Your dog sleeps in their crate with the door open because they:
- Enjoy their crate and have been crate trained well
- Have an instinct to den
- Are sick or injured and should be taken to the veterinarian
- Feel stressed or anxious
- Are depressed
The first two are most likely, but get your dog checked if this is not normal for them or they won’t leave the crate.
In this article, I’ll discuss the reasons why your dog sleeps in their crate with the door open, when you should be concerned, and what to do if it becomes a problem.
Your Dog Likes their Crate
The goal of crate training is to provide a place for your dog to feel safe and secure. Dogs who were properly crate trained love their crates and will likely spend time inside even when the door is open.
They might nap there during the day or sleep in their crate at night, even when they aren’t forced to.
This is a very positive sign, and it means you’ve done an excellent job training them!
Allow your dog to continue enjoying their crate by never using it as punishment and leaving your dog alone while they’re in their crate. This tells them they can go to the crate when they want peace and quiet, such as when they’re tired and ready to sleep!
Crates Fulfill an Instinct for Dogs
Domestic dogs still have instincts. Some were bred into them, while others are left over from their wolf ancestry.
Denning is one of the instincts dogs have had for thousands of years. It tells them to find shelter.
It is one reason for digging, and it’s also why dogs enjoy crates.
While your dog of course has shelter, living in your home, a crate gives them their own little “den” that’s only theirs.
Crates also take advantage of other instincts, such as dogs not liking to pee or poop where they sleep. In this way, they make potty training much easier!
If Your Dog Won’t Leave the Crate
As I discussed above, a dog sleeping in the crate with the door open is only a problem if the behavior is abnormal or they won’t leave the crate.
This could be caused by a variety of problems, including stress, anxiety, depression, pain, and illness. Below, I’ll discuss what to do if your dog won’t leave their crate, seldom comes out, or is acting abnormally.
See Your Veterinarian
If your dog is behaving in a way they don’t usually, you should always have them checked out by a veterinarian. Sometimes changes in behavior are the first symptom of pain or illness.
For instance, maybe your dog is sleeping way more than normal, seems afraid to leave their crate, or isn’t acting like their normal bubbly self.
Make a list, either in your head or on paper, of any other symptoms or changes in behavior you’ve observed. If you can, make note of when the behavior started as well.
This will help your veterinarian diagnose your dog more easily.
Some ailments that might cause your dog not to leave their crate include:
- Arthritis, which makes it painful for your dog to move
- Depression, which causes your dog to be uninterested in their normal activities
- Pain or injury, which makes your dog less able to move or more reserved
- Anxiety, which can be either situational or a medical condition
- Various other conditions that cause pain, tiredness, or changes in personality
So many things can cause this common change in behavior, so only your veterinarian can truly diagnose your dog.
Consider the Situation
A newly adopted dog might prefer to keep their world small at first, staying in their crate most of the day.
If you’ve moved to a new home, your dog might feel the same way!
Or maybe they’re avoiding a new family member or pet because the change has made them anxious.
Any life change can cause stress for your dog, or even clinical anxiety—especially in dogs who were anxious to begin with.
Your dog might need time to adjust, or they might need to be pushed a little. I recommend looking into counterconditioning and desensitization for your dog if their anxiety persists.
This method basically retrains your dog to see their fear as something positive. Here’s how to implement counterconditioning and desensitization:
- Choose a reward. As with any training, you need a reward for your dog! Choose a super tasty treat, their favorite toy, or lots of praise.
- Introduce the fear slowly. For this example, we’ll say your dog is afraid of your new partner. Start by giving your dog a treat for coming out of the crate when your partner is home, but far away from the crate.
- Move forward. Once your dog is used to coming out of their crate when your partner is far away, you can slowly have your dog step closer. Eventually, your partner may be able to stand nearer to the crate when your dog comes out. And by the end, your dog would eat the treat from their hand—but pace yourself getting to this final step!
- Hire a professional if needed. If you can’t get your dog to feel safe outside of the crate, hiring a professional dog trainer or behaviorist can help.
Of course, it’s important to see your veterinarian first to rule out physical conditions. Diagnosing your dog with anxiety on your own could lead to missing another ailment.
But once your veterinarian has diagnosed your dog with anxiety, these steps can help reduce its impact on yours and your dog’s life.
Give them Time and Space
If a big change has just happened in your dog’s life, give them a few days to adjust. They might come around after they’ve been given time and space.
However, you might need to push them slowly out of their comfort zone after this time has passed. After all, your dog can’t hide out in their crate forever! That’s no way for them to live.
Like I discussed above, counterconditioning and desensitization is a good way to push your dog without completely overwhelming them. You don’t want to make them more afraid, after all!
Writer: Katelynn Sobus