You are bringing home a dog soon, and this new family member will need a place to sleep. Looking through the huge variety of beds and crates available for dogs, how do you pick the best one?
Part of the answer lies in the age of your dog. Part will depend on the dog’s background. Part will even depend on the dog’s breed and body type. Let’s take a look at the options, which dogs they suit best, and what can be the disadvantages of each one.
Every dog needs the ability to rest calmly in a crate. To achieve this, the dog needs to be able to view the crate as a place to sleep, and not a place for punishment. Put the dog into the crate preventively, if the dog needs the crate to stay out of mischief. Don’t wait until the dog has displeased you and then use the crate.
If you use the crate strictly for the dog to rest and sleep, many dogs will start going into it happily. Dogs sleep about 14 hours a day. Puppy housetraining is an excellent time to condition your dog to be able to rest calmly in a crate. This skill can save a dog’s life many times over. If your pup grows into a typical adolescent dog with a destructive chewing stage that can last up to age two (even longer in some breeds), the early crate training will become a huge blessing.
It helps to give a small treat every time you put the dog into the crate and close the door. This makes it pleasant for the dog, and also will help you avoid forming the habit of putting the dog in the crate because you are upset–after all, you’re going to have to give the dog a treat for going in there!
Children, including grandkids and visiting kids, need to be taught to leave the dog alone in the crate. The crate then becomes a place the dog can go to get a break from the kids. With children too young or too disobedient to follow the rules, place the crate where they absolutely CANNOT get to it. Never leave a child younger than school age alone with any dog, even for one second.
As far as determining when to discontinue routine use of the crate, ask yourself if housetraining is perfect yet. Also ask yourself if the dog is still doing any destructive chewing. You don’t want to discontinue the crate too soon. Your dog could form bad habits, be harmed by chewing the wrong thing, and of course do extensive damage to your property.
Crates can be overused. Dogs need exercise, mental stimulation, opportunities to bond with other family members, social experiences, acclimation to your home and the world in general-and none of this happens inside a crate. Whenever someone is available to supervise the dog, have the dog outside the crate with a person, where learning and the joy of living can take place.
What Goes in the Crate?
Expect a puppy or young dog to chew whatever is in the crate. Dogs need to chew for healthy teeth, and chewing can also help a dog relax and fall asleep. Two or three toys in the crate will give the dog choices of textures. The teeth seem to need different textures at different times of development. Notice what your dog tries to chew of yours that is inappropriate, and try to find safe toys of a similar texture for the dog.
Watch carefully how your particular dog uses toys, and be alert for changes. As dogs mature, toys they once chewed safely may be destroyed and swallowed, creating huge hazards. There’s no toy that’s safe for all dogs. Toys are necessary for dogs, but will always require vigilance.
Putting bedding into the crate with a puppy or young dog can cause serious injury or even death if too much of the wrong kind of material is swallowed.
Many pups and young dogs will do just fine with a bare crate floor. Those who have little body fat-like the sighthounds-may require some padding. Monitor the dog’s chewing to find a material that particular dog doesn’t chew. It can be a challenge. One material to consider is Dri-Dek vinyl tiles, available through some pet suppliers. Ask your veterinarian and your dog’s breeder for other ideas.
Bedding can also encourage housetraining problems. Dogs who will not relieve themselves on a bare crate floor will sometimes do so if there’s bedding to wick the moisture away from their own bodies. The goal in the crate is for the dog to develop the ability to hold it until the next trip to the proper relief area, so this is clearly a reason to avoid bedding when it’s not truly needed.
Housetrained dogs who don’t chew their bedding can of course have bedding in their crates. It may not be necessary to use a crate with these dogs anymore on a daily basis, depending on your living circumstances.
Dogs with orthopedic problems may require special surfaces to protect their joints. Ask your veterinarian if this is the case with your dog whenever arthritis, orthopedic injury or genetic orthopedic problems are suspected.
If a dog needs restricted activity to recover from a medical problem, the crate may be absolutely essential-which is another reason to condition every puppy to be able to rest calmly in a crate. But if the dog does not need restricted activity, it can be preferable to keep the dog out of a crate so that it can move the joints frequently and keep them mobile.
What Constitutes a Dog Bed?
A dog bed can be anything from a rug to a four-poster affair fit for canine royalty. Some dogs actually prefer a smooth, cool floor. To help determine the dog’s preferences, watch where your dog snoozes around the house during the day.
The temperature in your home makes a big difference, as does the dog’s coat. A short-coated dog in a cool house may prefer bedding with a warm texture, while the same dog in a warm house might need a bed that lets warmth escape the body. A long-coated dog may need a cool surface at all times.
Blanket-like surfaces tend to feel warmer, and bed-sheet-like surfaces tend to feel cooler. You can make an inexpensive bed by wrapping a sheet or blanket around the egg-crate-foam padding widely available where human bedding is sold.
The crate is a good way to start the dog learning to use a bed other than yours. You can have a crate in your bedroom for the dog to sleep in at night, surrounded by the comforting smells, sights and sounds of family.
As the dog matures and learns to handle housetraining and chewing appropriately, you can transition the dog to a comfy bed in your room. Those dogs who have never been allowed on the bed up to this point may transition easily into using a bed other than yours. Those who have, even occasionally, been allowed on your bed will be more challenging.
When you’re asleep it’s not easy to keep getting up and reminding the dog to go back to the dog bed. You could handle this in a couple of ways.
One would be to put a dog bed into the crate. Leave the door open if the dog uses the dog bed, but close it when the dog comes to your bed instead. Don’t make it a punishment, and do remember the treat when you close the door!
Eventually, if you’re calm and completely consistent, the new habit will be formed, and you will be able to leave the crate door open and at some point remove the bed from the crate. Don’t handle the dog roughly or harshly to get the dog off your bed, because the dog could become defensive and aggressive. Positive training with your dog will help this go more smoothly.
Another way to condition the dog to use a dog bed is to tether the dog to the wall. This requires great caution to avoid the risk of the dog getting tangled and choking, so the crate method is usually safer.
Your Bed as Dog Bed?
Dogs under a year or so old are generally best not permitted to sleep on a person’s bed. Until the dog gets far enough into puberty that the adult temperament becomes apparent, you really can’t tell if this puppy is going to be a dog who can sleep on a human bed without aggression toward humans. It’s much, much more difficult to take this privilege away than it is to simply wait until the dog is ready for it-if, indeed, the particular dog is going to ever be ready for it.
The strictest safety rules say not to have the dog on your bed. Here are some of the reasons:
- Small dogs and dogs with orthopedic problems can be injured jumping off beds.
- Dogs who don’t react well when awakened suddenly may bite the people in the bed or someone approaching the bed.
- Children are often injured when they come rushing up to or onto a bed and startle or even hurt the dog.
- Some dogs will try to take over the bed as territory to guard. This can result in bites.
Still, a huge percentage of folks with dogs do eventually have the dogs sleeping in bed with the people. If you want to do this, the safest way is to raise your dog first to sleep elsewhere, train with your dog to establish good communication, and condition your dog to be deeply comfortable with human touch.
In cases where there is any doubt about the dog’s safety to be on human beds, consult a behavior specialist who can evaluate the dog in person. Think especially carefully about having a dog on beds in a home with children (or grandchildren) under school age.