For the last few weeks you’ve been working on crate training your puppy. Have you been wondering when it’s safe to give your puppy more room to roam? If you have, you’re not alone. While some people choose to continue using the crate their entire lives, others begin to give trained dogs more freedom and gradually work up to giving them free roam of the house. If your main reason for crate training was to help with potty training and to keep your home safe from a (potentially) avid furniture chewer, there are ways to safely ease your dog and home toward more freedom. 

Is my dog ready?

The first thing you want to assess is whether your dog is actually ready for this transition. As a rule of thumb, you want to wait until your dog has not had an accident in 2 months and can sleep through the night. This should significantly reduce the chance of an accident and make sure your puppy doesn’t unlearn your housebreaking efforts. We also recommend waiting until their molars have come in, which usually happens around 5-6 months of age, since the molars growing in could lead to chewing habits they didn’t have before. 

How to do it?

There’s a few different options you can choose to evaluate how your dog will act when given more freedom. 

Starting with a single room during the day

Rather than giving your dog free roam of your entire house right off the bat, see how they behave when left to roam free within a room. Ensure the room is puppy proofed and leave them alone while you run a short errand outside the home (~1 hour) or retreat to another part of the house. You can either close the door or use a gate to confine them to the space. Similar to when you first started crate training, take your pup out right before so they can use the bathroom and leave them with a chew toy to keep them occupied while you are gone. When you come back, in addition to checking for accidents, check the room thoroughly for any signs that they started chewing on something they shouldn’t have. Some dogs will not completely destroy furniture, but will give a few chews to wall or table corners which may not be noticeable right away. 

  • If your dog had an accident, they’re simply not ready to stop using the crate and you can try again in a few weeks. Clean up the accident with a pet-safe odor remover so they don’t associate the spot with a place to use the bathroom repeatedly. 
  • If your dog didn’t have an accident and didn’t get themselves into any other trouble, gradually work up the time you leave them in this room unsupervised. Similar to the crate, never leave them for more than half a day. 
  • Upgrade the space: Once your dog has been staying in this new room for a couple weeks unsupervised with no unwanted behavior, it’s time to upgrade the amount of space they have. Gradually add one more room of space, usually an additional room every 1-2 weeks works well. Increasing the number of rooms too quickly can lead to accidents even for a trained puppy, so set them up for success by going slowly. 

Starting at night

Some pet parents still want to crate their dogs during the day, but would like them to have free roam at night, potentially to have their dog sleep in the bed with them. Below you have several options to start at night. It’s important to make sure you associate nighttime in your room with going to bed and not play time. While it’s exciting to have your dog sleep with you, you’ll be glad you set the tone for this early on so you don’t have a dog ready to play every night when they realize it’s time for bed. Make sure to also take them out to potty right before and tire them out with some exercise right before bed. If your dog is used to sleeping in a crate in your bedroom already, leave the crate in its usual place with the door open so they can use it if they’d like. 

  • Confine to the bedroom at night: This is the simplest option, and also the one with most freedom. You can work up to this by using one of the two options below if you’re nervous about free roam in your bedroom for an entire night. 
  • Tether to the bed with access to a bed. If you’re hesitant about giving them free roam of your room (we get it, bedrooms typically have a lot that can be destroyed), you can tether your dog with a slack leash and give them access to a dog bed for them to sleep on. If you opt for this option make sure you give them ample room to move. You’re testing how they behave with more freedom, so you’ll want them to have enough room to move about a bit. With the tether, we don’t recommend giving them access to their crate. Their collar or leash could get caught on the crate and hurt your dog. 
  • Use a pen in your room. Similar to the tethered option above, a play pen is a great way to reduce the size of your room while you test their behavior. Place a dog bed inside the pen as well. 
  • Once you’ve successfully gotten through 1-2 weeks, you can begin to increase the amount of space you give them by adding more room about once a week. 

Over time, your dog will grow used to having more space and the additional freedom won’t be novel anymore. They’ll be less likely to chew on things once they’ve already gotten accustomed to the space and won’t likely take up chewing on furniture or start having accidents later. While it certainly does happen, we’ll discuss next week how to address these behavioral changes that occur later on!