One of the biggest questions I am asked is at what point can pet owners start giving their puppy or dog more freedom in their home. With dogs, we often have this idealized vision of our dogs having the freedom to roam the house wherever they like. For many different reasons, most families want their puppy to be free of their crate or kennel as soon as possible. This could be because they don’t like how bulky crates and kennels are or they don’t like the idea of “locking up” their dog during the day or night. However, the benefits of limiting a dog’s freedom are numerous and it can be very beneficial for your dog.
There are a few different ways to limit a pet’s freedom at home. We can use crates (smaller) or kennels (larger), baby gates, closed doors, or tethers. These all have different purposes, but can be extremely helpful in keeping your pet safe.
In general, dogs need between 16 (or more!) hours of sleep per day. That is a lot! When dogs and puppies don’t get enough sleep, they can become overstimulated, over-stressed, overexcited, and overtired. These can all lead to a dog who is restless, biting, or destructive. This is especially true in puppies!
To help our dogs, we can limit their freedom so they can have a better quality of life.
Things like looking out the window all day can seem like a good way for your dog to pass the time, but it can actually lead to a lot of frustration and stress. If your dog gets concerned about activity out your window, letting them have access to the front windows of your house could be causing your dog more anxiety. Instead, try covering your windows with a frosted window cling or giving them another area of the house without windows onto the streets and sidewalks.
Likewise, if they are often woken up by neighbors, car doors, or the sound of dogs or kids outside during the day, you might want to try turning on the TV or radio to mask those noises, or giving them a quieter place to spend the day.
Puppies in particular need fewer freedoms for their safety, but older dogs can still be at risk. Our adult dog once chewed on a lamp electrical cord. We don’t know what prompted her to test it out when she had left puppyhood far behind, but if we had not been there to save her we would have come home to a very tragic accident. Other things like bags of chips, a pantry door that didn’t get closed all the way, or even a bathroom garbage can pose expensive or deadly problems for dogs left unattended with full house freedoms.
Exercise pens or kennel areas can be great options for dogs or puppies that need some safe quiet time- even when you are home. For short periods of time, tethering your dog or puppy to a hook in the wall or a heavy piece of furniture can also be a great option. These are called tie downs, and they can be great tools to use inside your home.
Most importantly, having boundaries and constraints can actually make dogs feel more comfortable. There was a study that looked at how children played at two different parks. In the first park the kids stayed close to the center of the park and played in a closer group. At a second park of about the same size, the kids spread out and used the whole park. The difference? The second park had a fence around it. Having a boundary actually made the children feel more safe and allowed them to relax and explore more. Our dogs are the same. We think that limits can promote negative feelings for our dogs, but usually it is the opposite. They actually feel more secure with some boundaries and constraints. Less to worry about means less to worry about!
Most dogs actually really like their kennel or their crate. It provides them a feeling of security, is a place to call their own, and provides structure. Having a space that they don’t have to worry about “keeping safe” can also be a huge benefit for dogs that tend to worry. This could be a crate or kennel, but it could also be a bedroom, play pen, or office space. When a dog is worried about what the other pets are doing or what is going on outside, they cannot mentally relax. They might look like they are relaxed, but their mind and senses might still be heightened. Think of it like when you are afraid of oversleeping or missing an alarm – the quality of your sleep just isn’t the same!
Using a baby gate to block off a room can also be a big relief for some dogs. For dogs that are worried about other dogs stealing their toys or chews, they can relax knowing that no one can get to their favorite items. For dogs that don’t like to share their space or feel uncomfortable around kids or other pets, a room of their own might be just the thing they need to fully rest.
So, while we might want our dog to be able to roam the house when we are not there, it can actually make them happier to have a little part of the house to call their own instead!