A puppy digs in their crate because they are:
- Getting comfortable
- Trying to escape the crate
- Burying an item, such as a treat or toy
- Attempting to get your attention
To narrow it down which of these contrasting reason it is, pay attention to their body language and context clues.
To help you do so, I’ll be going over each reason your puppy may be digging in their crate in more detail below.
Remember that Digging is Instinctual
Before we go into the specific reason that your puppy is digging at their crate, you should remember that digging is instinctual for dogs.
Dogs dig for many reasons including hunting, burying food or feces, and, interestingly, denning.
Denning is a behavior found more in wild dog breeds than domestic ones, since most domesticated dogs no longer have the need to create dens.
This explains why a puppy put into a crate may dig at the bottom or corners, though—their crate is replicating a den for them, and they’re using their instincts when they dig.
Some breeds are more likely to engage in this behavior than others, such as those who are pregnant or have thick coats.
Dogs may just be feeding into this instinct, or they might be digging to cool themselves down. In this case, you should make an effort to cool your pup down however you can.
As someone with a dog who hates the heat, but with no central air in my home, I understand that this can be difficult to accomplish.
Try running a fan nearby, giving them a frozen Kong toy full of tasty treats, or purchasing a cooling blanket for your pup. Make sure there isn’t too much bedding making the crate warmer as well.
Never punish your puppy for digging. Instead, address the root of the problem through the steps listed above.
You might also try giving them a different outlet for their behavior, such as an old blanket you don’t mind them digging in, or another way to release their energy, like a walk around the block.
Ensure Your Puppy isn’t in the Crate too Long
Some people think it’s okay to get a new puppy and immediately crate them during the night, throughout the work day, and whenever they’re out of the house.
If this is you, you’re crating your puppy for far too long. There’s no way to expect them to handle being locked up for the majority of their lives!
A puppy that’s crated during your work shift and at night is spending at least 16 hours of a 24 hour day in their crate, and that’s no way for them to live.
All dogs require more time and effort than that, and it’s especially true for puppies who are even more dependent on their owners for care.
Puppies also can’t be expected to accept the crate right away. Crate training your puppy takes at least six months, and your puppy deserves that time to adjust and learn.
Your Puppy is Playing
My black Labrador, Charlie, doesn’t have a crate. He does have blankets and beds, though, and he digs in them constantly.
He’s always ruffling through the large comforter we’ve given him for this purpose, burying his toys and “finding” them, and tossing it over his head before walking around with it on his back.
A puppy digging in their crate may be doing this same thing!
If you want them to stop digging in their crate or they are ruining the cushioning you’ve placed inside by doing so, consider giving them something else to dig and redirecting them to it when they start digging at their crate.
Give them Plenty of Exercise
You should also ensure your puppy is getting enough exercise. Do this by looking up some exercise guidelines for their breed and age, and following the guidelines from a trusted source. You could also speak to a veterinarian, or the rescue, shelter, or breeder you adopted the dog from for advice.
If you’re unsure about your puppy’s breed, you can try looking into those that are similar to your dog in shape and size. Don’t forget to pay attention to muzzle length here, as it makes a difference in their required exercise and health.
Most puppies should have multiple short bursts of play throughout the day along with daily walks. This varies, however, so be sure to do your own research.
A puppy who isn’t getting enough exercise is more likely to cause trouble, because they’re bored and need something to do!
Don’t Crate a Hyper Pup
Never crate your puppy when they’re active and hyper. It’s a good idea to always exercise them first, so that they’re tired and ready to sleep in their crate rather than trying to play inside.
Crating a puppy who wants to run and play is like forcing a person to sit down in a chair when they want to get up and move around.
It’s unfair, and can lead to your puppy feeling sad, angry, and like you aren’t listening to their needs.
They’re Digging to get Comfortable
Have you ever watched a puppy go around in circles, looking for a comfortable spot before they lay down in their bed?
Digging is just another strange and funny way that some dogs try to get comfortable. If they lay down after and seem cozy, then you shouldn’t worry about the behavior.
Adjust the Interior of the Crate
Of course, sometimes you may notice that your puppy just won’t settle in their crate. Maybe they lay down after digging, but then get back up and dig again.
In this case, try adjusting the interior of their crate. Make sure it’s large enough for them first.
Then, try changing out the bedding or padding at the bottom of the crate. Every dog has different preferences, so the best way to go about this is to think about where they lay when they have the chance.
Do they cuddle up on the sofa, or prefer the hardwood floors?
Most people think crates with a nice bed and blanket look the comfiest, but our dogs don’t always see it that way. They might like something thinner or even no bedding at all.
