A puppy may claw at their crate because they’re:
- Feeling playful
- Trying to get comfortable
- Burying something
- Wanting out of the crate
To figure out why your puppy digs at their crate, look at their body language and the context in which they dig.
For example, a puppy wagging their tail is likely feeling playful. A puppy with their ears down or whimpering is upset.
If they also dig at blankets outside the crate, then you know it’s not a crate-specific behavior. A puppy that digs at their crate when you walk into the room may be excited to see you and wanting your attention.
In this article, I’ll go over the many reasons puppies claw at the sides, corners, or bottom of their crate in more detail so you can understand your puppy’s behavior.
Puppies Dig and Claw Due to Instinct
If your puppy is digging in their crate or clawing at the bottom, remember that they’re displaying an instinctual behavior. No matter their reasoning, they shouldn’t be punished for this.
Instead, address the clawing by making sure your puppy has all of their needs taken care of before they are crated, and never leave them crated for longer than they can handle. This will vary depending on the puppy, their age, and the amount of crate training they’ve been given.
If your pup is destroying the bedding or the cage through play, give them other things to claw such as an old blanket.
Limit Crate Time
No dog should be crated day and night, and puppies can tolerate even less time inside a crate than adult dogs.
Consider all of your puppy’s physical and emotional needs when deciding how long to leave them crated. These include potty breaks, exercise, food, and attention.
A young puppy left in their crate for hours on end is bound to be miserable. They’re holding their bladder (or having an accident in an enclosed space!), wishing to spend time with you, and feeling bored!
Even if your puppy is completely crate trained, you need to be reasonable about how long they’re expected to sleep or lie still in their crate. Puppies have short attention spans, small bladders, and lots of need for play.
If your puppy is in the midst of crate training, they need to build up from interacting with the cage, to being closed inside for short periods, and into longer amounts of time.
This is a slow process that doesn’t happen overnight, but instead takes at least six months to get right.
Your Puppy is Denning
An instinctual reason that puppies dig in crates specifically is due to a behavior called denning. This is just what it sounds like: your puppy is trying to create or improve a den for themselves.
Not all domesticated dogs will have this behavior when crated. It’s more likely to occur in long-haired puppies, because a part of denning is digging within the dirt for a cooler place to lie.
If you think your puppy is clawing at their crate because they’re hot and there are many layers of bedding, remove some of these to help them get more comfortable.
Other ways you can cool the area down include air conditioning, a nearby fan, a frozen Kong toy filled with food or treats, or a cooling pad.
It’s possible that your puppy is clawing at the bottom of their crate because they’re playing. This is even more likely if you have blankets or bedding lining the crate.
My dog has always dug around in all of his blankets or bedding. We think it’s cute and do encourage the behavior, so when he wants attention he will go and cover himself up so that we tell him how cute he is!
Your puppy will be more likely to play in their crate if they are bored or haven’t gotten enough exercise, but you might also find that it’s just somewhere they enjoy playing.
Dogs should learn to feel safe in their crate, and a puppy playing inside of theirs is a great sign!
If you’d prefer for them not to play in their crate, redirect their behavior to something they can claw at. This could be an old blanket or a toy.
You can also redirect your puppy to other physical activities.
Tips for Crating a Playful Pup
- Look up exercise guidelines for your puppy’s breed and age to ensure their fitness needs are being met.
- Remember that puppies tend to have shorter attention spans than older dogs. They’re also more prone to short bursts of high energy. This makes them more suited toward several bouncy, hyperactive play sessions than one miles-long walk.
- If you don’t know your puppy’s breed, ask a professional about exercise guidelines or check out those for similar types of dog. Pay attention to body type as well as head shape—brachycephalic breeds, or those with short muzzles, need to be monitored during exercise.
- Time exercise so that it happens before your puppy goes into their crate. This way, they’re ready to have a nap rather than feeling amped up and wanting to play.
Your Puppy is trying to get Comfortable
Sometimes, a puppy might claw at their crate before they lie down in order to get comfortable. Maybe they’re moving their blanket to the right position or maybe they’re doing nothing at all—like dogs who walk circles before settling into place.
My dog Charlie likes to claw at my comforter if my bed is unmade, making even more of a mess tossing it to the side so that he can sleep without any lumpy blankets beneath him. Your puppy may be doing something similar in their crate.
