It’s not cruel to crate a dog in the night. But if you’re using the crate as a training tool, it’s wrong to punish the dog for doing something it didn’t do. Crating a dog in the night is probably causing more stress and frustration to the dog than the act itself. So, what’s a dog owner to do?
One of the most important things you can do for your dog is to get it used to the idea that you’re going to sleep together. Dogs need boundaries too. They like the sense of security. A dog that’s always being told ‘no’ at the end of the day is more likely to be restless throughout the rest of the day and get the idea that it’s OK to sleep alone. You have to get your dog used to the idea that you can be away for a good part of the day and it can go to sleep with you.
Many dogs will sleep well in just a crate. But, others need more structure. If your dog is used to sleeping alone, put a bed, blanket, or pillows in the crate and close the door. This breaks up the mass of the dog in the crate and helps him or her to feel more secure. Once your dog is used to sleeping in its own space, you can leave it alone for longer stretches of time.
The length of time that you should leave your dog in his or her crate will depend on how long it has been crating. If it’s been a week since you took it out, you should let it stay out for 8 hours at least once or twice a day. If it’s been several weeks, then maybe you should go longer. But, never leave your dog in there for more than 8 hours!
One great way to help puppies crating is to give them a “crate-able” chew toy. These are small plastic toys that dogs can chew on when they are crated. Most pet stores carry them. There are also chew toys that work like “traditional” ones – they spin, and the dog has to bite down on the toy in order to release it.
You also need to set aside a regular schedule for crate training. Most dogs, even those who live inside crates, still want to come out and play with you. However, if your dog is crated most of the day (and thus cannot be left alone), set aside playtime for about an hour or so during the day. During this time, have a long play session with your dog in his crate. You can also take him out for a walk during this time, or play catch with a ball.
To crate train a dog safely, always have him sit in a calm place that you can go to, without making any sudden movements or noises. It’s best not to force the issue, as this will teach him to fear any type of change, including being alone. He may try to escape by barking, so it’s best to avoid these situations if possible. When he’s sitting quietly, offer him a variety of treats – do not make it just a food reward, but instead play with him, giving him lots of attention and lots of praise. It will help him associate the word “bed” with this time.
If your dog is more mature, you can leave him in his crate longer, even up to 12 hours at a time, since older dogs usually need more exercise and stimulation. Older dogs are also more likely to chew, dig and bark when they are crated, so be sure that you only let him out on occasion. This will help him get used to being crated for longer, and it will help him understand that he is supposed to be used to being crated for sleep, not just left to play alone all day and all night.