Labrador Retrievers are physically active and energetic dogs. They don’t like to feel confined in one place for too long as they need lots of exercise. When you leave your dog in a crate whilst you go out, it’s important to know the myths vs. reality. So, how long can you leave a Lab in a crate?
Labradors shouldn’t be left in a crate for longer than 4 hours and even less for growing puppies. Introduce the pup slowly to the crate for a few minutes at a time, and then gradually build up. Don’t leave puppies in a crate for longer than 1 hour for each month of age, up to the maximum of 4 hours.
Throughout this article, you’ll also learn the benefits of crate training, how to crate train a Labrador puppy, and the health issues of over-crating. We’ll also cover what size crate you need, how long you can leave your Lab in his crate at night, and some alternative solutions.
Let’s dive into the myths versus reality in how long you can leave your Labrador in a crate.
Can You Leave a Lab in a Crate for 8 Hours?
So, you’ve just brought your new puppy home and spent your first few fun days together. But now reality sets in, and you need to go back to work! You start to wonder if you can leave your Lab in a crate for 8 hours whilst you are away?
Labradors cannot be left in a crate for 8 hours whilst you go out to work as it’s cruel. Puppies need lots of attention and won’t be able to hold their bladder that long. They also need lots of exercise and stimulation, and crating them for extended periods is detrimental to their health.
Dogs are highly social animals, and it’s irresponsible and ruthless to leave a Lab in a crate for 8 hours, except overnight as an adult. Here’s a handy table showing the maximum recommended time to leave a Labrador in a crate, according to their age:
|Age of Labrador||Maximum Crate Time|
|8-10 weeks||Up to 1 hour|
|11-14 weeks||1 – 3 hours|
|15-16 weeks||3 – 4 hours|
|17 weeks +||4 hours|
It’s never acceptable to regularly crate a dog all day long. Unfortunately, this can make it fairly challenging for owners and families who don’t have anyone at home during the working day. However, don’t worry as there are plenty of alternative solutions which I’ll tell you about later.
Benefits of Crate Training
There are many benefits to crate training. My 8-week old puppy was crate trained as soon as we brought her home, as recommended by her breeder. Once she had reached 4 months of age, she was never left during the day for more than three hours in her crate.
Here are some of the many benefits of crate training:
- Helps your puppy immediately settle into his new home.
- Accelerates toilet training as puppies naturally try to avoid making a mess where they sleep. Check out my ultimate guide on Lab potty training here.
- Provides a safe place for your Lab pup to go when he is alone or when you can’t supervise him.
- Allows your pup to have his own special place, where he can go to rest, sleep, or chew his favorite toys.
- Makes traveling much easier if your dog is crate-trained.
Dogs that have been crate-trained love their crates and perceive them as their own special “den” where no-one else is permitted. My dog would go crazy when I reached inside to clean her crate and to change her bedding as if to say, “Hey! Get out! This is my crate!
Never uses a crate as a punishment tool for your Labrador. It should be a happy place where your dog associates positive experiences. To learn how to discipline your Lab, check out this article, How to Discipline a Labrador: What Not to Do!
How to Crate Train a Labrador Puppy
So, you decided to take the advice of your breeder and had a nice new crate waiting for your pup when you arrived home. Although Labradors are intelligent dogs, training should start early, and this includes crate training, as it’s easier the younger they are. But how do you crate train a Labrador?
To crate train a Labrador puppy, slowly introduce him to the crate by tossing a treat inside and let him investigate the crate voluntarily. When you first close the door, only do it for a few seconds. During the first few days make this a fun game and gradually increase to a few minutes.
The idea is that the puppy learns to associate the crate with a positive experience, such as a treat. Check out the below amazing video below from celebrity dog trainer Zak George on how to crate train a puppy. I’m a huge fan of this guy due to his ethical training techniques using positive reinforcement.
The video gives a great overview of crate training. Around halfway through, Zak also confirms that dogs should never be left for more than four hours in a crate, and less for younger puppies.
To learn more on puppy training, check out my top article, How to Train an 8-Week Old Labrador Puppy: Beginners Guide.
How Long Can Labrador Puppies Hold Their Bladder?
One of the reasons why puppies shouldn’t be left for more than 4 hours in a crate is because of their little bladders, as they can’t control them for that length of time!
A Labrador puppy can generally hold its bladder for 1 hour for every month of age, up to a maximum of 3 hours at 6 months old and increasing to 6-8 hours as a fully grown adult. However, for fewer accidents, young puppies should be allowed to relieve themselves every hour.
Exactly how long a Lab can hold their pee as they grow up depends on many factors such as age, health, diet, and size of the dog. However, the basic principle still applies to house-trained adult dogs who should be allowed outside to pee at least 3-4 times during the day.
Remember, always exercise your Labrador and allow him to go to the toilet before leaving him in his crate.
Health Issues of Over-crating a Dog
Being crated for extended periods can lead to all kinds of mental and physical health issues for your dog. Here are a few important consequences of leaving your Labrador in a crate for too long:
- Separation anxiety is a miserable condition that some dogs have to deal with. Labradors are extremely friendly and social and when left unattended for several hours, especially in a crate, they begin to get anxious and distressed. They worry if you’ll return and may also suffer from depression without sufficient human interaction.
- Hip and elbow dysplasia is a disease prevalent in Labradors. If your adult dog is crated for hours during the day, they’re unable to stretch out and move around sufficiently. The lack of space without exercise for hours on end can cause additional pain and discomfort in your Lab’s joints.
- Restlessness during the evening is a common issue when owners over-crate their dogs. Excessive amounts of pent up energy might occur when your Lab is supposed to be tired or winding down for the night, even if you have taken him for his evening walk, this may not be adequate.