Their preferences may also change depending on the season. For example, my dog Charlie loves the tiled kitchen floor during the summer. But when there’s snow on the ground, you’re much more likely to see him on the carpeting or furniture.
If your puppy’s crate has a grid at the bottom, though, make sure it’s covered by something thick enough to prevent it from digging into your puppy’s paws. This can cause them a lot of pain, especially if they’re in their crate for an extended period of time.
The Puppy Wants out of the Crate
If your puppy wants out of their crate, they may dig at the bottom or edges to try and get out. They may dig frantically or otherwise show signs of distress.
Some people think you should ignore a puppy showing this behavior until it goes away but, in my opinion, it’s cruel to ignore your puppy’s needs in this way.
It shows them that they cannot count on you to listen to them when they’re hurting, and it will damage your relationship as well as their relationship to their crate. They’ll stop asking for help, but only because they’re not receiving it—not because they actually feel any better.
Instead, figure out why your puppy wants out of their crate so badly. Perhaps they:
Need to go Potty
Puppies cannot hold their bladders or bowels for as long as adult dogs. If you adopt your puppy as young as two months old, they can only be expected to go two hours without a potty break.
During potty training, you should take them out even more often so that they don’t have an accident. They’re young, and haven’t yet learned to hold it—if they have to pee, they will!
Puppies old enough to hold their bladders may do so for longer than they should, leading to health complications.
Are Feeling Hyper
If it’s been a while or your puppy wasn’t tired out before they entered the crate, they may want out to stretch their legs and get some exercise.
Some breeds are more active than others, but all of them need some sort of play, walks, or other exercise to keep them fit, healthy, and happy.
Typically, puppies have many bursts of energy throughout the day. So while an adult dog may be satisfied with a long walk, a puppy may need several short walks or play sessions instead to fit their needs.
If you time these to just before they’re put into their crate, you’ll give yourself more time before your puppy needs to be let out to exercise again.
If you’re unsure whether your puppy is getting enough exercise throughout the day, look into the guidelines for their specific breed. If your puppy is a rescue and you’re unsure of their breed, research those of a similar shape and size or speak to a professional.
Haven’t Been Trained Properly
Puppies need to be trained properly in order to have a good relationship with their crate, and to be all right with being locked inside.
If you’ve rushed your puppy’s training, used poor training methods, or foregone training altogether, you will have to restart from the beginning in order to have a puppy who accepts their crate.
Puppies in the midst of training can’t be kept crated for long periods, but instead should be introduced to their crate slowly.
Crate training takes patience, as it takes six months or more to complete.
Never use a crate as punishment or in an attempt to show dominance over your dog. The dominance theory of dog training comes from bad research done on wolves, and has since been disproven.
Instead, train your puppy using positive reinforcements.
Spent too long Inside the Crate
Lastly, you may simply be keeping your puppy inside of their crate for too long. Puppies have short attention spans, lots of energy, and a great need for care and attention from you.
It’s possible your puppy just isn’t yet at the stage of training where they can stay in their crate for long.
Or, you may be expecting too much for a dog their age. If you’re keeping your puppy crated for more than a couple of hours, you’re likely being unrealistic about what they can handle.
Look for alternatives to crating your puppy for extended amounts of time, like having a friend or family member visit them when you’re at work.
They’re Burying Something
If your puppy has a toy or treat inside their crate, they may be burying it. This might be instinctual behavior, or they may be playing inside the crate to amuse themselves.
As we discussed before, if your puppy seems hyper then they should be brought out of their crate for exercise. Always make sure they’re getting enough exercise every day for their age and breed.
Otherwise, this might just be a quirk your puppy has. You shouldn’t worry if they just want to hide their things in the folds of their blanket or bedding, as this is normal behavior.
Your Pup Wants your Attention
Your puppy may dig at their crate to get your attention. Maybe they do so as you walk into the room, when they need a potty break, or just when they want you to “aww” at their behavior.
My dog Charlie is well-known for that last one! All we have to do is encourage a behavior once and he’s repeating it over and over, like a toddler who learned something new.
Sometimes ignoring your puppy’s attention-seeking will make it go away, but it’s also important to ensure that your puppy is getting enough attention throughout the day and that all of their physical and emotional needs are met.
If they’re trying to get your attention to be let out of their crate, that section above may be helpful for you. You should consider whether they’ve been properly crate trained, crated too long, or have unmet needs that you should handle.
Ideally, your puppy should have a good relationship with your crate and think of it as a safe, comfortable place to be. If your puppy is in distress or upset when inside their crate, you shouldn’t ignore the problem, but instead address it by crate training them right.
Writer: Katelynn Sobus