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How to Keep a Dog Busy in a Crate — 10 Great Ideas

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

ornate Dog crate from This Old House

Dog ownership can be a ton of fun until it’s time to leave your best friend behind and head out. It can be heartbreaking to send your pup into their crate and leave them at home alone while you’re out tending to other responsibilities.

As much as you love your dog, you’re going to have to leave the house at some point. Unfortunately, you can’t bring them everywhere with you. The good news is that there are ways to keep your dog occupied so the time spent apart is easier on both of you.

Ensuring that your dog is entertained and comfortable when you’re not home can be done in different ways. Here are 10 ideas to try today to keep them happy in your absence. All dogs are different, so you may have to try out a few of these methods to find out what works best for your pup.

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10 Great Ideas to Keep a Dog Busy in a Crate

1. Plush Toys

4KONG Cozie Marvin the Moose Plush Dog Toy

Does your dog already have a favorite stuffed toy? Make sure to put it in the crate with them before you close the door. If your dog doesn’t have a plush toy yet, try one with a squeaker. Dogs like the sound and can stay entertained by squeaking the toy throughout the day.

When your dog is ready for a nap, plush toys make convenient pillows too. Dogs can cuddle up and feel secure next to these toys that add softness and entertainment to their crate. Many dogs love plush toys that squeak, but others are heavy chewers that only want to destroy the toy and rip out the squeaker. If your dog demolishes plush toys in a matter of moments, this option isn’t the right one for them. Don’t leave them alone in a crate with a plush squeaker toy because this can be a choking hazard.


2. Hidden Surprises

When your dog enters the crate, always have a surprise waiting for them. Hide treats in the bedding, or put a spoonful of peanut butter or yogurt along the back wall. If your dog has blankets in the crate, hide pieces of boneless, skinless, cooked chicken breast in the folds of the material. Every day, your dog will be eager to go into the crate to find what you’ve hidden.

Keep changing their rewards for them each day. This will keep them busy for a while as they search to make sure they’ve found everything.


3. Kong

KONG Classic Dog Toy

A Kong in the crate is an efficient boredom-buster. They come in different sizes, so be sure to select the one that is appropriate for your pup. Puppies can start off using small Kongs, with the toys being replaced with bigger ones for each stage of the dog’s growth.

What’s great about a Kong is that it’s a durable chew toy. For heavy chewers or teething puppies, the shape of the Kong is inviting to chew. The shape also makes the toy bounce in different directions, so your dog can toss it around their crate and not know where it’s going to land.

To fend off boredom even longer, the center of the Kong can be filled with small treats, peanut butter, or low-fat yogurt. Your dog will have to spend time working to get their reward. Freezing the peanut butter or yogurt-filled Kong overnight will make the treat last longer.


4. Chew Toys

Chew toys can distract dogs and keep them busy for hours. Chewing is a natural activity for them and will satisfy their instincts. These are the same reasons that dogs sometimes chew things that we don’t want them to.

The right chew toy will be durable enough to withstand your dog’s chewing ability. Choose the correct size for them to make sure it interests them. A chew toy that’s too small for your dog is dangerous because it can be swallowed, creating a choking hazard or potential intestinal blockage. Swap out the toys for new ones when they are heavily damaged.

Flavored chew toys are even more enticing for dogs and will hold their interest for longer periods.


5. Camera

Wyze Cam v3

Setting up an interactive camera is a fun way to engage with your dog when you’re not home. You get to keep an eye on them during the day and see what they’re doing, but you also get to talk to them sometimes so they can still hear your voice.

This can ease your anxiety about being away from your dog, since you’ll be able to know what they’re up to. By talking to them and reassuring them, they can still feel like you’re nearby. This can ease their anxiety too.

An added benefit of a camera on your dog is that you’ll be able to assess what’s working in their crate. You can tell what time of the day they get bored and what you might need to add or take out of their crate to increase their comfort.


6. Puzzle Toys

Puzzle toys engage your dog’s mind by having them figure out the puzzles to earn rewards. This keeps them mentally and physically engaged. They can learn to enjoy these toys quickly and keep from getting bored.

Some training might be required before you leave your dog alone with this toy, or else they may not know what to do. Start by showing them how to use the toy outside of the crate. Once they get the idea, the puzzle toy can be a useful tool for keeping them busy.

