Help! My puppy is destructive when left out of the crate


Today’s we look at a common problem where a puppy is destructive when left alone outside of his crate. Crates and crate training are very popular nowadays, and done carefully they can really benefit a dog and his family. It is often doing away with the crate, that triggers a few problems.

Lucy has a 6/7 month old Labradoodle boy. She’s had him since he was sixteen weeks old, he’s been crate trained and has always been very good about chewing his toys, rather than the house.

First taste of freedom

About two weeks ago, Lucy started extending his freedom when she is out of the house and leaving him in the kitchen with his crate door open. He has toys and a kong, and a friend comes in to walk him if he is left more than two hours. To begin with all went well. “He was fine until this week” says Lucy “now he’s started to take things off the sides while left alone.  iPad, cook books etc destroyed!” Lucy says she can’t leave the room without him taking something.

The first thing to say here is that this is not Lucy’s fault.  Many people do de-crate their puppies at this age, and for some, maybe as many as half of all labradors, they have no problems. However, many people in Lucy’s situation experience the same result, or worse, when they de-crate their young puppies at much under 18 months old. Let’s take a look at why.

When your puppy is destructive

We tend to associate chewing and destructive behavior with very young puppies, under about four months of age. Unfortunately this assumption is largely flawed. The reality is that Labradors are often at their MOST destructive between 8 and 12 months old. This is also the time when they are most at risk from swallowing or biting on hazardous household items like batteries and electrical wiring.

It’s not about teething

This is because chewing, and the urge to chew, is not just to do with teething ( a process that is over by around seven months old). In fact, teething is only a small part of the driving force behind chewing. Many young dogs like to chew a great deal, long after teething is complete.  And young retriever breeds can be especially destructive.  Possibly because we have bred them to be very ‘mouthy’


In addition, we tend to supervise very young puppies extensively. We make a lot of effort to redirect their chewing activities onto more appropriate items such as chew toys.  And of course we often crate young puppies if we leave them alone in the house for an hour or two.

Once they get to six months or so, our dogs look and seem, almost grown up.  And it is tempting to give them a good deal more freedom than they had before. This combination of less supervision and more freedom, and possibly more alone time for the dog, frequently results in destructive behavior.  So what is the answer?

The right age to de-crate

If your dog has always been crated when you leave him alone, 6/7 months is probably not the best age to change that. Every dog is different and I can’t give you an exact age, but I can say that I don’t usually de-crate my Labrador puppies until they are between 15-18 months of age. I then set a ‘test period’ of freedom in which I am very careful to ensure there are no ‘temptations’ around for the dog, when he or she is alone.

How to de-crate

There are precautions you can make to ensure that de-crating goes smoothly.  I keep to a set of ‘rules’ or ‘guidelines’ when I first de-crate. I stick to these for at least a month after first decorating my puppy. At the end of a month I figure she should have some good habits installed and be less likely to get up to mischief once I extend the period of time that I leave her for. Here are my de-crating rules.

  • Short and Sweet
  • Clear Zone
  • Many Kongs

Short and sweet

Initially, it is a good idea to ‘de-crate the dog for very short periods.  Leave the puppy out of the crate while you pop next-door for a chat with your neighbour.  Or while you do the school run. Get your dog used to freedom in easy stages.  If you are going to leave the pup more than twenty minutes or so, to begin with, return her to the crate

Clear Zone

Make sure you clear the counters before you leave your dog alone in your kitchen un-crated.  He shouldn’t be able to reach anything at all. That includes favourite toys like dish cloths and tea towel, as well as items of clothing such as socks which can easily be swallowed. Move your bin too, unless it is dog proof. Stealing and chewing up your stuff can easily become an entertaining habit, Make sure it never gets started.

Many Kongs

If you don’t own at least three Kongs, buy some before you de-crate your puppy.  Fill and freeze them and for the first month, never leave your dog alone for more than five minutes, without a frozen food filled kong to chew on. If you keep him occupied this way, he is less likely to get into the habit of looking for mischief while you are away.

Caught in the act

The object of this process is to catch the dog in the act.  Only in this case, we are trying to catch him in the act of being good. The very act of you returning is very rewarding for him, so its important that he is being good when he hears you approaching.

Each time you come home, you want him to be doing something appropriate, chewing on his kong, or sleeping in his basket. Make sure your dog has neither the time nor the opportunity to start disassembling your property when you first leave him alone, and you will have a good foundation on which to build

When de-crating fails

If you have de-crated your puppy, and he is under a year old, and if you are experiencing problems like Lucy,  I suggest you go back to crating again for at least a month.

Then, when you are ready, try de-crating again, but following the de-crating guidelines I have set out above.


If your puppy is destructive when left alone in the house, you are not alone.  De-crating a puppy too soon is a common cause of problems. Many puppies that have been crated from an early age, won’t be ready for freedom until around their first birthday. And it isn’t unusual to have to make more than one attempt at de-crating your dog. If your dog isn’t ready to cope with total freedom, it is best to take a step back and try again in a month or two.

The Labrador Handbook by Pippa Mattinson(paid link)

Following these guidelines will help your dog make the transition successfully, between puppy and adult, with all the privileges that brings. If the destructive behavior has been going on for a month or more, you’ll need to allow a longer period of crating and ensure that the de-crating process is very gradual when you do make the change.

Don’t forget, dogs of any age should never be left in crates for hours on end, if you go out to work, even part time, you’ll need a puppy pen, and some friendly helpers to come in at regular intervals to care for your puppy

The Labrador Site Founder

Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.

