How to Make Your Dog’s Crate Feel Like Home

By PetMD Editorial. Reviewed by Veronica Higgs, DVM on Mar. 26, 2023
golden retriever lying in a crate

Dog crates should be safe, comfy places for your canine companion to relax. That’s why it’s so important to choose dog supplies for your dog’s crate that turn it into the ultimate doggy den.

When a dog crate is thoughtfully outfitted with the right crate accessories (like cozy crate mats!) it can feel like a restful retreat.

Create a Secure and Tranquil Crating Experience

“When crate training is done properly, most dogs enjoy spending time in their crates and actually view the crate as their own special place. The most important thing is to make the crate a pleasant experience from day one,” says Kelly Armour, a certified trainer and behavior analysis specialist and owner of The Virtuous Dog LLC in Reading, Pennsylvania.

She says that for the first few days with a new dog, if possible, you should plan to be at home, giving your new companion the reassurance of your presence and spending time on positive training. “While keeping the crate door open, toss dog treats into the back and let your pet discover them at his own pace.”

Animal behaviorist Alice Moon-Fanelli, PhD, CAAB, of the Brooklyn Veterinary Hospital in Brooklyn, Connecticut, cautions, “Some individual dogs and some breeds of dogs are more prone to resisting being crated than others. Proper introduction to crating greatly influences whether a dog not only accepts but is comfortable being crated.”  

Armour emphasizes that, “Crating should never be viewed as punishment. Keeping a new pet safe and out of trouble while you are getting familiar with each other and adapting to new routines is good for both the pet and pet parent.”

Choose the Right Crate for Your Dog

Like our own beds, sofas, and chairs, both style and sizing for comfort are key to finding the right dog crate for your pet.

“Specifics about crates have variable answers depending in part on the breed and the individual dog's temperament,” says Moon-Fanelli. “Soft-sided crates are comfortable and convenient for dogs that don't chew.”

For adult or adolescent dogs who are already house-trained, Armour recommends “a crate that is large enough for the dog to comfortably sleep and move around, with enough room for some special enrichment toys and treats like a KONG, bones, etc.”

“For elderly animals, I prefer to use a much larger crate so that they have plenty of room to move, stretch, and reposition,” Armour says. 

For dogs who are house-training (and possibly struggling), the general rule is that the dog crate should be just big enough to give your dog room to lie down and turn around. “Most dogs do not like to sleep in a soiled area, which is why the area should be small,” Armour says. She reminds pet parents that when house-training your dog, frequent potty breaks are critical. If you’ll be away for hours at a time, a midday dog walker is a must for giving your pup those breaks outside his dog crate.

Ensure Your Pup Is Comfortable

Once you’ve found the right style and size of dog crate, it’s time to upgrade from empty space to cozy place with a few basics. Start with a spot for resting. “Some dogs chew and ingest their bedding; others snuggle up,” Moon-Fanelli says. “Know your dog to avoid injury and unnecessary veterinary visits.”

If dogs do tear up their bedding, Armour says the reason likely stems from “lack of exercise or proper enrichment (such as toys, training, and exercise) before going into the crate for a period of time.” So if your dog likes to shred plush dog toys or is an avid chewer, you might want to choose a more simple dog crate mat as opposed to stuffed, plush one.

When you are choosing a mat or dog bed for your dog’s crate, you should keep the size of the crate in mind. The dog mat or dog bed you choose should not impede your dog’s ability to move or rest comfortably. It should allow them to get cozy as well as move around to find a resting position that they find comfortable.

Provide your dog with access to a dog bowl for fresh water and some crate-appropriate toys to keep them preoccupied while inside the crate. “Make the crate an interesting place to be by providing KONG toys or other special, long-lasting treats when your pet is in the crate,” Armour suggests.

Interactive dog toys can be great additions to your dog’s crate because they engage your pup in fun activities that he can do by himself. The KONG Extreme Goodie Bone is a great option for crate time because it can be filled with peanut butter and frozen for long-lasting fun. You can also try a dog toy like the Pet Zone IQ treat ball dog toy, which can be filled with dog treats or dog food to keep your dog happy and occupied while in the crate.

Help Your Dog Feel Safe

Keeping your dog comfortable inside his crate is key. “For warmer months, or if you have a heavy-coated animal, a crate fan is an excellent option,” Armour suggests. “You want to carefully attach or position a fan to a crate so that it provides good ventilation but is not blowing directly on the animal in a way that he cannot move away if he feels too cool or uncomfortable.”

She reminds dog parents to avoid common hazards, such as placing the crate in direct sunlight or too close to a heat source where your dog cannot get relief from overheating. “And removing collars and harnesses is critically important to prevent a device from being snagged or caught in the crate,” she says.

Armour says that covering a crate at night or to give a dog quiet time is also ideal. “The most important thing to remember is that a cover can cause a crate to heat up and should only be done if someone is home to supervise, since it’s important to make sure the pet gets proper ventilation.”

There’s a benefit for you, too. Moon-Fanelli says that if a dog accepts a cover on his crate, the resulting quiet may allow owners to sleep in, as “it might minimize exposure to outdoor sounds and slow the dog's awareness of sunrise.”

Provide Plenty of Exercise Before Crate Time

If your adult dog must be crated for a long period—as in, a full work day—Armour recommends that he get at least 30–60 minutes of exercise before going into his crate, as well as a walk with a dog walker to break up the day.

Even as your dog accepts his crate time, he’ll always look forward to his favorite time of all—time spent with you.

Featured Image: iStock/Christine McCann

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