While some dog owners suggest you stop crating at around six months or one year of age, it really depends on the dog.
You should stop crating your dog at night when they are completely housebroken, and you can trust them not to be destructive. Some people prefer to crate their dogs for the rest of their lives, which is also okay.
Keeping the crate door open is a good middle ground that lets your dog decide.
In this article, I’ll talk about when to stop crating your dog at night, the signs that they’re ready, and how to train your dog to sleep outside the crate.
You can Continue to Crate Your Dog Forever
The first thing to note is that you don’t have to train your dog to sleep outside of their crate! It actually might be more confusing for them to do so.
You’ve already trained your dog to feel safe and secure sleeping in their crate, and they might prefer to continue for the rest of their lives.
If you’d like to let your dog decide, keep the crate door open and provide other options such as a dog bed, the couch, or your bed.
Keeping the door closed if it makes you more comfortable is also okay!
Remember never to crate a dog night and day, however. This is neglect as it doesn’t fulfill your dog’s exercise or social needs. It can also lead to depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems.
Wait Until Your Dog is Housetrained
Many people crate train primarily to prevent potty accidents. The crate is a great housetraining tool.
Dogs are less likely to pee or poop where they sleep, and accidents are easier to clean up when they happen in the crate.
If your dog has been without an accident for over two months, you can begin to leave the crate door open or train your dog to sleep elsewhere.
If your dog regresses in their potty training, begin using the crate again until they’re ready to be outside of it at night without accidents.
Ensure Your House is Dog-Proofed
If you’re going to let your dog out of their crate, your home must be dog-proofed. You can achieve this in a few ways:
- Dog-proof a small space, such as your bedroom, and close off the rest of the house with a door or baby gate.
- Dog-proof your entire home and allow your dog to wander as they please.
Dog-proofing is especially important for destructive chewers or puppies who are still teething. You never know what your dog will get into when you’re not watching!
You might also consider waiting until your dog has learned household manners, so that you can better trust them not to eat your slippers or ingest toxic food in the middle of the night.
How to Dog-Proof Your Home
Dog-proofing your home means eliminating any risk to your dog. Remove or put away anything they can get into that might hurt them or you don’t want them wrecking.
Some ways to dog-proof your home include:
- Moving items your dog might chew, such as shoes, out of their reach
- Tucking away any exposed wires so that your dog doesn’t chew them
- Removing or locking away any toxic materials such as cleaners, houseplants, or dangerous human foods
- Picking up any little items your dog could choke on, such as kid’s toys
- Providing places for your dog to lie at night, such as beds
Train Your Dog to Sleep Outside the Crate
Like I talked about above, you don’t have to train your dog to sleep outside of their crate. I suggest opening the crate door and allowing them a choice rather than forcing them to sleep outside of it.
If your dog sleeping outside the crate is very important to you, here are some tips and tricks to make it easier:
- Don’t play with your dog where they sleep, but instead designate the area for sleeping only.
- Stick to a bedtime schedule so that your dog knows when they’re expected to go to sleep each night.
- Wait to train your dog out of their crate until they’re already sleeping through the night.
- Provide your dog with plenty of exercise to tire them out and they’ll sleep much easier! A little extra exercise on the first days of training is a great idea.
- Use a baby gate or shut a door to keep your dog where you want them (if you aren’t ready to allow them to wander the entire house at night).
When training your dog, bring them to where you’d like them to sleep. Then go to bed as normal, just like you would if you placed them in their crate.
If your dog returns to their crate or cries to go back inside, my opinion is to allow them to do so as it’s the caring and humane thing to do! You can always keep trying by bringing them to the place you’d like them to sleep each night, and they might get used to it in time.
Alternatively, you could close or take away the crate so that your dog has to sleep elsewhere. If this greatly disturbs their sleep, put the crate back and give them more time—this means they’re not yet ready to give the crate up!
Your Dog Should Love their Crate
If your dog has been crate trained well, they should love their crate! It’s meant to provide them with a “den” where they feel safe and secure.
When you think about it, it makes sense that they’d want to sleep there. You might even find your dog napping in their crate during the day or bringing a toy inside to chew on.
While keeping the crate around the rest of your dog’s life isn’t mandatory, it might be a nice thing for them. Anxious dogs, in particular, often do well with someplace to retreat when things get overwhelming.
If your dog has never taken to the crate, however, this might be more incentive to replace it with sleeping arrangements they’ll enjoy.
Maybe they’d rather snuggle against you in bed or sleep on a dog bed nearby.
Consider Keeping the Crate for Nights Out
Our dogs sometimes act very differently when we aren’t home versus when we’re in the same room! Your dog might be fine wandering about at night when you’re asleep, but get into trouble when you’re away.
If you sometimes spend nights away from home, consider crating your dog those nights. You can then shift to leaving them out of their crate when you’re gone at night for smaller amounts of time until you trust your dog entirely when they’re alone.
Of course, your dog might already be fine alone outside the crate at night—it depends on their personality, behavior, and how much you trust them.
Keep these things in mind when deciding whether to crate your dog while you’re away.
Trying to escape a confined area is one of the symptoms of separation anxiety.
If your dog gets very anxious when you’re gone, try working with them on the problem instead. Begin by leaving for small amounts of time, gradually working your way up to longer trips outside of the house.
You can also talk to your veterinarian or hire a dog trainer or behaviorist for more help. Make sure to hire a professional who uses positive reinforcement training, never harsh methods such as the dominance theory of dog training.
Writer: Katelynn Sobus