Canine Escapes: What To Do When A Dog Destroys Their Crate When Left Alone

Canine Escapes: What To Do When A Dog Destroys Their Crate When Left Alone

So you come from a long day at work only to find your dog destroyed their crate while they were left alone. In fact, it’s highly likely that they did not stop there but went on a tour of destruction that left your house in tatters, especially if you haven’t puppy-proofed your home with protective measures such as a bitter spray for dogs on your furniture.

A short search on the internet will reveal that you are far from alone. Dogs like the one in the video below can be genius crate escape artists:

But other fidos prefer brute force to calculated measures, and these dogs will destroy an entire crate, costing you a fortune in damages. It’s especially common in dogs left alone. So why do they do it, and how can we stop it?

Why Does My Dog Escape or Destroy the Crate? Common Reasons and Solutions

Separation Anxiety

The most common reason a dog will destroy their crate while alone is usually separation anxiety. Remember, dogs have evolved to be close to their pack, and their survival depends on us. As companion animals, canines are prone to hyper-attachment, not even allowing us to go to the bathroom alone.

For velcro dogs who love being around us all the time, or even for working service dogs, separation anxiety is a common issue. In fact, rescue dog separation anxiety is quite common since service dogs are trained to work closely with their owners and handlers.

In short, to a dog, being left alone is simply unnatural, and for many dogs, it is unbearable. This usually devolves into destructive behavior such as chewing on door frames or digging holes in furniture. Of course, the easy solution to prevent your dog from destroying your home is to crate them.

But for many dogs, separation anxiety just means they will destroy their crates or hurt themselves trying to escape.

To address this issue, one needs to know how to help a dog with separation anxiety.

Unfortunately, there is no curing dog separation anxiety quickly.

But suffice to say, the two most effective treatments for dog separation anxiety are to use behavior modification like place training to reduce hyper-attachment and to increase exercise.

In other words, dogs must learn that it’s okay if they can’t follow us everywhere and need much more activity. A lack of exercise is always one of the biggest causes of unwanted dog behavior.

Improper Crate Training

Another issue that can cause a dog to break out of their crate is that they aren’t properly crate trained. For dogs that were taught from a young age that the crate is their place to rest and a place where there are puzzle toys, chewies, or a Kong to keep a dog occupied, the crate can be a stressful prison.

A dog can be traumatized by a crate if they aren’t properly and gradually acclimatized to it. For dogs who are simply stuck in a crate with no prior experience, it’s restrictive and stressful. They may even injure themselves trying to escape.

In these instances, a dog needs to start training again. You can read more about making the crate a safe and comforting place to be in our how to crate train your adult dog article

A Dog Needs To Go Potty (Or Another Urgent Matter)

Remember that using a dog crate is a responsibility. Aside from using positive reinforcement to condition your dog to accept the crate, you must also consider other aspects. Before crating your dog, they must be able to go potty and preferably be exercised to rest and relax.

Remember, the smaller the dog, the smaller the bladder. A large dog may be able to hold their pee for 6 – 8 hours, but a Chihuahua cannot. Needing to go the bathroom and being left too long in the crate can cause your dog to try to escape and destroy the crate if they have to.

To avoid this, exercise and take your dog to potty before they enter the crate. Then, be careful not to leave them there too long. Toy dog breeds may sometimes need to leave their crate to potty every couple of hours. So will puppies, who should also not stay in crates for unreasonably long periods.

Another reason a dog may escape is if something frightens them. It could be smoke from a fire or a loud noise from fireworks. An intact male dog may take off if they smell a female on heat.

Ensure your dog is neutered and in a safe environment, so they don’t need to break out of their crate. Explore calming pheromones and other products if you suspect a storm or fireworks while you are gone.

Frustration & Boredom

Like separation anxiety, frustrated and bored dogs will try their best to escape their crate and wreak havoc. Be extra careful with working breeds such as German Shepherds, Border Collies, and Huskies to ensure they get adequate exercise and training so they don’t take out their frustration on your crate.

Because They Can!

Ultimately, even the best-trained dogs who get hours of daily exercise can still destroy their crate if they can. This can happen even if a dog is well-adjusted and properly crate-trained. Many dogs, such as Pit Bulls and other terriers, are known for tenacity and problem-solving abilities.