Most puzzle toys have compartments that can hold treats, and your dog has to figure out how to open them. Others are plush and involve your dog pulling and digging out stuffed toys, giving them a fun and time-consuming challenge.


7. Play a Radio or Television

woman watching tv with her dog
Image Credit: Lazy_Bear, Shutterstock

If you often have a radio or television playing while you’re at home, leaving it on for your dog can be a comfort to them. Having some sort of background noise can make them feel calm. The white noise can also help lower their stress levels.

After about a week, though, dogs can get used to the noise, and it will lose its calming effects. It’s best to change up the music and sounds that your dog listens to so they won’t get bored of the same thing.


8. Make It Comfortable

Dogs won’t be able to settle down and relax in their crate unless it’s a comfortable place to be. Some dogs can’t have any soft bedding in their crate because they chew everything. In this case, durable crate mats might be best. They are more resistant to tough chewing.

If your dog isn’t a heavy chewer and won’t destroy plush bedding, a soft bed with blankets or a few of your old t-shirts to give them your comforting scent can be just what they need to relax and sleep. Blankets are especially useful for breeds that like to burrow under covers.


9. Treat Ball

beautiful Labrador dogs playing with a ball in a green meadow
Image Credit: Stanimir G.Stoev, Shutterstock

A treat ball is filled with treats that are dispensed through an opening when the ball is rolled the right way. This will keep your dog engaged as they try to empty out all the rewards. If you’re concerned about your dog eating too many treats every day, you can fill the ball with their dry kibble instead. Feed them a meal in their crate using the treat ball to keep them occupied without packing on extra calories. It’s also a great solution for dogs that eat their meals too quickly because it forces them to slow down.


10. Frozen Treats

Maybe you have a dog that loves ice cubes. If so, giving them a few in their crate will help keep them occupied for at least a few minutes. You can also freeze low-sodium chicken broth, yogurt, or peanut butter in ice cube trays to give them a flavorful frozen treat before you head out the door.

Freezing pieces of cooked chicken, dog treats, or bits of fruit in water in ice cube trays will make healthy snacks that your dog has to work to get at.


Crating Tips

Your dog can learn to love their crate and view it as their den. Some dogs may choose to go in their crate for naps even when you’re home. That shows you how comfortable they are in that space.

Other benefits of crates are:
  • Provide protection from injuries and household damage
  • Helps with housebreaking
  • May reduce or eliminate separation anxiety

In order to make sure you’re setting up the crate for success, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

dog inside cage
Image Credit: Pixabay

Location

The dog’s crate location can affect how comfortable they are in it. Keep the crate in a low-traffic area but not isolated to an empty room or part of the house. If your dog is in the crate overnight, make sure the crate is near people but not in the way of any walking paths.

Don’t place the crate too close to any heating or cooling vents. Your dog needs to be able to regulate their body temperature. Avoid fireplaces and drafty areas too.

If you place the crate near a window, pay attention to the sun patterns that come in throughout the day. Your dog should never be in direct sunlight with no way to reach shade.

Avoid areas near any electric cords or toxic plants. Make sure nothing is close to the crate that your dog could pull in through the bars and destroy.

Size

It’s important to get the right size crate for your dog. If the crate is too big, it can give your dog one place to relax and another to use as a bathroom. This is especially true for puppies. If you’re crating a puppy that’s going to grow, consider an adjustable crate. These have removable panels that can be adjusted to give your dog more room as they get bigger.

If the crate is too small, it will be uncomfortable for your dog and something that they do not want to go into, no matter how inviting you make it. Your dog should be able to enter the crate without crouching and stand up straight inside of it without their head touching the top. They should be able to turn around completely inside of it with the door closed and lie down without having to curl up.

A good way to measure this is to take a tape measure and see how tall your dog is from the top of their head to the floor. Then see how long they are by measuring them from the tip of the nose to the base of their tail. Once you have these numbers, add 4 inches to each to see the minimum size crate that you should be considering.

After you choose the crate, measure the area of your home that you’d like to keep it in, to make sure it’ll fit.

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We know that nothing will ever replace the time that you get to spend with your dog, but we hope that these ideas have helped you make the time spent apart a little easier. Now that your dog will be entertained and happy while you’re gone, you won’t have to feel bad about leaving them at home.

Always practice safe crating methods, and don’t put anything in the crate that could be a potential risk to your dog. By leaving them in a safe, entertaining environment, you can worry less about them when you’re not home.


Featured Image Credit: This Old House

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