She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program 

Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website


  1. Hello, I have an 11 month old chocolate lab who I believe is ready to de-crate as he does NOT have a chewing problem. Quick question: when leaving him alone for the short spurts outside of the crate, would you suggest keeping his dog crate door open or closed? I’m thinking that having it closed might teach him to be comfortable outside of the crate.

  2. Please can you help we were given a lab aged roughly 4.5yrs old,I allowed her to sleep on the armchairs but not the settee and so has holed both cushion on the arm chairs should I put her in the kitchen to sleep my husband says it might be cold for her,she is very food oritntated by food

    • It doesn’t matter which room your dog sleeps in if she has a comfortable bed to snuggle down in. Sudden temperature changes can be a bit uncomfortable, but most labradors don’t mind a colder room.

  3. I have a completely different question – I have to decide on a new dog for myself as mine passed away Nov 2016. I live alone and need to know how protective labs are. I know they are very loving & good with children but how protective are they? I’ve owned Keeshonde, Great Pyrenees and White Swiss shepherd but never before a labrador. All my other dogs have been very protective and before I make up my mind about a new dog I need to know if a lab will protect me.

  4. My son has been wanting to leave our 6 month old lab out of her crate because our year old English Shepherd hardly ever goes into his crate anymore and there are no problems with him. But my little girl will chew and destroy ANYTHING she can get into her mouth when she is not supervised.
    This morning all I did was move the dumpster to the curb for pickup–took about 5 minutes!–and when got back she had managed to get hold of one of my travel mugs and chewed it to pieces!
    I’m glad I came across this article. I’ve been telling my son that, just like kids, all puppies/dogs are different so, just because Emmett can safely be left out of his crate, it is MUCH too soon for Lucy!

  5. Excellent tips. I have a 4.5 month old male labrador who is the love of our lives. He is sweet, polite, and very well behaved for just a little guy. Right now, and since we got him, his crate is kept in his very own “bedroom.” He sleeps soundly 7 hours in it every night, and during the day, is left alone in it 4 hours in the morning before our pet sitter comes, and goes back in it after his walk and “fun break” for only 2 more hours before my husband is home. It is a little longer then I would like, but he seemed to adjust to it quickly, and of course we did it gradually. Right now, a set of eye balls are on him 24/7 when he’s out and about, unless he’s asleep or really into his nylabone, then we allow ourselves to ‘run upstairs to get something, or grab a snack from the kitchen.’ While mouthy with hands when he was really little, he hasn’t been a destructive chewer yet – he did, and still occasionally grabs and pulls at things he shouldn’t like a tea towel, or my sweater strings, but stops immediately when we say no. Most of the time, he just hangs out on the couch with us, or lies by our feet to be honest. I was thinking about moving his crate down to the kitchen at 6 months, and if he still shows no sign of chewing, leaving him for 5-10 minute intervals at first. I was hoping by 9 months – one year he would have the run of the downstairs of the house, but after reading this article, I might wait longer just to be safe. Thanks for all of your tips!

  6. I have always had labradors and have never crated any of them maybe I’ve been lucky but none of them have chewed anything they were not meant to. They were always put in the kitchen in their basket when I went out, I used to give them an old wooden table leg when they first came to us! Told them it was theirs and that’s all they chewed they also had loads of toys, infact my lab now has his own toybox!! When I come home through the kitchen door it is wonderful to be met by a wagging tail ?

  7. I am getting an 18 month old Labrador in 6 weeks time. He has been partly trained as a gun dog but is now being trained as a family pet. The trainer recommended a crate. We never had a crate for our previous Labrador who we had from 8 weeks old. She was destructive up to about a year but then fine. I have a toddler granddaughter and I wonder whether the dog will like the space away from her. Any thoughts or advice please. Thank you.

  8. Is it necessary to remove the crate? Winston is almost three and he loves his daytime crate…it is never closed but he uses it for his private space…when he knows we are leaving he goes in the crate and waits for a goodbye treat

  9. Following your advice we still have a large crate for our 13 month Labrador. Until recently we had an older Labrador and from quite early on Maud (the younger) would curl up with Hero( the older), in his bed during the day. Since Hero’s passing, 3 weeks ago, we have left his bed in the same place and she has continued to use it during the day and, occasionally, when we’ve been out, in fact we have not put her in the crate during the day time for quite a few months. Although, she has never been a great fan of her crate, she has nevertheless, always gone into it at night and always with some treats in a Kong. I am just wondering how and when we can encourage her to sleep in a bed overnight?

  10. Great article on decrating. My puppy is still at the early stage so not ready as she is only 11wweks old. I note that you recommend Kongs and I was planning to use one but then I read some articles where dogs had died because of the kong. Are there dangers associated with Kongs? Or was it thst the kong had been used incorrectly? My breeder suggested along so I’m feeling a little confused

  11. Ashley:
    Its my understanding that if you can distract your puppy for the first 20 minutes or so after crating him that he will forget his anxiety. I freeze a kong with any number of surprises (peanut butter, etc. see the Kong website for a lot of recipes). Working on getting at the treats will keep my puppies occupied for awhile and then they go to sleep. Also, maybe he needs a bathroom break after the 4 hours and that’s why he is waking up. It took my girl awhile to be able to go through the night. Considering how naughty our 8 month old Labs are, there is no way we could not crate them at night and wake up to an intact house.
    Best of Luck.

  12. Hello, great article on de-crating. What tips do you have for crating a puppy Labrador retriever? I have 4month old male. Got him a month ago. He’s a rescue pup and is really attached to me. When I leave and crate him, I hear cries and howls that I’ve never heard before. Breaks my heart. He’ll cry for an hour a night and is up 4 hours later. We started sleeping on the couch together and its bliss but I know this can’t continue and I could be creating really bad habits he won’t be broken of? Please help.