Do Dogs Love Dens

Do dogs love dens?

The Psychology…

Really? Dogs love dens?

If you are wondering what the best housing for your dog within your home is, don’t forget to take their ancestry and natural behaviours into consideration. Yes, dogs love dens!

Have you ever wondered why your dog disappears under the table in a thunderstorm? Or why you find them in a cupboard when they are feeling a bit under the weather? It’s completely normal, and I am going to go into the psychology behind why dogs love dens.


Dens are a natural habitat for dogs.

It is believed that dogs were domesticated between 10,000 and 30,000 years ago. That may seem like an awfully long time, and domesticated they may now be. But the dogs we keep as pets still retain most of the behavioural characteristics of their ancestors.

Dogs are den animals. A cosy, small, private space will give them a place they can fee safe and comfy. When they are feeling anxious, insecure, unwell or just tired, dogs in the wild would have a den they can retreat to. Undomesticated dogs will sue dug-outs or caves for dens. You’ll often find street dogs curled amongst rubble or under niches in built up areas. This their solution to a den.

Does my dog need a den?

Pet dogs will use whatever they feel comfortable with as a den. If you have not provided your dog with a bed, you’ll find they make do with what they have available. A rug, the bed, the sofa, or under the table.

It’s common knowledge that dogs who are scared of storms will be found hiding in a cupboard or under a chair. They are obviously searching for a place to feel safe.  I love the thought of my dog knowing that she has her own place in the house where she won’t be disturbed, and can feel secure. I feel, in this way, I am respecting her natural canine instincts and behaviours. She clearly loves her den – I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Won’t a normal pad – type bed do?

A bed is fine, but some dogs will prefer an enclosed den area. Not to mention, I found that an open bed takes up space. Much needed space!

Even a closed topped crate wasted the potential storage area above it.

Sure, you can put a bed under a table or counter, but I needed to be able to use the limited space I had efficiently. Integrating my dog’s bed into furniture did two things.

1 – I was able to use the area above her bed for much needed storage.

2 – It created a closed in, darkened, space for my dog, which she loved.

Oh, and also I now had a unique piece of furniture which I loved!


What about dogs that have never had a den before?

If you think your dog won’t like a den because they have got used to having a bed, you might be surprised. In my experience, dogs always end up loving them.

To help answer the question “do dogs like dens” I’m going to refer to my own experiences.


Hang on – what do I know about dogs?!

Well,  I adopted a dog with behavioural problems 10 years ago, which led me to become somewhat of an amateur dog behaviourist. The books I read about dog psychology were fascinating, and I was doing all I could to understand my dog in order to better help her. I was hooked – an utter “dog nerd”. Behavioural rehabilitation of my own dog helped me to learn so very much about these amazing creatures.

I recently moved from New Zealand back to the UK. My dog is crate trained (thank goodness, or the journey would have been all the more stressful for her). I will talk about crate training (the “Whys” and “What not to dos”) in another blog later,  but for now, this is a useful article.


And how is this relevant to dog dens?

Bear with me…..

When I arrived back in the UK, I placed my dog’s travel crate in my room so that she could have a temporary home while her own den was still travelling by shipping container.

I was staying with my parents, and they had thoughtfully placed their 3 year old Labrador Dazzle’s travel crate in my room, so that Jelly would be comfortable. My parents also had a Collie at the time, 13 year old Ruby. 3 dogs. 2 dens.

Now, Dazzle and Ruby did not previously have access to a den. They usually slept or snoozed on sofas, or in one of two places in my parent’s bedroom – a cot or a quilt on the floor nestled between a wall and a cabinet.

Ruby immediately took to the dens. So we ended up making a makeshift den under my desk so that all the dogs could have one. Dazzle wasn’t bothered though – she didn’t use any of them.

A few months later, Dazzle came into season whilst my parents were away on holiday, so the dogs hung out with me all the time. During that week, Dazzle took ownership of one of the dens. That was a year ago, and she loves using her den now.

Here’s proof. This is Ruby (left) making herself very comfortable in Jelly’s bed – while Jelly was already in it. Poor Jelly is being used as Ruby’s mattress. Ruby looks very satisfied with her success. Jelly not so much.

Do dogs love dens

This was the temporary den under the desk. I made it using a carboard box and Jelly’s old bed under my desk. Clearly, dogs aren’t as fussy as us when it comes to aesthetics.

