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This is the 5th article in the complete guide to crate training series.
Before you can start crate training your puppy or older dog, you have to know what to put in a dog crate to make it a comfortable, enticing and welcoming place where your dog will love to spend time, while making sure not to leave them with things that could be detrimental to what we’re trying to achieve or even dangerous if left with your dog.
This article will explain what you should and should not place in the crate, for safety, for comfort and to be sure you’re doing the best you can for your dog when crating them.
But before deciding what to put in your dogs crate, you first need to know where to put it.
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Where To Put A Dog Crate In The Home
Dogs are social animals, and Labradors particularly so. They need to be near their family, be able to see what’s going on around them and feel like a part of things to live a fulfilling life.
Remember, being in a crate should be a positive experience and they should want to spend time there.
It’s not a punishment. And locking them away in a crate in a quiet corner of an out of the way room will feel to them like they’re being punished, excluded and isolated.
So to keep your dog feeling part of things, place the crate in a busy area of the home where they can see and hear what’s happening with their family. A corner of the family room, or in the kitchen are ideal places.
Wherever you do decide to place the crate, make sure it isn’t in a drafty area, isn’t close to a heat source such as a radiator or fireplace, or in direct sunlight.
It needs to be comfortable with little chance of getting too hot or too cold.
It’s A Good Idea To Start Your Puppy Off Sleeping In Your Bedroom
If you have a young puppy, it can be a good idea to move the crate into your bedroom at night, or more likely to have a second crate as moving one around each night is a nuisance.
A puppy crated in a room on their own can feel stressed, abandoned and anything but secure which can lead to whining and crying.
They will get great comfort and a feeling of safety and security being able to sleep near their family, especially during your puppy’s first few days in a strange new home.
It isn’t essential you sleep them in your bedroom with you, but it is beneficial.
After a few days, you can begin to move the crate slowly to where you want them to sleep if it isn’t planned to use your bedroom as their final sleeping area.
Just move the crate further away every couple of nights. To the bedroom door, but still inside the room. Then outside the bedroom door, to the top of stairs, etc. until they are eventually where you want them to sleep.
If you’re still considering which crate(s) to buy, we’ve compiled a list of the most highly rated crates that you can find by clicking here.
QUICK RECOMMENDATION: As mentioned earlier our #1 recommendation for a crate is the Midwest Life Stages Wire Crate. We purchased our crate 14+ years ago and have crate trained over a dozen puppies with the same crate!
What To Put In A Dog Crate
An empty crate is hardly the pleasant and welcoming place you and your dog want it to be, so you’ll want to place a few things inside for comfort. There’s bedding, toys, food and water to consider.
But what things should you be aware of when deciding what to put in a dog crate?
What To Use For Dog Crate Bedding
The first instinct people have is to put some nice, soft, fluffy bedding in the crate to keep a puppy warm and comfortable. But this is a bad idea until your dog has truly proven they will not chew their bedding.
Towels, blankets and soft stuffed bedding are easily chewed, torn apart and ingested by young, mouthy puppies, especially Labrador Retriever puppies!
The danger here is they could choke or cause an internal blockage that can have serious health consequences…and high vet bills!
Although not completely destruction proof, countless vets, breeders and kennels the world over use and recommend VetBed to use for bedding.
Vetbed is strong and durable, very long-lasting, machine washable, non-irritant and hypoallergenic, insulating, allows air and moisture to permeate through in case of any ‘accidents’ and despite all this, still has a soft and luxurious feel.
It can still be chewed by determined puppies, but it’s much stronger and durable than any dog beds, blankets or towels you might otherwise use.
I’d recommend starting with VetBed, keeping an eye on them to make sure they aren’t chewing their bedding and if they do, initially leave the floor of the crate bare when they’re unsupervised until you’ve trained them to not chew bedding and concentrate their chewing on toys. Then re-introduce the VetBed.
Once they are completely trusted not to chew their bedding, by all means you can replace the VetBed with any kind of bedding you like.
One thing’s for sure though, you do need to add some form of bedding because no dog will want to sleep on a hard, bare crate floor!
To see a selection of bedding that’s suitable for placing inside a crate, please click here
What Toys To Leave In A Dog Crate?
When many people consider what to put in a dog crate, they rightfully think to place in some toys. There are many benefits to leaving two or three tough chew toys in the crate with your puppy:
- It provides something to occupy their minds, enriching what’s otherwise a basic, unexciting environment.