If they settle after a few minutes, don’t worry about the behavior. However, if they continually seem unsettled they might be too hot, or dislike the bedding in their crate. Try adjusting things so that they can get more comfortable.
First, make sure you’ve chosen a crate that’s the right size for your puppy. They should be able to stand up completely straight and turn around inside. If they can’t, then it’s too small and you’ll need to purchase a larger size.
Next, take a look at the bedding. Is there not anything lining the bottom of the crate, and maybe your pup would like some more cushioning? Or is your dog having the opposite problem, and it’s too cushioned for them?
I wish I could give precise advice that would take into account every puppy out there, but unfortunately it’s all about preference. Every dog is different, so it may take some trial and error until you find what works best for your puppy.
The best thing to do is to consider where they typically sleep. Do they prefer hard, cool surfaces like tile or wooden floors, or do they tend to snuggle on carpets or furniture?
Try to imitate this preference inside of their crate.
Lastly, take temperature into consideration. If you’re having a cold, drafty winter your puppy’s crate should be kept in a warm area, and the opposite if it’s very warm inside of your home.
Small breeds tend to be more cold-sensitive, while brachycephalic and long-haired breeds are more heat-sensitive.
Keep these as well as your dog’s preferences in mind when maintaining temperatures in and around your puppy’s crate.
They’re Trying to Get Out
If your puppy is showing signs of stress while clawing at their crate, it’s likely that they want to be released and are trying to get your attention or find their own way out.
Don’t scold or punish your puppy for this. Instead, try to figure out why it’s happening. Have they been properly crate trained? Have they been kept in the crate too long and need to pee, run around, or have some cuddle time?
Ignoring your puppy while they’re communicating with you will only worsen their relationship to the crate. You want this to be a positive experience for your puppy, not for them to associate the crate with negativity throughout their life.
That’s why I advocate for not ignoring your pup when they’re unhappy, but instead looking for the root of the cause and addressing that.
Here are some reasons your puppy may try to claw their way out of their crate:
Not Enough Potty Breaks
Puppies cannot hold their bowels or bladders as long as adult dogs, especially while they’re still being potty trained. Make sure to take your puppy outside regularly to avoid accidents or health problems from holding it too long.
They need more Exercise
It may be that your puppy needs more exercise throughout the day, or that you need a new routine. For example, maybe you’re playing with your puppy more early in the day and then crating them at night. Or, you walk them in the evening after letting them out from the crate.
By timing exercise to when you want your puppy to be tired, such as when you’re about to crate them, you’re setting them up for success.
Otherwise, they might be getting as much play as they need, but still be restless in their crate.
If you’re unsure whether your puppy is getting the right amount of exercise throughout the day, however, you should do your research into their breed (or a similar type of dog if your puppy’s breed is unknown).
Since every breed is so different, this will best tell you what you need to know.
The Puppy isn’t Crate Trained
Unfortunately, crate training takes a lot of effort and patience. It takes at least six months to complete.
Your puppy likely won’t take to the crate right away, and that’s okay. Let them adjust in their own time.
Also make sure that you’re using the right training methods to make crate training a good experience for both you and your puppy.
It’s Been too Long
Puppies can’t be crated for hours on end, especially during the day when they’re awake and active. This is doubly true if they’re still in the process of crate training.
They might need out for one of the reasons above, or they might be feeling lonely or bored.
Your Pup is Burying Something
My dog loves hiding his toys in his blankets. It never gets old for him to dig them out and squeak them triumphantly!
Whether your puppy is being playful or simply hiding away a treat for later, you might find that they’re clawing at their crate because they’re burying an item in their bedding.
Before I start on this last one, it’s important to note that attention-seeking isn’t always something to be ignored! Sometimes, that method does work.
However, your puppy might want attention for a reason. They could be trying to tell you something, like that they need to use the bathroom!
Attention is also a need that every dog and human alike has in common. So while it may be annoying that your puppy claws at their crate the moment you walk into the room, consider how much attention you’ve paid to them that day.
Also remember that it’s a positive thing, in the end—your puppy wanting attention from you happens because they love you and want to spend time around you.
Of course, also ensure that all of your puppy’s physical and emotional needs are met if they are seeking attention while in their crate.
Writer: Katelynn Sobus