Other dogs, such as high-energy Huskies, or strong-willed mastiff types, might see the crate as optional. To an independent-minded dog with a strong sense of determination, sometimes getting out of a crate is not a behavior problem; it’s a sign that your dog has solved the puzzle of how to get the freedom they want.

This is not being naughty, nor is it disobedience. So don’t resort to punishing your dog for being an innovative winner. To them, managing their grand escape was enough reward to keep them doing it. Instead, the only way to cure the problem is to make destroying the crate impossible.

Stopping Your Dog From Escaping The Crate: How To Make A Dog Crate Escape Proof

1. Use a bitter-tasting spray on the bars (and the crate cover)

Dogs can break their teeth by biting the bars of their crate, so the first step is to use a safe but terrible-tasting spray on the bars to discourage them from using their mouths. This is especially important when a dog loves to chew, as is common in younger dogs and puppies.

Some precocious pups may have a knack for destroying the crate cover. In this case, it’s better to spray the whole cover with a bitter spray to protect it.

Remember, DIY sprays made with vinegar and other homemade options usually don’t last long and can damage upholstery and fabric with their acidity. So use a proper anti-chew spray that lasts, is non-toxic, and does not damage fabrics and materials.

2. Reinforce With Zip Ties & A Padlock

Folding crates, unfortunately, leave many weak points for a determined dog to exploit. Use zip ties to reinforce the corners, and drill holes at the bottom of the tray in the corner to tie the bars more closely to the bottom with zip-ties.

Be sure to spray the zip ties with anti-chew spray to keep your dog from chewing through them.

You can also use a padlock on the gate if your dog has figured out how to unlock it.

3. Reinforce Your Crate Tray & Mat

If your dog destroys the crate tray or, there are a few ways to reinforce it. One is to find a custom metal tray rather than a plastic one, although this may be pricey.

It is a great idea to purchase a thick rubber mat for a horse stall and cut it to size. Place this over the tray to protect it. This will also double as a crate mat, much harder for your dog to chew through than regular crate bedding and trays.

There are also several chew-proof crate mats on the market.

4. Consider Military Working Dog Crates Or Other Reinforced Indestructible Options

Look for military crates or other reinforced, heavy-duty metal crates. Airline crates are another great option. Many escape-proof and indestructible crates on the market are made to be much tougher than the average $60 dollar wire crate you will find at your local pet store. Even the roughest and toughest pooch can have a hard time escaping them.

However, they are generally much more expensive and less convenient to move. So weigh your options carefully.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is It Cruel To Lock a Dog in A Crate?

It is not cruel to lock a dog in a crate for a reasonable amount of time when they are correctly crate-trained. A dog that is comfortable in their crate has a sense of safety and of having a place that is theirs, much like a teenager in their bedroom. Of course, crates can be abused if owners are irresponsible, but used correctly can keep a dog out of trouble and comfortable in their own space.

How Long Can a Dog Stay In A Crate?

If a medium-to-large adult dog is crate-trained correctly, they can stay in the crate for between 6 and 8 hours per day. This provided they also get adequate exercise, playtime, training, and stimulation.

The smaller a dog is, the less time they may be able to stay in a crate, as their bladders are much smaller. Puppies should start their time in crate gradually, keeping it short until they are used to it. A four-month-old puppy can perhaps stay in a crate for up to five hours, given training and enough toys to keep them occupied.

However, keep the size of the puppy in mind. Many small breeds simply cannot hold their bladders longer than two hours.

Can A Dog Get injured In A Crate?

Dogs can injure themselves in a crate, usually when trying to escape. An anxious dog frantically trying to get out of a crate can break teeth by biting the bars or damaging their paws, trying to dig their way out. In severe cases, dogs can pull muscles, break bones, or otherwise severely injure themselves.

Final Thoughts

Dogs who destroy their crates or break out of them are not only at risk of damaging property but can also drastically hurt themselves. This is why proper crate training is essential, especially for fearful dogs, and why your crate should be as safe and secure as possible to avoid injuries.

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.

Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.