has some privacy. Make it a cozy.
- Place the crate in an out-of-the-way area, but still close enough that she does not feel secluded from the family.
- When your puppy cries, go with her to her crate, place her lovingly inside, and then pet her and talk soothingly to her.
- Stay beside her crate until she relaxes.
If you want a puppy to associate their crate as a good place, you can reward them with a treat every time she enters her crate. Do small sessions of having your puppy go inside the crate, reward (with a treat or toy), shut the door and repeat several times just to make her feel good about going in and out of her crate. It is also good mental work to do this fun game!
To maintain that pleasant “respite” for your dog, there are a few rules to keep in mind:
- Crating a puppy when you can’t supervise is temporary! As they get older, it will not be as necessary, but when raising a puppy it is important to crate them whenever they are unsupervised because of safety and potty training reasons.
- Never leave your dog in a crate too long. A puppy should never be left in the crate longer than 2 – 3 hours at a time. A general rule of thumb is to use your puppy’s age to judge how long they can be crated during the day. For example, if a puppy is 2 months old, it should be able to “hold it” and remain in its crate for 2 hours. 3 months old = 3 hours, etc.. Regardless of your dog’s age, try not to crate more than 5 hours, with the exception being overnight while everyone is asleep. Many adult dogs are comfortable in the crate as long as 8 hours while Mom and Dad are away for work.
- Never use the crate as a place to put your dog as punishment.
- Don’t close the crate door on that puppy or new adoptee too soon. If you rush the “acclimation” period, you will create a negative perception from your dog towards the crate.
- Make sure their crate is large enough that they can stand, stretch, and turn around freely.
A dog will naturally outgrow their instinct and desire for a den, but the pleasure of having her own “happy” place will always be a part of her… even as a mature dog. Let us know if we can help! We offer some of the best dog training in Richmond, VA!