Transition Your Dog From Crate to Free Roaming

Transition Your Dog From Crate to Free Roaming

Your dog’s crate fulfills a number of important functions. It’s an excellent house-breaking tool, it can be made into a cozy den, and it can serve as a comfortable means of confinement if you need to be out of the house and don’t trust your dog to do their own thing. However, at some point, you may want to kick the crate to the curb. Maybe it’s taking up too much space (have you ever seen a crate intended for a Great Dane? Think: zoo enclosure) or maybe you just want your dog to have the freedom to curl up wherever they please, gaze out the window, and drink from their regular water bowl when you’re not home. Of course, the prospect of giving your dog that freedom can be a daunting one if you’re used to the crate being their babysitter. And it can be daunting for your dog as well, as they are probably used to the comfort and security that the crate offers them in your absence. So, how can you ensure that your dog’s transition from crate to free roaming is a smooth one? Follow these steps.

1. Create a Transition Space

One of the most common reasons people crate their dog when they leave the house is because they are worried about the dog destroying their belongings. And indeed, some dogs do chew when left alone, usually because they are feeling

anxious. Set your dog up for success by creating a designated area for them to transition from the crate to free roaming. Maybe it’s the kitchen or a spacious spare room. Clear the area of any furniture you want to protect (bye-bye, Grandma’s rocker) as well as any items that could harm your dog, such as unsecured trash bins, wires, and food. Close windows to reduce outside noises that could scare your dog or send them into a barking frenzy, then put a gate up that blocks access to the rest of the house.

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2. Leave Your Dog With a Distraction

You know that face your dog makes when you are getting ready to leave the house? Heartbreaking, right? To reduce the chances of separation anxiety (which can lead to destructive behavior), offer your dog a distraction before you leave, such as a Kong toy stuffed with peanut butter or kibble. Just be sure that whatever you leave your dog can’t be chewed up into little pieces and swallowed.

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3. Take It Slow

A lot of owners learn this lesson the hard way. If your dog is used to staying in a crate when you leave the house, throwing them into a free-roaming situation out of nowhere is likely to result in some confusion and anxiety, which can result in a gutted living room. Start by letting your dog be alone in their designated area when you go outside to water the garden for five minutes. Over time, build up to longer outings: a quick run to the store or a visit with a neighbor. Then, start giving your dog access to different areas of the house, but take it slow. Pushing your dog too quickly will not only make the process harder in the long run, it can also undo training that you’ve taken months or years to achieve (for example, a dog who you’ve trained not to urine mark inside may return to this behavior under stress).

When can I let my dog free roam?

When you bring a puppy home, you cannot let it free roam right away. As a rule, most puppies need to stay in a crate during the early years. The best time to allow them to free roam is at about 12-24 months of age. However, freedom should be paired with consistent training and learning to avoid mistakes like potty accidents and destructive behavior like chewing, digging, and injuring themselves. If you let your puppy out of the crate too soon, it may not behave properly as it is still not mature. Nonetheless, some dogs may never get full freedom of being off-leash out of the crate because of breed-specific characteristics, problematic history, and lack of training. Let your dog roam free only when you feel confident about doing so. 

How much freedom should a 3-month-old puppy have?

The freedom you allow to a young puppy should be subjective, depending on the relationship you share with it. Limit its freedom until it completely understands the rules in place. Also, keep it under supervision during this period. You can gradually give it more freedom once it starts understanding the rules and shows readiness to adhere to them. According to Denise Mcdaniel, a certified dog behaviorist and expert trainer, allowing freedom depends on the dog’s maturity, behavior, and training. The best time to set your pet free is around 1-2 years, rather than when it is a young 3-month-old puppy. Before letting your puppy roam around, assess its readiness, reinforce commands, and ensure a safe environment for it.

When can I leave my puppy home alone out of the crate?

If you keep your puppy in a crate when leaving it home alone, you will probably want to know when you can let it out loose in the house. This depends on your pet in the first place. You may prefer leaving a mischievous puppy inside the crate as it keeps your pet safe and out of trouble. Puppies younger than 10 weeks should actually not be left alone for more than an hour, in or out of a crate. You can start extending the timespan gradually, but it may take from one to six months to leave your pet alone for more than a few hours. Healthy adult dogs with good bladder control can be left in a crate for 4-6 hours. Alternatively, try letting it loose once you trust it to behave well when left unsupervised at home. 

When should a dog stop sleeping in a crate?

The American Kennel Club notes that pet parents raising a young puppy should ensure it sleeps in a crate until housebroken. That usually happens when the puppy is 12 months of age and has better bladder and bowel control. Additionally, you should wait until it is mature enough to jump up and off the bed without risking injury. Freda Sparks, an accredited canine behavior consultant, states that crates help with house training and offer a sense of security to puppies. However, as your little canine companion grows, you must introduce it to the world outside the crate. Start by letting it sleep outside the crate and free roam around the house.  

Are dogs happier sleeping in a crate?

Sleeping in a crate can give a puppy or dog the same level of safety they feel when hopping on their parent’s bed. Your pet will love it if you add some extras, like its favorite toys and blankets with your scent. Once your dog becomes habitual to a crate, it helps them learn to self-soothe during anxious times, like when they are distressed due to external noise, thunderstorms, and fireworks. Moreover, they enjoy sleeping in the crate when they need a break from the everyday chaos in the house. Over time, you may realize that the crate becomes your pet’s most-loved “safe” space. 

What happens if a dog is crated too long?

Keeping a dog crated all day and night deprives it of exercise or human interaction. In the long run, your pet may even become depressed or anxious. According to Pat Miller, Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed and Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed, crate anxiety is a real thing. Your dog may suffer due to over-crating, improper introduction to the crate, traumatic experiences while crated, and isolation or separation anxieties. You can address this concern by reducing your pet’s crate time. Consider changing your schedule, hiring a pet sitter, or enrolling your dog in a daycare facility.

Have you transitioned your dog out of their crate? Leave a comment and tell us how you did it, and consider signing up for PetPlus. PetPlus is a benefit program for pet owners that provides member-only access to medications at wholesale prices, plus discounts on food, supplies, vet visits, boarding, and more. Learn more at


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