- It provides an alternative to chewing on bedding.
- It teaches them that being in the crate is a time when they get some of their favorite things, increasing their enjoyment of the crate.
- It promotes good habits and a chew toy obsession, lessening the likelihood of a preference to chew on your belongings when out of the crate.
Please be aware that you should never leave soft stuffed teddy bears or easily chewed squeaky toys alone with your puppy.
These will likely get destroyed and your dog could ingest large pieces causing intestinal blockages.
The best toys to leave in the crate are strong, durable hollow toys that you can stuff with treats, perhaps even freeze so the fun lasts longer.
Kong toys are ideal and we at Labrador Training HQ highly recommend them!
QUICK RECOMMENDATION: Labs are heavy chewers so we recommend the KONG Extreme for our Labrador friends.
They’re highly durable and stuffed with peanut butter, part of their usual meal or some form of edible treats, dogs absolutely love working at getting the food out, keeping their minds and jaws occupied.
To see a selection of toys suitable for placing inside a crate with your puppy or dog, click here.
Should You Put Food And Water In A Dog Crate?
Generally speaking you will not be leaving water inside the crate, especially when house breaking your young puppy.
If you do, they will fill their bladders quickly and end up having ‘accidents’ in the crate, severely inhibiting your house breaking process.
It isn’t cruel to not leave water in the crate. During the day you’ll rarely leave them in there for more than an hour or two and puppies are absolutely fine and will not dehydrate through the night without water.
This will cause no harm or discomfort and will lessen the number of overnight toilet breaks needed.
However, it’s a good idea to have the necessary equipment to provide water for your dog when crated if the need arises.
It’s necessary for those (hopefully) rare occasions when you do need to leave them crated for an extended 3 or 4 hour period, or for people who must crate their dogs while working, or at times your vet recommends crating for medical reasons.
If you do need to provide water, it’s recommended to use a crate mounted water bottle or a bowl that can be fixed to the crate making them harder to spill.
A standard bowl placed on the floor will more often than not be played with, spilt and little of the water actually surviving to be drunk.
For a selection of dog bowls, specially made to be fastened to a crate to provide water in such a way that it cannot be spilled, please click here.
When it comes to putting food in the crate, as explained earlier it’s a very good idea to stuff some favorite food or treats into hollow chew toys to keep your puppy occupied in the crate.
But with this exception, if you’re crating your puppy unsupervised you shouldn’t leave food in there in a bowl on the floor, it will likely just be spilt and make a horrible mess.
It is however a good idea to feed your puppy their main meals inside of the crate as a daily routine as this will help to reinforce the fact only good things happen in there and increase their acceptance and enjoyment of the crate.
Should You Cover A Dog Crate?
There isn’t a simple ‘yes or no’ answer to this as dogs personalities, their likes and dislikes are different. For some dogs covering a crate is a good idea, for others it certainly isn’t.
As discussed earlier in the series, dogs learn to love their crates as their own little den of safety and security.
Plastic or fabric crates already have quite enclosed sides, but wire crates are very open and can leave puppies without that feeling of security they’re after. Covering the crate can help with this.
However, some dogs are the opposite and get stressed if they can’t see out of their crate and want to know what’s going on.
This is especially true for some Labradors who always want to see and be near their families.
For Labs, many people leave the crate uncovered during the day, but do cover it lightly at night to reduce stimulation when their Labs should be sleeping.
For some dogs, they can feel stressed and start to cry in an exposed wire crate because they find it hard to calm down and relax when they can see so much going on around them.
These puppies may feel more secure and comfortable if the crate is partly covered, reducing stimulation and helping them to relax and sleep.
It’s certainly worth trying out the idea. But like all changes in a puppy’s life you must introduce the idea slowly, covering only partially and while you’re there. Asking them to go in, door left open, with some food inside.
Get them used to it a bit at a time over the course of a few days before ever covering the crate for a whole sleep session or over night. You need to know they’re happy and that the darkness isn’t scaring them.
If they panic, gnaw and claw at the crate to get out, or try to pull the cover off into the crate, they’re telling you they don’t like it.
Start again trying to get them used to a cover just a few minutes at a time, enticing them in with treats and not closing the door.
But if despite your best efforts they really, truly do not like it covered, then do not cover it as it’ll only cause stress. Some dogs just will not accept it.
My recommendation is to at least try it out. For the dogs who do prefer it, you will never know unless you try!
