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Should a dog be able to stand in his crate?

Crates are one of the more controversial topics among dog owners. Many people find crates to be beneficial for training. Others see them as cruel or uncomfortable.

The truth is, like many things when it comes to our furry friends, it depends. Most dogs do well with a crate. However, it can be traumatic and even cruel for dogs who don’t tolerate crating well.

Generally speaking, crates can be useful for a variety of reasons. However, there are some dos and don’ts to follow for successful crating, including ensuring it’s the correct size.  

Should a dog be able to stand in his crate?

The short answer is, yes. Your dog should be able to stand up in their crate. They should also be able to turn around, and lie with their legs outstretched. It’s important for the crate to not be too small, or too big. 

Importance of Privacy

It can be difficult for a human to understand why their dog would want to be cooped up in a small space. To us, it seems like jailing them. Why would they enjoy this? 

The truth is that when properly introduced, the crate provides your dog with a safe space. They can’t get out, at least if the door is closed, but nothing can come in, either. 

This can be particularly important if you have multiple pets or children in the home. Your dog can go into their crate and enjoy their privacy without having to worry about being approached. 

This also allows them to keep bones and favorite toys. If they are in their crate, they know they won’t be stolen. This can actually help with resource guarding issues. If you find your dog aggressively guarding their chewy, a crate will give them a place to store it.

As they begin to feel secure about their favorite possessions, the guarding should decrease or stop. Just respect their privacy, and don’t take their things out of the crate. 

Denning Instinct

The other reason why dogs can find crates beneficial is because of their denning instinct. In the wild, dogs spend up to 16 hours a day sleeping. This helps them conserve energy for hunting. 

Dogs must be on guard for predators, particularly when they are resting. A den gives them a safe place to rest, and helps hide them from potential predators. Coyotes and wolves will create a den when having puppies. Once the puppies are old enough to be out and about, the den is abandoned. 

This behavior is a far cry from what most people believe. The average person believes that dogs are den animals. However, den animals spend most of their time living in a den. Moles and groundhogs, for example, are den animals. They live in dens beneath the ground. 

Dogs, on the other hand, spend up to 95% of their time in the open in the wild. So, dogs aren’t den animals in the way most people believe them to be. 

However, this doesn’t mean that dogs don’t have a den instinct. Wild dogs spend their first weeks in a den, where they learn it’s a safe place. They get food, warmth, and the love of their mother in the den. They don’t have to worry about getting lost or predators, until they venture outside. 

Sick or injured dogs also den in the wild. This is where they go when they can’t defend themselves, or when they have pups to protect. 

Even though they don’t naturally spend the majority of the time in a den, it does provide a sense of safety and comfort. Your domesticated companions share these associations and instincts, which means providing them with a den can be a good idea. 

How do I know if my dog’s crate is too small?

If your dog’s crate is too small, they will not enjoy their time in it. It can also cause physical issues, because they can’t move around properly. There are some signs that will tell you that your dog’s crate is too small. 


Your pooch should be able to sit up straight in their crate. Have them sit inside the crate. Check to be sure their head isn’t hitting the top fo the crate, and make sure the dog isn’t hunching down to fit. 

Turning Around 

Next, perform the turning test. Use a treat to encourage your dog to turn around in their crate a few times. They should be able to turn around fully, without hitting their head or body on the cage. 

It’s ok if their tail touches the cage as they turn, but the rest of their body shouldn’t. Look for any signs of discomfort as your pooch is turning, as well as assessing the amount of room they have. 


Next, have your dog lay down inside their crate and stretch out their paws. They should be able to do this without bending their paws. Dogs enjoy lying in this position. Would you like your bed to be too small to stretch out when you want to? No. Your dog also needs to be able to relax comfortably. 

Of course, this test assumes that your dog is positioned properly in the crate. If there’s a lot of room at their back, but their paws are hitting the cage, this is a positioning issue, not a cage that’s too small. 

If you find it difficult to get your pooch into this position in their crate, have them do it outside the crate. Use a measuring tape to see if they have enough space. Just add 2-3 inches to the measurement to be sure they have enough room. 

Trust Your Instincts and Observations 

Perhaps your dog’s crate has passed the tests, but something seems wrong. Your dog may appear or act uncomfortable. Physical signs of discomfort include hunching, not moving inside the crate, and excessive licking. 

Behavioral signs include excessive barking or whining. They may also try to avoid going into the crate. If you get the feeling your dog’s crate is too small, go up a size. 

Can a dog crate be too big?

Yes, just as a crate can be too small, it can also be too big. A crate that’s too big can actually defeat the purpose of the crate. 

Denning Desire

If you want to meet your dog’s desire to den, you’ll need to provide them with something that meets their criteria for a den. This means an area that is big enough for them to move around, but small enough to feel enclosed and cozy. 

If the cage is too big, your dog may not see it as a den. It’s also possible that they will view part of the crate as their den, but not all of it. This carries its own problems. 

Housetraining Mishaps

One reason many owners use a crate is  because it makes potty training much easier. A dog’s denning instinct means they won’t pee or poop in their den, unless absolutely necessary. 

It would be like you peeing in your bed. You wouldn’t do it unless you truly couldn’t hold it back. However, when the cage is too big, your dog may view one area as their den, and another as their bathroom. 

How to choose a dog crate?

You are looking at crates. There are so many options. Different sizes, styles, and even materials. Of course, you need to determine what size crate your dog needs? Once you know the right size for your dog, there are still some choices to make. 

Size Matters

We know how important size is when choosing a crate for your dog. However, you don’t want to bring your dog to the store and have them try out crates to determine the right size. 

You’ll need to have an idea of the size you need before you bring home a crate. Once you get it home, you can use the tests above to confirm it’s the correct size. 

To figure out what size crate your dog needs, you’ll need to measure them. Measure their height, from toes to the top of their head. Then, add 2-4 inches to this measurement.

This is how tall the crate needs to be. Next, measure their length, from nose to the beginning of their tail. Add 4 inches to this measurement. This will allow them to stand, and turn around in the cage. 

Growing Puppies

If you have a puppy, the size crate it needs can change dramatically over several months. How do you get the right size? 

You can purchase a crate with dividers. This allows you to give your puppy a small enough space to keep it cozy. As they grow, you move the divider panels to keep the crate cozy but big enough to be comfortable. 

This may be a bit more expensive, but they save you from needing to buy multiple crates as your dog grows. 

Soft Crate vs. Wire

Generally, a soft crate will be covered. It may have a netted door and even a few windows for your dog to look out, but it gives a feeling of being enclosed. This is great for a dog that loves their privacy. However, some dogs don’t like this feeling. 

If your dog seems to crave open spaces and clear views, a wire crate is the better option. It confines your pooch, but provides them with an unrestricted view of the area around the crate. 

The other consideration with crate type is the likelihood of your dog struggling. Wire crates can injure your dog’s nails. If they try to escape, they can create sharp points that can injure them. 

A soft crate can be chewed through by a highly determined dog, but the crate itself will not injure them.