Do dogs need to be crate trained to be happy in a den?

Not at all. Nether Ruby or Dazzle were crate trained, but they both gravitated automatically to the dens. Immediately in Ruby’s case, eventually in Dazzle’s.

Jelly was crate trained at about 3 years old (having been adopted from a rescue at nearly 2 years old),  and immediately loved her crate (which always had the door open, so was really a den – or her “apartment” as friends used to joke.) She  transitioned to her new den easily.

A crate, of course, has a close-able door, so the animal can be restricted to the den if needs be. With a den, the  dog is free to come and go as they please.

Like Dazzle, some dogs may take a bit of time to get used to the idea having a den all for themselves, and while previous crate training might help, it’s not necessary.


Dens as training tools.

Crates are well known for being a very useful training tool when it comes to toilet training and learning self control when visitors around or when over excited. The doors on the crate give you a tool to use when you need to contain your dog. So why would a permanently open den have any uses? Can they be training tools too?


Using a den as a “mark”

One training tool I use is a piece of gaffa tape on the ground. It marks a spot. This is a very useful tool when I’m teaching my dog self-control, or giving her a clearly defined place to go to and wait for my next command.

A den can be used in exactly the same way. Teach your dog to go to “bed” on command, using the den as their mark, and you will have an incredibly useful tool to use with your dog. The ability to communicate clearly with your dog is a gift for both of you.


Crates as calming or distraction tools.

I initially used the crate with my dog to help her learn self control at the front door. In fact, it is why I crate trained her in the first place. She would try to barge through the door ahead of me and leap up at and lick visitors. Not that she was unfriendly – quite the opposite. But it wasn’t cool at all. Those toe claws can hurt!

Giving her something to do to distract her from the stress/excitement of a visitor arriving helped her to learn polite greeting habits. I’d send her to her crate and give her a toy or treat while  I greeted the visitor.

The visitor would then be able to enter and make themselves comfortable while I brought Jelly out, and I could make sure she was calm while she greeted my visitor. No more leaping, flannel-tongued dog. Fantastic! 

Once you establish a sound “bed” command, you can use the den as a tool without needing a door to enclose them. It’s also really useful if, for some reason (eg safety) you need to quickly get your dog out of the way.


Using a den as a time-out

Some people even find that their dogs use the den as their own “time-out” tool. I have heard incidents of dogs that have used their crate or den to help their own anxiety. Jut like the dogs that flee under tables when it’s thundery, a dog that wants to appease it’s owner might head off to their crate. A den can give a dog security and confidence.


Would YOUR dog like a den?

Well, why not put them to the test?

If you’re reluctant about investing in a den because you don’t know if your dog will like it, you can always make a temporary den to try your dog with one. Hark back to your childhood and make a good old blanket fort under a table or between two chairs.

Make it soft and cosy and add something that smells of your dog – a toy or blanket. Show it to them, and give them a few treats when they are inside, and repeat this occasionally over a few days.

Just like with crate training, you can also feed them their meals in their den. This will encourage their brains to associate good things happening with being in the den.

Over the next few weeks, see if they use it of their own accord.

You can also simply put a blanket fort over their current bed and see if they use it less or more.

Borrowing a portable crate is also an option, but bear in mind that if a den smells of another dog, it may not be as attractive to your dog.

Put your dog’s current, unwashed bed or blankets in there and encourage your dog to go in with treats, toys or meals. See what happens! Some dogs do take time, but most will love it.

Do dogs love dens

Here is Dazzle (the dog that initially didn’t want a den) relaxing in a portable crate – her temporary den. She is a large dog, so upcycling a piece of furniture into a den is a challenge because the furniture needs to be big!

So, do dogs love dens?

Yes, more often than not, they really do. A dog’s natural instinct is to use a den. And most dogs absolutely love them. It’s tricky to incorporate a den into a home situation especially if it’s a large dog, but with a bit of innovation, it is possible.

Check out the gallery to see my furniture conversions – they may inspire you to make your own. Or here is a link to my shop if you are interested in buying one.

You don’t HAVE to get your dog a den, but your dog will love having that cosy space all of their own. And if you can incorporate it into some stylish furniture with storage, you can find space for a dog den in any home.