QUICK RECOMMENDATION: Use high value treats when crate training your puppy. One of Stetson’s favorite treats are the Wellness Soft Puppy Bites. However, every puppy is different. Find what your puppy likes best and use that treat exclusively when crate training.
What Should You Use To Cover A Crate?
To cover a crate, many people use old towels or bed sheets.
These are perfectly fine, but you must be sure your puppy or dog won’t pull them into the crate and chew them (we’ve had several puppies do this with blankets we put over our crate).
Some people place the crate in a corner of the room so that 2 sides are automatically covered by the walls and they then place a wooden board on top of the crate to cover the roof.
This has the benefit of your puppy not being able to pull the board into the crate, but also offers a usable surface on top of the crate, like a piece of furniture. Somewhere to put a magazine rack or a vase of flowers perhaps?
There are also specially made crate covers available in many styles if you’re looking for something a bit more stylish or to suit the look of your home decor.
Just be sure that whatever you use to cover the crate, you never cover all sides and that there’s plenty of ventilation.
To see a selection of highly recommended covers that fit all the most common crate sizes, please click here.
What To Put In Your Puppy’s Crate At Night
So far we’ve been talking about how careful you need to be when choosing what items you put in your crate. If your puppy is destructive you don’t want him to destroy and ingest anything.
However, if your puppy is crying, whining, and barking in his crate at night you’ll do almost anything to get him to stop.
REMEMBER: Don’t let your puppy out of the crate if he’s barking. It will just reinforce the bad behavior.
We’re going against the grain with this recommendation. I guess rules are made to be broken, right?
One product we found that we love, love is the Snuggle Puppy with Heartbeat & Heat Pack.
It’s almost like having a litter mate in the crate with your puppy and helps him adjust and feel more comfortable during his first nights home.
We’ve been using the Snuggle Puppy with our puppies during their first few nights at home. Our last four puppies (Charlie, Doni, Downey, and Bodhi) all adjusted quickly to their crates with the help of the Snuggle Puppy.
*The Snuggle Puppy is a plush toy with a plastic heartbeat toy and heat pack in the center so if you have a destructive puppy DO NOT leave him alone and unsupervised with the Snuggle Puppy.
After reading this article you should now be able to create the safest and most beneficial environment as possible for your dog to enjoy when using a crate.
This article should be a great help in your decisions of what to put in a dog crate, what not to put in there, preferred locations and whether or not you should cover it over.
These are all important things that need to be considered before you ever introduce your dog to the crate.
Here’s a recap of some of the products we recommend when crate training:
- Snuggle Puppy with Heartbeat & Heat Pack
- Wellness Soft Puppy Bites
- KONG Extreme
- Midwest Life Stages Wire Crate
This was part 5 in an 8-part series that details everything you need to know about the use of a crate and crate training your puppy.
The information applies equally well to dogs of all breeds and not just Labradors.
The Entire series is linked to here:
- Part 1: Crate training – The complete guide (introduction)
- Part 2: Why use a dog crate – and Answering ‘Is Crate Training Cruel’?
- Part 3: How to use a dog crate – When and when NOT to crate a dog
- Part 4: A Guide to Dog Crate Sizes and Styles – Make Sure You Pick the Right One!
- Part 5: Best Crate Accessories – What to Buy For Your Dog’s Crate
- Part 6: Puppy Crate Training Guide – Detailed and Easy to Follow
- Part 7: How to crate train an older dog – Yours or adopted
- Part 8: A List Of Dog Crates Highly Recommended By Labrador Training HQ
I’ve tried to cover literally every question I could imagine on dog crates and crate training in the article series above, but of course it’s hard to cover every question that people may possibly have.
So if there’s anything you need to know but cannot find an answer for above, please feel free to leave your questions in the comments section below and I will happily give all the help I can :-)
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Top Picks For Our Dogs
- BEST PUPPY TOY
We Like: Snuggle Puppy w/ Heart Beat & Heat Pack - Perfect for new puppies. We get all of our Service Dog pups a Snuggle Puppy.
- BEST CHEW TOY
We Like: KONG Extreme - Great toy for heavy chewers like our Labrador Retrievers.
- BEST DOG TREATS
We Like: Wellness Soft Puppy Bites - One of our favorite treats for training our service dog puppies.
For a list of all the supplies we get for our new service dog puppies check out our New Puppy Checklist on the PuppyInTraining.com blog.