- Labradors left in their cage for too long can develop obesity or an unhealthy heart. Without enough exercise and mental stimulation throughout the day, Labradors can become unhealthy quite quickly. Don’t forget, they were initially bred as working dogs due to their strength and stamina. Labs need open running space and at least two 45-60 minutes of exercise per day, including lots of playtimes.
According to a recent study, keeping dogs kennelled and isolated from humans can cause extreme stress. These police dogs showed signs of mental illness after being kennelled after work, despite being properly stimulated during the day.
What Size Crate Do Labs Need?
Labradors are a medium-large breed, so it should come as no surprise that they need a large crate.
When it comes to the crate size, Labradors should have one no smaller than 42 inches. This provides enough space for your dog to comfortably move around and lie on his side with paws outstretched. A 42″ crate will allow him to grow into, but use a divider panel whilst he is still a puppy.
Choose a metal crate and preferably a heavy-duty one with safe and secure slide-bolt latches. Most metal crates will fold flat, making them easily transportable. You can opt for either a single or double door or both, providing options depending on how you wish to position the crate in your home.
I like the Midwest Homes for Pets icrate from Amazon as it has everything you need, including a divider panel and a wipe-clean removable tray. It’s easy to set up, and you don’t need any tools!
Nonetheless, a crate on its own will not just turn into a safe haven for your dog and keep him entertained. Here’s a list of the items that you should have inside your Labrador’s crate:
- A crate pad or mattress. A suitable crate pad is essential to keep your Lab cozy and comfortable. All dogs love to be pampered, especially when they’re home alone. I love the Big Barker crate pad. It’s 4 inches deep and perfect for big dogs who are prone to joint issues such as the Labrador.
- Plenty of toys. Provide your Lab with a variety of interesting chew and interactive toys to keep him busy and entertained. KONG toys are ideal for Labs and will relieve boredom. There’s a large selection of KONG toys on Amazon to choose from, and you can even stuff treats inside them to keep your dog happy.
- Food and water. It can be difficult to prevent your Lab from making a mess with their food and water bowls in a crate, but there is a solution! Purchase clip-on bowls that hang onto the side of the crate. These hold firmly in place, preventing anything from being knocked over.
- A blanket to cover the crate. This makes the crate feel more like a den and can help your Labrador feel more secure. I used to cover at least half of my dog’s crate with a blanket. This also helped her from getting distracted from anything that could excite her, such as the sound of children playing outside.
How Long Can You Leave a Dog in a Crate at Night?
Crates can help your puppy to settle on his first night in his new environment, but how long can you leave a dog in a crate at night?
Dogs can be left in a crate at night for 7-8 hours once they are in full control of their bladder and bowels, so generally after 6-7 months. Before this, they may need a potty break overnight. Owners of young puppies like to place the crate near their bedroom for this very reason.
Some puppy owners will also have a second crate as it can be a pain having to move it around at night time. Plus, you don’t want your Labrador to associate crating with feeling isolated, so his main crate should be placed in a popular room in the home, preferably in a quiet draftproof corner.
If you really don’t like the idea of crating your Labrador, there are a few options you can consider. Let’s take a look at the alternatives:
- Dog gates. These gates allow you to decide how much space your puppy can have to move around in your home by sectioning off various off-limit areas. You can find a large selection of dog gates on Amazon and there are many different styles to match your decor.
- Dog playpens. Puppy playpens are perfect for young Labradors who need more room to move around. Some of these can even be connected to a crate to create a cool combination of both a cozy resting space and room to roam. Some can even be used outside. If you have a higher budget, take a look at this BestPet Dog Pen from Amazon. It’s perfect for both indoors and outdoors, it can be configured into multiple shapes without having to use any tools, and it’s easy to move around.
- Train your Lab to stay outside. Some owners prefer to leave their Labradors outside. This is okay as long as they have been trained to stay outside from an early age. You need to provide food, water, and shelter such as a dog house, especially in colder climates. If I ever had an outside dog I would buy this log cabin from Amazon! A bit pricey, but it looks really cool.
No matter which method you choose, you can slowly train your Labrador to roam free throughout the house. However, this process takes time. You can start by initially leaving the crate door open when you go out or gradually increasing the size of their gated area until it fits the size of a room.
Once your Lab is used to the freedom, you can open the house up for them. My dog was 12-months old before I started leaving her crate door open and two years old before she was allowed free reign of the house.
You can also invest in a pet camera such as the Furbo from Amazon. This allows you to check on your Lab to make sure he’s okay. You can get cheaper dog cameras, but I love how this one as you can toss treats out to your dog, all controlled remotely from your smartphone! They’re crazy!
Guilt-Free Solutions to Leaving Your Lab Alone
It’s never a good idea to leave your Labrador alone for any length of time, whether they are crated or not. If you are out at work all day, here are some other solutions you can consider. These can be mixed and matched daily:
- Take your pet to doggy daycare
- Hire a dog walker and/or dog sitter
- Call home at lunchtime to exercise your Lab
- Arrange for someone to call and let your dog out and interact with him
- Work from home where possible
- Take your Labrador to work
Labradors are prone to feeling anxious if they’re left alone for too long. Remember that you shouldn’t leave them in a crate for longer than four hours per day, and even less for growing puppies up to four months of age.
The crate should be at least a size 42 inches. Labs grow into big dogs! They require plenty of room to stretch out and turn around. In the meantime, use a crate divider.
My dog adored her crate. She loved to go and chill out if she wanted to rest or needed some peace away from me! In fact, some dogs love their crate so much they never outgrow them!
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